After I was accepted to Barnard, one of the very first things I did was comb through the course catalog to pore over all the subjects I could explore and all the classes I could take. I felt like I had exhausted all the options in high school, and I longed to take on things I had not yet tried. Besides subjects like Sociology and Earth Science, I especially wanted to try out the arts – painting, singing, and every style of dance.
Not surprisingly, when I finally got to Barnard, I tried to register in those subjects, voice lessons being one of them. To my chagrin, I discovered that I had to audition in order to be accepted into a vocal class. Yet undaunted, I printed my name on the sign-up sheet posted at Milbank Hall, in a #200-something slot. “Over two hundred something people auditioning?!” I thought to myself. The odds were not looking good for someone who had never been voice-trained or even voice-auditioned.
More apprehensive now, I chose Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”, low enough to be sung by my almost-tenor voice. I downloaded some sheet music from the Internet, practiced by myself in the dorms. On the day of the audition, I showed up again to Milbank Hall to crowds of waiting singers, some practicing in the halls. Some practicing Broadway musical numbers or arias from famous operas. I didn’t even know what arias were.
I went to sit up on a nearby stairwell to calm my nerves, my previously purchased cup of chai tea latte accompanying me. From my vantage point I could sort of still see if they were calling my name. In doubt, I shifted or stood up, I don’t remember, and there went my chai tea latte, spilling all the way down the stairs. People stared, pointed, the amateur wannabe singer lacking both in grace and luck. It was mortifying.
After the longest of moments, a girl came forward with some paper towels and silently set about mopping up. This broke my panicked trance and I gratefully set about doing the same. She introduced herself, an upperclassman who had been practicing something from an Italian opera. An aria perhaps, I still didn’t know. All I know is that the audition wasn’t so bad after that embarrassing incident, and despite the fact that my voice probably broke, I was waitlisted for one of the vocal classes.
Funny enough, the real victory wasn’t that I eventually made it off the waitlist into the class (because I didn’t), or even that I was even able to make it onto the waitlist given my lack of experience (and perhaps talent). The real thing was that that girl and I stayed friends. And that I nevertheless ended up singing, in the Barnard-Columbia chorus, sans-voice class, voice lesson-less and all.
So be excited about those things you’ve never tried, those subjects you know nothing about yet. Because those inklings of possibility and wonderment, the “Hey, maybe I would like this!” or “Wait, maybe I can get good at that!” can only be the beginnings of great things to come. And maybe you’ll be spared some apprehension and embarrassment on your way toward these tentative passions, or maybe you won’t. So just in case, I will wish for you to have your very own paper towel-toting Barnard girl, with whom you can mop up all the disappointment together.