The modern college student is almost expected to take some wacky classes during their college career. From Exploration of the Solar System to Beginning Sculpture to Scuba, there is something for practically every student who wants to pick up some skills that they might never use in their career but will have a great time learning. After all, that’s what fun classes are for.
This semester, I registered for THEA 309, Musical Theater Studio. As a lifelong lover of theater, it seemed like the perfect fun class to take before I graduated. I knew I wasn’t a great singer, but I had danced and acted on stage plenty before, and I figured that this wouldn’t be much different.
Boy, was I wrong. The first thing we learned was how to listen for the details and style in vocal performances. Sitting in class listening to recordings of Broadway starlets, rock icons and opera prima donnas belting at the tops of their ranges, I realized that I had never really considered the colossal amount of dedication and practice professional singers put into their craft. As the professor explained the details of how the vocal anatomy flexes and shifts to create different sounds, I shuddered at the impossibility of training muscles I hadn’t even known existed. When the class sang our first warm ups, my ears burnt at the sound of every crackle and out-of-tune note that came out of my mouth. Singing even decently felt like an unattainable ambition. For the first time in my life, I was paralyzed by stage fright.
Just like that, my “just for fun” course turned into the most stressful thing on my calendar. I cried before, during or after nearly every class. The only thing that kept me from dropping it during that first month was the unconditional support of my professor and my classmates — not to mention the knowledge that I would probably never again get the opportunity to study under a teacher as incredible as Jack Beetle.
As Rice students, we hold ourselves to high expectations. We strive to be good at everything we do. But by definition, any time we take a class in a new field, we have to start out again at a beginner’s level. Every introductory class, whether it is in literature, science, arts or sports, is a small window into a subject to which people dedicate their entire lives. Of course it’s going to be challenging sometimes!
As we head into spring course registration, I encourage you to adopt a new mindset toward these classes. Go in with the expectation that you’ll be, at best, mediocre. Slap on a pass/fail designation and revel in the freedom of being a complete noob at something. Take advantage of the world-class professors we have here at Rice, and be willing to both work hard and, more importantly, fail in front of them. At the end of the day, give yourself credit for the emotional work it takes to be okay with sucking at something.
So where am I now with musical theater? Well, I am still not a good singer by anyone’s standards. But I’m learning. I finally understand my own voice well enough to be able to apply the professor’s feedback. Even more importantly, I know the skills I would have to practice to continue improving after the class ends. And last week, I stood in front of the class and sang “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana — a song I previously would have dismissed as completely outside my vocal range — with not a single tear shed.