by Kelsey Nicolay
In the spring of my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to participate in an opera class offered by the music department. I had heard some of my friends talking about it, so I decided to look into it further. I contacted my choir director about it. She explained that the class was designed to introduce students to operatic literature and would culminate in a performance of scenes from various operas. Since I was not a music major and most of my previous singing experience was choral, I wasn’t sure whether I would fit in in the class, but I decided to sign up anyway. I contacted the instructor ahead of time and explained my visual impairment as well as any accommodations I might need. She assured me that she would work with me to make sure I had everything I needed to be successful.
The first day of class was spent going over the syllabus, getting to know one another, and getting the music we would be working on. Then each student was asked to sing a piece so the instructor could determine which role best suited each participant. Since I was not a voice major, I did not have a piece prepared, but the instructor just had me vocalize for her so she could get an idea of my voice quality and range. Since I had very limited solo singing experience and was very shy about singing in front of others, as everyone sang through their pieces, I kept thinking “what have I gotten myself into?” I wasn’t worried about singing as much as I worried about the movement that would be required on stage. I had to remind myself that I had done choreography in high school choir and that I could conquer this. Fortunately, I was only in two group numbers with minimal movement.
Adaptations for the course were very minimal. I was given the syllabus, rehearsal schedule, and any other needed documents electronically so I could read them using JAWS and my BrailleNote. Since I had not yet learned braille music, the disability services office typed up the lyrics to the songs I needed and emailed them to me. I then used the Perkins brailler to type them out so I would have a hard copy available. I was able to find recordings of the pieces for reference as well, but the instructor as well as my classmates were willing to work with me one on one when needed. I kept in close communication with the instructor throughout the semester to make sure I had all the necessary materials and to discuss logistics when it came time to learn the movement for the particular scene I was in.
When it came time to learn the choreography, I was a little nervous after some negative experiences in the past where someone stood behind me and moved my arms during performance. When I shared my past experience with the instructor, she assured me that would not happen and made sure other students understood that they were not to do any of the movements for me. When the other students were learning the movements, the instructor came over and quickly showed me what to do and had me practice it while she observed to make sure I knew what I was doing, then left me to perform the routine with everyone else. When I made a mistake, a classmate noticed it immediately and corrected me. The instructor did briefly stop rehearsal to see what was going on, but my classmate told her that they had handled the situation and she could continue with rehearsal. This demonstrated that other students knew that I was capable of participating and did not need help performing the arm movements.
The performance went really well, and everyone in the audience commented after the performance how well I had done. They said I fit right in with the group, which is exactly what I wanted. I decided not to sign up again the following years, but at least I tried something new and was successful. The most important lesson I learned from this experience is to have a positive attitude. Though at times the class was challenging, the experience paid off. As a result, two of the participants eventually were my voice teachers, which probably would not have happened had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for the opera class.