Being a first-year graduate voice and opera student has been an amazing experience thus far, particularly at this moment of time—and here’s why.

As the fall quarter of a very special new school year drew near for me, I felt confident that there was very little I wouldn’t be prepared for since I’d already lived with the COVID-19 pandemic for 18 months. However, as things returned to regular programming—including in-person classes, rehearsals, and performances—and with so many fresh experiences coming my way, my time here at Bienen has already been unlike anything I could have imagined. The experience of being 100% back in an in-person learning environment and interacting with professors and classmates excites me, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to sing in choir in my entire life.

In the midst of it all, I’ve also realized that time away from all of the activities that I missed and longed for meant that things would feel different, scary, and maybe even a bit overwhelming. But, it’s also been a great opportunity to grow without judgment (because this is all new to everyone else for the most part, too!). I’ve been able to do that by:

  • Reaching out to my professors: I’ve been making it a point to chat with my professors and connect with them about the course topics on a deeper level. Most recently, I met one-on-one with my musicology professor, Jesse Rosenberg, to talk about his new course this quarter that I'm currently taking called Opera and Race, and to discuss a project I’m working on. This has really helped me feel more comfortable being back in a physical classroom.
  • Organizing my life away: While virtual life definitely managed to somehow feel structured, it often only meant rolling out of bed and showing up to my computer screen. Now, my commute is a bit longer, and my day requires much more planning (I forgot what it was like to anguish over picking out what to wear). This quarter, I’m taking a number of exciting courses in addition to the aforementioned musicology class: opera repertoire, phonetics and diction, vocal pedagogy, opera workshop, studio class, and private lessons and coachings. I’m also singing in the University Singers. Good time management skills have been my saving grace! Google Calendar and my alarm clock app also are my best friends.
  • Making an effort to be social: As an introvert, quarantine felt like a blessing…at least for a while. Now, people are enthusiastically eager to do social things with others (in a safe manner of course—COVID-19 isn’t gone yet!) and the best way for me to get used to this new social environment is through practice. After the first week of classes, some of the first-year voice and opera graduate students got together for dinner and that was the first time in what felt like forever that I had dinner with a group of people. It was absolutely awesome.
  • Practicing self-care: Speaking of practice, if COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s the importance of taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Stretching, meditating, and journaling all have helped me manage my stress levels during these crazy times. Now, I realize that I also have to give myself more compassion as I reacquaint myself with performing in front of others and making music in-person again. I had to sing in opera workshop class recently and it was a special opportunity to remind myself that, in a way, singing live with a real piano is new again. I absolutely love singing, and it is such a thrilling experience, but singing in front of a computer screen is an entirely different thing than singing physically in front of people, so I’ve been really patient with myself when performing in front of actual bodies again.

While this normalcy feels unexpectedly new, these are some of the ways I’ve managed to navigate being back in person as I start my graduate school journey. I’m grateful for it all. I hope that reflecting on these points helps you reestablish your new “normal.”

Ryan Dearon is a first-year voice and opera master’s student.

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