At this point in the semester, our Furman music students have been reflecting on which “academic jewels,” or valuable lessons they’ve acquired during their time at the ADA, and how they plan to share this information with friends and colleagues upon their return to their home institution. Read on to hear from Mary Allison, Maggie, and Emily!
Mary Allison Hoover: Music (Furman University, SC)
The two most impactful academic gems that I have received this semester were not brand new insights or words of wisdom that I have never come across before. The first came from my voice teacher here, Jill Feldman. In my very first lesson, I sang for her, and when she began speaking about staying engaged and supported throughout the phrase, it sounded eerily similar to what I have heard from previous instructors as well. Then she started talking about breathing, the most foundational and fundamental piece of technique in the art of singing, in a way that I responded to. By asking me to ground myself in a certain way, I was able to fix not only the support issue, but also a handful of other tension-related issues instantaneously fell away. Jill has helped me progress more than I could’ve hoped for in one semester, and I have no doubts that this has much to do with the amount of intense study and focus that I have been able to dedicate to music this semester. I have found that a key piece to this study is trust. Trusting that your professor knows what he or she is talking about. Trusting your body to do what you need it to when you need it to. Trusting that you have advocates all around you. Trusting that the music is bigger than I ever will be, and a mistake or two cannot destroy it. I am learning that this trust is where the confidence needed to do what musicians do actually comes from. My experience here has turned into a semester to learn to trust and, in turn, to learn confidence.
Context is everything. I finally had the proper mindset to not only listen to my professors, but to really hear them and apply their instruction with relative success. My second gem is brought to you by Furman’s own, Dr. Bill Thomas. In conducting class one day, he stopped me in the middle of an excerpt, and said to me, as he had to other students before me, “Get out of your own way!” I did the best I could to get through the rest of the excerpt, but the phrase stuck with me. While Dr. Thomas was discussing the details of unnecessary movement in my conducting (if you do not know me, I am almost consistently on #teamtoomuch, so this makes sense), I took the phrase into my singing and personal life as well. What was stopping me from striking up conversation with the theater student that I don’t know very well? What was keeping me from holding that one note just a little bit longer and bending the rhythm appropriately for artistic expression? I was getting in my own way, thinking I would seem weird or do something incorrectly. Fear holds us back, but what happens when we decide to do it anyway, even if it is scary? Breaking down the walls of your comfort zone is a way to learn trust faster than any other I know. My prayer is that this freeing trust carries over into my studies back home. How radicalized would my life be if every action I took was preceded with a deep and abiding trust in something bigger than just myself? For a long time, I let fear rule my life, but that does not have to be the case. My time at the Accademia has given me an opportunity to reflect on and see how real that truth is.
Thanks for reading!! …In honor of both Halloween this week and pun-lovers everywhere:
Maggie Schierberg: Music (Furman University, SC)
Let’s Get Moving!
When I first arrived at the ADA and saw our schedule, I’ll admit I was a little shocked. The words “Movement for Musicians” graced a tiny box on our calendar. All I could think was, “What does that even mean?” and “Do I really have to participate in this?”. It turns out that yes, I did have to participate, but my fears were quickly demolished on our first day when we met our instructor Dory. She is probably the nicest and quirkiest professor I have ever had, and she has the best Beatles t-shirts. We start off every session by taking a walk, and feeling how connected we are to the ground and our bodies. This is something I had never actively thought about doing and at first, I’ll admit that I did not take it seriously. After this we go through the “Awakening of the Spine” session. Sounds a little weird, right? It is, but it is the most relaxing exercise ever. You never realize how tight your body is until you go through these stretches. Dory also has a little song she sings to help us through it, and it does get stuck in our heads quite a lot. We also go through a segment of partner stretches, which can get a little intense and be very uncomfortable. However, it has made everyone in our group grow closer, because we are all doing the same uncomfortable things together.
So far, this class has sounded like a plain old yoga class, but it is not. As musicians, we have learned so much about our bodies and our stage presence, without having even talked much about it. The goal of the class is to be more aware of our bodies and that is exactly what we have all accomplished. Now whenever I go into a lesson or perform, I think of Dory’s voice in the back of my head telling me to “relax those shoulders” or “stay grounded”. Being aware of our bodies is something we musicians must do and I feel so fortunate that I can take this class here. If you are reading this from Furman, I encourage you to take the Alexander Technique course that is offered. Just do it. It will be so beneficial to you now and in the future. You will not regret it. I certainly do not regret any of it.
“Pelvis one, up two, over three, four, five, six, seven and, eight, down one…”
Emily Sigmon: Music (Furman University, SC)
Five Things I Have Learned About Accademia Life
Living at the Accademia dell’Arte can be very fun if you are willing to make it that way. Here are five things I’ve learned through my experience here that will (hopefully) help future students in their adjustment.
1. Living Communally is a Community Effort.
If you want to be happy at the ADA, please. PLEASE. Be considerate of others. Clean up after yourself. No leaving things in the living room, no neglecting to wash your dishes in the Limonaia. Put things back where they belong for goodness sake. Having to clean up someone else’s things is the worst, and you will hate your peers if they don’t clean up after themselves, so why would you want someone to hate you too? (Also, as many have learned in the past couple weeks, not removing your things from communal spaces might mean they get confiscated and you must PAY to get them back. Don’t let that happen to you.) In addition, please don’t come back drunk in the middle of the night and wake up your lovely sleeping friends. Just be considerate.
2. Just Do It.
Sometimes at the ADA, you may have to do something that makes you uncomfortable. The entire goal of the ADA is to get you out of your comfort zone, so occasionally, they may make you do something that may seem embarrassing (this happens frequently, in my case, in movement class). Just do it. Don’t worry about how silly you look; it’s silly of you do to so. Stop worrying. You’re not going to die. Your friends love you. Chill out.
Mensa (dining hall) food is so delicious. Try stuff like the squid salad even if it’s scary. There are people who may not like it, and that’s okay, but at least you’ll KNOW if you don’t like it. And maybe you will like it a lot! Maybe your next favorite food will be squid. Just try it and don’t worry; if you don’t like it, you’ll be able to pass it off to someone who does.
4. Get Out of the Accademia Bubble.
Go into town as much as possible. Go on day trips. Cortona is a fantastic day trip (so I’m told; I haven’t been able to make it yet); it’s about 20 minutes away by train. Go to Rome one weekend. Go wherever you can, learn the language. It’s so much more fun if you’re not scared every time you have to order food (even though I still get nervous sometimes). By the way, “busta” is bag. When they ask you, “busta?” at the supermarket, they’re asking you if you want a bag. Yes or no question. Bam. Doing the Duolingo course on Italian before you come is highly recommended.
5. Make Friends with the People in the Other Section of the Accademia.
The Music students (so I’ve heard from previous generations) tend to hang out mostly with each other, which is fine! However, make sure if you’re a music student to make friends with the theater kids, and vice versa. It’s fun to meet new people, and there will be plenty of opportunities with the weekly events team (rotates every week; you’ll learn about that later). Don’t be a hermit. Go have fun. ☺