For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to sing — when nobody’s around, that is. I frequently host late-night karaoke parties for one, wail in the shower like nobody hears me and hum in the kitchen when I’m alone.
Music has always been my coping mechanism for dealing with stressful events; as a child, I found myself gravitating to the piano when I felt like no one understood me, but I always hid my singing until I knew I was alone in the house. I’m pretty sure my family knew, but for my sake they acted none the wiser.
Over the years, I found several excuses to not pursue vocal lessons. On the surface, I justified this by affirming that sticking with piano was the right decision; I’d already invested seven years into training, and I couldn’t pursue both piano and vocal lessons. It didn’t help that I also grew up in a hyper-competitive environment — excelling at piano would help me get into a top school, but what could high school choir do for me?
Deep down, though, I also knew it was my self-consciousness that held me back from asking for vocal lessons. I thought that people who were good at singing just had some natural innate talent, which I certainly didn’t have. To me, vocal lessons would only confirm this fear.
Spoiler alert, 14-year-old Ria: people actually have to work hard to become a master of their craft. But I didn’t know any better, and I remember wistfully watching choir practices during free periods as a high school sophomore.
In my junior year of high school, however, I worked up the courage to audition for our annual musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. I was bitten by the Lin-Manuel Miranda bug sophomore year and was obsessed with the musical to the point where I could somewhat convincingly pull off a one woman show playing all the characters. I went back and forth about putting my name on the signup sheet, and I ended up being the last person to audition because of my last-minute decision. I practiced the solo for weeks on end, listening and slightly cringing at voice recordings of myself. I didn’t have high expectations but still held on to some small glimmer of hope.
When the day came, I stood in front of the choir and drama directors, my hands slightly shaking. I started out the verse, but as the bridge of the solo came, I felt my voice starting to crack at the higher notes. Near the end, I accidentally made eye contact with the choir director and she looked as if a cat had peed in her shoe.
Instantly, I felt a hot wave of humiliation wash over me and I finished tepidly, leaving the room with my metaphorical cat-tail between my legs. What was I doing here in a space that wasn’t for me? Why in the world did I think this was worth doing? I didn’t belong there. I cried all the way on the car ride home, convinced that I wasn’t a person meant for the performing arts.
That mentality stayed with me for a long time, even after I moved to college. I briefly perused through all of the a cappella groups freshman year but didn’t bother signing up for any auditions, scarred from the past. In contrast, my roommate, who is now my best friend, auditioned and joined a group. For the first time, I was close to someone who had this talent I’d always longed to have.
I saw the dedication and commitment she put into rehearsals and composing arrangements. Once again, I realized that singing wasn’t compatible with the bigger goals I had for myself at Hopkins, resulting in what I thought was a dream deferred indefinitely — until this semester.
Right now, I feel like I am at a complete standstill. With everything being held virtually, the time spent in the hustle and bustle of daily campus life has been eliminated, and though classes and extracurriculars still exist, I find myself having more free time than usual. This has caused me to reflect upon how I want to spend my limited days at Hopkins in my final year.
Sure, I could spend that time channeling myself into even more productive work, but what do I actually want from my college experience? How much work will ever be enough for me to take a break from pursuing the goals I have for myself? Where do I draw the line between doing activities that I know will help my career as opposed to living my life with interests I pursue out of passion? The more I thought about it, the louder a little voice in my head became, encouraging me to somehow return to the arts.
Slowly but surely, a far-fetched idea formed in my head: what if my roommate would be the one to help nurture that life-long interest of mine? Living with her for two years means that we’ve seen everything about each other: the good, the bad and the ugly. She is my safe space. I remember hesitantly bringing it up one late night within a few weeks of moving back, and to my surprise, she was excited to teach me what she knew, with no judgment whatsoever.
Since then I have been informally taking “voice lessons” once a week with her and opening up to her in this new way has made our relationship even stronger. When I sing, I am at my most vulnerable, but it is also where I can feel to the fullest extent. I can let go of the inhibitions I place on myself and reveal a self who can just enjoy life, who can enjoy the now.
Life doesn’t pause itself for you to enjoy it — you have to be the one to hit that pause button yourself. I am lucky enough to have someone who loves me unconditionally to help nurture this hidden part of myself. But if you’re like me and have a buried interest, I hope you can get to a place where you can explore it. You might be surprised at how much it can affect your own happiness.
Check out Arora and her roommate singing Adele’s “Make you feel my love” here!