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Online Music School: Navigating my voice when I don’t feel like singing

Edited By: Tanmaya Ramprasad

Welcome to January 2021, bringing us into a second semester of virtual classes, isolation, and uncertainty.

I am a music student, studying in a time when collaboration and live performance haven’t been possible  – the last time I sang for an audience was last March. 

My degree, which I have adored, and which has connected me to so many amazing people and artists, is completely changed by the circumstances of the pandemic. 

I won’t lie to you and tell you that the “new normal” for music is as fulfilling as a live performance. It isn’t. In fact, sometimes, it absolutely sucks. I’m itching to get on stage, to sing concerts, musicals, and operas. 

However, there is a good side to virtual performance as well. The internet opens up a global community for performers and audiences alike. It feels like more people than ever are able to access the art that is being made; there have been many free virtual performances, and in the digital format, people with disabilities who might have difficulty accessing theatres or other performance spaces, are included. ​This is something that we need to remember when we’re on the other side of this pandemic.  Already working in such a difficult field, with so much to learn, and always more to do, as we chase a new “best” every day, musicians must now rely upon technology for – everything. Even having grown up with technology, I have found myself feeling so frustrated.  Editing videos, sharing my screen on zoom, setting up and using microphones, and worrying about light and sound are definitely valuable skills, but incorporating all of this at once, while still doing all the other work, is overwhelming. It’s like I’m doing twice the work.

These days, I’m spending a lot of time making video recordings of myself singing over pre-recorded piano tracks. I dress up and stand in the faculty’s practise rooms, filming take after take on my iPhone. This experience hasn’t been my favourite – it is a pathetic replacement for what once was; me sharing my work with my classmates and community, working closely with a pianist, and making music

People are the best part of music. 

Still, I have adapted. We all have. 

At first, my self-tapes were rough. I felt raw and vulnerable, even downright unartistic when I was making them, and truthfully, sometimes I still do. But, they’ve gotten much better. 

I have a lot of these videos on my phone, and the difference from September to now is drastic. My voice, restrained for months by my ongoing stress and anxiety, a product of my inability to ignore the depressing reality of the situation, is now sounding like me again. In fact, I sound better than I did last March. 

The endless takes, once full of angry words to myself as soon as I stopped singing, (which I cut out in editing, to replace with another vacant smile), have turned into fewer, more peaceful takes. I like the way I sound. 

Even when I haven’t wanted to sing this year, (which has happened a lot, by the way), I did anyway. When my favourite thing in the world felt joyless, I kept on doing it, and it isn’t quite so bad anymore. 

While nothing will ever compare to the feeling of being on a stage, with an audience right in front of me, I am proud of myself for learning to cope with this. 

Olivia Spahn-Vieira is a Toronto-based artist and soprano. She currently studies classical voice performance at the University of Toronto, and loves performing in musicals and operas every chance she gets. Offstage, Olivia is passionate about food, fashion, travel and culture. She has enjoyed writing from a young age, and finds it to be a creative and fulfilling way to communicate.
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