Natural Resolution

This website has been my sounding board for the past three years, a place where I have thrown my thoughts and ideas into the deathly silent abyss of the internet. Many of my posts have been inconsequential – although I have been paid to write for the past few years I by no means consider myself a writer – but every so often I stumbled into a post that meant something. The posts which people commented on, that prompted peers and professors to stop me before class and revealed that my private abyss was much more visible than it ever felt.

Looking through my old posts there are clear trends beyond my obvious affinity for opera. Fear of failure, pride in my unlikely duality and a refusal to be defined by external forces subtly accented my posts just as they lingered in my daily thoughts and actions. These undercurrents, the parts of me that are not pretty or glamorous or perfect, were revealed, unpacked and resolved here in a quiet corner of the internet. While not every post provided some deep insight into art, music or life, I strived above all things to be honest

Now my time as a student is coming to a close and with that I will lose the privilege of being an Arts Ink blogger. It is odd approaching graduation; I am neither excited or scared by the concept of receiving my diploma, or phased by the notion that so much will change in less than two weeks. Rather, I feel and I am ready. I have accomplished all that I can here and it is time to move on to the next adventure. Just as my time with UMGASS or Ann Arbor Civic Theater naturally resolved and pushed me on to my next feat, it is time to post my last few thoughts and allow a new student the same privilege that Arts at Michigan afforded me for so long.

If there is one message which I can impress upon you it is this: be honest in your life and in your art. Art created for the sake of beauty alone is meaningless. I do not care, and will not remember if every note is perfect, each line of a drawing unerring or if every word flows out uninterrupted. I will forget and be unaffected, because perfection is not real and not relevant to me or my life. Yet, show me something true and honest, dirty, broken and hidden and I will see myself. I will see my life reflected in your vulnerability and be swayed by the influence of your art. I can only hope that every now and then I accomplished this here, and will continue to strive for these lofty goals whatever the next adventure.

The Singing Engineer

When I first started college I was a musician, not an engineer. I had little to no confidence in my ability to succeed within the College of Engineering, and only had applied the year before because my parents made me. It was the summer before junior year when I first began to think that not only could I be an engineer, but that I wanted to be one and it was my junior year when I finally found my home within the College of Engineering. That summer I had my first of three internships with BP America at the Whiting Oil Refinery in Indiana. It was that summer when I saw that there was more engineering than exams and homework sets that take a minimum 10 hours to complete. It was there that I saw that the work I do as engineer does not just effect the people I work or the company’s bottom line, but that it can impact each and every person living in Midwest whether they realize it or not. When I returned to school in the fall I was invited to join the EECS Honor Society HKN and I can easily say that electing was one of the best decisions of my college career. Finally, the engineering campus was no longer just a place I attended lectures awkwardly avoiding eye contact and constantly feeling out of place, it became a second home filled with friends and mentors with whom I didn’t mind pulling an occasional all nighter.

In the past five years I have a lifetimes worth of experiences and opportunities which would have been impossible to obtain anywhere other than the University of Michigan. I have performed in over 25 operas, musicals, plays and short films, served as Treasurer and then President of UMGASS (the oldest student run Gilbert and Sullivan Society in North America), attended the Petroleum and Chemical Industry Conference as a winner of the Myron Zucker Travel Grant, written a 20 page engineering analysis of the mechanical doll Olympia from Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffman, built an audio effects possessor, was a preliminary winner of the School of Music Theatre and Dance’s concerto competition and spoke to over 2,000 children around the state of Michigan about why STEM matters as a local title holder for the Miss America Organization.

I began college unsure of who I was and what I wanted to do with my life and was exceptionally lucky to have grown under the careful guidance of the faculty and staff here at the University of Michigan. While it was never easy, as we begin our careers we have an obligation to the community which fostered our growth. We have an obligation to those who feel that they don’t belong and who don’t believe that they can be successful. Freshman year that was me, that was my story and I fought each and every day to earn my place at the University, just as every other graduate. It is now our turn lead by example, expand beyond what is comfortable and prove to ourselves and to the world around us that we have earned the right to call ourselves Michigan Wolverines.

My North Campus Respite

The world has become a scary place. Now, I do not know if the world recently underwent a major transformation that turned it from the safe bubble of general contentment that I knew as a child or if things have actually gotten worse, but I have never been so scared of listening to the news. I love politics, not the political nonsense and gridlock that has become synonymous with American democracy, but the intrigue of elections and the psychology of why people believe what they do. I enjoy being informed, reminding myself that the world is bigger than Ann Arbor, Michigan and that the United States is only a small part of collective whole. Yet, every time I turn on the news I am bombarded by story after story with a very clear message: terrorists, global warming, school shooters, Democrats, and Republicans are all coming to get you and there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it.

Being a worrier, I find myself thinking about everything that could go wrong all too often. I consider where I sit in the computer labs on campus and always know where my exits are, I am tricked by packaging that says “Natural” and “Organic” and I have found myself looking over my shoulder as I walk through a deserted parking lot after a long night in the lab at the slighted rustle of branches. Through all of the media hype, fear mongering and the concern that lingers in the back of my mind, there is one place where I have always felt that the trajectory of the world is not a downward spiral, and even if it is, that we can fix it.

There is something about the music school on North Campus which insulates it from the rest of the world. Perhaps it is that it is on North Campus – an entire bus ride away from classes graded on a curve – or that it is small enough that every music student at least vaguely recognizes another, or maybe it is the music itself. The idea that while music is performed in every language imaginable, at it’s core music is universal and greater than it’s sum of parts. The notion that a performance can provide a respite from a world on the brink of disaster, and the knowledge that performance has served that same purpose for the past 1,000 years.

There are days when the media gets to me, days when the stress of an upcoming exam is overpowered by the unpredictability of a world that I cannot control. Those are the days when I feel blessed to have found a home on North Campus because there is something about the pond sort of shaped like a piano, and a building that is supposed to look like piano keys that blocks out the uncertainty, gently reminding me that as long as we have music we can survive another 1,000 years on the brink of disaster.


In my room I have a white board hanging on my wall. It stares at me during the night and it is the first thing I see when I wake up. Today it reads 98. Tomorrow morning I will wake up to the sounds of Nessun Dorma (for some reason my iPod always defaults to that song) and I will lie in bed looking, but not comprehending, the 98 that is still sprawled across the board. The moment will come (typically around the third or fourth repeat of Nessun Dorma) where the warmth of my bed overpowers the knowledge that I must get up, update the countdown to 97 and begin my day.

Deadlines are a constant consideration of an artist. Memorize Songs my Mother Taught Me by Friday, perfect the triplets in Si suoni la tromba for Sunday’s rehearsal, prepare word for word translation of your audition materials by Monday – the list goes on and on. This is no different than any other career, every productive member of society has a list of things that they must accomplish by set dates, but as an artist I have found that deadlines are a lot more fun because the stakes are so much higher.

In my engineering class my deadlines are for 10 page homeworks, projects, exams and the odd paper or two, but as singer my deadlines are performances. This also makes my artistic deadlines a lot scarier. If I am feeling particularly lazy I will fantasize about not completing a homework set or even not turning it in at all. Worst case scenario in that situation is that I get a 0 on one of ten or so homework sets for the entire semester which all together make up about 10% of my final grade. No one other than me, my professor and my GSI needs to know and the deadline can pass without the world coming to a halt.

As a musician it is a completely different story. I cannot memorize half of a piece and call it “good enough” because I am tired, lazy or just not in the mood. My deadlines do not pass uneventfully; rather, they culminate in me walking up to the front of the classroom or out on stage, hearing the piano play the first few measures, seeing the blank stares of those in the audience, and opening my mouth to sing. I cannot sing only half a piece since I did not have time to memorize the rest, because our deadlines are final, public and set a nonnegotiable minimum amount of work required.

While all of this makes a musician’s life a little stressful it still ends with the chance to share our preparation and craft with those around us. At the end of the day, sharing my music is a lot more rewarding than scanning my written homework and uploading it to Ctools so while deadlines can be daunting, I will keep updating my whiteboard counting down to the next big performance.

Regrets of a Ballerina

I took my first ballet class when I was four years old. Over the next 16 years I went from taking one class a week to five, demonstrating for two more, substituting whenever asked and rehearsing with the professional company associated with my ballet school. I was not dreaming of the Metropolitan Opera as I do now, rather, of summer ballet programs, American Ballet Theatre, and the Joffery.

Eventually I had to give up ballet. Bad genetics and not enough hours in the day resulted in knee problems and an ultimatum to choose between ballet and singing, and being the pragmatic person I am, I chose the career path which was more sustainable and attainable of the two. For months there was a void, an ache in my body longing to stretch and dance and express myself in a way that no other art form could but that has subsided and the ache has become a phantom pain that only shows itself once in a while.

The other day I was asked if I regretted being a ballerina. If I regretted studying the art form that resulted (in combination with other factors – to be clear I am not blaming ballet but it was a contributing factor) in 6 months over the years on crutches, knee surgery and my grandmother like ability to predict the weather based on how my knee feels that day.

Perhaps it is a cliché, but because ballet got me to this moment right here and now I cannot regret a single moment I spent in my ballet studio above Stucchi’s. If I could snap my fingers and wipe away all of the knee problems, the crutches, the surgery and the pain that was associated with a body not meant to dance, I don’t know if I would. Sounds crazy right? Yet, it was only because of my knee problems that I found the Miss America Organization as it was my physical therapist who, over the course of a year and a half, talked me into competing at Miss Washtenaw last year and helped me to discover a world that I am proud to be a part of.

My only regret is that without ballet I have little now in common with the four girls who were my best friends for 16 years and that we have not spoken in at least a year and a half. I cannot regret ballet as a whole. It shaped who I am and the artist that I am. While I’ll never again be the dancer I was, I proud to have been a ballerina – knee problems and all.


We are all familiar with the cliché of the struggling artist: the cellist who sacrificed using electricity for months to save up to study in Italy, the singer whose only family was the church, and the pianist that found healing in the moments where their fingers danced across the black and ivory keys. Their music is profound. The depth of their sound comes from the depths of their life experience and they posses that magical something that transforms notes on the page to a sound that captures the essence of what it means to be human.

While there are tremendous artists who are borne of such circumstances, many come from much more affluent roots and whose struggles to survive and thrive were limited in respect to the clichés of a “true” musician’s origin. Many of these students are quite good, technically proficient and go on to have successful careers, yet what is it that separates an artist from simply being good to having the ability to touch each and every member of the audience? My thoughts? It is being uncomfortable.

This idea was brought up to me by a friend earlier this week. I was complaining about having to sing a piece in Aria Preparation that I did not feel was right for me vocally and which I had only been assigned a few weeks prior. I was preemptively embarrassed to sing in front of a room of graduate students and a professor that I am slightly obsessed with and am convinced is a genius, and was ruminating on how with more time, a different aria or a different day I would sound 10x better than I knew I was going to in a few short minutes.

Her response? She began talking about how she had started running over break. Her sister had suggested that they go for a 5 mile run and my friend immediately knew that wasn’t going to happen so they settle on going on a quick 2 mile run. Halfway through the run she reached a state of perpetual discomfort – it was not pleasant, it was not painful but rather a general sense of awareness that she was asking her body to do more than it was prepared to do, although it was fully capable of performing the task. Following the run her sister informed her that she had been tricked – they had run the 5 miles.

So how does this all tie in? Being uncomfortable pushes you to accomplish the things which you are physically capable of doing but mentally scared to try. Whether it is running five miles or singing a new aria this state of discomfort is not only desirable but required for growth at a rate that turns a runner or an artist from good to great. Being uncomfortable is not the same thing as being in pain – pain means you are not ready – but being uncomfortable is the key to growing faster and going farther.