Scheu per­forms with Voice Pro­fessor Luke Bahr in Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.” Elena Creed | Col­legian

When I sang through a series of warmup exer­cises with Voice Pro­fessor Missy Osmond for the first time as a freshman, I had one goal in mind: I wanted to sing like the women on Broadway, the stars who dig deep into their chests for those lusty strains of melody familiar to anyone with an ear for a show tune.

Three years later, after easing my voice up and down hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands, of scales, and working my vocal chords through six semesters’ worth of music, I’m no closer to my goal than I was that late-August day when Missy sat down at a piano bench to plunk out a few notes and guide me through my first lesson. I’m about to finish my junior year, and I’m con­fident that I’ll never belt “Defying Gravity” from Wicked outside of my shower, and I’ll never scream those ungodly notes at the end of “Phantom of the Opera” in public, which is probably good for, you know, humankind’s sake.

But I do have some­thing to show for the effort: I dis­covered that I love to sing opera. It’s a bizarre hobby for any young, hip-hop-happy musician to pick up as a Broadway sweet­heart wannabe, but this stuffy, high-class art has my soul. And while this unex­pected love affair still bewilders me, I’m even more sur­prised to report that opera has made me a better student.

When I took Western Her­itage as a Hillsdale ini­tiate, my main concern was scraping together enough infor­mation to trick Dr. Gamble into believing I had been able to process, let alone analyze, any­thing from the assigned reading. It was the same thing with Great Books — Dear Dr. Jackson, please know I at least tried to grasp the point of Dante’s trek through the under­world as I made my own journey through the trials of freshman year. I was a young, inex­pe­ri­enced student with good inten­tions back then, just trying to make decent grades with the few smarts God gave me and all the effort I could muster.

Opera was dif­ferent, though. I started out with the basics, singing straight­forward songs every soprano uses at the beginning of her training. When I realized I could make some­thing beau­tiful if I prac­ticed hard enough, I pen­ciled rehearsals into my planner, preparing for lessons in the poorly-ven­ti­lated and hardly-sound­proofed practice rooms lining the basement of Howard Music Hall. Embar­rassed by the lack of control in my voice, I put my back to the glass windows embedded in the doors of the practice rooms and sang until I forgot my neigh­boring musi­cians could hear me. I was bad, but I didn’t care. I respected the lit­er­ature Missy entrusted to me and sought to honor it and its genius com­posers with excellent per­for­mances. Mozart, Puccini, Strauss — I just wanted to do them right.

As the semesters passed, I began to take chances with my music. Missy gave me harder pieces, and I fell in love with the freedom of my arias, solo move­ments plucked from full-length operas. On stage, in the studio, or down in the dank basement of Howard, I became a des­perate woman pleading with God to spare her lover, or a young Juliet crying out to her Romeo, or a dis­tressed daughter begging her father for for­giveness. Because I believed in the truth behind the stories and the beauty of the music, I worked hard to keep my voice and my body in the best shape pos­sible to give myself a chance when I took the stage. Soon enough, I was orga­nizing my schedule around getting in bed before mid­night so I could get up before 8 a.m. to stretch out and loosen up phys­i­cally. Later in the day, I’d hit the practice rooms to ease my vocal chords into the day’s rehearsals. I was com­mitted because I loved it — I would have done any­thing for the music.

When I started singing opera, I finally knew what it was like to be pas­sionate, and then to take that passion, pair it with talent and hard work, and produce some­thing worth sharing. Sud­denly, my work up the hill didn’t seem so impos­sible anymore. Through opera, I had learned to love great works, to take them into my soul and really learn them before I stamped them with my own ideas and turned them into pro­fessors for eval­u­ation. As a sophomore, I treated my Great Books term paper for Dr. Jackson like an aria. I inter­nalized “Death of a Salesman” like I would a song — a sight reading, an in-depth look at smaller sec­tions, a piecing together of a nar­rative with con­sid­er­ation to all the little details that made it shine. Soon I had a paper, just like I had a per­for­mance.

In two weeks, I’ll perform alongside another winner of Hillsdale’s con­certo com­pe­tition with my peers in the college orchestra for their final concert of the school year. This finals week will be a chal­lenge with the added stress of pro­tecting my voice, but I know I’ll be sat­isfied when I sing Puccini’s “Vissi D’arte” and Strauss’ “Klange der Heimat” the best I can.

I love opera because it’s beau­tiful: I’m blessed to par­tic­ipate in its beauty, and I’m honored to carry out the com­mitment it demands. Come term papers and final exams, it’s good to remember why I do what I do, up the hill or on the stage.