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Classroom sessions: A private music lesson: “There can be no right or wrong when you are living your life through art.” * #highered #augustanacollege

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I had the privilege of sitting in on a private voice lesson with Dr. Sangeetha Rayapati and a senior preparing for her senior recital. My presence in this intimate setting was a remarkable and emotional experience for me. 

I was able to watch first-hand the personal attention that a student musician receives at Augustana. I listened to the vocalist (and her roommate, who will be singing in a couple of duets) warm up, using a “yippy dog,” exercise and then I heard them sing two gorgeous duets. Rayapati worked these two students hard for about a third of the lesson and then coached the senior preparing for the recital. 

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Rayapati teaches by example—and occasionally by a look, as she was accompanying on the piano. As a teacher she is constructive, affirming and direct. She clearly has high expectations. Most importantly, she has fun and encourages her students to do the same. 

In many ways, this one-on-one teaching and learning experience was a remarkable example of the wonder and promise of a liberal arts education. Here are some things that stood out: 

Effective storytelling – Throughout the lesson, Rayapati continually emphasized that singing and performing, when done well, effectively tell a story. The whole session was about refining the story that will be told at the recital. 

Conquering challenging material – This student will perform music in foreign languages at her recital and will push her voice range—both high and low. One could tell that the numbers she chose and the diverse genres are intended to challenge her in every conceivable way. 

Learning to work together – Listening to Rayapati coach and the two students work together to blend their voices was an example of the type of teamwork that I hope we teach here. There was plenty of give and take and there was compromise. 

Connecting with an audience – Rayapati really emphasized the importance of reading the audience and making a connection. She encouraged the student to place the audience above herself and to think about what they want and need from her performance. A great liberal arts education encourages students to reflect on their impact on others to build a deeper connection.  

Building confidence through challenge and support – A senior recital is intended to be a culminating, capstone experience. During moments of uncertainty on the part of the student, Rayapati skillfully built the student’s confidence with an encouraging word. I also saw the student respond with an “I got this” attitude that only a senior, with countless hours of practice and performance experience, could have.  

Developing a deep appreciation for beauty — I admit there were two moments during this session when I had to swallow pretty hard and look away from the others in the room. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the music and the gifts these musicians have been given and are sharing with the world. 

In addition, there was a moment that symbolizes what I hope happens all the time on a campus like Augustana’s. 

On the student’s program for the weekend is “Ave Maria.’ The student was struggling to convey the emotion because she professed to be non-religious. It was an interesting moment, but Rayapati didn’t miss a beat. She immediately asked two questions: When have you been in a religious setting and what did you witness? And, what is the context for people praying? The student reflected on both of these questions in a very thoughtful way. Then Rayapati shared advice she once received from a friend who is an opera singer: Singing is really about “doing something for other people.” 

For me, it was a magical moment that reminded me of how important it is for all of us to help our students think about the impact they have on others, and—perhaps in this moment of i-everything—to place others before self. 

This one-hour private lesson went so far beyond simply practicing the music for the weekend’s recital; the session emphasized all of what I would expect from a rigorous liberal arts education. 

Long live the arts and liberal arts education! 

*From the playful duet performed at this senior’s recital 

You can learn more about Dr. Rayapati here.


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