Photo by Bentley Drezner,
Photo by Bentley Drezner,

It wasn’t a dare made on a drunken night nor was it a private joke made with friends—one that would make us splutter at random moments to the displeasure of a passersby. It wasn’t even one of those mental promises made casually to myself (CVS run, get pens; sign up for dinner with faculty) that eventually slips into languid oblivion.

No, it was a conscious, willful gesture, from the moment I clicked that innocuous blue “Attend” button to those final seconds when I sat outside the door in Bloomberg, listening to a delicate female voice cruise effortlessly up and down the harmonic scale, and wondering what the hell I was doing right here, right now.

Interested in singing? 

Sing with us! 

No previous experience necessary! 🙂

I don’t know what it was about a cappella that made me quite literally stop in my tracks on the way to late meal and walk back a few steps to jot down the date and time of auditions for a certain a cappella group on the back of my hand.  Syntax-wise, the mastermind behind the rhetoric of the poster had done his job: simple and offhand, with a hint of that American Dream message that anyone could “sing with them”. After all, isn’t witnessing that moment when your average Joes and Janes discover their hidden vocal talent what all the hype is about in American Idol and the X-Factor?

Along with the approval of the media came the right amount of incentive from inebriated street-goers (“You know what I think? YO-fucking-LO, carpe diem that shit”). Even in daylight, the consensus seemed to be that, ultimately, I lose nothing. When I asked for advice, a close friend texted back: “what if ur actually a reincarnation of like, nina simone. u will never know about it if u don’t try out lol”. The worst that could happen was not making the cut, which was actually very likely since I had absolutely nothing to show for my singing career but Photo Booth videos of me singing along to static tunes on YouTube. In fact, most of them were so bad and cringeworthy even to my untrained ears that I’d moved them to a separate folder marked “MISCELLANEOUS” for future entertainment. But whatever. It seemed to be more or less a fair bet—at that time, at least.

So, before I know it, I’m sitting in front of a closed door in the dim basement of Bloomberg. Next to me sits a girl who is obviously a pro at auditions, judging from the nonchalant way she picks up the sign-up paper and fills it in without pausing to read the instructions. Not that the questions are difficult: name, year, dorm room, previous singing experiences, if any (n/a), would I like to be notified by e-mail or in person if they are unable to offer me a callback (e-mail), can I beatbox (I can but only a little Kind of No). The girl next to me is still on the “Previous singing experiences” question, adding bullet points and throwing in jargon like “Alto 2” and “AP.” Inside the room, a girl is running up some scales, not simply à la The Sound of Music, but starting from some high note that I doubt I will be able to even croak out and gliding effortlessly up and down the octaves.

When the door finally opens, I am but a peaceful being: I am past the panic-stricken stage of multiple “Oh, shits.” I come to terms with myself, the unsalvageable future, and the present, in which I am asked to enter, stand in front of ten or so long-lashed eyes and give them some “stuff” to start with, say some “aaaaAAaaaa”s, ok, good, a little bit rough at the end but it’s okay, let’s just move onto some scales, try to go up and down an octave each starting from… and the pianist gives me a high note that makes me ponder upon the physical limits of the human larynx. As I try to hack up and tumble down the octaves, I slowly realize that I’m not giving them a scale but rather, 16 different amplitudes of the same note, kind of sounding something like that goat on the internet.

I get my expected e-mail that night a few hours later.

Looking back a few weeks later, I have to admit that I do not particularly regret trying out, mainly because I learned my limits as a singer through a relatively benign experience (a group of smiling girls is, after all, less painful than Simon Cowell). Any pain I did go through was worth it because I ended up with a pretty damn good story for dinner parties. And I learned that, to no one’s great astonishment, I am not a living embodiment of Nina Simone.