I was two or three years old when my parents uncovered an astonishing discovery. Initially, I worried them too much; my enunciation skills were underdeveloped and my parents suspected I had a speech development issue. But it was to their surprise that I could sing. I couldn't pronounce even the simplest of words correctly, but I did hit every pitch perfectly in that 80s Indian film number playing in the background. As a small, hyperactive, yet intellectually inclined child like me, music was a fascinating puzzle waiting for me; I wanted to discover its intricate works and pieces. From there, I continued to explore who I was as a musically-gifted child.
To this day, I am the most confident version of myself on the stage with a microphone in hand. I remember one of my first school performances in the fifth grade vividly. I was quite nervous, but I walked to center stage just like I had practiced and waited for my cue. The spotlights faced me; they were brighter than I anticipated. The soundtrack played through the speakers, the bass stronger than it was before. The cue arrived, I opened my mouth, and began to sing. I forgot about the room around me. I mentally conducted myself, focusing on the notes, the feel, and the fun of the classic Mary Poppins number “Spoonful of Sugar.” During the instrumental break, I decided to improvise by clapping along to the beat. I kept on clapping until the first row joined, then the second row, then the third, and so forth. I had led the room like a conductor, with pride and joy, then continued to sing once my part returned again. I finished the song with a heavy breath and a gleeful smile on my face. For the first time in my entire life, I received a standing ovation.
To further develop my musical talent, I started working with a private vocal coach who happened to be a professional opera singer. Before high school, I had only focused on musical theater and pop vocals, which were fun genres to perform but not musically interesting for me. Classical voice and opera caught my attention when I started working with my coach because they were the most demanding styles I’ve ever worked with. They are technically challenging, requiring me to be precise and exact with my vocal technique and develop the appropriate muscle memory needed to sing very powerfully. Furthermore, I had to study the pronunciations of common European languages such as Italian, German, and French.
Throughout the process of working with my vocal coach, I discovered other unique aspects of my musical abilities. For one, I have perfect pitch, which means I can independently sing a note correctly without any help from another instrument. Later on, my vocal coach helped me understand the phenomenon of color-sound synesthesia, a condition that allows me to “hear” colors and “see” sound. It’s an interesting phenomenon that I never paid much attention to until I realized its significance to musicality, song interpretation, and music composition. To describe what synesthesia is like, each individual major or minor scale has its own color or texture to it: C Major is red, G Major is sky blue, Ab Major is a warm green, and a minor is “an evening crimson”. Synesthesia is the backbone for my perfect pitch. It enhances my performance experience; the colors I see allow me to set the appropriate mood for the song I am singing. When I experiment with composition, synesthesia is especially advantageous while attempting to figure out the structure or pace of a piece. The color-sound synesthesia phenomenon is still a mystery for me and one that I enjoy experimenting with.
In ninth grade, I auditioned for and was accepted into a conservatory-based high school program. Throughout my high school experience, I was surrounded by other musically-gifted students who inspired me to work harder on my vocal talents. Compared to a normal public high school, my conservatory experience allowed me to study music to a greater level. For example, I took classes on choral music, diction, advanced music theory, and even participated in master classes with professional singers and college vocal performance professors. One of my favorite high school experiences was getting the chance to write and perform an original opera. My peers and I worked together to write a storyline based on existing popular operatic numbers and we performed this opera for a steampunk festival. I am so grateful for my unique high school experience as it helped me understand more about myself and what I want out of my future.
I am currently a freshman at UC Irvine, double majoring in music and cognitive sciences. In college, I’m section leader of three of my university choirs and was the first freshman to finish an advanced year-long musicianship course in just three months. In my future, I hope to have a career as an auditory neuroscientist, where I will study how music is perceived, learned, and performed with the goal of helping to diagnose and treat various auditory and speech pathology conditions like the one I had as a child. Based on my personal experience, music was a powerful force that helped me overcome issues related to speech production and pronunciation. Music is what helped to bring out something special within me and I hope to help others discover the magic of music within themselves as well.
Meera Sriram, UC Irvine Freshman
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