The New Adventures of Old Emily: Opera Society

Emily Christie takes on St Andrews, one society at a time.

Writing a one-off article about St Andrews freshers, I suddenly realised how much this town has to offer, and how little I’ve actually explored this weird and wonderful place. So I set out on a mission to try something new each week – a new society, to a one-off event, to sports. The only rule is that it must be something happening in St Andrews. My goal is to leave university feeling like I’ve pushed myself and tried new things, with the added benefit of embarrassing myself for the amusement of others.

There’s no denying St Andrews is alive with the sound of music. From choirs to a cappella groups to musical theatre and opera, there’s a musical option for all those willing to try. For someone who’s used to singing more in the shower than on stage, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Auditioning was one of the main things that put me off joining any of these groups: The last time I really auditioned for anything was at a school talent show where I’d sung Katy Perry and did a cartwheel as a finishing move.

So, since then I’d lingered awkwardly at the sidelines, taking part in the occasional society and singing constantly with my flatmates, but never getting involved in the official singing scene. Then, after a particularly rousing rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during a karaoke session with my friends, and after constant reassurance and validation from my housemates, I decided to go along with them and audition for a show.

I’d heard about the Opera Society, the newest musical group to hit St Andrews. Opera is something I had always been intrigued by, so it seemed a perfect new activity to try and report back on. I was assured that the audition would be friendly and nonthreatening, and that I could sing anything I wanted. 

Naturally I went with the closest thing to opera I knew: “Dayman” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Photo: Carmen
Photo: Carmen

I’d imagined a silent room, full of staring eyes, raised eyebrows, and subtle glances between committee members. Then someone would say “Wow, ok” when I’d finished singing. Luckily, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. From the moment I entered the room, one of my knees shaking weirdly from nerves and my voice already cracking, I was made to feel welcome. Odd twitches aside, it went smoothly. Every part of the audition was clearly set out, which helped put my mind at rest.

The audition started with a range test. I instantly pictured myself attempting a Christina Aguilera style voice wobble and panicked, but instead I just had to listen to a note played on the keyboard and try to match it. My inner early nineties diva was a little disappointed, but being guided through the process made the whole thing less terrifying. I was asked to do an arpeggio, which I honestly thought was an Italian starter, and my wide-eyed horror must’ve been clear as I was instantly told exactly what to sing, without any embarrassment or judgement.

Photo: La bohème
Photo: La bohème

This inclusion of total beginners is what really made me want to join Opera Society. As someone with the technical musical knowledge of DJ Badboy, and who answers the question “Soprano or alto?” with a nod, it was really encouraging to have someone patiently leading me. I surprised myself by hitting a note that I thought sounded like I was being stabbed with a screwdriver, but seemed to impress those auditioning me. But I never would’ve had the guts to push my voice, or try and hit a scary high note if it hadn’t been for the friendly, reassuring atmosphere. I considered doing a cartwheel as a finishing move, but I think that’s better left in 2008.

So, I didn’t choke on my tongue or get laughed out the room. In the words of the immortal Coldplay “If you never try you’ll never know.” So I’m going to keep exploring this weird town and experiencing things out of my normal comfort zone. I tried something totally new and in the end it all paid off: I was accepted into the chorus and attended my first rehearsal.

Expect to see an article about my first experience falling off a stage soon.

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