The Beginning of the End

Tomorrow I move back into Erskine for my last semester of undergraduate college, and I’m surprised to say that it really doesn’t feel any different.  I’m not sure what I expected – perhaps some great anticipation or a growing sense of the nearing end – but it really just feels like another semester.  So, after a semi-productive break (because it wouldn’t be a vacation if you did everything that you were supposed to), it’s time to pack up and organize a little before everything gets too busy.  So, there is the usual, inevitable checklist:

Get the weekly schedule together.  I actually make a document on my computer for this, which might seem a bit unnecessary, but is unbelievably helpful.  I start with my classes then add everything that I know is permanent on my schedule, such as my SI class, weekly meetings, and rehearsals.  The main point of this is to know where I am going, when I am going, which days are going to be busier, etc. and to start planning accordingly.

Do a little long-term planning.  This mostly involves looking through syllabi and schedules, and writing all the important dates in the calendar.  I think that this is one of the most useful things that I do, along with the weekly schedule, because it allows me to take a broad look over the semester, and know what is coming.  For example, if you have two tests, one paper, and a concert on the same day – that’s something that is good to know ahead of time!

Clean the dorm room.  Ah, yes, the dreaded desk overhaul.  Although I consider myself to be more neat than messy, even the most organized student gets those pesky little piles of accumulation and cast-off drawers that seem to pop up during the semester.  It is nice to clear your mind and your living space a little before the piles creep in again.

Stock the shelves and refrigerator.  Of course!  How else can a college student make it through a semester of late-night studying, waking up too late for breakfast, or needing a little something more than the dining hall?  Food is an essential.

Try to get ahead while you can.  I always try to take advantage of the relatively free schedule that I have at the beginning of the semester to get a little ahead on my schoolwork.  This comes in handy within just a few weeks, as time starts to get scarcer and work more heavy.

Enjoy the free time!  Ah, the beginning of the semester is a rare time, when you can read a little for fun, hang out with friends, or maybe even – dare I say it? – take a nap.  Because for at least the first few days, you actually remember the meaning of the phrase, “free time.”

Hope all that is not too boring, but that’s what is going on right now.  There is something nice about the beginning of a semester – that chance to start almost everything over again.  Although this may be my last beginning at Erskine, I’m excited to start towards the end, and to enjoy my final semester as much as I have enjoyed the previous ones. 

The Company of Books

Now that J-term is over, I spent a couple of days at school last weekend, and then headed home on Monday for an extended J-term break.  My sister and I both finished our classes early, so we are enjoying a full week at home, sitting outside in the beautiful Charleston weather and catching up on everything that seems to get neglected while at college.  First on my list: Reading.

Some of my J-term Break reading that I have been enjoying.

There is a permanent pile of books sitting on my shelf that I am dying to read or re-read (usually for the past few years), but during the semester there are always textbooks and novels to read, essays to write, projects to plan, laundry accumulating, and so many tasks that accumulate.  But in those precious days of vacation between semesters, I have hours to pick up and enjoy these dear friends that have been neglected for too long.  What can be better than a few hours sprawled out on your bed, lost in a novel?  Or savoring an anthology of your favorite poet, discovering new meanings in your old favorites?  And even delving more frequently into The Book – isn’t it comforting to be able to sit down and get a good message out of a Bible reading and study?  Ah, c’est la vie.

Another thing that I have discovered to be quite enjoyable, despite my lack of great enthusiasm about technology, is following a couple of blogs.  Although I am far from a faithful reader to any, I have a few bookmarked on my computer that are written by friends, and I enjoy catching up on then once in a while.  For example, one is a first year teacher, like my older sister, so it is fun to compare their experiences.  Another is a recently graduated friend who is very artistic and musical, so I like to see her projects and get some good suggestions for new music.  Also, as various acquaintances at Erskine go abroad, I find it especially exciting to follow their adventures in England, Spain, France, or elsewhere – especially after having such a great experience abroad, myself.

Finally, there is a wealth of news and information to read on the internet.  Catching up on current events – something I do not leave myself much time for at school – and reading articles is a great use of a few spare minutes.  My dad often sends me interesting articles to read on, my sister does the same with, and I have a few of my own sites that I frequent, one of my favorites being (I always had a curiosity for science, especially astronomy).

Just a few days left!  Imagine all the quality time I can fill reading in those many, free hours

Show Time!

Well, I did it after all – we did it.  My show went off well on Friday, well-received by the audience and with a lot of fun on stage by the performers.

Friday was exceedingly wet; it was grey and raining steadily all day, and generally foreboding.  As I finished some of the last-minute details, I watched the puddles and rivulets forming outside, wondering if the foul weather would prevent some prospective audience members from attending.  I also could not help from feeling a little more nervous, in my already anxious state, about the weather being some kind of sign indicating a mishap to come later that evening.  Luckily, I was able to distract myself for most of the day with little projects, keeping my eyes and mind mostly off of the pouring rain.

Despite the weather, that evening we had an overwhelming audience of over a hundred – we ran out of programs!  Peeking out into the audience before the show, I was excited to see so many peers, parents, professors, and locals sitting there – it was rewarding to see so much support from the community.  Whatever their reasons for coming to the show (good publicity, the friend or family they came to see, jazz music), I was pleased that we got to share all of our hard work with so many people.

A shot of the cast during our opening number, "And All that Jazz".

Afterwards, most of the cast re-congregated in the lobby of one of the dorms for a cast party.  We watched a freshly-burned DVD of our performance and ate brownies and cupcakes.  It was fun to be able to celebrate our performance together, having the cast all congregated one more time.  As we watched ourselves bow and leave the stage on the recording, I could tell by looking around the room that everyone was as proud of what we accomplished as I was – I know that I couldn’t have done it without a great cast of talented vocalists and instrumentalists, and it turned out so well!  We have even been invited to perform selections in the coming semester at a couple of events, so perhaps the show is not over yet, after all.

Back at Erskine

Enjoying a meal at a local "Mom and Pop" restaurant in the great metropolis of Belton shortly after my return.

It’s been rather a while since I wrote last, probably because I’ve been busy transitioning from “Spain life” back into  life at Erskine—a transition that has kept my time happily filled with catch-up coffee dates, time spent getting to know freshmen I only briefly met during fall orientation, and moving back into the dorm. There certainly are things about moving back to Erskine after having been abroad that are disorienting. (For one thing, I’m “the new kid” in some ways, while the freshmen now have a semester of Erskine history under their belt for which I was absent.) Overall, though, it’s been incredibly fun to jump back into the swing of things here in good ol’ Due West. And although lots of amazing conversations and times with friends have been had since I got back, one particular incident from this evening is what I’d like to share at the moment.

You see, as much as I loved Spain and wouldn’t trade the experiences I had there for the world, I also greatly missed Erskine, in large part because the community God has blessed me with here is so very special. Honestly, it took being away from Erskine for me to realize how truly amazing it is. Not because it’s a perfect school, nor because I’m always 100% happy every day here (I mean, we live in a fallen world), but because being far from home has shown me what an incredible blessing it is to be surrounded by so many encouraging friends who are all came to Erskine for the same reasons I did. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is quite a lot of ideological diversity on Erskine’s campus; and that’s a good thing! There’s a great contrast, however, between finding a handful of Christian friends in Spain and, at Erskine, being surrounded by a vast number of like-minded friends who challenge me, encourage me, and support me.

One fun January outing was an evening at the home of Erskine's Admissions Operations Coordinator (who also happens to be a fabulous cook and hostess)...

This evening, for example, I was wrestling inwardly with a bit of an existential crisis regarding my future calling (a crisis I would imagine not a few college students have experienced right around this time in their educational career).  I’ve always thought this was the vocation God was calling me to, but now I don’t even know…and maybe this isn’t what I’m meant to do for reasons x, y, z…but if it’s not, then what IS He calling me to? Etc., etc. Like a badly authored bit of stream of consciousness writing, these thoughts were racing through my head as I walked into my dorm a few hours ago to find an unsuspecting friend on sitting at the desk on lobby duty. Since I’m usually terrible at keeping whatever thoughts are consuming me bottled up, some of the aforementioned stream of incoherent thoughts and questions began to spill out.

Under Amanda's tutelage, we cooked a delicious meal together. Here are Rachel and Rebekah cutting up the potatoes.

So what did my friend—who happens to be a kind and insightful psychology major—do? She had me sit down and talk through my life plans and goals with her. And of course, since I’m at Erskine, I can already predict that this was one in a long series of conversations which I’ll doubtless have with various friends as I process and they advise, direct, and ask helpful questions. The simple fact that there are a large number of wise, well-adjusted, and caring individuals who will all listen as I babble and give me solid, Biblical advice in response is just a mind-boggling blessing. Living on a campus surrounded by friends who challenge, encourage, and care for me every day is such a delight. College is indeed a unique season of life. And like any other part of life, college is also largely what one makes of it. Erskine just happens to be an especially wonderful place in which to do that. “We always thank God for all of you…We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.

The scrumptious dinner we made. And there isn't even a picture of the coffee-cake pound-cake we made for dessert. Yum.

J-term is for Jazz

Here we are, halfway through the month of January, and over halfway finished with the beloved month of J-term at Erskine.  This Friday is the official end of my class, because that is the day of my final project – a musical revue – which has become tradition at Erskine during J-term.

Ever since my Freshman year, there has been a senior in the music department who spent three weeks in January compiling a musical revue for their J-term, and I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in all of them.  It began the first year as the final project of a senior music major, in lieu of a recital in the spring, and has been taken up by someone every year since.  The first two years began as musical theatre shows, highlighting a variety of great music from Broadway.  Last year, my friend Elizabeth did a show featuring all 80’s music, and this year I decided put together a revue of vocal jazz music.

Though we have a jazz band at Erskine, and the Chamber Singers often do some vocal jazz repertoire, there are not very many other opportunities at Erskine to explore jazz music.  I have always had an interest in and love of this genre, though I have limited training (limited meaning one year of jazz band in high school and singing jazz songs here and there in choir).  However, I thought it would be a great chance to stretch my own musical knowledge and abilities, and to open up the opportunity other musicians at Erskine, so I decided to take on the challenge.

I began the process in the fall, sifting through great jazz songs and familiarizing myself with more standards, and holding auditions at the end of November.  After choosing my cast of a dozen, recruiting a pianist, bass guitarist, and drummer, I distributed music just before the holidays and relaxed a bit over Christmas break.  Once January came it was back to work, and the rehearsals began. The last two weeks have been full of trial and error, stress and excitement, fun and work, singing and dancing, and lots of music.  Hard to believe there is only one more week left!  Three weeks, it seems, is not a very long time.  I’ll post later about how it all goes, but by this point I feel confident that everything will come together nicely – I just have to make it to Friday to see it.

The Wise Men come to Erskine

Last week was the busiest first week of J-term that I have ever had.  From the first day, moving back in on Sunday, the rehearsals began.  Every evening we rehearsed the opera at least once, every day adding something new, from the chorus to props to costumes.  On top of all these rehearsals I had all the planning and practice for my J-term project… but that is a topic for another blog.

Usually we prepare and present an opera in one semester, but this year we decided to perform first thing in January because of the Christmas theme.  Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors is set as part of the journey of the Magi on the way to visit the newborn Christ, and our Friday and Saturday night performances fell, appropriately, on the Feast of the Epiphany.  I enjoyed this timing, performing at the end of the twelve days of Christmas, because sometimes it is difficult to remember that season lasts that long.  It seems that many celebrate only through December 25, or until New Year’s.  Being part of Amahlkept me in the Christmas mindset, reminding me that those twelve days are not just part of a (slightly irritating) song, but a continuation of the celebration.

The cast of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" after our final performance.

It was nice for us to have a break before this performance, also, after all the concerts and singing that we do in the last weeks of the fall semester.  After resting our voices over Christmas, we came back and polished it up in a week.  I was a little worried that the singers (including myself) would forget some of what we did before the long break and have to scramble to re-learn some of it when we got back, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well-prepared everyone was.  By the end of the week we were ready and excited to put it before an audience, and had two nights of great performances by the cast, and two good-sized, appreciative audiences.

We had one slight mishap at the end of the second performance when our door frame began to tip over as the kings left, but the one standing below thought quickly and calmly pushed it upright again before it got too far down.  It was a good save!  It is always nerve-wracking when those unforeseen problems occur during the middle of the action onstage.  Depending on what happens, there is usually a mixture of hilarity and panic among those on stage, but no matter the outcome, it certainly makes it more entertaining for the audience!

If you would like to read a little more about our performance, here is a Net News article about the opera: