When I met singer Emma Novak ’22 for our interview, she exuded friendliness. As she described her recent senior voice recital, her devotion to the process and act of performing shined through. As a history Honors major and music Honors minor, she had been preparing for this concert for a couple years. In fact, Emma intended to perform it her original senior year, but she took a gap year at the height of the pandemic. The performance went very well, including opera arias as well as a duet with Liam Ash ’22. They sang a piece from a Mozart opera, and Emma appreciated being able to perform collaboratively to have a greater stage presence. The performance held even greater emotional value because Emma had been sick the week before and was concerned she would have to reschedule in a similar way that she had to postpone due to the pandemic. Yet, she got better and her friends came to see her. Their support was especially meaningful as some of them had not heard her sing before.
“I don’t know, I really loved it. It did feel like a kind of capstone moment for something I’ve been working on for a really long time. And now I get to learn new songs, which I haven’t gotten to do in ages, because I’ve been trying to perfect these other ones. So that’s amazing,” Emma said.
“I’ve been taking voice lessons since I was in maybe first grade, and I was thinking for a long time about going to school for voice. A part of the reason I picked Swarthmore is because the music program is so strong here. So doing recitals was a goal of mine sort of from the outset, and I’ve been lucky to have a really wonderful voice teacher, Nancy Jantsch.” Emma said.
Emma reflected on the constructive and positive environment of studying history and especially music at Swarthmore.
“I’ve definitely gotten exposed to a lot more songs that I’ve gotten to learn and I like being around other people who are studying music. Getting to combine vocal lessons with courses has been great. Music history is super interesting to me as a history major. So there’s a lot of crossover, and just in general, sort of approaching music more as a full academic thing is…entirely different.”
Emma had the chance to develop her music theory knowledge, a welcome and new challenge. Her experience studying music in an academic context deepened her relationship to the art, and by understanding music in a new context, it became further legitimized as a worthwhile and meaningful pursuit, something more interdisciplinary and involved than the voice lessons that both formed and inspired her.
“For most of my life, until college, music was a thing that I did that was separate from school. And it’s this very big piece of my life. So having [music] be something that I study, and that I talk about others with, and then carrying that knowledge into my lessons and incorporating it into how I learned new music … has been a really great experience.”
Emma feels that, on some level, she is expressing part of herself through singing;both the process of singing and realizing the lyrics and emotions they hold can be cathartic. She writes songs in lieu of journaling, finding that this method of communication and art is perhaps more immediate and incorporates another element of auto-expression and emotion that words alone can not evoke: melody.
Music is an essential element of Emma’s life, in and out of the classroom, actively participating in different musical communities. She has performed in two opera productions outside of Swarthmore and two at Swarthmore. Emma intends to keep singing after her graduation.
“I don’t know exactly what form that will take. But I can’t really imagine not studying voice.”
For readers who may be interested in delving into the world of opera, but don’t know where to start, Emma has a few suggestions: ‘Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém’ (‘Song to the Moon’) from Rusalka by Dvořák, Chanson D’Avril (Song of April) by Bizet, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (Doretta’s Song) from La Rondine by Puccini, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre” (Toreador Song) from Carmen, also by Bizet, Anything from La Bohème by Puccini, and Anything from La Traviata by Verdi.