It’s 12:30 p.m. on Friday, which means that it is class time for many students. However, for the students in MUS 235: Finding Your Voice, the start of class looks different than a traditional class. They begin by laying on yoga mats set on the floor, honing in on their breathing and getting in tune with their body. This sets the mood for the rest of class and helps the students let go of their stress.
Finding Your Voice is taught by professor Nicole Hanig. It is a class that fuses singing and wellbeing. The class is intimate with only 13 students, and it acknowledges how important and primal our voices are for both singing and speaking while also involving lots of self-reflection.
Everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to singing: Some feel at ease singing for others, and some get nervous.
“Even for those of us that are comfortable singers, we only want to do it on our own terms,” Hanig said.
Professor Hanig is the head of the voice department at the University of Portland, teaching Applied Voice, Vocal Performance Workshop and Lyric Theater Workshop. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Illinois and has performed all over the world as a trained opera singer.
Hanig designed the course to be accessible for everyone, regardless of whether they are experienced singers.
“I’ve always known that singing was for everybody, but I didn’t know how to make it for everybody,” Hanig said.
Hanig wants people to understand the importance of using voice effectively to deliver an emotion, as it is crucial for speaking as well as singing.
While the course focuses heavily on singing, there is an equal importance placed on mental health and physical wellness. The students engage in lots of self-reflection, learning how to face their fears and assess how they feel. These are practices aimed at being more in tune with what is going on in their bodies.
“It’s awesome that professor Hanig contributes to the conversation of wellbeing and being able to embody yourself in a way that is so accessible,” senior Daisy Hippolito, a student taking the class, said.
Before long, Hippolito quickly felt like the class was a safe space for her.
“Everyone in the class develops a daily practice to rely upon to stabilize their nervous system through breath — to sing or to speak,” Hanig said.
Hippolito says that the class engages in a practice they call “the emotion wheel.” The students go around in a circle sharing what emotions they are feeling that day. This was initially met with some mixed feelings by Hippolito, but she later discovered how interesting it was to see how her classmates were feeling.
“I always find that I feel more comfortable and relaxed whenever we do it,” Hippolito said.
Hippolito ended up enjoying this practice so much that she even implemented it with her roommates.
“I just wanted something relaxing in my senior year while also combining something that I previously loved,” Hippolito said.
Hippolito always had a passion for music growing up. She sang, played instruments and did musical theater in high school. Although she admits she was never serious about singing when she was younger, seeing MUS 235 on the course guide piqued her curiosity. After asking her friends, she found out the course was being taught by an opera singer.
“It sounded like the most perfect combination of eccentric and exciting,” Hippolito said.
Hanig plans to offer the course on a yearly basis, and hopes to eventually add more sections. She has even been asked to speak about it at three other universities in Oregon and Texas.
“I haven’t been this excited about my discipline in so long,” Hanig said, and seemed hopeful that more students want to take the course in the future.
Amélie Lavallee is a reporter for the Beacon. She can be reached at [email protected].