I drive the familiar highway northwest, reminiscing on the countless trips back and forth over four consequential years of my life. I remember when Taylor Swift’s Red came out over fall break in 2012, and we blasted the album multiple times on a carpool trip back to campus. I recall belting Wicked with my sister as she prepared to help me move back into an apartment during my junior year of college. I even drudge up the sleepy ride back from a Macklemore concert in the Twin Cities with friends right before he became famous; thank you very much. This trip was before every Concordia alum moved to the big city, aka Minneapolis, post-graduation. I swear, most Cobbers are either in Minneapolis or Fargo now. I guess I’m one of them.
What is a Cobber? At Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, our mascot is an angry ear of corn named Kernel Cobb, who inspired the slogan, “Fear the Ear.” This is serious and not a joke. Roll Cobbs!
The campus is mostly the same, although a giant “Welcome to Concordia College” sign spans loudly across the skyway connecting the central part of campus to the sporty side. I didn’t go to that side very often.
There’s already snow on the ground and a noticeable chill in the air– it’s funny how big of a difference three hours north makes. I recall many pitch-black nights walking with my fellow Concordia Choir members from rehearsal to dinner, barely breathing because it was so freezing. Up north is a different kind of cold. That cold hits different, as the kids might say.
The building I walk toward hasn’t changed much. A jokester has put a crimson-red scarf on the small statue of Paul J. Christiansen outside of the recital hall– I smile. Someone always did something like this. Most of the faculty names on the doors remain the same as when I left seven years ago, though the space is notably missing the legendary name of René Clausen. His spirit haunts this space.
The halls are bustling with students; it’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m guessing The Concordia Choir still meets at 4:30 sharp. Everyone stares at me as I pass by, making a beeline for my favorite practice room. Everybody knows everybody at Concordia, especially in Hvidsten, the music building. I’m too old to be a student; there are no guest performers or faculty on the schedule, so who am I? I flash my fake, midwestern smile without making eye contact and keep walking. My room is open.
I always liked this room because the mirror made the space feel larger. Many hours were spent picking apart my appearance in this broom closet. I remember a specific day when I wore a pair of jeans that had grown slightly too tight and a sweater that never looked right on me. Still, I stubbornly wore the outfit anyway, and I barely got any practicing done that afternoon because I was just staring at my body in the mirror, willing it to change. “I’ll start doing My Fitness Pal again today,” I told myself, my eyes welling up with tears. “I need to run more. I won’t go to Mick’s (the Thursday night spot for Concordia students) this week.” Poor Victoria. How would she feel now, staring in the same mirror, fifteen pounds heavier than the last time she looked into it? Yet another sign of my failures.
I try not to think too often of how past Victoria would feel about me because I know she’d be disappointed– I established that last week. It’s hard not to think of her in this space filled with ghosts, demons, and memories. But past Victoria was an idiot and didn’t know anything. She had so much to learn. I banish those thoughts and warm up for my brief rehearsal with the exhale-card-holding pianist. Yes, he’s back. If you haven’t gathered this, he’s a recurring character in my life.
“Erika!” He exclaims as I walk into the recital hall. There are no demons in here, only friendly ghosts. I have positive, warm memories of this space. Whether it was hours-long coachings with Dobby the house-elf (as he will henceforth be known in this blog), aria class, or waiting for my entrance as Cenerentola for opera scenes, the energy in the recital hall was always dynamic and inviting. As we drop needle on my pieces and I sing out into the hall, I think of every solo performance I sang on this stage over four years. It feels like home.
I often look back on my time at Concordia resentfully. When I graduated high school, my goal was to go to Concordia, sing under Dr. René Clausen with THE Concordia Choir, and direct a high school choir. Boom. I had it all figured out. However, by the end of my sophomore year, I realized I didn’t like choir much and that I loved opera. I changed my major to vocal performance, but I didn’t want to quit choir because my friends were there, and I liked going on the tours. Seriously, that’s what kept me in Concordia Choir. I was also hung up on prestige and ~social currency~. I can admit that now. It all looks so silly in retrospect.
I spent years undoing how I sang at Concordia– high larynx, darkened vowels, little vibrato. Regardless, those hours spent in the South Choral Room meant something to me. The demons haunting my memories were actually friendly ghosts.
I gained so much from Concordia that I couldn’t acknowledge for so long. The faculty at this small school supported me unequivocally. I got to travel the country once a year for free and sing with a nationally renowned choir. I went to Italy, for crying out loud! I was an incredibly naive young woman and became a person in a welcoming, safe and encouraging environment. I made friends for life here, and even though we didn’t connect at Concordia, I wouldn’t be with Casey if it wasn’t for that place. It’s where I met Dobby, who shaped my artistry more than any other teacher or mentor in my entire artistic career to date.
My perspective on Concordia shifted, finally, after seven years. Regardless of whether or not my audition from this weekend leads to a contract, I’m thankful for the haunting feeling that I made a mistake releasing itself into the universe. I’ll never know whether transferring to a conservatory would have changed the trajectory of my vocal career. I’ll never understand why I stayed at Concordia. I just did.
If you read my latest Frauenbild Fridays post, you’ll know that one of the rings I wear is a ruby class ring from Concordia. When I lived in North Carolina, nobody ever asked about the ring except to note its beauty, and that was a rare comment. Being back in Minnesota, however, I get plenty of remarks from fellow Concordia graduates or folks who know about the Cobber ring tradition.
My church choir has a new alto, and she is the sweetest lady. On Sunday, she asked me if I was wearing a Cobber ring. I smiled and exclaimed, “Yes, I’m a Cobber!” The change had already taken root. I usually brush Cobber comments off, but two days ago, I was grateful and proud to be a graduate of Concordia College. I surprised myself yet again. I’ve learned that surprises are everywhere if you pay attention.
There’s only one way to end the reflection on my undergraduate institution, and it’s this: