One Note at a Time: Finding My Way through Singing

Category Student Voices


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Raymond Class of '25
Authored on November 12, 2021


I’ve enjoyed singing for as long as I’ve known.

Whether through the choruses of Shady Side Academy or the SSA Intonations, my high school’s premier male a cappella group, singing defined my secondary school experience in ways nothing else could. It was my way of exploring ideas, making sense of my emotions and feelings, and sharing with the world the gift of music. It was my community, my support system, and my second family.

After the start of the pandemic, I realized how much singing mattered to me. Over Zoom and in the classroom, we were taunted by the prospect of singing. Never before did the sound we all loved—the echo off the walls of the theater, the harmonies we would create, the unison of our voices—seem to be so near, yet so far away.

A picture of Raymond Zheng, his father, and his sister in a theater.

Singing at SSA

A post-concert picture I took with my dad and sister. Shoutout to my mom, behind the camera!

Before I knew it, my senior year arrived, and college application season came around the corner. I found myself swamped in uncertainties. Lost, I noted that music mattered to me, and that I wanted to attend a college where I could sing and engage with music. So, when I began thinking about colleges, “singing / vocal music opportunities” became a criterion I could not let go.

And as time went on, it grew with my other criteria. Sometimes, it shifted one college off the list, and other times, it shifted one on. I found Harvard on my list after discovering a plethora of choral and a cappella opportunities through the Hub—Harvard’s directory for organizations, events, and activities.

I noted one day that students at Harvard had access to technology that would allow me to pursue my side interest in audio production and songwriting. This sealed the deal. I took the opportunity and applied to Harvard.

The biting winter season arrived in a blur, and with it came an acceptance letter. At that moment, I saw a different future ahead of me. My family and I rejoiced in ways we didn’t know how to. My friends and I cherished the coming end of our senior year. Before we knew it, high school was over.

A picture of a red banner that reads "Welcome Harvard First Year."

Arriving at Harvard

The welcome banner I saw the day I moved in.

A few days after I arrived, I noticed a big red poster that read “SING at Harvard.” Although the poster was for Harvard chorus auditions, I knew the three words on the poster meant all the opportunities ahead of me. I saw this poster again at the Student Involvement Fair, but I never could have imagined just how many unique opportunities I would find.

A picture of students walking around and visiting tables at the Student Involvement Fair.

Student Involvement Fair

Student Involvement Fair of Fall 2021, featuring over 450 student organizations at Harvard!

At Harvard, I found communities who shared my love of singing. From the choral programs to the a cappella groups, each with their own flavor and spice, there was no limitation to what kinds of singing experiences I could find.

Harvard’s singing opportunities extended to not only experienced singers looking to join a fun, dedicated group but also to beginners who wanted to learn the foundations. From classes about skills for singing to groups like the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, I encountered an array of different musical dynamics but always the same appreciation for and love of singing.

I found my way through the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, one of Harvard’s choruses.

On the first day of rehearsal, I realized I was part of a new family. I noted just how wonderful it was to hear choral sounds again, like the echoes of our voices off the walls of Paine Hall, the chromatic harmonies we built as we sight-read our pieces, and our powerful voices pounding the empty pews of the hall with Dr. Andrew Clark’s infamous “forte ma.”

That feeling of familiarity resurfaced at Reunion: A Fall Concert, our joint concert with the Radcliffe Choral Society on November 6, 2021—the first in 20 months. Through singing, we delivered messages about hope, loss, remembrance, pain, and resilience.

A picture of the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum singing at Reunion: A Fall Concert.

Reunion: A Fall Concert

My Collegiites and I singing “Lay Me Low,” our closing number, by Addah Z. Potter and arranged by Kevin Siegfried, at Reunion: A Fall Concert.

Reunion: A Fall Concert
My Collegiites and me singing “Lay Me Low,” our closing number, by Addah Z. Potter and arranged by Kevin Siegfried, at Reunion: A Fall Concert.

One note at a time, we reflected on the year passed. One note at a time, I reflected on my college transition. I felt a new comfort sink into place in this new environment that was Harvard. Every note represented a change in my life, a transition from an old experience to a new one, and a pulse from a community in which I felt supported no matter where I was. As I reflect on my first two months at Harvard, I realize that singing has grounded me in college much like it had in high school.

And, at Harvard, I know it only goes up from here.

A special shoutout to my Collegiites, Dr. Andrew Clark, Resident Conductor Jonathan Mott, and Accompanist Justin Blackwell! My first few semesters would not have been the same without you. With much Collegi-luv, as always!

Reunion: A Fall Concert was live-streamed and available to watch on YouTube here.


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Raymond Class of '25

Hey everyone! My name is Raymond, and I’m a junior at Harvard College studying Neuroscience on the Mind, Brain, and Behavior track. I live in Currier House—objectively the best house at the College!

Photo of Raymond Zheng