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A change of tone

Participating in choir has brought senior Rummana Hussain out of her shell

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As her voice faded and the track transitioned to an instrumental verse, cheers immediately erupted from the audience, though senior Rummana Hussain wasn’t yet done with the song. A huge grin spread over her face as she began to sing the next verse of “Fix You” by Coldplay at the MTHS talent show.

As she sang, all Hussain could think was, “Oh my gosh, am I actually doing this? Is this happening?”

Hussain said her involvement in choir has given her opportunities for personal growth and exploration throughout her high school experience.

Her roots in choir date back to her days as a Hazelwood Elementary Eagle. She credited former Hazelwood music teacher Susan Moore, who retired last year, for getting her into singing.

“Just this random day, I guess, she heard me singing specifically, so after class she [said] ‘Oh, you’re really good and you should go on with [singing] because you could go far.’ That’s pretty much what got me so into it,” Hussain said.

Though Moore’s praise encouraged Hussain to join choir at Hazelwood, she did not remain involved throughout elementary school. Singing became a much greater part of her life when she joined MTHS choir as a freshman.

While Hussain didn’t know many people in choir in the beginning, she said she began to open up to people.

“I think that’s just because of the way that it is, the way that the choir room is and the people in choir. We all kind of talk to each other even though we might not all be friends with each other, but we’re all kind of like a big family,” Hussain said.

Others have also noticed the way Hussain’s personality really comes out during choir practice, including choir teacher T.J. Sullivan.

“[Choir is the] time of day when the flower opens. The music is sort of a catalyst, as well as the way the kids are in that class and how they’re open with each other. That’s really helped her open up,” Sullivan said.

This translated into her relations outside of choir, making her more open with people in general.

In addition, she said presenting in front of others for class has become easier. Hussain’s disdain for presenting in class was erased because of the lessons and skills she learned in choir.

Hussain said she likes singing because of the way it makes her feel free.

“It helps me get away from everything else. It helps me forget about things, so if there’s something going on, if I sing something it helps to forget about it and it helps me to feel better,” she said.

As with any other activity, Hussain sometimes struggles with choir due to her physical disabilities. Hussain is visually impaired and unable to walk for extended periods of time, but she does not let this get in her way of achieving what she wants and improving in choir.

“I think the difficulties that I’ve faced have helped me to get better as a person because I eventually learned how to overcome them,” she said.

Hussain said that it can be hard for her to keep the right time while singing, and she sometimes ends up singing parts of a song at the wrong time so it “sounds different than it should.”

“She doesn’t feel music and rhythm the same as a person who can stand up and move around. She can sing in tune, has a pretty voice, but always doesn’t feel rhythm. She has really improved that skill,” Sullivan said.

When Hussain has difficulties with a song, it is usually due to lack of familiarity. She commits herself to learning the song by listening to it many times.

Eventually, Hussain gets it down.

Hussain has remained dedicated to choir over the past years. According to Sullivan, she has never missed a concert, no matter the difficulty she may have faced.

“I [have] respect for her because she always came to the concerts, and it was an effort. I had kids who really took well to her and they pushed her around [in her wheelchair] and made sure she was always where she needed to be. And she always came to the concerts, always fixed up and her hair was always really pretty, so I thought ‘oh, she takes this seriously. This is really important to her,’” Sullivan said.

In the past year, Hussain has been unstoppable. She traveled with MTHS choir to Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho for a series of competitions.

“It was the first field trip that I ever went on that was overnight. I was so excited to go. I actually still want to go back. It was literally the best weekend that I’ve ever had,” Hussain said.

When choir members arrived at Silverwood that Friday, they mostly settled in and explored the area. The next day consisted of competitions.

Hussain recalled MTHS choirs gathering before the competitions for warm up exercises.

“Before we did our competition, we did all these warm ups and exercises and we actually did this one exercise where we were all in a circle and we held hands and we just passed the energy around. I liked doing that. It worked so well,” Hussain said.

Later on that day, the awards ceremony took place at Silverwood. Accents, the choir which Hussain belongs to, took first place in Women’s Ensemble, earning a Superior rating, and Overall Top Choir Award. Dynamics received First Place and a Superior rating in the Jazz Choir category.

Throughout the weekend, Hussain tried new things, from staying in a motel on a field trip for the first time to taking a ride on the Corkscrew, one of Silverwood’s many roller coasters.

“She seemed beaming, she was always smiling. Really happy. She was absorbing the experience, didn’t take it for granted,” Sullivan said.

Keeping with her trend of trying new things, Hussain performed solo at the MTHS talent show on April 16, singing “Fix You” by Coldplay.

In the couple of weeks leading up to the talent show, Hussain had been searching for someone to play guitar for her. However, among the three people she asked, none of them was available to play for her.

Fast forward to the day before talent show auditions, she emailed “Glee” guitarist Derik Nelson to ask him if he could send her a track, since he had also covered the song. However, Nelson said he had other responsibilities that weekend so he couldn’t do one for her.

Finally, two days before the talent show, Sullivan found Hussain a track and put it on a CD for her.

“I took it home, so all I was doing for those next two days was just practicing. I’m kind of surprised I didn’t lose my voice,” Hussain said, laughing. “It was [stressful] but it was fun at the same time because it was something that I wanted to do.”

Before she went onstage, Hussain wasn’t nervous in the slightest.

“I wasn’t super nervous like I should have been before I went on. I think I was just running off of adrenaline or something. I was like ‘I can’t believe I’m actually doing it!’” Hussain said.

The rest of the group of talent show performers weren’t supposed to leave the choir room, but when Hussain performed, they joined the audience and began screaming in support.

One of her biggest supporters was Sullivan, who watched her performance from behind the curtain. “I was backstage [at the talent show] and I created that track for [Hussain]. I thought it would work really well, and it did. I was really proud of her. I had tears in my eyes, like a proud father,” Sullivan said.

Hussain said that alumnae Haley Shoemaker is one of her inspirations. Shoemaker was in choir up until she graduated two years ago, and Hussain equated her to being like a sister due to how helpful and supportive she is. These are traits that Hussain said she wants to build on more in herself.

Also among Hussain’s inspirations is singer and “Glee” guitarist Derik Nelson and his siblings, who have performed at MTHS twice to benefit the drama department. They most recently performed at MTHS for their “Take Chances” tour in October 2014.

“I got to meet them this year and that was a lot of fun. When I met them it was kind of like we were just some friends talking. They don’t treat you like fans,” Hussain said.

Hussain’s next big aspiration is to audition for “The Voice” next year. After doing the talent show, she began to wonder what it would be like to audition for something on an even larger scale. Whether or not Hussain gets into “The Voice,” she thinks auditioning would be a fun experience.

“It would allow me to do what I want to and I would just get the experience of what it’s like and what they have to go through for the audition process. I think it would be fun,” Hussain said.

“The Voice” is a TV show that features musical talent from across the country based on an initial blind audition, meaning the first wave of contestants are chosen based on their voices without the musician coaches seeing them firsthand.

“They don’t really judge you by your looks and they don’t really care about that. It’s more of just what you sound like,” Hussain said. Hussain’s interests outside of choir include writing and being with friends and family. She mostly likes freewriting, when you can write about whatever crosses your mind.

“I’ve written some [music], but it wasn’t that good because I wrote it back in elementary school and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just doing it for fun,” Hussain said.

She hopes to pick back up on writing music for her own pleasure.

In the long run, Hussain hopes to make a career out of something in the music field, such as writing music or performing.

She plans to go to Edmonds Community College and take classes in music, as there are many different options for choirs. Afterward, she hopes to transfer to a music school in continued pursuit of her passion.

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The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.
A change of tone