Article by Sara Kuang
Banner design by Rachel Cho
My face looks pockmarked, tired, and sweaty in my hazy Zoom window, despite my best efforts to freshen it up beforehand. My eyes dart back again to my schedule as my hands anxiously fiddle with my sleeves; I’m waiting for my special needs buddy to join the first karaoke class Zoom meeting. What will he think of me? Will I be a good teacher? How will I engage with my buddy? Suddenly, my thoughts are jarred by a second Zoom window entering my meeting. My buddy, Matthew, appears with an endearing smile and fills my screen. “Hi Ms. Kuang!” He pipes up happily, eager to begin. Giddy from adrenaline, I greet him back and my hands shake as I hold my notebook up to the screen, showing him my schedule for the class and ready to begin.
Throughout the class, Matthew chatters away about the musicals, artists, or bands behind the songs I’ve chosen, but I frequently interrupt him, thinking that we had to be solely focused on the songs. I am stiff; I try to smile a bit too wide, and I don’t take the time to listen to the contributions that he makes to the conversations. As we read through the lyrics of one song, I become aware that Matthew didn’t seem to enjoy the class as I’d hoped and desperately try to liven up the class to no avail. Worst of all, I’ve discovered that I didn’t choose enough songs to last the entire class, forcing us to repeat one halfheartedly. When the clock finally indicates that 45 minutes have crawled by and Matthew’s window closes, I sit there a little longer, staring at my face once more. That was so rough. How did I think I would be good at this? I sigh, then close the window.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with singing. I enjoyed singing in private or occasionally following along to the radio in the car, but it had never been something I focused on. My parents pushed me in middle school to sing for the worship team at church, thinking it would help me become less shy and more confident. Instead, I found myself cringing at my own voice every week, mortified by my lack of singing expertise and frustrated at my social awkwardness. Being on the worship team crushed my self-confidence, and I quickly found myself resenting the microphone and my own vocals. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I was thankful that I would no longer be thrust into the spotlight, and stopped singing altogether.
However, in December 2020, I received an email about tutoring FCSN special needs individuals with Christmas Karaoke. I had wanted to find a fulfilling virtual volunteering opportunity at FCSN, and it seemed as if this one could be relatively low-stress and maybe even fun. I still balked a bit at the thought of singing with someone else over a Zoom setting, but I eventually convinced myself. After all, I would be in the privacy of my own room, and the experience might help me remember why I enjoyed singing in the first place.
After the failure of the first karaoke class, I was disappointed but still eager to make changes to my class structure to better fit my buddy. In the following weeks and months, I emailed Matthew and his parents about song recommendations and adjusted the class to Matthew’s specific interests, taking out the song lyric discussions. Eventually, he began emailing me the song list for each class, choosing what songs he loved to sing. As we got to know each other better, I slowly learned of his particular passion for musicals like Mamma Mia!, Little Shop of Horrors, High School Musical, and Cheetah Girls and was blown away by his extensive knowledge of TV shows, actors and general movie trivia. I adjusted my own preparation style to adapt to these changes as well. Before, I would simply practice unfamiliar songs in the hour before class started; now, I began reading Wikipedia and IMDb articles on the musicals and movies that Matthew chose songs from so I could fully engage him in conversation. As I got to know my buddy better and witnessed his personality and singing flourish, I found myself starting to look forward to these classes as well. I loved my time together with my buddy so much that I even added a second class to the week.
It has been about 9 months since I began teaching this class and I’m honestly quite amazed at how far both Matthew and I have come. Not only was I introduced to some of my favorite songs and artists through teaching these karaoke classes, but I’ve also grown tremendously as a person. Matthew inspires me to let loose, be myself, and have fun on occasion without any regard for how others might view me. I can feel his confidence and cheeriness during every class, even through the Zoom window, and it’s something that never fails to brighten up my day and lift my spirits. Most astonishing however, was how I’ve grown so much more outgoing through these classes. Because of Matthew, I’ve fallen in love with singing and I’ve even eagerly returned to my church’s worship team. I’m a more patient, empathetic and approachable person now and I always try to bring a smile to the faces of those around me, just like Matthew has brought a smile to mine.
Karaoke class continues to be an absolute joy to teach, and I genuinely love every minute of the classes. I can’t wait to continue my friendship with Matthew and find new ways to serve the amazing community that FCSN is to me.