Oberlin students are known for keeping superhuman schedules, full of classes, extracurriculars, ensembles, and other pursuits. But Katie Skayhan ’15 is busier than most. She is a voice major in the conservatory, which means hours of practice, coachings, lessons, and rehearsals every day. This fall, she will take on the part of Rose, one of the lead female roles in Oberlin’s production of Kurt Weill’s opera Street Scene. She is secretary of the Council of Conservatory Students, and has three jobs: in the Concert Production Office, the Conservatory Communications Office, and the College’s Office of Public Programs.
And Skayhan is an athlete: a member of the women’s track and field team, competing in the 400m hurdles, high jump, and relays.
At her high school in suburban Portland, Oregon, Skayhan ran track and played basketball and volleyball, but decided to focus on music for college. And so studying voice took precedence in her first few semesters. During her sophomore year, she took a fitness class with Assistant Track and Field Coach Jason Hudson, and he encouraged her to join the track team after noticing her speed.
Fitting in practices on both sides of campus initially was a concern, but Skayhan has managed to find time for both—albeit with some creative scheduling. She trained alone with a coach during her first semester in track because the team's practice time conflicted with choir. She memorized the repertoire for her junior recital during a 13-hour bus ride to Atlanta with the track team.
The coaching staff and Skayhan’s voice teacher—Professor of Singing Daune Mahy—have been supportive and accommodating. “I have very personal relationships with all of them,” Skayhan says. “They understand the commitments that I have, and they really take care of me.”
“Katie is a joy to coach,” says Hudson. “She has done a great job of improving each year, and I am excited to see her development in her senior year. I just wish she would have started running sooner!”
"Katie began as a promising talent with a lovely personality and has grown into a young woman whose promise is developing into reality," says Mahy, who is quick to praise Skayhan's work in a summer 2014 production of La Rondine, part of the annual Oberlin in Italy program.
"She did a stunning job and brought together the elements of good vocalism, drama, and musicality into a wonderful whole."
Skayhan’s athletic and musical sides also complement each other. Both require rigorous time management and close attention to physical wellness. Running improves her singing by connecting her more deeply to her breathing. Being on her feet for hours in opera rehearsals helps keep her fit. And effective practice skills learned in the conservatory or at the gym are put to good use in both areas.
Skayhan is happy to report that her fellow musicians and teammates seem charmed by her double life. Her musician friends come to track meets, and her athlete friends attend her recitals and want to hear more classical music. “Knowing someone on the team or in the conservatory makes people more interested” in exploring a part of Oberlin that they may not be familiar with, she says.
“I hope that more people realize that they can be an athlete and a musician too.”
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