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Stepping Back into the Spotlight Coralie Chu '18 has always been a performer, but W&L helped her discover confidence both on and off the stage.

Coralie Chu '18Coralie Chu ’18

“Washington and Lee has not only served to educate me greatly on the connection with an audience, but also helped me come out of my shell. Without the endless support I find here, I could have never found the confidence to bear my soul on (and off) the stage.”

Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Majors: Math and Music

From the time I could walk, I flourished in the spotlight. At the piano, I was confident. It didn’t matter who I compared myself to when I sat in front of the instrument, dress freshly ironed and under the scrutiny of hundreds of people  all that mattered to me was the music I created.

Away from the spotlight, however, I lost all of my confidence. I fell back into my own mind and isolated myself from the world. This dichotomy can only be explained by a headspace I used to create during the performance: When I performed, the audience would disappear and I would be alone, playing music just for myself.

Once I arrived at W&L, however, I realized I needed to make a change. I knew that my method of performance was not healthy, nor was it the most effective, and so I began to try to connect with the audience. Of course, doing so is uncomfortable. For the longest time, music had been my personal getaway, and suddenly, I had to share it with the world. I began to feel anxious before performing and sometimes couldn’t do so at all. Where I used to be able to block out an entire audience and feel like I was performing just for myself, I began to only see a critical audience. I remember my freshman year, I was performing a Rachmaninoff Prelude for SSA, and my professor told me I needed to speak before sitting at the piano. I was appalled. How was I supposed to have the audience disappear in my head after talking to them? When I expressed this, my professor told me that often, realizing an audience is there and really connecting with them will enhance the performance.

The journey to comfortably recognizing my audience has been difficult, and honestly, still ongoing. But, along with the performance opportunities offered by the music department at Washington and Lee, I found help in many other areas. Being a co-president of General’s Unity pushes me to reach out and connect (at least on a superficial level) with leaders of other organizations. The math department here encourages me to step out of my comfort zone, take different courses and, within those courses, make leaps of faith and prove them.

However, the most surprising (at least to me) help I found in developing my performance mindset was from the creative writing program here. I took a poetry writing course last semester, where we had to share our poems with the class and be subject to critiques. Surprising myself, I ended up writing (and sharing) a lot of poetry that held a large amount of personal meaning. This class just made something click in my mind: The sharing of something personal through art does not necessarily need to be a scary thing. I began to incorporate that thought into my performances.

I am by no means a performance expert. I’m not even sure I can say I love it on the level that I used to. But my understanding of performance and the personal strength I gained from learning about it is real. Washington and Lee has not only served to educate me greatly on the connection with an audience, but also helped me come out of my shell. Without the endless support I find here, I could have never found the confidence to bear my soul on (and off) the stage.

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A little more about Coralie

Extracurricular involvement:
– Co-President of General’s Unity
– One-Time University Singers Accompanist
– Tutor
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
Professor Timothy Gaylard has inspired me to be the best musician I can be while still being true to myself.
What’s your personal motto?
Do it for the story.
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Napa Thai. Salmon panang curry is to die for.
What one film/book do you recommend to everyone?
“Impromptu” (film) and “A Winter in Majorca” (book). I may or may not really like Chopin.
What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus?
It’s OK to be diverse and proud.
Post-graduation plans:
Go to law school. Become a lawyer. Become a judge. Hopefully. We’ll see.
Favorite W&L memory:
Math “Jeopardy.” I thought one of my teammates (who will remain unnamed… you know who you are) would literally bite my head off.
Favorite class:
Calculus on Manifolds
Favorite W&L event:
Virginia Equality Gala
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
 I have scoliosis. It’s why I’m so short.