By Lily Vining || Contributing Writer
Not only has the Coronavirus pandemic changed the logistics for classroom interaction in colleges across the United States, but it has also dramatically altered how clubs and extracurricular groups meet on campus. Despite many obstacles that prevent groups of students from gathering, clubs and organizations are finding creative ways to keep their members engaged during this challenging time. One kind of F&M’s many clubs hit the hardest by restrictions is performing arts groups, which face limitations to their practices and wonder when they will again be able to perform for live audiences.
A cappella, widely popular at F&M and colleges nationwide, is just one of the many performance styles that suffered during shutdowns in March. Vocalists and audiences alike experienced the disappointment of no longer being able to take part in the incredibly moving, intimate concerts put on in Barshinger Hall for the foreseeable future. However, two of F&M’s a cappella groups, Poor Richard’s and the Chessmen, are determined to keep the music alive by whatever means possible.
We spoke with Poor Richard’s musical director Dina Spyropoulos ‘21 president Adney Silva ‘22 to hear about how the co-ed vocal group has adjusted to the restrictions. The duo explained how they have used technology to their advantage amidst the challenges. Since the group of twelve vocalists (four of whom are studying remotely) cannot meet in person, they rehearse in small groups via Zoom, with specific voice parts attending separate time slots. Spyropoulos, who arranges all of the music and designates voice parts, leads the meetings and works with the groups individually. Once they are well-rehearsed on their individual parts, she forms a “Virtual Choir” by piecing together recordings of each singer to form the entire song. “It’s tedious,” she laughs, “but I enjoy it.”
The Chessman, F&M’s all-male a cappella group, takes a different approach to coordinate their rehearsals. The group’s president, Jack Norton ‘21, explained how they rehearse outside beneath the tents set up on Hartman Green. The group adheres to social distancing guidelines, remaining masked and at least six feet apart, for rehearsal twice a week. While they practice, they pass around a cellphone to connect with one of their remote members so he can also participate.
A cappella relies on group members being able to listen closely to one another in order to blend their voices, which Norton says is incredibly difficult given the masks and distance between singers. Despite the challenges, Norton remains optimistic, emphasizing that the most important thing for him is to “maintain the tight-knit group identity” that comes from being a member of the Chessmen. He also notes that rehearsing outdoors does have one silver lining: it teachers the singers to work on their volume.
Spyroloulos expressed how restrictions have not only affected their ability to rehearse together but also their opportunities to connect. “It’s hard not getting to see each other in person,” she says. Since the group is used to spending hours together every week rehearsing and performing, the musical director likens the absence to the feeling of “not seeing parts of your family for a long time.” Fortunately, both Poor Richard’s and the Chessmen have found ways to keep their members included, through virtual game nights and socially distanced gatherings in the park.
Both groups shared their disappointment that they will not be able to share their hard work in concerts this year as is tradition. “It would be extremely irresponsible,” Norton acknowledges, to host a performance given the current circumstance. This judgment is valid, given a typical a cappella concert at F&M draws large crowds of students. Future performances will certainly look different, which in the short term will likely be streamed virtually. Looking o the rest of the year, Norton discussed the possibility of the Chessmen releasing an album in the winter or spring of 2021. If restrictions loosen up, performance groups may be able to hold smaller outdoor concerts in the future. “We will play it by ear, no pun intended,” Norton says. Poor Richard’s also plans to record more of their music to share on social media and through Spotify. Despite the disappointment of not being able to perform live now, Silva of Poor Richard’s emphasizes that the groups are “doing the best we can do—anything we can do is a great thing.”
For the time being, a cappella fans can get their musical fix from the groups’ social media pages. Look out for new releases on Poor Richard’s Instagram and Spotify, and The Chessmen on Youtube. You may even be lucky enough to walk through Hartman Green and hear the Chessmen rehearsing beneath the south tent. Even when the rest of the world is put on pause, a cappella at F&M says that the show must go on.
First Year Lily Vining is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org