For the first time since fall 2019, Cornell’s auditoriums are filled with audience members enjoying the colorful spotlights and vibrant covers from a cappella groups — though not without regard for the health and safety of performers and audience members.
October and November were popular months for many a cappella groups to host their first in-person concerts again. After Eight, the University Chorus’s a cappella subset, held its Witching Hour on Oct. 30, followed by the Glee Club’s The Hangovers’s Fall Tonic XLI on Nov. 6, Absolute A Cappella’s fall concert on Nov. 13 and The Chordials’ After Hours X on Nov. 20.
As the COVID-19 pandemic whisked students off campus in March 2020, a cappella groups had to adjust plans for their spring 2020 concerts — with some holding last-minute arch sings to honor their seniors.
During the last school year, The Hangovers and Chordials livestreamed pre-recorded virtual concerts on their respective YouTube channels, while other a cappella groups like Absolute A Cappella, a co-ed a cappella group, released music albums and covers on their social media platforms as a replacement for live performances.
Kaitlyn Yeh ’23, Absolute A Cappella President, said that the recent concert was a rewarding experience for both old and new members of the group.
“Despite joining the group the fall semester of my freshman year, I only got to experience one in-person concert before the pandemic began,” Yeh said. “A majority of our members had never experienced an in-person concert before so it was definitely a huge undertaking and presented a learning curve that we were eager to tackle.”
Sam Schneider ’22, vocalist for The Hangovers, said holding an in-person concert with a live audience again was a fun, emotionally powerful experience.
“There’s just something about performing live and the energy from the audience that you feed off of, it makes the whole experience for both the performers and the audience much more exciting,” Schneider said.
For many groups, the transition to Zoom rehearsals in 2020 presented several challenges. Grace Dearden ’22, musical director for Absolute A Cappella, said directing a music group over a computer screen made organizing rehearsals and hearing members during them more challenging.
“There was no precedent on how to run virtual rehearsals,” Dearden said. “I had to learn how to give pointers over Zoom. Even when we started singing together outside with masks, it was hard to hear each other because of our surroundings.”
Last year, due to a smaller number of student auditions, some groups said the virtual audition process felt less vibrant, compared to the excitement of welcoming new members in previous years.
“Our audition process consisted of students sending in videos,” said Jeanette Wang ’23, business manager for The Chordials, a co-ed a cappella group. “Compared to this year, it was definitely more impersonal, as it was hard to give pointers and make a connection with the auditionees.”
Despite the challenges of organizing virtual concerts, Wyatt Winters ’24, business manager for The Hangovers, said there were some upsides of virtual concerts.
“Last year, I would communicate with the production crew, and they took care of our virtual concert,” Winters said. “This year, we had to get the venue, chalk the campus, print out and distribute marketing materials. Compared to last year, there is a lot more I had to do in person and figure out on my own, but the Hangs were a great support group.”
To ensure the health and safety of the audience and singers, the A Cappella Advisory Council at Cornell University standardized health protocols for the concerts of all the groups. During rehearsals, members of all the a cappella groups had to wear masks. Because they were not required to wear masks for the live performance, all performers had to get supplementary COVID tests two days before and after the concert.
All audience members at the a cappella concerts were required to wear masks, as per University guidelines.
For first-year students and performers like Andrew Juan ’25, joining an a cappella group gave them an opportunity to get involved in a supportive and artistic community.
“Music and the arts are largely looked down upon in education where I am from,” Juan said. “It’s so great to see a community for a cappella at Cornell. Music is just so important. It’s such a great and fun outlet, so I encourage everyone to attend at least one a cappella concert.”