Courtesy of Yale University

Although the coronavirus pandemic put a cappella rush on pause this fall, 13 of Yale’s singing groups came together online this Tuesday to welcome the Class of 2024 and attempted to fill the musical void that COVID has left behind.

In light of the Yale administration’s decision to cancel all in-person performances for the fall semester, the 16 member groups of the Singing Group Council (SGC) — the organization that facilitates a cappella rush season — were faced with a tough decision: whether or not to cancel fall rush. This summer, the SGC mediated discussions between the groups and the Yale College Dean’s Office. After multiple town hall meetings, the SGC member groups voted to postpone the rush process until further notice. 

“A lot of groups were really concerned with preserving the traditions of a cappella and the closeness with first-years, as well as with adhering to safety guidelines and maintaining equity among the groups,” said Cosette Davis ’21, SGC co-chair and member of Proof in the Pudding. 

Yet, some performers still wanted to welcome the Class of 2024, regardless of whether rush would occur. Ben Kramer ’23, the music director of the Spizzwinks, and Jay Mehta ’24, co-president of Red Hot and Blue, reached out to all 16 member groups of SGC, as well as a few other campus singing groups, and proposed a Virtual Jam. 

“We’ve both found a lot of our support network at Yale through singing, and we wanted to introduce the incoming class to that,” the two said in a joint statement. “After rush was officially cancelled, I think everyone started looking for ways to welcome the incoming class without falling into some sort of competitive rush-mode.” Thirteen of the groups Kramer and Mehta contacted agreed to participate.

This year’s Virtual Jam is the spiritual successor to the Woolsey and Dwight Jams, which annually introduce first-years to Yale a cappella. According to Spizzwink Adrian Venzon ’23, the Woolsey and Dwight Jams give first-years a chance to meet group members one-on-one. Venzon recalled a Spizzwink member asking him to audition there — a personal connection that convinced Venzon to eventually join the group.

The 50-minute Virtual Jam was live-streamed on YouTube. Each group submitted a pre-recorded video of one of their favorite song selections. The performances ran the gamut of genres and tones; some were sweeping and stately, others playful and poppy. Many included creative video-editing and Zoom choreography.

First-years are entering Yale with the same passions as upperclassmen, but the pandemic has limited their opportunities to get involved.

“As someone that aspires to be in an a capella group, it’s disappointing that I won’t be able to take part in rush,” said Maya Khurana ’24. “On the other hand, though, because I’m a first-year, I don’t really know what I’m missing out on, so I’m glad that the absence of rush isn’t as apparent for me as it would have been if I was in a different year.” Despite the disappointment, Khurana enjoyed watching the Virtual Jam, and noted that “the virtual format even allowed [the groups] to have a little more fun with their performances.”

But, coordinating a performance virtually provides a different set of challenges than an in-person performance. “I think the biggest challenge of virtual concerts is definitely the amount of work and the distribution of roles,” said Danielle Neil ’23, a member of Shades. In an in-person performance, a cappella groups are directed by the group’s “pitch”, or music director. Virtual performances require combining individual recordings in video-editing software, which takes extra time and effort. “But, by working to make sure we have things early and encouraging everyone along the way, I think the process becomes easier,” Neil said.

Advertisements for local New Haven charities were played between performances. The organizations represented include the Citywide Youth Coalition, Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, The Okra Project, All Our Kin and The New Haven Reads Book Bank. The groups encouraged viewers to utilize the volunteer and donation links in the live-stream’s description box. 

“First and foremost, we really just wanted to welcome the frosh!” said Kramer and Mehta. “We [also] want to make sure that we’re being responsible caretakers of our platform as Yale students with an audience made up of other Yale students, and one part of that is amplifying organizations who are giving back to the New Haven community.” 

Additionally, Kramer and Mehta are organizing a 2024 virtual performance of “Bright College Years” and hope all first-years get involved. More information about the “Introducing the Class of 2024!” project can be found on the Yale College Arts’ website.

Sydney Bryant | sydney.bryant@yale.edu