The singing of carols and hymns during the Christmas season is a well-known, distinctly musical form of holiday commemoration, but this year, Vassar’s ViCE organization is redefining Halloween in musical terms. A holiday best known for spooky cinema and haunted craft-making, the infamous October 31st is being welcomed differently this year at Vassar through a festive student music showcase hosted by the music coordination and performance host organization in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater. The concert will take place from 8:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Oct. 30, but if the especially creepy mood in the air isn’t enough, it comes with a twist.
“Halloween cover shows have been a thing for as long as there have been rock bands,” said ViCE Co-Student Music Coordinator and Sam Plotkin ’15, who has been actively involved with the organization since he was a freshman. In the spirit of the day, the showcase, entitled Under the Covers, will not only offer students an entertaining and lively means to begin their weekend’s festivities, but its performers will be engaging in nefarious acts of deceit themselves, forming cover bands and each act playing a set exclusively culled from the discography of a popular artist. The performances will include interpretations of songs by indie folk opera group the Decemberists (played by Plotkin’s band, Billy Liar and the Crane Wives), R&B sex crooner R. Kelly (embodied by singer-songwriter Steve Xie ’18), tween idols/objects of scorn Blink-182 (brought to life, fittingly, by Stink One-Eighty-Poo), and resident rock god Bruce Springsteen (played by senior John Milton). The event can be seen as another option to supplement more traditional college holiday celebrations.
“The show is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is that Campus Activities doesn’t allow for a lot of Halloween weekend programming (even registered parties) beyond its big Villard Room party. So this show is kind of an alternative to that stuff, even though it’s on a different night,” said Plotkin, adding that the organization’s role in diversifying the campus’s cultural offerings is one of their main goals for the year.
Xie agrees that a variety of activities on campus is valuable, but takes issue with comparing a regular Halloween party and the student showcase on an equal playing field. “[The comparison] is unfair…For one thing, you don’t need to be under the influence at all to enjoy a well-done music showcase. The [Villard Room] Halloween party? Don’t think I can say the same.”
Under the Covers certainly aims to satisfy ViCE’s mission statement. “[ViCE strives to] provide entertainment for the student body in forms of music, films, and various special events,” said Director Maya Toler ’16,and its positioning as a theme-based event with creepy/silly overtones distinguishes it from the more intimate weekly singer-songwriter showcases in Matthew’s Mug, a much smaller venue than Shiva Theater, the location of Under the Covers. But despite the playful and seemingly artificial, unserious nature of a covers-themed Halloween celebration, and the inherently theatrical tone of the artists being covered, the event is still about the pure connection that forms between musicians and their audiences that ViCE is all about.
“Music is an art, but it’s also a craft, so yeah, there’s always a sense that the people performing have done some kind of preparation, but even with a band like the Decemberists, who have songs with titles like ‘I Was Meant for the Stage,’ if the performers and the audience are connecting with music on an emotional level, it’s as natural and spontaneous an experience as you can find,” said Plotkin.
The event’s artistic integrity is furthered by its performers’ deep connections to music as a form of personal expression. Although he will be channeling R. Kelly, Xie is intent on treating his performance in the same way as any other of his musical experiences, many of which have been with one of Vassar’s a cappella groups, the Vastards.
“I just do whatever can express what I’m feeling at the moment, stuff that when I listen a few months or a few years later makes me go ‘oh, those were the emotions I was feeling at the time, and it’s cool to revisit those moments in my life that I’ve forgotten about.’ Music serves as the tool I use to document my experiences. It’s like a journal I have kept and will try to keep throughout my entire lifetime,” said Xie.
Easily the biggest student music event of the semester (according to ViCE itself), Under the Covers is only one in a long line of splashy events that have characterized the current administration of the increasingly popular ViCE. Members like Plotkin, Toler (who has also been involved since her freshman year), and Co-Student Music Coordinator Jeremy Katzenstein ’15, among others, have worked hard during their years serving the organization to widen its scope and focus its appeals directly to the student body, creating a fluid discourse between the wants of the people and those who serve them, artistically-speaking. Under their watch, ViCE has blossomed.
“I would say I have had a significant impact [on ViCE], but there’s definitely still work to be done,” said Toler. “It was my goal at the beginning of last year as Music Chair to really listen to the campus and what they wanted and to bring more well-known artists. The fall concert with Solange was the first sold-out show ViCE has had in years and the Danny Brown and Lunice spring concert was also very well-attended.”
In addition to the success they have in large part given ViCE, the organization has certainly served its members well. Because of their work with ViCE and the connections they have made through it, Plotkin attests to gaining hands-on experience and a helpful technical knowledge of musical equipment that ties in nicely to his major in music. Toler has made lasting impressions with many professionals in the field, including representatives from production companies and artist agents, which ultimately led her to be offered two prestigious internships last summer, one with a major record label and the other with a management agency headed by the founder of Vassar’s No-ViCE. She stayed true to her VC roots, and chose the latter.
The considerable momentum this administration has generated with the organization does not mean they don’t have their fair share of hurdles to overcome, however. Both Toler and Plotkin cite a low turnout to many of the weekly Mug singer-songwriter shows as being of primary frustration.
“I just wish more people would come see our shows when it’s not just their friend performing, because we’ve had some amazing shows so far this year,” said Plotkin, adding, “People are busy, they don’t have time to go to every event that looks remotely interesting. I couldn’t count on two hands the number of great events I’ve missed at Vassar because I had too much work.”
But the leaders are unconcerned about a lack of a crowd on Thursday evening, emphasizing that their intentions for Under the Covers are essentially to provide an event that is, more than anything else, enjoyable for the students who do attend.
“Really we just want to put on a fun event with music and candy…It’s going to be nuts,” said Plotkin.