The sky over Noyes Circle is a perfect, clear blue. Puffy clouds are slowly washed over in pink with the setting sun, and excitement pulses in the chilly fall air. The dry grass is dotted with concertgoers peacefully lounging on picnic blankets. They’re here for the music, but they’re also here for that indescribable feeling of closeness that only an outdoor concert can provide.
On Friday, Oct. 2, Vassar’s Student Music Union (StuMu) organized an evening concert on Noyes Circle with performances from The Morning Moon, yarn and Alouette n da Boyz, as well as a set from DJ The Ghost of Allen Ginsberg.
Pre-quarantine, Vassar’s music scene was flourishing. Alex Koester ’23 (Alouette n da Boyz) detailed: “There was really something being built with the Tiny Desk concerts, with the art TH, with so many great bands on campus…And this year, it kind of seems like we’re piecing it back together and…I think we’re doing a good job at it, but it’s been more of a challenge to continue all this crazy progress that was made last year.”
Alouette Batteau ’23 (Alouette n da Boyz) added, “Last year it was kind of just growing exponentially, and I think everyone was getting so excited and then it kind of just was killed with quarantine.”
Friday’s concert, however, was reminiscent of last year’s music scene. Sitting on the grass listening to the bands, it was easy to forget that just earlier this semester, a gathering like this would not have been possible. Instead, I was transported back to last year, to a time when life was less complicated and when crowds of people were something to flock towards, not shy away from.
This sentiment was shared by the performers themselves. StuMu president and yarn guitarist Liam Manion ’22 elaborated: “I was definitely blown away by the amount of people that [were] there. It’s kind of a problem from a StuMu perspective, but then pretty awesome from a performance perspective. It felt normal, I guess.”
Normalcy is such a foreign feeling these days, as is the sensation of having fun. It can be easy to forget that pure, free, uninhibited fun is essential; its absence leaves a noticeable hole and has certainly been felt by music-lovers on campus. John Fraizer ’23 (Alouette n da Boyz) noted, “I feel like everyone’s so scared of just doing anything, like hanging out with anyone. So yeah, that was just nice…A big part of it is music, like we love playing music, but it was just nice to have that many people together.”
While the event itself may have harkened back to more “normal” times, bands are now facing a new set of challenges that didn’t exist last year. One struggle has been finding practice space. Both Manion and Batteau explain that they were asked to stop playing at the observatory after receiving noise complaints from a professor. Without permanent, physical space, it’s easy to feel a bit lost or devalued as a group. Luckily, groups are now able to practice at one of the Commencement Hill tents and may soon have a space in Blodgett.
Max Eliot ’21 (The Morning Moon) spoke to another challenge faced by his folksy band: sound. “The issue is that sound, especially vocals, just don’t carry outside. We practice all acoustic, so even if you’re singing really loudly and you’re 12 feet away from them with a mask on, it’s hard to hear them, especially if you’re playing an instrument yourself.”
While these challenges make routines such as collaborating and practicing less straightforward, they also force artists to be creative and work together, sharing equipment and ideas on how to deal with their constraining circumstances. Ben Scharf ’22 (DJ The Ghost of Allen Ginsberg) [disclaimer: Ben Scharf is the Live Events Chairperson of The Miscellany News] frames these restrictions as a positive: “Because all shows have to be outside, it’s forced us to make the shows even bigger, louder, better. StuMu, VCSS and the Misc all help each other out to put these bigger shows on. Everyone pitches in—it takes a village.”
These restrictions may also allow for new artists to be welcomed into the fold, whether they’re first-years or, as Batteau hopes, more non-male musicians. Batteau remarked, “I think it’s really important for women and non-binary people to feel like they can be inluded in the music scene. The people who happen to be in charge of the music scene on campus, or who are the connections that you need to be able to get shows, happen to be white, heterosexual men…I think it would be great if we could get more representation. Everyone who played last [Friday] night was white or white-passing, so I think just representation overall is very much needed in the music scene at Vassar.”
With everything going on in the world, we need live music more than ever. Manion said, “Music is a really good community-building tool; that’s a little bit of a nerdy way to put it, but it’s definitely something that people can use to kind of just sympathize with each other, and it can transcend normal boundaries. Definitely people feel love and feel a togetherness that’s really important, especially during something like a pandemic.”
Similarly, Eliot remarked, “I think music is cool because it’s very public and it’s ephemeral in that…unless you’re actually making a studio recording, once you play something it’s gone. So much of our lives these days are recorded or online— things that don’t have that sort of in-the-moment quality…Maybe that’s just part of what people are missing is experiences that you have to be in-person for.”
Experiencing live music in-person is an irreplaceable experience, and Friday night’s concert showed how deeply Vassar students missed this sense of connection. While music is always evolving, its presence is a constant. Scharf put it best: “COVID can’t stop the music.”