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| Sunday, April 20, 2014

AU offers musicians opportunities to stretch vocal cords, talents

Coming to college can often serve as a sad excuse to give up your hobbies. Meeting new people, coping with a grossly-expanded reading schedule and timing your Terrace Dining Room trips to monopolize on fresh food leaves little time to pick up a guitar or work on your voice.  

But if you’re a musician or singer, AU offers plenty of excuses to rekindle your craft, whether you dream of playing with the National Orchestra or jut want to strum a few chords with friends.  

Some of the most prominent music groups on campus are specifically for singers. AU has three established a cappella groups that range in styles and membership. On A Sensual Note, the all-male group, has been a fixture of AU life for the last 12 years, singing songs reaching back to the classics mixed in with contemporary tracks. For women, Treble in Paradise fills a similar role. Dime A Dozen, a co-ed a cappella group, is getting ready to celebrate their 10-year anniversary and making plans for the celebration performances. 

“It’s a really great way to meet a completely random group of people and try out some different music,” said Layal Brown, a senior in the School of Communication and School of International Service and business manager of Dime A Dozen. 

Brown credits a cappella for solidifying her love of singing here at college. Though she was originally in AU’s school choir, Dime A Dozen and a cappella performances offered something unique.

“It’s very different from a choir,” Brown said. “You have to be engaging with the audience and sell the song. It’s much more interactive.” 

Aside from those a cappella gatherings, there are many more groups available to singers including the AU Gospel Choir and “Picnic, Lightning,” which performs show tunes and other earworms from your childhood. For those with a more classical ear, the AU Choral Ensembles offer a taste of traditional vocal talent. Broken up into the American University Chorus and the American University Chamber Singers, both groups perform several times a year at the Katzen Arts Center for students and the general public. 

Of course, we don’t all have angelic voices. Even if you’re not a singer, the instrumental organizations on campus offer a full range of musical styles and experiences. 

A key part of any university’s culture is that brief space where the athletics on the court or field meet the musicians looking to pump up the crowds. The AU Pep Band was first established in 1930 as a partnership between AU Athletics and the Department of Performing Arts. It has been giving our athletes that extra motivation ever since. With over 60 members, the pep band makes itself known at a number of events on and off campus, from pep rallies and basketball games to a main stage performance at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in 2009.

For string enthusiasts, the AU Symphony Orchestra plays classical pieces including Beethoven and Mendelssohn. The orchestra plays three major concerts per season with music from the last 400 years in addition to their performances with the choral ensembles. Under accomplished conductor Jesus Manuel Berard, the orchestra considers itself a musical ambassador representing the school, according to their website. 

The AU Jazz Ensembles take the same work ethic and apply it to the contemporary. Meant as an exploration of jazz, Jazz Workshop members play tunes from the likes of John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, but also arrange their own pieces to help harness the creative energy of the medium. Jazz Ensemble, available as a performance class, is more structured, holding regular classes and performing at Katzen twice a year. 

For those looking for less structure and more opportunity, relative newcomer group Spinoza offers a social practice space where performers of all stripes can come and fine-tune their work, or just noodle around on an instrument.  

“Spinoza is a non-committal, low-key club,” said Helen West, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science and president of Spinoza. “We talk about our music and get together to play. It’s a good way to get into the musical community at AU.” 

Spinoza has expanded to encompass both musicians and singers. The group embodies the principal that practice is it’s own reward, putting fun and satisfaction above artistic output. That is not to say that Spinoza doesn’t actually produce anything. The group is involved in giving back to the AU and D.C. music communities. Their yearly Practice-a-Thon — in which members rotate into a soundproof plexiglass box and practice for eight straight hours — has raised money for the Sitar Center, which provides children in the District with the opportunities to discover music for themselves. 

This is just a partial list of the musical opportunities on campus, whether you’re diligently practicing for an audition or simply enjoy the camaraderie of other singers and musicians. Though the music community at AU sometimes hides below the surface, its members are passionate about it. 

“It’s fabulous,” Hunt said. “It’s a small program but it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

Brown agrees. 

“It’s great that there are a bunch of things,” Brown said. “There’s really something there for anyone.”