After a mostly-Zoom year, performance groups put on in-person shows

Tali Natter

After a year of livestreamed and canceled events, some performance groups have been performing outside, filling sunny campus spots like Chapin steps and Cole Field with vibrant song and dance for the last weeks of the semester. 


(Photo courtesy of Matt Wisotsky.)

The I/O New Music festival directed by Artist in Residence Matt Gold has performed regularly throughout this year, often streaming live from the Bernhard Music Center. On May 7 and 8, the group performed a new two-part piece: “Nightfall” & “Dawn” by Hannah Gruendemann ’20, at sunset (8:00 p.m.) and sunrise (5:45 a.m.) on Paresky Lawn and Cole Field, respectively. 

“After so many performances playing behind plastic shields and distanced from other performers, with little to no audience allowed, it was really amazing to be able to play for a substantial live audience and not feel that I was just playing to a camera,” Matt Wisotsky ’23 said. 

The temperature of the outdoor location affected the performance, especially the colder air at the sunrise performance that required Wisotsky to switch instruments last minute so that his bassoon would not go out of tune. This adaptation to the circumstances was, Witosky said, emblematic of making music this year. 

Still, he said, the group enjoyed the creative choice to perform with the movements of the sun. “For ‘Dawn,’ we could hear and feel the nature waking up around us, which contributed a really special and intimate quality to the music,” Wisotsky said.

Zambezi Marimba Band

(Tali Natter/The Williams Record)

Zambezi Marimba Band Director and Artist in Residence Tendai Muparutsa teamed up with the music department to set up the sound equipment and accompanying livestream for an outdoor performance on May 8. 

“This performance was pretty normal and like our past indoor concerts except without all the fancy lights,” said Andrew Thai ’21, one of the teaching assistants of the band. “It was just a matter of dragging the instruments outside.” 

Students in the audience danced along to the range of songs, from traditional Zimbabwean compositions to “Another Day of Sun” from the movie La La Land. 

“Zambezi concerts are only so fun when people aren’t there to dance,” Noah Jacobson ’22 said.  “Seeing everyone dancing and cheering and having a good time in front of Chapin is exactly why I love music so much.”

Cap and Bells Pod Plays

Student theatre group Cap & Bells adapted its yearly 24-hour play festival to “pod plays,” where the writers and actors of each play were all podmates, in order to maintain social distancing guidelines. Each pod was randomly assigned a setting, genre, and line of dialogue to include in the play and had 12 hours to write a script, starting at 5 p.m. on May 7. Then, the scripts were exchanged among pods, and each pod had 12 hours to rehearse the play before performing on May 8 on Sawyer lawn. 

“This was the first time I, or anyone in my pod, had acted in person in over a year, so we were very excited to participate,” Dylan Nadelman ’23 said. “I’ve directed and participated in several Zoom shows over the past year, which were all fulfilling in their own ways, but nothing beats being able to hear an audience laugh when you make a joke,” she said. 

Just like the pre-COVID 24-hour play festival, which normally happens during Winter Study, Nadelman said the process was silly yet tiring, which was exactly the fun of it. “It’s a ridiculous event in many ways, but proof that it is possible to have theatre again, and that people are excited to see theatre again.”



(Photo courtesy of Sydney Pope.)

Sankofa, the College’s step team, performed on Chapin Steps on May 11 to showcase the “newbies”: the nine members who have joined the team since last spring but had not yet performed. The performance included “Where is my Remix,” a step that is retaught each year, in addition to other smaller steps, ending with “Bait,” a step that included older team members. 

“After a semester of in-person, socially distanced practices but no live shows, it was both really strange but also so exciting to perform,” said Sydney Pope ’22.5, co-squad captain of Sankofa. “The energy of the crowd was definitely nostalgic of past performances we’ve had, so it made the whole team even more excited about next year, when we can hopefully have performances again.”

Jazz Combos

(Photo courtesy of Noah Jacobson.)

The music department runs various jazz ensembles and combos, directed by Artist in Residence Kris Allen and Artist Associate Gregg August. The two combos performed on Chapin steps on May 16 in an outdoor concert organized by the Jazz@Williams club, with the help of Associate Director of Office of Campus Life Mike Bodnarik and Stage and Orchestra Manager of the Music Department Jeff Miller. 

The setlists included a combination of standards, along with original tunes and arrangements. “We had a great evening performing for our friends and for anyone else who happened to be passing by,” said Jared Berger ’21, the student director of Jazz@Williams. 

Jacobson, who performs in a jazz combo as well as Zambezi, agreed. “It’s been so long since we had normal concerts, and finally getting to see the impact our music has on people after so many live streams and pre-recorded concerts was such a great change of pace,” Jacobson said.

Cello Shots

(Joey Fox/The Williams Record)

Cello Shots, the College’s student-run cello ensemble, performed a set ranging from Lil Nas X to Michael Jackson on May 18. All the pieces were arranged by the group members, who have been able to rehearse in person fairly often throughout the year thanks to their small size. 

Grace Kim ’23 said she was glad the group could have an in-person performance after live streaming and recording concerts earlier in the year. “Without an audience, sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s a real experience you get to share with others and not just a run-through,” she said.