Ceremoniously picking up his clarinet, Chunjin Park (24C) took a deep breath and performed for an audience of ghosts at the end of his first semester.
Not real ghosts per se. But what else can we call those intangible eyes lurking behind the camera? Those eerily silent pixels of performance disseminating from an electronic screen through the teleconferencing software of Zoom.
It was a strange year for us all, and art students were no exception. Though art in isolation has its place (who hasn’t written some embarrassing poems they would never share with the world) there is something about being an artist that asks you to share your work with others. Art organizations at Emory navigated this relationship between the personal and the public in the best way they could.
For Park, that looked like recording numerous auditions for Emory’s Symphony Orchestra from his room while he worried his hallmates would hear him practicing as they passed by.
“Transitioning from having unlimited takes in the safety of my room to experiencing in-person auditions in front of Dr. Bhasin, I realized how the return to normalcy feels unusually, well, abnormal,” he said.
Yet in the end, Park argued that the twists and turns of the pandemic “have pushed us to become better musicians.” This semester, he’s looking forward to being in front of a live audience again.
Emma Chatson (22C) felt a similar excitement for the promise of in-person performances. A senior and Oxford continuee who has held memberships in Oxford Chorale, Concert Choir and a cappella groups Oxcapella and Aural Pleasure, Chatson’s experience in vocal groups is extensive. When Emory first sent out the email her sophomore year that things were going to be moved online, she was devastated.
But with in-person rehearsals this year, Chatson said she couldn’t be more excited. Already, she has performed with Aural Pleasure at Emory’s Best in Show talent performance and at the ongoing tradition of First Fridays. Chatson says that “it’s nice to finally be back with all the members and meet all the new faces in Concert Choir” that she only previously saw on Zoom. She is looking forward to the upcoming First Fridays which feature all six of Emory’s a cappella groups, and Concert Choir’s performances in October and December.
Dominique Jones (24C) felt lucky that she was able to have dance classes in person last year as part of the Emory Dance Company. In-person classes allowed her to make friends in a way that she said her virtual academic ones did not. This year, she’s looking forward to having more people in her classes so she can get to know other dance majors at Emory.
“I’m just excited to see what the dance program is like in a normal year, as we’re getting closer to normal,” she said.
COVID-19 presented many athletic and artistic challenges to dancers last year. Jones cited the struggles of breathing in the mask while doing physically challenging dances, the difficulty of conveying emotion without your face and the altered atmosphere of studio classes.
“The studios had like six foot boxes taped on the ground, so each person had to stand in their own box. The teachers couldn’t touch you at all to correct you,” she said.
This year, boxes have been removed and dancers are able to experience physical communication and cooperation in their classes. The Emory Dance Company performance will be in November, which Jones imagines will look different from the limited-capacity, outdoor performances put on last year. The AHANA dance performance in December will also hopefully be moved from a virtual to in-person format, which Jones is looking forward to performing in.
Ruth Korder (23C), treasurer of Emory improv troupe Rathskellar, experienced joy at the return of in-person performances. She began performing with the improv group during her freshman year and discussed the sorrowful reaction toward transitioning to an online classroom along with Rathskellar’s thoughtful response.
“I was on spring break really looking forward to relaxing and not thinking about classes. Then all of sudden I had to think about my housing and how life was going to change in the next couple months,” she said. “I do appreciate Rathskellar for giving us space to focus on existing and doing our classes.”
The group did not perform any shows in spring 2020, but began online performances the following semesters. Although the group experienced complications with performing in a virtual format, they were able to present seven shows throughout the 2020-2021 school year. However, Korder couldn’t be happier for the return of in-person shows, especially given the group’s poignant response to seeing each other during practice.
“We are ecstatic to be back in-person,” she said. “It was honestly emotional during our first rehearsal to be back and be able to check in on each other… I think we’re all excited to have all the dimensions of improv back in our grasp”
Rathskellar is hoping to continue having comedy performances every month in person.
While a majority of performing art groups found limitations with their technological confinement, others discovered newfound benefits. Jane Chakraborty (24C), a member of Emory’s Jazz Combos, considers the positives she found while practicing jazz online.
“It fine-tuned a different set of skills than what would have been fine-tuned in person,” she said. “Especially with having the ability to hear back what you’re playing.”
Nevertheless, Chakraborty is excited to be back in person and indulge in the spontaneous and high spirited-energy of in-person jazz. The department has been taking strict precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, primarily emphasizing varying mask regulations dependent on the section. For Chakraborty, who is involved in the rhythm section, her time wearing a mask is more consistent than that of a brass player.
Along with these protective measures, Emory Jazz Ensembles will continue to put on outdoor shows, including Jazz on the Green on Oct. 7.
Adam Weisman (22C), a member of Theater Emory’s student advisory board, was not only concerned about his future after the transition to online courses, but also the future of theater.
“I love theater, but this is a roadblock I’m not sure how to overcome because Zoom theater is not something I’ve done before the pandemic,” he said.
This new frontier did not halt the creative minds of Theater Emory for too long. Over the course of the 2020-2021 school year, the group rehearsed and performed a variety of productions over Zoom. The Viral Plays Project, made up of strictly student playwrights and led by Lauren Gunderson (04C), wrote and designed plays meant to be presented digitally. Other productions played into the online format through the use of digital backgrounds and animation, such as in “The White Plague” and “The Infernal Machine.”
Weisman is excited and hopeful for the return to in-person theater. The upcoming shows this fall have been designed to be performed in person, but have the ability to be moved online depending on COVID-19 cases. Among these include the Brave New Works festival, Ozzy Wagner’s (22C) honors project “Everyone Calls Her Grace” and “Macbeth: An Immersive Audio Experience.”
A strictly online curriculum has posed a variety of problems for artistic individuals and groups alike. While overcoming the boundaries of Zoom is one thing, the ability to adapt to this environment highlights the malleable nature of the performing arts. This capacity to continue presenting, even in such a restrictive setting, is an example of the power found in the arts. Although much can be learned from this year-and-a-half online, a return to some type of normalcy is deserved for the performing arts community of Emory.