Through Zoom, heat and mosquitos, Glee Club comes together in harmony

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The Glee Club performs at the Booth Hall Music and Speech Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 3, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

Bright red, green, purple and blue shirts dotted the choir stands. Besides the usual lined formation, the only source of visual uniformity was the black bottoms. The Occidental College Glee Club conducted its annual Pops Concert April 3 — the first in-person Pops Concert in three years with 12 songs on the setlist.

“That was probably my favorite concert I’ve ever given,” Glee Club member Mia Villegas (senior) said. “I’ve never been so relaxed, and not super nervous, and ready to make music and have fun, and I really loved all our song selections.”

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The Glee Club performs at the Booth Hall Music and Speech Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 3, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

The Pops Concert is one of Glee Club’s 7-10 annual concerts, according to Director of Choral and Vocal Activities Désirée LaVertu, who has conducted the Glee Club for 12 years. Usually taking place in the middle of the spring semester, the Pops Concerts feature performances of non-classical songs traditionally suggested by senior members, according to Villegas.

“To have this opportunity to sing pops music again for an audience was just really exciting, and I was really just enjoying it and seeing the audience’s reactions,” Villegas said.

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A crowd watches as the Glee Club performs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 3, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

Glee Club continued to sing when classes became remote, asynchronously performing covers such as When The Party’s Over”, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Daand Occidental Fair.”

According to LaVertu, many members joined as underclassmen and stayed until their senior year, though she said the commitment was slightly reduced during the remote semesters.

Ethan Ferrall (senior) joined the club as a first year and said during remote semesters, the group rehearsed with muted microphones to avoid delays, hearing only LaVertu’s piano. Ferrall said each member recorded themselves performing their parts, which would later be edited together by a third-party company to produce the final product.

The Glee Club performs at the Booth Hall Music and Speech Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 3, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

LaVertu said she was excited when in-person rehearsals resumed.

“It was wonderful. It brought me to tears,” LaVertu said. “We were outside and it was hot because it was September and everything and I still was just like, ‘This is so great.’”

Challenges of this change include distractions — such as helicopters, noisy generators, mosquitoes, friends and curious passers-by — and unfamiliar acoustics.

Having joined Glee Club as a first year, Villegas said she became the soprano section leader in Fall 2020. Since production during the remote semesters operated differently, requiring section leaders to do recordings and editing they would not normally do, Villegas said coming back in person revealed new ways of working as a section leader.

“Part of what this actually does is help determine along with Désirée where people should stand or stay based off of blend, and who should be a soprano one versus soprano two, how to divide the section as far as making harmonies within the section,” Villegas said. “Getting to hear everyone’s full voice and the resonance of that has been really amazing.”

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A live band accompanies the Glee Club during their performance at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 3, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

According to LaVertu, Glee Club’s schedule for the remainder of the semester includes concerts and performances at college events such as President Elam’s inauguration April 23. In addition, LaVertu said the club will also travel to Sacramento, CA, Lake Tahoe, CA, Reno, NV and Las Vegas, NV to perform after the cancellation of its winter tour to Italy in December 2021.

The last time the group toured was in January 2020, when they visited Arizona. Villegas said it was the first time the group had to sing outside. She said the experience of learning to adjust their voices based on the venues may have helped prepare them for the outdoor rehearsals this school year.

“I actually think that’s really helped us with our resilience and being able to sing in any kind of circumstance and make it sound good,” Villegas said.

glee club singers
The Glee Club performs at the Booth Hall Music and Speech Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 3, 2022. Lachlan Ashenmiller/The Occidental.

Ferrall said he looks forward to the trip in May, where he will visit his home city of Las Vegas and travel to Sacramento for the first time. He said the group will set off two days after graduation.

“Honestly, tours are not as much about where we are so much as the actual process of performing for a week and spending time together,” Ferrall said. “It’ll be a nice way to go. It’s gonna be sad, but I think I’m excited for it nonetheless.