In prior years, Gimble — a co-ed University of Michigan a cappella group — rehearsed in the Burton Memorial Tower for two hours a day, three days a week, in preparation for their end-of-semester concerts and smaller gigs in Ann Arbor. Now, Gimble practices less often, and members must wear masks while standing 12 feet apart in parking garages for rehearsals.

“It’s been a complete shift in organization, and our semester looks completely different,” Jad Jarouche, LSA junior and president of Gimble, said.

Between COVID-19 and the recent Washtenaw Country stay-in-place order for University undergraduate students, student a cappella groups such as Gimble had to adapt to the socially distanced, rapidly changing circumstances. Jarouche said the stay-in-place order made rehearsing even more difficult.

“The order has put us in a tough position,” Jarouche said. “We’re no longer able to rehearse indoors or outdoors, which has been tough. So we canceled all rehearsals and hangouts for these two weeks of the stay-at-home order. And hopefully, when that ends, we’ll be able to return to our regular rehearsals. But we’ll see.”

Before the order, a cappella groups on campus approached the semester and rehearsed in a variety of ways, with the help of Michigan A Cappella Council guidelines. Groups like Gimble chose to host in-person auditions and rehearsals, while Sirens, an all-female a cappella group, decided not to take any new members and only conduct rehearsals via Zoom.

“We didn’t feel like we could give the freshmen the experience they needed out of it. We ended up just sticking with the members we had,” Elena Afendoulis, LSA junior and member of Sirens, said. “We had a few conversations over the summer just to touch base with everybody. And for the majority, it just seems like people weren’t completely comfortable with meeting in-person, just because of the uncertainty of you never know who’s gonna get COVID, and you don’t want to put other people at risk.” 

Jarouche said Gimble stands 12 feet apart during rehearsals, and each member wears a mask to ensure safety.

The diversity in rehearsal methods extends to the ways in which groups are handling performances and social gatherings. Some groups have canceled concerts and, instead, plan to record songs. Some groups do not have concrete plans. Kelly Page, LSA senior and president of the Harmonettes, an all-female a cappella group, expressed her worries about the uncertainty of what lies ahead, especially with harsh winter weather approaching. 

“Rehearsing on Zoom is really difficult, and it’s definitely not the same as singing in-person,” she said. “So I guess my biggest worry would just be finding a place to safely rehearse next semester when it’s cold outside. The only thing we have for sure that we’ll never be able to stop would be the Zoom rehearsals, unfortunately.”

LSA junior Ajay Prasad is both a member of G-Men, an all-male identifying a cappella group, and the vice president of MACC. Prasad said G-Men participated in socially distanced activities before the order, such as spending the day at a local cider mill and eating breakfast at a cafe every Friday. But with the order, G-Men is limited to virtual social activities, such as Among Us Zoom nights. Despite these activities, Prasad admits the social limitations of the pandemic are not ideal for the well-being of himself and his fellow members.

“We were all talking on Zoom, and we were talking about how much we missed each other,” Prasad said. “We really pride ourselves on having a lot of fun with what we do. If you ever see us, we’re generally jumping all over the place, and we’re dancing on stage or just making funny jokes. And that’s just how we rehearse and how we actually perform. And so, not being able to do that with the guys that I consider my closest friends is definitely difficult.”

The lack of social interaction and normality of the pandemic has been both negatively and positively challenging for members of the a cappella community, like Jarouche.

“It’s a tough situation because no one’s ever faced this type of problem before, which is also a cool situation to be in because we get to be the first people who decide how to handle a problem like this,” he said. “And a lot of it is up in the air: our rehearsals are up in the air, our performances are up in the air and same with our concerts. So our mentality going into each rehearsal and going into auditions, especially earlier in the year is: ‘We will perform again. We will get past this.’” 

Carly Fogelson, LSA freshman and new member of the Harmonettes, said her group has been able to make the most of this abnormal year. 

“There’s not a perfect solution to this problem,” Fogelson said. “I think the team has been handling it really, really well. All the girls have been really understanding and really, really sweet. And so even though we’ve had to cancel events and performances and stuff like that, we’re all still making the most of it.”

Daily Contributor Martha Lewand can be reached at mlewand@umich.edu

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