by Jackson Renfro ’24 (he/him), Staff Writer

A capella Composition. Photo Courtesy of David Thole ‘21.

My name is Jackson Renfro, and I am a first year here at Davidson. From the moment we received the email from President Quillen back in June about our return to campus, I knew this semester would require a lot of grace, patience, and forgiveness for when things don’t go as planned. But ever since I got here, trying to navigate everything— from classes to making friends to finding time to just be — has been somewhat frustrating. At times, I feel like I’ve reached an impasse, like I’ve been blindfolded, spun around, and told to walk in a straight line. I knew I couldn’t be the only one who was experiencing this, but sometimes it felt that way. After interviewing the presidents of Davidson’s four a cappella groups, however, I could tell, for the most part, they felt the same. My conversations with the Nuances, the Generals, the Delilahs, and Androgyny made me realize that now, more than ever, we rely on music to guide us through those tough days, to remind us of our shared connections, and to bridge the gaps that all too often keep us apart. 

As of now, each group is handling things a little differently. The Delilahs have decided to continue with rehearsals. Though, according to the group’s president, Ally Voelker ‘21, everyone has been “split into designated parts,” and they only meet “twice a week for forty-five minutes.”

The Generals are taking a similar approach. David Thole ‘21 says they “decided to reduce practice times from four hours a week to just one. And the one hour is just on Thursdays.”

Androgyny and the Nuances, on the other hand, have put a pause on rehearsals altogether. Caroline Webster ‘21, the president of Androgyny, said the group “has taken a sort of hiatus this semester because we’ve got several members who are off campus.” Svenja Nanfelt ‘21 said her group, the Nuances, decided “to take a break from music […] and meet as we could just to keep the bond alive.”

These decisions have not been easy ones. Since a cappella is an extracurricular activity, it is up to members to coordinate rehearsals and activities. Unlike Chorale, whose faculty advisors are much more involved and work directly with the administration, a cappella groups are entirely student-led. And according to Nanfelt, the pandemic has exaggerated this problem:

“Over the summer, […] it seemed like more and more obstacles were being thrown our way.

There wasn’t a lot of communication on the administration’s end; it was kind of they were saying ‘you figure out everything and figure out a plan.’ But then once we figured out a plan, they switched it from 10 people indoors, six feet apart to no indoor rehearsals at all. And then they said, ‘if you want to rehearse outdoors, you have to present a case and reserve an outdoor space two weeks in advance.’”

Despite the lack of administrative oversight and the difficulty in coordinating rehearsals and meetings, I realized while interviewing these presidents that each group is still holding fast to the cornerstones of a cappella: community and music.

Like many of us, Voelker has maintained her connection to music largely through Spotify. “I’m a person who listens to music 24/7,” she said. “Last year, on my Spotify Wrapped, I’d listened to 75,000 minutes of music. In the online class setting, I don’t have classes every day. So, I’m doing my classwork and all the readings my professors assign when I have music in. I’ll be walking around campus with my air pods in, and my hair hides them. I won’t hear people when they call my name, so they’ll have to come up and tap me on the shoulder.”

For Thole and Webster, staying connected is looking a little different.Thole says he’s “fortunate enough to be in Chorale,” where practices are much more regimented and led by a professional director. And Webster decided to take an opera class this semester.  It “is not music I would typically sit and listen to,” she said, adding, “I’m really enjoying it, though.”

For Nanfelt, it’s just about singing whenever she gets the chance. “I’m still singing in the shower, singing in the car,” she said.

In regard to maintaining community, I think each group has arrived at a similar conclusion: meet semi-regularly just to check in and chill together for a little while. Nanfelt said that in addition to this, the Nuances have increased their social media presence, “because that’s kind of the only material our friends, families, and new classmates have to view us from.” So, while a majority of the groups have opted to pause or limit rehearsals, they are all still trying to maintain the familial bonds that are so important to each.

While interviewing these leaders, I realized just how essential music is, especially in such an isolated, unpredictable time. At its core, music is our outlet from everything going on right now, our way of expressing what we cannot put into words, uniting us in the deepest sense. So, while we may feel dizzy and overwhelmed, like walking in a straight line is impossible at the moment, music, in all its forms, will point us in the right direction. I’m confident these a cappella groups sense this too as we all look ahead, hopeful that tomorrow we’ll have a better idea of where to go next.  

Jackson Renfro ‘24 (he/him) is an intended History major from Fayetteville, AR. He can be reached for comment at jarenfro@davidson.edu.