As a (sort-of) adult woman in her early 20s, I had accepted the fact that I would never find a feeling to replicate that of waking up as a kid on Christmas morning, bright and early and full of anticipation. That notion completely went out the window when I woke up on the morning of my first LENS, still groggy as usual until that first sip of Dunkin’ but filled with enough excited energy to light up 100 Christmas trees.
On November 6, 2021, I was lucky enough to experience this one-of-a-kind event in its triumphant return to regular, in-person scheduling. Even though I had been working with Cut Off Studios for a little over a year and had taught a class at our Virtual LENS in April, I knew that this would be unlike anything I had done with the Studio before. (Spoiler alert! I was absolutely right.)
LENS weekend began with a 3-hour car ride to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. when Alanna, our Director of Event Planning, picked me up in New Jersey. Despite never having met in person before, we hit it off and fell into step right away, setting the tone for the rest of the Studio members who I would meet in just a few hours. After a year of Zoom calls and Slack messages, meeting the rest of the LENS clinicians (Alli, Rachel, Shilpa, Matt, Kyle and Joe) was as surreal as it gets. Hanging out in our beautiful but very creaky Airbnb on that first night in DC was like seeing old friends for the first time in a long time--unreal, but so natural and easy at the same time.
The meaning of LENS--learn, envision, network, sing--not only gives purpose to our event, but to all the Studio members who come together to make it happen. So, allow me to give you a rundown of my day as a LENS first-timer by walking you through the event’s defining principles.
Even though I was the one teaching, I felt that I learned a lot from everyone who attended my classes. I taught a class focused on being a leader in the a cappella sphere, specifically focused on leading your peers, with Shilpa, our Director of Finance. During the two sessions we offered, Shilpa and I fielded questions and scenarios from our attendees and offered effective leadership tactics as well as personal anecdotes. While we were the ones providing the answers, I learned so much about the current collegiate a cappella experience through the questions we were asked. Being a president, music director, or general member of an a cappella group throughout the Covid-19 pandemic is uncharted territory, and the obstacles our attendees had faced in these positions were unique and sometimes hard for me to troubleshoot. I walked away from those classes with a new perspective and great respect for everyone who participated, and I sincerely hope they all walked away with just as enlightening an experience.
The context of this LENS gave even more meaning to the “envision” portion of the event than usual; with this being our first in-person event since the beginning of the pandemic, I could not help but envision what the future of live music and the a cappella community would look like now that we are emerging from this era of quarantines and social distancing. The energy and ambiance of an a cappella performance is a big draw for many people, and that is a challenge to recreate in virtual spaces. So many groups rose to that challenge in innovative ways over the past year and a half, and this weekend they showed us how they have kept their sound and creativity alive. Judging by how this LENS went, I would say the future looks bright!
After close to two years with minimal opportunities to get out there and make connections with new people, the networking aspect of LENS filled me with joy. Meeting my fellow Studio members face to face was an incredibly heartwarming experience and further cemented the relationships we have been building online for the past year. Watching dozens of LENS attendees mingle and branch out of their comfort zones with each other was a huge source of pride for me. Everywhere I looked I could see evidence or new friendships being formed: in the hallways between classes, throughout our designated networking period, during our lunch break, etc. Seeing firsthand how the Studio could help the a cappella community become more connected was very powerful and reminded me that there’s so much to be learned outside of the classroom, too.
Of course, none of this would be happening without our shared love of singing. I started the day teaching a masterclass with Joe, our Director of Events, with Towson Untitled. Joe and I spent 50 minutes getting serenaded by our very talented students while giving them feedback on how to fine-tune their performance. We focused on specific areas Untitled wanted to improve, and honing in on the finer details of their performance was an amazing way to dive in and feel really immersed in the music. At the end of the day, all of the groups came together to perform for each other in a wonderful a cappella cabaret, showing off the progress they had made in their masterclasses throughout the day. I had not seen a cappella music performed live since before the pandemic began, so this part of the day made my whole year. It was incredible to me that these groups had encountered so many roadblocks, overcame them all and came out the other side stronger and sounding better than ever.
I’d say that sounds like a pretty successful day, no? To me and the entire Cut Off team, it certainly was; months of hard work leading up to this day made it so fulfilling to see our LENS-goers learn and grow together. It’s been less than a month since LENS, but there’s only one question on my mind: when’s the next one?