I remember looking forward to rehearsal. I’d head to Strong with butterflies in my stomach, eager to be on stage again. I’d walk up the steps and take my place behind the mic stand. The drummer would count out the beat and the song would begin. Everyone would be in sync, vibing on one powerful, musical wavelength.
I remember feeling more myself on stage than anywhere else. The energy pulsed through me and I didn’t have to think too hard for the lyrics to come out.
I remember my bandmates mouthing the lyrics along with me, tapping their feet, or just giving me encouraging smiles. It was an awesome community to be a part of.
Now their smiles are covered by masks and I’m not even allowed on stage. Because singers have to be 12 feet apart from everyone, we stand off stage with our backs to the audience.
The musical energy we once shared feels disjointed now. COVID-19 and all its necessary regulations have obliterated the natural enjoyment of being in a performance ensemble. It makes me wish for normalcy more than ever before.
I joined the Rock Repertory Ensemble in the fall of my freshmen year. We perform rock music from the 50s to present day, but we usually don’t make it out of the 70s since that’s our professor’s personal favorite. We’re not very well known — hidden away in Lower Strong, and not many people come to our concerts. A Campus Times photographer mistook the Jazz Band for us if that says anything.
But that didn’t matter to me. Performing to an empty auditorium wouldn’t have mattered if I still got the chance to sing. I made new friends and I was finally singing somewhere outside my bedroom. I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt happy.
Pre-COVID, the ensemble was usually divided into a couple time slots, forming mini bands. These slots were about an hour long — enough time to rehearse each song a few times and work out the kinks. COVID-19 has made these arrangements complicated and inconvenient. Now musicians practice for the first 30 minutes and vocalists come in for the last 30.
We stand the necessary distance apart, if not more. We try to discuss the music and figure out what’s not working with each song, but it’s hard to do so without yelling. Most of the time, the musicians on stage can’t hear the singer down below. It’s just not the same; it can’t be.
We have new members that don’t even know what it was like before the pandemic. I feel even worse for them, being robbed of ever having that experience.
We’re jigsaw pieces of the same ensemble that don’t quite fit as well as they used to. Cues and chord changes are lost in translation, and sometimes I just feel lost in general.
I miss being on stage. I miss feeling like a group. I try to not let the 12 feet bother me, but it does. Sometimes I only get five minutes to rehearse my songs; I hardly think that’s enough time. But we can’t dip into the time the University has cut out.
Sometimes I catch a glimpse of what it was like before. We’re all vibing — the timing is right; we make it to the end of a song without issue. And then I remember that probably no one will see this. That fact didn’t bother me so much before because I knew there would still be a concert even if no one came. But now concerts are basically out of the question.
It was the one time I put on a kickass outfit with my signature black boots; I really felt like the best version of myself. Even though I was always nervous, I have to say I miss those jitters. I’d beg for my roommate and my friends to show up and cheer me on. There was nothing like seeing their smiling faces in the audience with their phones up, recording a friend they were proud of.
The concerts were live-streamed, and my family and friends would watch. It was another way for me to stay connected to them in college. It was another way to show my extended family the person I’ve grown to be. Maybe a live-streamed concert is still possible even during COVID-19, but we’ll see.
I still try to ingrain each lyric into my brain. I put every ounce of my energy into rehearsal and I try to help out my bandmates — nodding my head for cues, trying to keep the tempo steady. Behind my mask, I’m still smiling, pretending everything is close enough to what it used to be. It’s not worth it to stop being in Rock Rep for the semester, but I’m not going to lie to myself either.
I’ll try to make the most of it, but the bottom line is, it won’t be the same.