In May, both the Yellowjackets and Vocal Point decided by unanimous vote to leave the Music Department and become Students’ Association-recognized groups. The Music Department had sponsored both groups since their inceptions over 30 years ago.

“There were many reasons for the move, all involving a shift in the Music Department’s general attitude towards us,” Yellowjackets Director and senior Dave Marvin said.

A main factor for their decision was the Music Department’s new policy that members of a cappella groups were required to take voice lessons or join a choir on campus for one year. Along with this obligation came the Music Department’s request to approve all concert set lists, sit in on auditions and come to any rehearsals.

“They were applying more control over the groups without our consent and expecting us to comply,” Vocal Point Director and senior Catey Juravich said.

Although Marvin realizes that the new requests were not out of line, the Yellowjackets were still not used to the Music Department telling them what to do. They realized that with the new policy, the Music Department couldn’t give them the kind of self-sufficiency that they were looking for.

Independence was the biggest concern for both groups. They each feel that they had been successful groups for the past 30 years without being strictly controlled by the Music Department.

“This was not a hasty decision. We weighed the pros and cons of leaving for a year, right after things started changing for our group. We just wanted to remain autonomous and we didn’t feel that was possible if we stayed with the Music Department,” Vocal Point Alumnae Coordinator Gen Chawluk said.

Similarly, Marvin claims that the move was made in order to keep things about the Yellowjackets as they had been in the past and preserve the status of the group.

Director of Choral Activites Brett Scott agrees that the Music Department did not have the same group goals as the Yellowjackets and Vocal Point.

“While we regret their decision, we fully understand their desire to function more as student activity than as a department-sponsored ensemble,” Scott said. “In many institutions, student-directed a cappella groups are not affiliated with any academic department, in part due to the strong social component found in many of these groups.”

Finances were also part of the discussion for Vocal Point. Juravich and Chawluk both felt that staying with the Music Department would be detrimental to the amount of money that Vocal Point was making – even though they received $500 per year when they were still with the Music Department and now receive nothing.

“The choral requirement was taking away potential gigs for the group by adding more conflicts to the members’ schedules,” Juravich said.

Also, both the Yellowjackets and Vocal Point sang in a Music Department concert on Meliora Weekend, “Rochester Sings,” from which they received no income. This year, the two groups will join together for an alumni show, which in the past has been known to bring in up to $3,000.

At the end of the year, Vocal Point had a considerable amount of debt, which has since been taken on by the Dean of The College’s office. Dean of The College William Green said that the group now has an undisclosed amount of time to pay off their debt straight to the Dean’s office.

By the time the May 1 decision deadline came along, both groups found themselves battling with the Music Department and receiving negative feedback in return. Tensions were at an all-time high and the choice was a simple one to make, according to Marvin, Juravich and Chawluk.

While the Yellowjackets and Vocal Point left, the Midnight Ramblers remain with the Music Department and After Hours joined. After Hours is a co-ed a cappella group that had formally been independent of the Music Department.

The Ramblers did not have nearly as many problems with the new policy as the Yellowjackets and Vocal Point did.

“We didn’t fight the Music Department on their requirements because we didn’t think that they were bad ideas,” Ramblers Director and junior Dan Israel said.

“We figured the guys we were letting into our group would want to take advantage of the lessons to become better musicians. Why wouldn’t you want to? If the policy wasn’t there, we would still encourage our members to get involved with other musical ensembles on this campus and at Eastman,” Ramblers Business Manager and junior Tom Kraus said.

The Ramblers also feel that the Music Department has been fairly flexible and accommodating with their requirements, allowing them to join any musical ensemble, including orchestras, or take any musicianship class, not limiting them to choral groups. In addition, the Music Department has just purchased an additional $6,000 worth of sound equipment solely for the a cappella groups to use for their shows.

The Music Department also recognizes that there is a certain amount of give and take that is necessary for a successful partnership.

“Over the past year, the College Music Department has worked diligently with all of the a cappella ensembles to craft a relationship that would be beneficial for everyone,” Scott said. “We have successfully created such a relationship with Midnight Ramblers and After Hours, one that recognizes both the autonomy of the groups and the inherent responsibilities that come with being members of an academic department.”

Israel and Kraus agree that if the Music Department’s requests ever get to be too demanding, they will not be afraid to leave, but as for now, they feel that are fine where they are.

Mittelman can be reached at dmittelman@campustimes.org.



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