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  • Mohan Rajagopal

Music, Microphones, and the Feeling of Home: Vistaar's Choir Showcase, 2023

Updated: May 6, 2023

Vistaar, Ashoka University’s Music Society, held its end-semester choir showcase for Spring’23 on April 25, at Dr Reddy’s Auditorium. Featuring performances from the society’s three choirs: Apple Cello, the acapella group; Alankaar, the Indian choir; and The Jim Jams, the Western choir, the showcase was an uplifting and colourful getaway from strenuous final submissions into the world of music.

It’s safe to say almost all Ashokans eagerly look forward to Vistaar’s end-semester showcases, even amid several deadlines and exams. Anticipating the rush, I found myself a seat almost half an hour before the showcase was set to start. Reddy’s thrummed with energy and anticipation, the low murmur of voices from the crowd mingling with the fragmented musicality of the sound checks. As the seats filled up with every passing minute, audience members spilled over into the aisles, cramming themselves into every inch of free space.

The show started with Apple Cello, who began with a rendition of ‘Mr Sandman’ by The Chordettes, an acapella staple. Transitioning into ABBA’s Mamma Mia and Super Trouper, the group soon plunged into a hip-hop set consisting of ‘No Diggity’ by Blackstreet and Dr Dre, and ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, blowing all expectations out of the water: acapella usually gravitates towards songs with harmonies and vocal quirks that a choir can take full advantage of, as opposed to rap music. When asked about this surprising choice, the choir representatives, Uma Bakshi, UG’24 and Tanvi Trehan, UG’23 responded: “That’s the fun of doing non-traditional acapella songs, we think — we surprise ourselves with the fact that they can be done, and then have full creative freedom to do them whatever way we want.” The performance was endlessly entertaining: at one point, I mistook sounds made from within the sound booth for a kazoo. Apple Cello completed its thrilling set to raucous applause, with the stage being prepared for the next performance by Alankaar.

The past academic year has been impressively expansive for Alankaar. Their set was a compilation of all the songs they performed over these last two semesters: 25 songs in eight languages, over ten performances. The energetic vocals in these different languages were a standout, and Meyhaa Kilam, UG’24, co-representative for Alankaar, gives credit to the native speakers in the choir who helped others with the new dialects.

Complete with electric guitar, violin, mandolin, tabla, and Cajon drum, Alankaar’s seamless mashup was an exhilarating whirlwind. It was refreshing to see an ‘Indian’ choir not relegate its setlist to the usual Bollywood songs. Meyhaa emphasises this is a conscious decision: “We sing to an audience that is so diverse that we want everyone to listen to our music and have it feel like home.”

The notion of home was central to this showcase, fostered both within the choirs and in their relationship with the audience. In the transitions between sets, Reddy’s resounded with specific cheers for choir members waiting to perform. It was apparent performers’ friends in the audience were there to support and celebrate them, infusing the auditorium with warmth. That the choirs themselves are close-knit groups with interpersonal rapport became clear from their on-stage chemistry. Gravitating towards each other, catching each others’ eyes at significant sonic moments and smiling briefly, Vistaar’s choirs stood testament to the shared joy music can bring.

After Alankaar, the Jim Jams presented their set based on the theme, “something old, something new.” The performance opened with a haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, transitioning into Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ before moving into a mashup of Rihanna hits the audience whooped along to. Inspired by her recent Super Bowl performance, “it was a little bit fooling around and fun that resulted in the entire choir compiling most of her greatest hits together,” said choir representative Noyonica Chatterjee, UG’25. Each song included numerous solos by different members, striking a compelling balance between showcasing the choir’s cohesion alongside individual talent.

In a surprising turn of events, Alankaar joined The Jim Jams onstage for a final collaborative performance of various songs like ‘Unholy’ by Sam Smith and Kim Petras, and Bhoomi Trivedi’s ‘Ram Chahe Leela’. For Noyonica, this collaboration was “a daunting concept at first, but an exciting one nevertheless.” Riddhi Saksena, ASP’23, who is a member of both the Indian Choir and the Western Choir took a moment during the performance to emphasise how special this one-of-a-kind collaboration was to her. Indeed, watching two choirs of such wildly different styles come together in a bizarre, yet brilliant, production was a particularly special and entertaining highlight, bringing the show to a close.

Questions about equipment and other logistical concerns inevitably arise when considering such a large-scale event. The acoustics of Reddy’s Auditorium, for instance, are not best suited for acapella, which thrives in smaller and more enclosed spaces. The Apple Cello representatives agree, but point out that “since the choir showcase draws a bigger audience and has three choirs performing, a change of venue may not be ideal”. The Vistaar administrative team reassures they are “exploring more opportunities for the choirs to perform in different spaces from next semester onwards.”

The lack of adequate microphones and mic stands onstage was also noticeable. The Alankaar representatives stress the need to make a “calculated decision” in terms of allocating microphones to vocalists and instrument players, although ideally, such a limit on equipment should not exist at all. The representative for The Jim Jams stated that the collaborative performance was a rare occurrence since accommodating so many people on a small stage and setting up an already scarce number of mics across two choirs was a “logistical nightmare for everyone involved.”

All three choirs, however, emphasised in no unclear terms that the Vistaar team was a source of great support, organising several soundchecks to mitigate any technical difficulties and “doing their very best… [to ensure] that everyone was both audible and visible throughout.” On reaching out to Vistaar for a comment, the team replied “issues with microphones are something that we struggle with for every event, and this showcase was no different.” They went on to clarify the current setup utilises “an extra mixer” and “is dangerous as it might cause electrical issues and has caused significant damage to the hearing of whoever is operating it.”

Vistaar has clarified that equipment issues can “only be fixed in the long term with money.” Since such decisions fall under the purview of several administrative offices, Vistaar can only push for [them] through constant communication. The Edict has previously covered the challenges clubs and societies face in this regard, both by the Arts & Culture and the Opinions departments.

Nevertheless, the three choirs, assisted by the Vistaar team, put up an enthralling show that miraculously allowed everyone to forget their woes vis-a-vis finals for an hour. Come rain or shine, the student body can always depend upon a packed house for the choir showcase, as is sure to be the case next semester as well.

Photo Credit: Caperture, The Photography Society of Ashoka University

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