Upper School musicians connect with community virtually

Upper School musicians connect with community virtually

Despite the overwhelming urge during this global pandemic to sit back in front of the TV and watch the hours tick away, the students in the Music Service Club have taken to their instruments. Realizing the pandemic would affect their typical manner of service, the club and its faculty advisors had to think of new ways to bring joy to others through their music. 

Usually, the club would perform for the residents of senior-living facilities Campbell-Stone and William Breman Jewish Home. However, since people over the age of 65 are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus, the club knew they would not be able to continue serving the community as they used to.

“Even before Westminster closed down, I talked to our faculty advisors, Ms. Dent and Ms. James, to see if we really should still be going to the living facilities,” said the club’s co-president, junior Sarah Lao.

The members of the Music Service Club didn’t want to stop bringing smiles to the seniors, so the club devised a solution. Upper School service coordinator Meghan James created a document called “Virtual Volunteer Opportunities,” which is available to all Upper School students and faculty. Members of the Westminster community have access to a folder within the document where anyone can submit a virtual performance, be it vocal, piano, or guitar. 

Within the past few weeks, the link to the document has been added to the weekly “Wildcat Update” sent out by Upper School director of operations and communications Tiffany Boozer. These videos, produced by students all across the Upper School, are sent directly to the William Breman Jewish Home and shared with the seniors residing there. 

“It’s available to the entire Upper School, so I think that’s made it a lot more accessible to join in and add music.” said one of the club’s vice presidents, senior Roshan Vemuri. 

According to Lao, the William Breman Jewish Home reached out and provided the spark for people to submit videos from home. 

“The seniors are always really appreciative of our visits,” said Lao. “They just enjoy listening to the music and don’t even really mind if you mess up.”

Although the well-practiced members of the club are unlikely to “mess up,” many of them agree that the more relaxed environment was an appealing aspect of the club. Not only has the club seen an influx of submissions due to the decrease in pressure and pre-performance nerves, but the lack of time constraints draws in many new contributors to the project.

“A lot of times we only have a handful of people that come to perform in person,” said the club vice president, sophomore Toby Liu. “Without the schedule blocks that we usually have to perform, we can get a lot more people to contribute.”

The Music Service Club has always been important to the members as well as the community they serve, but in the time of a pandemic where social distancing has become crucial, the club’s goal of connecting people through music has never been more significant. Staying at home has given musicians across grade levels the time to practice, hone their craft, and share their music with the people that will enjoy it the most. 

“I really enjoy performing, and the seniors, who don’t normally see live performances, are really grateful when we come. It’s a win-win situation,” said Vemuri. “Now, [the virtual performances] give me a way to still connect with the community and give back.”

One of the club’s main enticements has been the fun, laid-back way in which it serves members of the community. In a time where human connection and communication seem to be in short supply, the club provides the recipients of the videos as well as the musicians a way to feel less isolated. 

Despite quarantining together, it can be easy to feel disconnected from one’s family. For life-long musician Liu, music has provided him with a deeper way of connecting with those around him.

“Everyone in my family is a musician, so my recent time with my family has allowed me to communicate in a way I don’t normally have time to throughout the year,” said Liu. 

Not only has the club’s music helped others heal, but music has helped the members of the club cope with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. With more time to practice, the members of the club have found themselves seeking solace in their instruments. Vemuri, who plays the bassoon in the Upper School wind ensemble, has been able to rekindle his love of playing piano. 

“I started playing bassoon at the start of middle school,” said Vemuri. “However, my first instrument was piano, and I’m glad I’ve had the extra time to be able to pick it up again.”

The chance to focus on bringing the gift of any kind of music to others, as opposed to attending stressful recitals and competitions like many members are used to, gives the club a relaxed environment that the members appreciate.

“I’m used to playing piano in a really competitive environment, so having time to share music, as well as play for myself, has been relaxing,” said Lao. “I sometimes just get lost in the music.”