Performances light the stage at second AMPLIFY performance


Mr. Khong, one of the DEI coordinators for the AMPLIFY Open Mic event, stands in his DEI t-shirt in Hawkins. Photo by Hewlett Connell

The sun cast golden rays onto the performer’s smiling face. The strum of guitar chords resonated through Blake Hall, as a singer’s voice projected toward the audience. The first performance of the JanTerm edition of AMPLIFY had begun. 

AMPLIFY, held by the Upper School Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) office, is an open mic intended to celebrate the diversity of voices at Westminster. 

“[The] idea was to have an open mic where students will be able to express their artwork or creativity or share their voices out to the wider community,” said DEI coordinator Eric Khong. 

The open mic encouraged art-lovers of various experience levels to perform in front of their peers to share their unique talents and voices with the Westminster community. 

“It’s not just the number of people you perform to, but it’s the feeling that you get from an open mic as opposed to a show from performing arts,” said Khong. “It’s a very supportive atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere where performers, of course, get to perform but even people that are new to performing or are trying out new material get to find a space that’s safe enough to do it without too much judgment.” 

Despite AMPLIFY’s recent creation earlier this school year, it has deeper roots in Westminster’s culture. Before DEI coordinators Khong and Sabrina Johnson were assigned those roles, the DEI office occasionally held similar open mic events. However, the implementation of AMPLIFY revived the nearly obsolete event and solidified it into Westminster tradition. 

Unlike previous open mics, the DEI coordinators faced unique challenges in organizing AMPLIFY due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In order to follow COVID protocols, limitations on the number of audience members and even the types of performances were required. The most noticeable change from previous open mics was the mask mandate. AMPLIFY’s first installment occurred in November, when Westminster went mask optional, allowing Wildcats to see each other’s entire faces, creating a more traditionally lively atmosphere. However, due to the surge in cases due to Omicron, the mask mandate was reinstalled. Regardless of these challenges, everyone at AMPLIFY managed to perform undauntedly. 

The event’s first performance was of an original work written and performed by sophomore Meera Laskar. Above the notes and rhythm of her song, tentatively named either “Trampoline” or “Fall Nights,” the lyrics tell a story about the narrator and a friend spending time together one autumn evening. 

“It was just basically about the night where I was like, ‘Dang, I really want to be in this moment forever,’” said Laskar. “So I was like, ‘I can immortalize that feeling by just writing a song about it.’” 

The creativity and personal expression that the song encapsulates serves to show AMPLIFY’s success in its mission of celebrating students’ voices in a warm, encouraging and supportive environment. 

“We’re all just here to have a good time and to perform,” said Laskar. “It feels really, really nice to just experience that together and not to be judged.” 

AMPLIFY was originally directed toward student performers, but several faculty members also decided to showcase their talents. English teacher Jack Morgan brought his guitar to life with his original fingerstyle solo, which he composed over the course of several weeks. 

“[It’s] just improvising and moving my fingers around the neck until I find something that seems like it goes together,” says Morgan. “Then I start kind of putting pieces together and seeing how I like them.” 

Despite the piece’s polished and performance-ready nature, it is still an ongoing work—as with a poem, Morgan is constantly reworking the ending until he finds a melody that wraps up the work in perfection. 

Although the pandemic brought hardship to everyone, it allowed some artists to delve more deeply into their musical journeys. For example, during the pandemic, Laskar explored songwriting by at first writing songs for her ukulele. 

“I started really writing music during the pandemic,” said Laskar. “I realized that this was a thing I really like to do and to express myself [through].” 

Other performers also shared their creativity, performing not only individually but also with a friend in pairs. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the collection of singing, guitar playing, and poetry reading. 

Held on Jan. 11, the JanTerm edition of AMPLIFY not only provided an opportunity for art-lovers to perform live in front of their fellow Wildcats but it also provided a space for the community to grow closer together. 

“[AMPLIFY] has made me realize how many people in our Westminster community have talent in art,” said sophomore Andrew Su. “[The event] makes me appreciate it more.” 

AMPLIFY is here to stay as part of Westminster’s ever-evolving culture. The DEI coordinators plan to add themes and other perks to AMPLIFY to keep every occurrence fresh. For example, they plan to encourage more of their peers to perform in front of the Wildcats. 

“I’ve been really wanting to encourage my colleagues to perform,” said Khong. “I would love to see an edition in May like an all faculty open mic.” 

The uniqueness in individual performances paired with the coming modifications mean that AMPLIFY’s future editions will always be distinct experiences.