Students create new musical format amid virtual circumstances

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

At the start of the semester, Visiting Assistant Professor Ernest Green asked students enrolled in the Musical Theatre Practicum course what they wanted to accomplish this semester. 

Last semester, the Music Department put on a production of “The Who’s Tommy.” “The Who’s Tommy,” is a rock musical adapted from the 1969 rock opera “Tommy” by The Who, according to Rolling Stone Magazine. 

While the class agreed that putting on a virtual musical was not feasible in the current state of internet lags and Zoom calls, the students still wanted a chance to express themselves. 

The students are in the early stages of creating a “song cycle,” an innovative alternative to the Music Department’s annual fall musical.

“We were joking about calling it ‘Social Distancing the Musical,’” junior Meagan Jenkins said. 

Students were asked to choose and record a song of personal importance to them, reflecting their feelings about the pandemic. 

Jenkins chose the song “Heart of Stone” from the musical “Six,” which debuted in 2017 in the United Kingdom. The musical revolves around the stories of the six wives of King Henry VIII. “Heart of Stone” which is sung by Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, is about strength and reliance, according to Jenkins.

“We’ve been getting a bunch of crap thrown at us these past eight months, so I thought it was very fitting,” Jenkins said. 

While some students, like Jenkins, are persistent in continuing to perform, others are using this opportunity to build a foundation for their future at Washington College. 

Freshman Matt Brader was worried that this virtual semester would be isolating and he would struggle to make friends in a new environment. However, he was glad to find that was not the case. 

“I have never met a more welcoming group of people,” Brader said. 

“Oh no I don’t sing,” freshman Matt Brader said, laughing.

Instead of singing, Brader will be one of the students that brings the show together, editing all of the videos into a cohesive exposition. 

The Musical Theatre Practicum operates on experience-based learning methodology. 

“Ernie acts less like a professor and more like an artistic director,” senior Will Rotsch said. 

Students have selected songs from musical styles ranging from the pop artist Billie Eilish to the finale of the famous musical “Rent.” This way students are able to establish a level of personality that is different from their usual musical productions. 

“It gives us an opportunity to explore songs that are not musical theatre,” Rotsch said. “It brings a new meaning to adapt or die.”

While it is unknown when this project will be completed, the song cycle truly brings meaning to the phrase that has been circulating during the COVID-19 pandemic, “alone together,” an ad campaign launched by the Ad Council in partnership with television networks like Comedy Central and MTV, according to Dateline. One of Green’s aims for the projects, was to exemplify the “alone together” campaign so his students still have the chance to share music that’s important to them with others. 

Rotsch, along with the rest of his classmates, hopes that this will allow students to see themselves in this show, validating their feelings through a diverse set of songs.

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