Looking Forward: BlueNote Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Happy Friday, everyone!

It’s another sunny day here in Ann Arbor. I don’t know about you, but that automatically boosts my mood – plus it’s practically the weekend already!

This week I had the opportunity to chat with Cinderella Ksebati, Co-Founder and Music Director of BlueNote Vocal Jazz Ensemble. As another fairly new organization on campus, I was excited to learn more about how they have adapted this year and what their upcoming plans for performances were like. Let’s dive right in!

Founded in 2019, BlueNote Vocal Jazz Ensemble aimed to help fill the void of limited opportunities for students to participate in vocal jazz on campus. The group consists of both undergraduate and graduate students, including a mix of SMTD and other schools. They were able to perform on campus at the SMTD’s “Collage” event, as well as a few off-campus opportunities before campus shut down in early 2020 due to COVID-19. This hasn’t stopped Cinderella and her team, though. They are still working just as hard to “revitalize the attending-a-jazz-concert experience and in 2020-2021”.

“We are thinking, okay, how do we present this using technology, using what we have at our disposal, and continuing to make art, create jazz music, and start to get people engaged with this genre. And bring it back to the forefront of the arts as is such an American tradition, we want to bring it back and take bits and pieces of those traditions honoring and paying homage to all the vocal jazz greats. Of the groups like, for example, Take Six, New York Voices, so some of our program for the upcoming project that we’re working on, “Let’s Go to the Movies”, encompasses a couple of those things. We are mixing the media, we’re doing a 30-minute jazz film and we’re using all vocal jazz repertoire.”

To prepare for that project, BlueNote has been meeting via Zoom 2-3 times a week and using an online audio workstation that allows them to hear a little bit of the “blend” that vocal groups work so hard to achieve in performances. They have also incorporated a few individual, in-person rehearsals, following county and university guidelines. 

Though Cinderella does miss in-person performances, she notes that there have been some interesting developments in vocal jazz, at least in BlueNote, that she hopes will continue after COVID. Specifically, adding more storytelling into their performances is something she has really enjoyed. 

“It won’t necessarily be a film next year, who knows, but I certainly think that that is going to be changing some things and just in terms of our passions of the group members.”

Check out their most recent YouTube video above, performing “Walkin My Baby Back Home”.

BlueNote’s newest project, a short jazz film titled “Let’s Go to the Movies”, will premiere in April. You can stay up to date on their upcoming events by following their Instagram and subscribing to their YouTube channel. Lastly, keep in mind that the group holds auditions every semester, so definitely keep an eye out this Fall if you’re interested in singing!

That’s all from me this week! 

 

Stay safe,

Lucy

Looking Forward: The Plush Project

Happy Friday, arts, ink readers!

I hope that you’ve all been able to get out and enjoy the sunshine that we’ve had the past few days (at least if you’re in the Ann Arbor area). It’s been giving me just enough of a “light at the end of the tunnel” that Spring may be coming soon after all. 

So far on Looking Forward, I’ve spoken with a lot of organizations that have had to pivot their typical operations due to the pandemic, with many moving traditions, rehearsals, and exhibitions online or finding ways to do them while socially distancing, pre-recording content to share with their members, getting creative with multi-media approaches to projects, and collaborating with other student organizations. But what if you don’t have any “typical operations” yet? How does a new organization pave its way through this overwhelming and complicated time? 

This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Amira Rabbah, President of a new organization on campus called The Plush Project. Over the course of quarantine, Amira found herself looking for new ways to keep herself busy and learn new things — enter: crocheting. She had always loved to knit, and crocheting seemed like a fun, new challenge that was also a continuation of her passion for yarn arts. She was particularly interested in the style of crocheting called amigurumi, which involves crocheting and stuffing different characters, toys, and plushes.

After she had gotten a handle on the technique, she found herself building up quite the collection of handmade toys. Rather than leave them to collect dust on a shelf, she wanted to donate these toys to children who are going through difficult times. This was the beginning of The Plush Project. Soon, Amira realized that yarn arts lovers across campus could contribute to this group, building a sense of community and practicing the hobby while giving children who are in the foster care system or who are sick a sense of comfort. 

After figuring out the administrative hoops of how to form a Voluntary Student Organization (VSO) on campus, Amira applied for a grant through Arts at Michigan to help provide materials to members. This way, she explained, the organization could be as inclusive as possible and not present barriers to potential members who would like to get involved but cannot afford to purchase yarn or needles, etc.

Since forming in the Fall semester, the organization has grown to about 15 members from a variety of experience levels. 

“Mostly, we have some seasoned crochet there’s a couple of new crocheters, but they’ve all, like, been introduced to some sort of yarn or fabric art, at least one of them, so either they sew or knit, all those are good avenues for making plush toys, so it doesn’t have to be crochet but that has happened to be the supplies that we have to give out.”

Although growing and running the organization has perhaps been more difficult than it would be if in-person meetings were possible, Amira has done great work and already set up donation relationships with Orchard Children Services, with the hopes of expanding to other places like Motts hospital in the future. And they’re still growing! Amria welcomes anyone who is interested in crocheting or yarn arts to get in touch:

“We’d love to obviously have more regular members, so if you’re interested in coming to our Zoom, but hopefully later in-person, sessions to crochet, get materials, whatever, the best way would be to email me or find us on one Maize Pages… they’ll both give me an email notification, so both are great ways to, like, reach out. I’ll give you a whole spiel about our organization up the zoom links to our meetings and everything!”

You can reach Amira and learn more about the Plush Project by emailing her at arabbah@umich.edu, or by visiting the Plush Project Maize Page and clicking on the “Contact” button.

I loved learning more about how a new organization has navigated this complicated year, and hearing how dedicated Amira is to this project was really inspiring. Definitely check them out!

That’s all from me today. Remember to take some time for yourself this weekend and decompress – students would typically be enjoying Spring Break right about now and I think a lot of us could use a break.

Take care and stay safe, 

Lucy

Looking Forward: Relevé Dance Co

Happy Friday, everyone!

This week on Looking Forward, I had the opportunity to speak with Samantha Kasselman and Carly Abrahams, Co-Presidents of Relevé Dance Co here at UMich. They told me about how their organization has adjusted to COVID, the future of their organization, and their upcoming events. Let’s dive into it!

Picture taken pre-COVID

Relevé Dance Co is a student-run dance company that focuses on lyrical and jazz styles. In a typical year, they practice twice a week, developing their technique, strengthening their skills, and learning choreography for their April showcase. Their members are mostly students who have danced for some time before coming to college but are usually not majoring in dance (though many students do continue to take classes through the dance program here). They highlight student choreography by their own members and pride themselves on having a tight-knit group.

It’s no surprise that many of their operations have had to shift this year. First semester Relevé moved to be completely virtual, and Samantha and Carly had to figure out how they could continue to make the organization a mental health break and provide stress relief for their members when they can’t get the change of scenery they usually do. Additionally, they had to be much more flexible than usual with some of their choreography, understanding that not all members had the physical space to move how they normally would. Though they’ve been able to move some of their rehearsals to be in-person this semester, following COVID guidelines put in place by the University and Washtenaw County, there are still restrictions that make it different from a “normal” rehearsal. Physical touch, for instance, is something that they realized was taken for granted in previous choreography and rehearsals.

Check out one of their most recent rehearsal videos here

Samantha and Carly have still found some silver linings, though. 

Samantha explained that “…in a normal year, when we’re always dancing in person and always together, it’s almost like we conform to like one style or some people’s choreography and different things but now that we can all kind of focus on like the creative process in our own spaces that we live, work and, like, that type of environment, I think it’s brought like a more diverse set of skills and backgrounds and choreography to our company. I think that will really be showcased in the virtual showcase, whether it be through the recorded videos that we learned someone else’s choreography or through videos of someone doing a solo in their house in the spaces that they live, work and breathe. I think that’s a really cool aspect of all this.”

I think that is such a beautiful thing about this time. Although it is not ideal that we’re all stuck in our own habitats and can’t share experiences in the ways we want to, I think being forced to interact with our environments more might bring out new levels of diversity and creativity in some of our projects. I’m excited to see how Relevé incorporates these new styles into their Spring showcase. 

Picture taken pre-COVID

If you’re interested in getting involved in Relevé, you can check out their Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook pages. They’ll post more information about their upcoming projects there, including the showcase. Auditions for the group happen every Fall and most Winters, so if you’re interested in joining check back on their social media around those times!

That’s all from me this week! Come back next Friday for another spotlight on a creative student organization and how they are working through this crazy year. 

Stay safe!

Lucy

Looking Forward: This Week at the UMMA + New Interviews Soon

Happy Friday, Arts, Ink readers!

After a brief intermission, we will be back in action next week. I’ve spent this week reaching out to many exciting and diverse student organizations to learn more about how they’re handling the semester, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. 

In the meantime, I thought I would spend this week highlighting some events the UMMA is putting on this week that I found especially exciting.

If you’re a fan of spotify collaborative playlists and/or how art and music intersect, check out UMMA’s jukebox. Through that link you can fill out a form to suggest songs that pair with two of the museum’s newest art pieces. As someone who has always enjoyed interdisciplinary work, I found this project very interesting and I’m excited to see the results!

The UMMA is also putting together a virtual event called “The Adjacent Possible” on Feb. 18th at 8PM. They describe it as “[mixing] music performance, storytelling, and technology that converts the audience into an orchestra. The project culminates in the recording of an orchestral piece – the first and last ever to be performed.” If you need to transport yourself for a little while from the stress of schoolwork or job searches, definitely check it out – it seems like a really unique event. Pre-registration is required, so make sure you confirm ahead of time!

That’s all from me today. Check back next week for an interview with the co-presidents of Relevé – they had some really interesting points to make about the creative process and COVID!

Stay safe!

Lucy

Looking Forward: EnspiRED

Happy Friday, everyone!

Ashley King, Vice President of EnspiRED

We are back to our regularly scheduled content. This week I spoke with Ashley King, the Vice President of EnspiRED, to learn more about how they are adapting to the restrictions that COVID-19 has brought. This was a special interview, as Ashley is not only a talent and joy to speak with, but one of my good friends from high school. I was excited to learn more about the organization that she has fallen in love with.

In a normal year, EnspiRED is best-known for their annual fashion show with proceeds going to a charity they choose each year. Each show has a theme that is tied together through the outfits on the runway, the visuals that accompany the show, and even the wardrobes of those working the event. One of the most recent themes, astrology, was a personal favorite of Ashley. 

During the past year, EnspiRED has obviously had to adjust much of what they do in light of COVID. They can no longer host their fashion show in-person, as it can attract hundreds in attendance, but they are finding ways to fit what they usually do into this new world of COVID. 

I also asked Ashley about how she interprets the intersection of arts and fashion. She told me that to her, fashion is an art.

Current E-board for EnspiRED

“You watch a Marc Jacobs, or a Vera Wang, or anybody’s fashion show and you’re like, wow, it must have taken some ingenuity to put this together, or a really creative mind to come up with that. I very much feel that fashion is in our forum because not everybody can, like, pick up some fabric and make something that everybody wants, and that’s from high fashion to fast fashion. There’s an art to all of it.”

I couldn’t agree more – and the energy that has to go into a fashion show is way beyond just designing the clothes. The staging, the lighting, the music, the makeup, the hair, all add to the concept and sells the experience. 

If you want to get involved with EnspiRED, be sure to follow their Instagram account so that you can stay up-to-date on their upcoming events. Modeling and volunteer opportunities are also available most years, so be on the lookout for those. Lastly, their e-board will be opening up applications soon to lead the organization next year. Ashley’s advice? “Brush up on your interview skills.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of one of the top fashion organizations on campus?

That’s all from me this week! Come back next week for more about the arts on campus this semester. 

Stay safe & stay healthy!

-Lucy

Making the Most of Second Semester

Happy Friday, everyone!

I know it’s been a long week (even with Monday off) so pat yourself on the back for making it through. Whether your semester seems like it will be a breeze or your hardest one yet, remember to be kind to yourself and find moments for celebration. 

A new semester means a fresh start in many ways, but some people can feel trapped in the extracurricular activities they committed to in the first semester. I wanted to take some time to remind you that most student organizations gladly welcome new members during the second semester. MUSKET is producing a show, Basement Arts is partnering with Blank Space Workshop to produce new work, and many performance groups are holding auditions, just to name a few of the opportunities this semester. 

Even if you don’t have the time or interest in fully joining these organizations, I encourage you to attend their events as much as possible. Not only will it bring some joy into your life and introduce you to new groups and artistic expressions, it will also help support these student groups through what is sure to be another strange semester. With most of their performances being virtual, along with classes, attending these events shows that we still support these groups, even if we can’t cheer them on in person. 

So in the next couple of weeks, I challenge you to scroll through MaizePages and jot down a couple of organizations you’re interested in learning more about. Then, see what day they’ll be attending the virtual Winterfest and have some questions ready – maybe about the process for joining, or what their plans are for this semester. Finally, as you’re scrolling through Instagram or walking around campus and you see an advertisement for an upcoming arts event, add it to your calendar. That way you won’t forget, and when it comes along maybe you’ll put aside your homework for an hour or two to experience the creativity our campus has. Think of it as a new form of self-care. 

That’s all from me this week. Good luck to everyone in their classes!

– Lucy