by Joshua McGough
Hello all! My name is Josh and I’m a Rochester native. My majors are in biochemistry and chemistry and my minors are in music and social psychology. I’m a community assistant for the National Residence Hall Honorary Meliora Chapter and the general manager for the Midnight Ramblers all-male a cappella group on campus. Other than the Ramblers, I like to play tennis and the drums. Fun fact: I’m getting married in October!
The Midnight Ramblers spent spring break in our nation’s capital touring different schools and performing for students of all ages. We had a blast! Here’s a recap:
Monday, March 13
We sang at the Sheridan School in Silver Spring this day. Although it was only for K-8 students, this place was alive with inclusion, acceptance, and progressive thought. There I met with Brandon Walker, who organizes the music programs for these students. We were delighted to hear that this was an “extremely progressive school” with “many students with LGBT parents or otherwise gender non-conforming,” as Mr. Walker put it (he insisted we call him Brandon, though).
Many of these students were excited to break up their busy day with a little bit of music. There was some singing along, a little dancing, and plenty of smiles! We encouraged them by saying that we come from a university that accepts students from all over the world and from very different walks of life, but many of us come together with a love of music. This was definitely a great way to start off our break.
Tuesday, March 14
Well, this day didn’t really go as planned. The great blizzard, Winter Storm Stella, came through and gave the DC area a good one to two inches of snow, which meant all the schools and the federal government essentially closed down (while this amount of snow is nothing for Rochesterians, not all cities have the infrastructure to deal with this kind of weather, DC included).
On the upside, we had a great day planning the rest of our trip, and we made some new friends at the Catholic University of America, which gave us some new gigs on Thursday at a performance expo at their school. We also sang at a “91 of us” event that Saturday to raise awareness of gun violence in the United States. Hopefully when it warms up we can get back to singing at some schools!
Wednesday, March 15
We sang for K-12 students at the Saint Augustine Catholic School in the downtown DC area. This school has very little funding available, which made them extremely grateful to have us without us charging anything. There was so much love here. The director of the music program also leads after-school activities for these kids, making him get to school by seven in the morning and not leaving until six in the evening. He always says, “It doesn’t matter how long you work as long as you do what you love. Then you never work a day in your life.”
These kids had a ton of energy, as well! Some of the older kids—especially the guys—gave off this whole “we’re too cool for this” vibe, but they definitely were smiling and grooving along by the end of our performances! We stuck around for lunch and learned a little more about the students’ lives, how they always need to walk to school and how the current administration is scary for them, primarily because many of them are people of color or children of immigrants. Our visit let them smile, at least for a little bit. Our favorite quote of the day: “Oh, Rochester? I hear it snows a ton up there, but if the music is as good as y’all, I guess it’s aight.”
Thursday, March 16
We sang at the Montgomery Blair High School today for their choir classes. We generally love to sing for high schoolers, but there’s definitely something special about targeting people who already sing. They have an ear for different chords or strategies, and we can use that as a tool to spark more in-depth conversations. We sang for about an hour at the end of their day.
Their teacher, colloquially known as Ms. H-C, is a graduate of Eastman (’96), a former director of Rochester’s Vocal Point a cappella group, and a member of a co-ed jazz group that eventually became the After Hours group. Talk about a small world! She was around when a couple Delta Upsilon brothers were thinking about forming the Ramblers, which was a neat perspective the guys and I had never heard about!
The school that closed down on Tuesday was open today, so we did a similar thing with their students, as well. This was a pretty productive day! We made our way to the Catholic University of America and sang a set along with fourteen other performance groups that evening. There were dance groups, another a cappella group, instrumental groups, and even a ventriloquist! We made a lot of new friends and enjoyed a nice hot meal with their Irish Club before we went home for the night.
Friday, March 17
This was our last school performance. We ran out of the lovely supplies given to us by the Office of Admissions, and I’m glad I rationed them out well! This was a smaller group. They were a choir of about twenty or twenty-five kids, and we were singing for them to reward them for doing so well during their juries (graded performance) yesterday.
These kids were extremely well disciplined, almost to a fault! I felt like they weren’t really allowed to exclaim something when they liked how we sounded, or interact in a way that felt natural for them. This isn’t technically a bad thing, but sometimes music can just be for enjoyment, rather than professionalism. We tried to relay that message to these kids, in particular. We spent a little more time saying that none of the current Ramblers are music majors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep it as a vital part of our college career. That isn’t to discourage them from singing professionally if they want, though. We will always need artists, musicians, theorists, and music instructors!
Saturday, March 18
Well, I can’t believe how quickly spring break went by. We had a relaxed morning on this day cleaning up our condo before we headed out on the road. That wasn’t before we went downtown one more time to sing at the “91 of us” event at the National Mall. We stuck more towards a solemn rep with more ballads to attract more people to their booths. Gun control is one thing, but opposing gun violence is something our whole group was able to get behind. We shared our music to spread this message with others on this (finally) warm (finally) spring day. This is exactly how I wanted to close out my final spring break with my best friends at Rochester.