When the spring semester took an unexpected turn, student groups were left to figure out how to finish the semester remotely. This posed an interesting challenge for groups such as the Pennchants, a performing arts group that was in the middle of planning their spring show when everyone was sent back home.
The Pennchants are Penn’s premier all vocally–male a cappella group. This past year, the group experienced significant growth: they signed their first corporate sponsorship with Members Only, released their first music video, and opened for Michael Bloomberg’s campaign rally at the Constitution Center.
During the school year, the Pennchants usually perform two live shows. One occurs in the fall, as a collaboration with their sister group the Quaker Notes, and the second is a solo performance during the spring semester. Unfortunately, the Pennchants were forced to cancel their live performance this spring.
However, they did not let this stop them from continuing to perform. Once everyone was back home, they met in order to figure out what the rest of their semester was going to look like. The media correspondent of the group, Evan Bean (E ‘23) mentions that they had a group call to discuss all of their options. One was to completely cancel all performances for the rest of the semester, and the other was to continue doing what they know best and perform some of the songs they had practiced by releasing a series of videos.
Ultimately, they came up with an idea for a concert series, Social Distance–Sing, that entailed recording individual videos to be mixed and mastered into a fully produced performance.
Evan says, “At some point in the discussion, we decided that it would be great to have an entire concert series, not just release these videos independently, but have a unifying theme behind them. And we wanted something that would bring some lightheartedness to everything going on right now.”
The Pennchants knew this performance was going to be different, but for reasons other than the format of the series. Usually, they sell tickets for their fall and spring shows, using this money to continue operations. Since they knew this wasn’t going to be possible this time, they decided to contribute to a charitable cause in the Philadelphia area.
They partnered with Philabundance, which Evan mentions is the “largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley area,” serving around 700,000 people. The Pennchants began to do active promotion through sharing their videos and pledging to donate every contribution to Philabundance. Throughout the course of the series, they have raised nearly $27,000 in donations, which equals to over 50,000 meals.
Additionally, since they plan on releasing one more video as an epilogue to the series, they have partnered with the Village of Arts and Humanities, an arts organization that is said to “amplify the voices and aspirations of [their] community by providing arts–based opportunities for self–expression and personal success that engage youth and their families, revitalize physical space, and preserve Black heritage.” The Pennchants decided to support their efforts to raise $40,000 to create a fund for Black artists, mentioning that as a performing arts organization it’s important to support other people in the arts.
In terms of producing the video series, it was certainly a group effort. The Pennchants each had to download a backing track, listen to it through headphones, and record themselves until they achieved the perfect take. Then they would send the videos to an audio editor, Penn alumnus Dylan Levine (E ‘19) who would mix and master the clips. In addition to having to worry about their voice, Evan mentions they also had to coordinate choreography which was especially challenging, as they had to be very specific about when to do a certain move.
Liam Hosey (E ‘21), President of the Pennchants, says, “It took a lot of innovating on the part of different members to come up with the idea for the series, to figure out how we were going to execute it. You know, make sure everybody has the capacity to record their audio, send in and record their video. So it was pretty cool to watch because this isn’t something that we’ve done before.”
Their concert series has earned some incredible recognition. During May, the Pennchants had the opportunity to collaborate with Penn alumna Becki Newton (C ‘00). Additionally, they were recognized by Grammy award winner Barry Manilow for their cover of “Copacabana.”
Even though their semester plans certainly changed, the Pennchants were able to make the best of the situation through the creation of the concert series. It was not only an opportunity to create fun videos, but also to contribute to organizations such as Philabundance and the Village of Arts and Humanities.
Knowing next semester will pose its own set of challenges, the Pennchants are prepared to continue performing in some capacity, especially with the experience they have gained in creating these types of videos.
“I can almost guarantee you that we are going to continue to have some form of online concert series or performance presence because that’s just gonna be the way that we get to express ourselves,” Liam says. “We’re looking forward to ideally still audition people this fall, so that is a great thing for us to look forward to but also a great thing for people to be on the lookout for.”