Courtesy of Crosstones
The Bates Winter Arts Festival, which returned last year after a two-year hiatus, will feature students’ work and shows put on by performance groups as well as work from artists in the Lewiston/Auburn (L/A) community this year. One of the student groups performing will be the Crosstones, the oldest co-ed a cappella group in Bates history.
When the pandemic hit in March and everyone was told to mask up and stay six feet apart, Bates’ artists were uniquely affected in a multitude of ways. A capella, in particular, is an art that is difficult to practice alone.
After all, how could students learn to beatbox by themselves in their room when there is supposed to be a group of people next to them singing the chorus?
Suffice it to say, the Crosstones haven’t practiced in person since March 2020 and thus have resorted to everyone’s favorite mode of communication: Zoom. Even though the group can be brought together virtually, composing songs still remains a challenge. As a result, the Crosstones sometimes have to work on their pieces separately — only after they put it together do the members see their finished work.
As Eben Cook ‘22, Ilana Rosker ‘23, and Brett Schmidtt ‘23 explain, the festival will feature two of their compositions. The first will be “Light On,” written by Maggie Rogers, which is a song they worked on prior to the pandemic and was therefore easier to practice and rework over Zoom.
Another song on their ensemble, “Who Knows Who Cares” by Local Natives, had to be learned remotely. It was supposed to feature a solo performance by Jahmari Josiah ‘20, but the group couldn’t finish it due to the suspension of in-person classes in March last year. Since Josiah graduated in December of 2020, before he left, the Crosstones finished putting this piece together with Josiah being featured.
Hearing their voices collide together is something that doesn’t get old for the group members, explained Rosker. In a year without the usual a cappella concerts, the Crosstones hope festival attendees will be able to experience some of the same excitement of a live performance. Schmidtt also wants the audience to recognize their “energy and determination to put together songs,” even amidst a pandemic.
However, the achievements of the group in these new conditions doesn’t mean the songs came to fruition easily. “COVID has been rough,” Cook said with a sigh.
As a way to overcome the struggles of being apart, the Crosstones have posted virtual tours on their Instagram during the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and over the long winter break. Rosker says that the virtual tours helped reorient and themselves in how they view their music.
These virtual tours may seem simple in their design — one of their group members sings a song, sometimes accompanied by them playing an instrument. However, in the world of a capella, where opportunities for solos and featured roles are limited, featuring group members on Instagram gave every member a chance to show their talent.
The truth is that without each individual member of the Crosstones, the group wouldn’t have its sound. A group’s sound is a critical element for any musical group, but particularly for one where the members must create music using only their voices.
This sound is what the Crosstones wanted to expand on and practice. Cook explained that the group’s way of handling Covid has involved “figuring out ways where we can maintain the energy and show our musical love.”
So far this year though, their musical love has only been shared with current members. In the fall, the a cappella groups wanted to hold auditions, but “it didn’t pan out because it wasn’t in the interest of all groups,” explained Cook.
However, Cook, Schmidtt, and Rosker are excited that auditions will happen this semester, possibly at the junction between Module C and Module D (official dates have not yet been set).
“The silver lining of the pandemic is that in a normal year we’re incredibly busy— we always have a concert coming up,” Schmidtt explained with a hearty agreement from Cook and Rosker. This season of rehearsals has given the group time to expand their repertoire past popular songs and work on structural changes to make the group more inclusive.
The Crosstones will continue to work on bringing music where they go as they hope to not only do more virtual performances, such as their performance of “Light On” at the Multifaith Banquet last November, but also work with L/A Arts, an organization collaborating with the Bates Winter Arts Festival this year.
Working with L/A Arts allows for an older audience to be reached as well as just the L/A community in general. The Crosstones also have some ideas for mutual aid work and community liaison projects.
It’s evident that the Crosstones’ love of music permeates everything they do. Not only is the group practicing what they love to do, but it’s also a vehicle through which they can and want to help others – even if that’s just a little peace in an afternoon listening to their albums or singles.
The Crosstones will perform at the Bates Winter Arts Festival virtually on Feb. 26 after 5 p.m. And if you can’t get enough, they will be selling their album at the Winter Market this year, which will take place from March 6th to March 7th.