A pink and blue sunset lit up the Academical Village as the University’s vocal groups trilled and chirped behind the Rotunda in preparation for their performances Wednesday evening. As night fell, hundreds of students filled the Lawn with picnic blankets and snacks to listen to performances at this year’s Rotunda Sing.
The event has been a beloved tradition for over 30 years, hosted by the University Programs Council in the first week to welcome students to Grounds. From first-years to fourth-years, the concert attracts a wide range of students at the University.
For new students, the concert is one of their first opportunities to gather with other students and celebrate the University community. First-year College student Keren Kabundi said she was interested in attending after learning about the event at the activities fair on Monday.
“You don’t get these opportunities in high school,” Kabundi said. “To have good times with friends and watching people perform is really nice.”
The concert included a range of performances from 18 groups, each delivering songs in their own genre and vocal style. The University Singers opened with “Virginia, Hail, All Hail.”
The all-gender choral group was founded in 1957 and now performs at several University events, including convocation for first-years. Greta Marle, University Singers president and fourth-year College student, said the large size of the group helps them stand out.
“Having that many voices on different parts when we’re doing complicated pieces helps give us a distinct sound,” Marle said.
Many of the a capella groups use the performance to showcase their abilities and styles to students in their audience who might consider auditioning. Most auditions are held in Lawn rooms this upcoming week and are open to any students who prepare a song.
Marle said that though they recruit in several ways, such as on social media and at the activities fair, their live performances are a chance for students to hear what they could be a part of.
“It’s another great way to get our name out there and the sound that we make,” Marle said. “It’s kind of like our version of a commercial in a sense to try and lure people in.”
Isabel O’Connor, UPC director of arts and enrichment and third-year College student, said the event celebrates the differences between all the singing groups.
“It’s so special to me to get to see all of these different creative students coming together and sharing something they worked so hard on,” O’Connor said.
Entertaining the crowd, emcees Ben Nilson, UPC vice chair of membership and fourth-year College student, and Austen Day, UPC vice chair of programming and third-year College student, provided commentary and background information between performances.
“We’ve already blown away my expectations,” Day said. “It’s amazing to see all the people that have been able to come out.”
Academical Village People, an all-male vocal group, sang “Electric Love” by Borns and “Clarity” by Zedd. The group is known for incorporating comedy bits into their performances — even stripping their shirts off at the end of songs.
Wells Woolcott, AVP publicity chair and fourth-year Architecture student, said he hopes their performance made the audience laugh and broke up the rhythm of the event.
“AVP is really about embracing the absurd and not taking yourself too seriously,” Woolcott said.
Other performances included the Harmonious Hoos singing a cover of “Finesse” by Bruno Mars and the Hullubahoos singing “Troublemaker” by Olly Murs.
Many groups met in person over the summer to rehearse, including the New Dominions group who held a retreat in Wintergreen the week before school to prepare.
Emily Pitts, New Dominions president and third-year Batten student, said preparations for Rotunda Sing are more intense than other performances during the year due to the shorter amount of time to practice.
“Rehearsals are the time to get prepared to really make sure we're putting our best foot forward to learn completely new songs and perform them to the best of our ability, especially for right before audition week,” Pitts said.
For many fourth-years, the event is a bittersweet symbol of the beginning of their final year.
Rotunda Sing was virtual fall 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions, making the in-person concert even more special for fourth-year students like Kristen O’Donoghue, fourth-year College student and Lawn resident.
“To go from a video recording to being in complete community with the people here on this Lawn and meeting so many different people on this night of tradition has been a really special experience,” O’Donoghue said.
The Virginia Glee Club rounded out the night with a University classic — “The Good ‘Ole Song.” Students linked arms and swayed to the beat in harmony to end an electric night of music.
Finn Trainer contributed reporting to this article.