By Ryan Semerad
All roads lead to Proctors. Well, not really. But, interestingly enough, one single road does for all three visiting a cappella groups that participated in Union’s “Thruway a Cappella: A Sing Off” on Saturday night. Lafayette College’s Cadence, Marist College’s Time Checks and SUNY New Paltz’s Absolut a Cappella each drove their way up NYS thruway I-87 – thus the name “Thruway” – to arrive in Schenectady for this highly hyped hybrid a cappella performance-competition-fund-raiser. At the end of the night SUNY New Paltz’s Absolut a Cappella reigned supreme in the ears of the judges, but each group displayed powerful musical chops to a sold-out audience.
Planning for this year’s “Thruway” began in August, but the production took on a whole new degree of intensity when Professor Janet Grigsby from the sociology department came to the Dutch Pipers’ Patrick O’Hern ’11 in early December to see if he could get the group to do a performance to raise funds for the Schenectady Land Trust, a non-profit organization that works to provide affordable housing and improve the quality of life in Schenectady. Within weeks of Grigsby’s inquiry, O’Hern and the Garnet Minstrelles’ Jaclyn Mandart ’12 were meeting with Proctors’ CEO Phillip Morris to arrange hosting the event at Proctors GE Theater for free.
There are a myriad of different Union offices and organizations that were involved with the production of Thruway this year. From Student Activities to Alumni Relations to the U-Program, many hands were involved in bringing Thruway to Proctors; however, the inspiration for the whole production was a single throw-away idea a former Dutch Piper had once told O’Hern.
“My sophomore year, Gabriel Harris ’10, mentioned to me that there were ideas circulating about doing Thruway at Proctors Theater, charging for admission and turning the concert into a competition. I thought he was crazy, in my mind there was no way the a cappella groups could pull together something that big,” said O’Hern. But, when Professor Grigsby came to O’Hern for a fundraiser, he relied on that crazy idea he heard a couple years ago to create what this reporter considers an incredibly successful event.
“Thruway has been a tradition for at least 10 years – this year Thruway has been pumped up more than ever before,” said O’Hern. Truer words could not have been spoken. The event was so popular that when President Ainlay arrived at the theater even he had difficulty finding a seat and had to stand awkwardly for a moment taking in the enormity of a packed house before he and his wife were shown to their reserved seats.
The event itself was run as a competition where each group initially performed three songs and were subsequently judged by local musical experts – President of the Freedom Park entertainment venue and chairman of development for the Empire State Youth Orchestra Nell Burrows, Music Coordinator and Choir Director of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Scotia Barret Germain and Director of Bands at the John Sayles School of Fine Arts at Schenectady High School Joel Servant. After this initial round, two groups were selected to perform one song in the final round: Union’s Dutch Pipers and SUNY New Paltz’s Absolut a Cappella. Absolut went first and performed “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” by Wyclef Jean; the Pipers performed Sum-41’s “Fat Lip.” After a few minutes of hushed deliberation, the judges named Absolut a Cappella the “champions of Thruway.”
All the groups had a great time at Thruway. “[Thruway was] incredible. I wasn’t sure how legitimate this was going to be, but I was impressed,” said Andy Clinkman ’11, the director of Marist College’sTime Check. “This was way bigger than I expected – a great experience,” said Amy Hinkel ’12, member of Lafayette’s Cadence. Even the champions showed some humility at the size of the event. “It was really awesome – unbelievable and nerve-racking, but awesome,” said Anthony Amitrano ’11, the vice president of SUNY New Paltz’s Absolut a Cappella.
In the end, Thruway was an immense success for Union, for Schenectady and for everyone who had the pleasure of hearing and seeing each group perform. The groups’ collective talents afforded a nexus of skill and camaraderie that has created something truly special that will hopefully become an annual event for the four schools. Who knows the future of Thruway, but it seems to be something that will be around for many years to come.