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Performers reflect on year of virtual performances

Junior communications major Lizzy Campbell sings and plays her guitar in front of her home on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Campbell is one of many UNC musicians who turned to online platforms to perform in 2020.

Live performances and other forms of in-person entertainment have not escaped the wrath of 2020. The pandemic put a pause on in-person performances, forcing local artists to discover alternative artistic venues. 

Many UNC creatives enlisted the internet this year to engage with their fans. Livestreams on Zoom, Facebook and Instagram Live are connecting Chapel Hill performers to fans at a social distance.

Music-loving senior Alexandria Chadwick believes online performances may permanently alter the arts scene in a positive way.

“Virtual performances are a lot more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn't have been going to the performances live,” Chadwick said. “The use of social media is really useful in connecting communities even outside of UNC to reach a wider audience. I think that will also be helpful in the long term by continuing to garner support when things return to in-person.”

Even UNC dance groups have embraced virtual performances. Bhangra Elite, a traditional Indian folk dance troupe, has hosted two online performances this year. 

Junior Hemali Patel, Bhangra Elite’s public outreach chairperson, reflected on the year of online entertainment. 

“We performed once for UNC O.A.S.I.S. and once for an organization at Yale,” Patel said. “For one, we sent in a compilation of a segment we're learning this year where everyone provided clips and we put it together. The other was a stream of a performance from last year. As our video was being streamed, we had people tag us in some stories, cheer us on and encourage us.”

Patel said the Bhangra Elite team misses working together in person but is grateful for the opportunity to continue practicing and performing even from afar. 

“It's been hard virtually, but everyone's been working really hard to still make this happen,” Patel said. “We’re still doing as much as we can to perform next semester, which is usually when our competitions are.”

Some UNC musicians are getting paid for online shows. UNC graduate student and local musician Wake Moody said people watching his Facebook streams paid his rent in April — proof that virtual performances can pay off.

“Switching to virtual performances has been a huge and thorough change all the way down to the church I perform for every Sunday switching to Zoom services,” Moody said. 

Lizzy Campbell of Tar Heel Voices, UNC’s oldest co-ed a cappella group, echoed the importance of maintaining a high level of devotion to their work regardless of circumstance. 

“We tried to put effort into everything we did — when people asked something of us, we wanted to deliver the same way we would in normal semesters,” Campbell said. “People have been really complimentary of the innovative ways we have pulled stuff together.”

UNC a cappella group Tar Heel Voices held a virtual performance jc ‘Souvenir’, originally performed by Johnnyswim. Photo courtesy of Lizzy Campbell.

Campbell said the main reason people join an a cappella group is to hear the way singers’ voices echo and harmonize in a room together, an unsafe ask during social distancing mandates. 

“Safety is the biggest priority for us, so we’re all just happy we even got to do anything,” Campbell said. “Our members have been great — they’ve been volunteering to help and have been pitching ideas —
everyone is really involved in the process and excited to see what we put together.”

Although Campbell said she misses in-person performances, she was overjoyed at the culmination of Tar Heel Voices' hard work. 

“Seeing how everyone’s individual recordings and videos came together to sound like we're singing together was the best feeling,” Campbell said. “We've made the best out of this semester, and it's been hard, but it's still really amazing getting to create stuff together.”

Moody emphasized that virtual performances are something he will continue to focus on and grow from in years to come, although he misses an in-person platform. 

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“I have realized how much I was taking performing in-person for granted — how much it gives back to you and how much you get performing for people who are right there, sharing their energy and that moment,” Moody said.

Chapel Hill artists proved their resilience throughout the unprecedented year that was 2020. Although the energy and atmosphere of live performances are impossible to replace, artists like Moody, Bhangra Elite and Tar Heel Voices are proving a new way to perform using a lot of creativity – and a little Zoom.