Ragan ’16 talks summer a capella, first shows

by Jessica Avitabile | 7/31/14 5:37pm

This week, The Dartmouth sat down with Jimmy Ragan ’16, a Dodecaphonics singer who is this term’s musical director for the Summerphonics. The 16-member coed group allows students not in full-year a capella groups to sing over the summer. As musical director, Ragan runs rehearsals, selects music, makes sure members learn songs and determines sets for shows. Dodecs members Rory Page ’16 and Emma PeConga ’16 also help to run the summer group. So far this summer, Summerphonics has performed at Pelt-a-Delta, at Beta Alpha Omega fraternity for a show with Splendaplum and at the “Proud to be Green” Panhellenic Council event over sophomore family weekend. The group anticipates performing in at least two more shows by the end of term, Ragan said.

What are some of the differences between performing in a full-year group and the summer group?There’s a completely different attitude. The attitude of the Dodecs is to make the highest quality music together as possible while still enjoying people’s company, and now those priorities are switched. Over the summer, it’s about giving people the opportunity to sing and have fun together as a group, rather than saying this song has to be perfect. I try to not be as harsh as other people would be during the year. The people that are trying out for these groups don’t necessarily have as much experience or decided not to try out for full groups because they were either not confident in their ability or didn’t want to commit, and now it’s a ‘let’s try this’ sort of thing, so we try to make it easy for them.

What are some of the challenges with working with students who are not in full-year groups?A big thing is whether they can read music or not. If we have readers it’s a lot easier to work with them because even if they aren’t really, really good at singing, let’s say they’re a musician who sings on the side, it’s easy for them to pick it up and learn the music. But if they don’t read music and aren’t very familiar with music as an art form, more so than just singing in a car or in the shower, it can be difficult for them to adjust, so it’s about finding a role model in each section that they can follow. Often times those will be people who are in full-year a capella groups. They’re people who have more experience with music, so others can follow along and learn from them. I meet a lot with the Summerphonics members outside of rehearsal time so if they have a question about different parts of the music I can answer those questions but not at the expense of our group time together.

How do you decide what songs to perform? What is the process for arranging the songs?Because Summerphonics has, at least for the past couple years, been run by Dodecs, we have access to their entire song catalogue, and so we draw primarily from that. We also this year have been debuting arrangements from people in the group that wanted to arrange or had arrangements waiting in the wings that they were hoping could be performed in the summer. I make the decision for music based on the voices we have in the group and what I think people will enjoy. So if I don’t think someone can sing the solo for a song, then I won’t choose that song. If I don’t think anyone will recognize the song or have fun listening to the song, then I won’t choose that song. I also try balancing boy-girl so that everyone has the chance to audition to perform a solo.

How did you feel going into your first Dodecs show versus your first Summerphonics show?Completely different. First of all, I was just scared out of my mind as a freshman, not really knowing how frat shows worked or how group dynamics at a show worked. I was just feeling like a lot of these people this summer who haven’t experienced this before. My first show this summer was all about making sure the group felt comfortable. So I took on the role of what the seniors did for me my freshman year, telling me I was going to be fine and even if I screw up to keep going.

How has your experience been overall?It’s been a lot of fun, especially because we all kind of knew each other to a certain extent going into this. Often times, people will audition for Summerphonics because we nudge them to audition. These people come from very different corners of campus. By this point we know the other a capella people, but these aren’t a capella people, so it’s good to get exposure to different people who all enjoy singing but have chosen to do other things during their regular time at Dartmouth and are willing to try something new.

Do you do bonding activities outside of rehearsal times?What’s interesting about a summer group is that all of the money earned from shows goes right back into the group for that term, so all the activities and social events we plan for the Summerphonics come from that. We have a blueberry picking, Lodge dinners and a trip to a lake house scheduled. We have done one volunteer show and will do another before the term is out. We have social gatherings on Friday nights or before Wednesday meetings, just so people can get to know each other outside the context of singing with each other.

This interview has been edited and condensed.