When The Music Stops

Graduating seniors celebrate their bittersweet final moments with campus performance groups.

by Tess Bowler | 6/1/22 2:10am

by Abigail Salzhauer / The Dartmouth

On any given day — weekend or not — Dartmouth students can be found crammed wall-to-wall in the living room of a Greek space. It’s a familiar feeling: incredibly humid air, 10 people piling onto one couch and three unfinished assignments we’re trying to avoid. Outsiders might wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such uncomfortable conditions. It’s because they’re waiting to see one of Dartmouth’s many talented performance groups, and, trust me, it’s totally worth it. 

Improv, dance and a capella groups are a huge part of Dartmouth’s social scene, providing not only a chance for students to bond outside of the typical Wednesday-Friday-Saturday on-night rotation, but also an opportunity for our peers to showcase their talents. 

“As soon as I got into Dartmouth, I knew I wanted to do a capella,” John Moreland ’22, former president of the Dodecaphonics, said. “I had done a capella in high school, so I was super excited to audition because it was something I loved. And also, the Dodecs, in particular, seemed like a really fun-loving group.” 

For Mary Winters ’22, the Dog Day Players improv group not only allowed her to artistically express herself, but also gave her a place to explore other methods of acting. 

“In high school I did theater, and I knew I loved performing, but I wasn’t really interested in serious dramatic acting or musicals,” Winters said. “I liked Dog Day because they did long form improvisation, which I wanted because it allows for more story structure and character building.”

These groups impact the individuals within them just as much as — if not more — than they impact campus culture. For adjusting freshmen, performance groups provide instant community and help form some of their first friendships, which often last their entire Dartmouth career. 

Jonah Kahl ’22, who joined the Cords as a freshman, said that he was originally drawn to the a capella group because they embodied the community that he was looking for when he came to Dartmouth. 

“[At a capella callbacks] the Cords gave a speech that showed me that they weren’t just a singing group, but rather that they were a bunch of friends who liked to sing, but also hung out a lot outside of practice,” Kahl said. 

These groups spend plenty of time together during practices and performances, and inevitably bond outside of the hours they spend singing, dancing or acting. 

“I spend most of my time with Dog Day,” Winters said. “We get meals all the time and we go out together a lot. I feel like at the end of the night I always end up eating Dominos and talking with [other people in the group].” 

Some performance groups even go on tour, which allows members to spend weeks at a time with one another while also doing something that they love. Unsurprisingly, these trips often end up becoming some of the best memories shared by the group. 

“During my freshman year tour, I grew really close to the group — closer than I ever had anticipated being with a student group or a student organization on campus. And each tour has been more fun than the last,” Moreland said. 

Outside of providing a social environment for eager, artistic freshmen, performance groups play a large part in shaping the trajectory of students’ next four years, helping them develop academically and personally. 

“The Cords are what started my Dartmouth experience,” Kahl said. “Every decision I made afterwards stemmed from joining the Cords. It’s a great way to find people as a freshman — I had no idea what I was doing and having a support system like [the Cords] is so underrated.” 

Although Kahl did not pursue music in the classroom, Cords members had an impact on his academic career, eventually helping convince him to change his majors from Biology and Psychology to Economics and Environmental Sciences.

“I’m much happier now than I was before,” Kahl said. “It wasn’t a music choice, per se, but it was still a product of me being a part of that group.” 

Similarly, Moreland said, “All seven years of Dodecs that I have been in the group with have had such a huge impact on my Dartmouth career, both school-wise and artistically. A lot of the Dodecs are music majors or minors and we definitely collaborated on music and homework assignments over the years.” 

During his time in the Dodecs, Moreland was president for a year, which he credited with teaching him leadership skills that will be useful long after he leaves Dartmouth. 

“The group has grown so much in the past few years, and making decisions on behalf of the entire group made me realize that it’s impossible to please everyone. But, still, it taught me to lead with empathy and care for every group member’s well-being as well as the best interest for the Dodecs,” Moreland said. 

On a more personal level, Winters commented that while Dog Day helped her grow artistically, it also helped her through self-discovery. 

“I never realized how much of an extrovert I was [until I joined Dog Days],” Winters said, noting that doing improv allowed her to “develop into a more fully-fledged person” who felt she could express herself more freely. 

As their time in these groups comes to a close, seniors’ final shows represent the more ‘bitter’ part of the bittersweet goodbye that their graduation represents. And as depressing as it sounds, for many graduating seniors, this might be their last time on stage.

“Everything about the end of the year is kind of sad, but this part especially, because it’s one of my favorite parts about Dartmouth. At the end of the day, I’m going to miss all of it,” Winters said. “They’re my best friends and I don’t know if I will perform again. It’s exhilarating being on stage, but it would be different doing [improv] with other people.” 

It was easy to see what each performer was going to miss most after their last shows: the people.

“It’s such a dynamic group of people with so many different personalities. Some people are super outgoing, while others are a little more closed off and introspective. I always feel like I have someone in the group that I could call on for any number of things,” Moreland said. 

“I was really sad after we had our last show,” Kahl said, whose final Cords performance took place at the end of winter quarter. “It’s an emotional thing because it’s more than an activity that you do. It’s a community of people that you are leaving. Joining a capella has probably been the best decision I’ve made at Dartmouth, and I wouldn’t go back and change it.”