SCAMFest postponed to spring as a cappella groups struggle with pandemic restrictions

A group of students sing expressively
(Anna Choi • The Student Life) A cappella singers are finding new places to rehearse with COVID-19 precautions in mind.

While students grew accustomed to coronavirus-related cancellations after a year of remote learning, few were expecting this fall’s Southern California A Cappella Music Festival to become one of the pandemic’s victims. But event cancellations, testing requirements and other public health guidelines in flux have posed significant issues for 5C a cappella groups in recent weeks. 

Each fall semester, the Claremont Shades host SCAMFest, where a cappella groups from the 5Cs and other universities from around Southern California participate in a concert at Pomona College’s Bridges Auditorium. 

The Shades had planned to bring the event back for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, with SCAMFest originally set to happen on Nov. 6. Three off-campus groups had confirmed their attendance and the seven 5C a cappella groups were hard at work developing their set lists during practice. 

But on Oct. 24, two weeks before the event was set to take place, the Shades informed participating groups that SCAMFest would be pushed to the spring. The decision, according to Jay Scott PO ’22, the Claremont Shades’ president, was not taken lightly.

“I care a lot about organizing SCAMFest and us doing SCAMFest,” Scott said. “It’s definitely really important to members of the group.”

On Oct. 21, Scott met with Smith Campus Center assistant director John Lopes and with Bridges manager Sharon Kuhn, who recommended postponing SCAMFest to the spring semester. According to Scott, Lopes and Kuhn told them that the Shades would have more support from the administration in the spring when pandemic conditions might be better. 

“They just very strongly encouraged us to do it in the spring, and doing an event without their support would have been fairly difficult,” Scott said. 

Lopes told TSL that he “had very little to do with the decision” and that it was “entirely [the] Shades’ decision,” although he said he did recommend it would be better to wait until the spring. 

“We think SCAMFest is a great event and are looking forward to supporting it in the spring,” Lopes said via email, adding that there would have been an added cost for COVID-19 related security and ticketing protocols this fall. 

To Scott, organizing SCAMFest this semester had already felt like an uphill battle. Due to the high cost of hosting events at Bridges Auditorium, coupled with pandemic related limitations on seating capacity, the event would sell significantly fewer tickets than in normal years. As a result, Scott said the Shades faced losing upwards of $2,000 to $3,000, which risked putting the a capella group in debt. In the end, the Shades decided it would be better to postpone the event until the spring.

Adding further complications, while the Shades were considering SCAMFest’s cancellation, Scott and the other 5C a cappella group leaders were trying to make sense of Pomona’s new testing guidelines for a cappella singers.

On Oct. 8, Dean of Students Avis Hinkson said in an email to the Pomona community that choral students, wind instrument players and a cappella singers would need to be tested three times a week. Shortly after, a cappella leaders were asked to submit their groups’ rosters.

Worried that getting all group members to successfully meet the demands of the increased testing requirement would prove difficult, several a capella group presidents withheld their rosters. According to Maddie Yardumian SC ’21, who leads Mood Swing, the group presidents wanted more information on what the COVID-19 policies would entail.

“We’re just trying to make sure that our group members are safe and that the whole community is safe,” Yardumian said. “But that safety includes well-being and also just the ability to not be suspended.”

After two weeks of back and forth with the administration, according to Scott, the a cappella groups were told that there was no official 5C policy in place at the time, meaning that since a cappella groups practice outside and masked, per Los Angeles County guidelines, they only need to test once a week.

This differs from the Pomona College Choir, as they practice indoors and thus are required by county guidelines to test three times a week. 

The decision to postpone SCAMFest so close to its original date disappointed some a cappella singers, according to Thea Barovick PO ’23, co-president of the Ninth Street Hooligans. But Barovick said that considering how complicated it would be to host the event during a pandemic, she understood the Shades’ decision.

“I’m totally fine with the decision [to move SCAMFest] at the end of the day, because it’s what’s going to be the safest and the easiest for everyone,” Barovick said.

To replace SCAMFest, the Shades are organizing FallCapella, an outside showcase in Pomona’s Sontag Greek Theater on Nov. 6, the same day SCAMFest would originally have taken place. The showcase, which begins at 8:30 p.m., will feature all seven 5C a cappella groups, who will be performing the songs they had originally prepared for the Bridges event. Unlike SCAMFest, the event will be held outside and will be free to attend. 

Leaders said the new event is being positively received by the other a cappella groups. Yardumian was initially disappointed because, as a senior graduating this semester, they won’t be able to sing in SCAMFest again, but they ultimately feel grateful for the showcase. 

“What I care about is being able to perform and having that avenue, and I genuinely didn’t think I would ever have that again, like just in terms of COVID safety,” Yardumian said. “I think it’s a miracle that we’re all able to do this. And I’m so happy that we are.”

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