Loomis Chaffee seniors Andy Wu and Tom Zhang organized and led a group of music and visual arts students from six New England prep schools this summer in the making of a virtual concert featuring musical performances and original art.
The group, comprising students from Loomis, Choate, Deerfield, Exeter, Hotchkiss, and Kingswood Oxford, calls itself Renaissance Ensemble, and the first concert, “The Key to Change,” was presented via YouTube on August 30. The event benefited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund.
“Our mission is to bring people together through the performing arts,” Tom said.
Andy and Tom, who have performed alongside each other as members of Loomis’ Chamber Singers and Concert Choir, came up with the idea as a way to channel their desire to safely perform music during the COVID-19 pandemic, share the experience with arts students in peer schools, and engage with the greater community.
The cabaret-style video concert was inspired by Tom’s musical theater experiences in Norris Ely Orchard productions and student-led Musical Revue shows and Andy’s experience in musical video productions last spring when the school stopped in-person classes and performances due to COVID-19.
During the summer, the two friends reached out to their prep school connections and, along with partners at the five peer schools, took on the challenge of conceptualizing ideas, enlisting performers and artists, hosting Zoom meetings, editing performance video and sound, and promoting the ensemble’s debut event.
Tom and Andy determined that the concert should benefit an organization that works to end racist policies and seeks justice for people of color. They consulted with leaders in Loomis Chaffee’s multicultural organization PRISM (People Rising in Support of Multiculturalism) to identify the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund as the recipient of donations from people who attended the concert online.
It was a student-led initiative. Vocal and instrumental musicians from each school performed selected popular showtunes, and student artists created graphics for the video and the group’s website.
The performance of “The Key to Change” may be viewed on YouTube and is available along with complete information about the Renaissance Ensemble and its mission at the group’s website. The students received positive responses from their school communities and families, and the participants were pleased with audience members’ generous donations to the Legal Defense Fund. Ensemble leaders are already planning future virtual performances.
In addition to Andy and Tom, Loomis performers and artists in the Renaissance Ensemble included seniors Lana Breheney, Clara Chen, Julie Chung, Brett Donshik, Eva Evans, John Howley, Loren Jones, Heisen Kong, Talia Mayo, Cal McCandless, Simone Moales, and Evan Petkis; and junior Emma Dear.