This summer, I’ve been living with my parents in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion. Overall, it’s not terrible. There’s ample parking, trees and a stocked fridge I don’t have to pay for. It’s even socially bearable because some of my best friends are back in the area on their breaks.
The downside is the lack of affordable leisure activities – you can only make an evening of going out for pricey drinks, or worse, froyo, before you start worrying about paying off your college loans and wish there was something more fun and less expensive to do. Luckily, just when I started to lose hope that I would never leave my house again, I was invited to the 8th annual Project Philly Summer Benefit Concert at Lower Merion High School.
Admission was free and Lower Merion is closer to my house than the high school I actually attended, so I had absolutely no excuse not to go. I got one of my trusty hometown friends who loves a cappella on board and patted myself on the back for making Friday night plans like a real person with a social life.
Project Philly is a local nonprofit organization comprised of collegiate and post-collegiate young adult singers, most of them amateurs who perform and run educational workshops to spread the joy of a cappella. Though concert admission is always free, Project Philly accepts donations for local arts-related charities. The concert I attended raised money for the Ani Fiordimondo Performing Arts Scholarship Fund, which pays for recipients to attend the Walnut Street Theatre summer camp. I actually attended that camp way back in my musical theater days, and thought it was really cool that the project was contributing to such a worthy, yet somewhat obscure cause.
If I were the type of person who could ever be counted on to have more than 13 cents and old gum wrappers in my wallet, I certainly would have donated. So anyway, it was Friday night, and we were pumped to hear some a cappella. In true Main Line fashion, we parked in the “no parking” lot despite warnings from numerous signs saying what amounts to, “no, seriously, no parking, we will tow you.” We figured that the likelihood they would tow my car, as well as the numerous BMWs we were parked in there with, was pretty slim.
We went inside to grab seats, and I immediately spotted five different people I know. A few of them were college friends whom I have never seen outside the city. Others included my two best friends from elementary school who I haven’t been in the same room with since before puberty. Suddenly, my hometown felt claustrophobically homey.
Luckily, the lights went down promptly, which might be my favorite thing about suburban activities in the northeast. The show began, and my violation of the cardinal error for an a cappella audience member promptly became evident. By the end of the first song, my head was reeling with indigence. “Where are the coordinated dance moves? Why weren’t you always in tune? Why don’t I want to buy this version on iTunes?”
This internal drama is bound to occur when you’ve seen Pitch Perfect more recently than actual live a cappella.
The answers of course were No. 1: Because people don’t do that in everyday life. No. 2: These are humans and a cappella is extremely difficult. No. 3: These people didn’t have teams of professionals working on their arrangements. Still, I had a hard time shaking my disappointment, until finally one of the groups covered “Plane” by Jason Mraz. My mind was completely blown, and I remembered why I love a cappella.
Other exceptional renditions were a mash up of Britney Spears’ “Crazy” and Olly Murs’ “Troublemaker,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” and Adele’s “Skyfall.”
Despite being an overall enjoyable experience, like most amateur performances, the show was really long, and by the end of the second hour my legs ached from sitting. This, combined with the eerily silent suburban-dad type crowd made me a little punchy, so after intermission we migrated to the back of the auditorium where we proceeded to goof off à la high school assembly. Partially to entertain ourselves, and partially to show what I felt was properly enthusiastic support, we clapped and mouthed the lyrics to each other and danced in our chairs.
This reinforced my belief that fun exists wherever you decide to invite it, and that good company is the most important thing when planning any excursion. That’s not to imply that I only enjoyed myself because of my friends. The groups did a really impressive job and I had a great time watching other people do something I could never do: sing on key.
Hats off to you, Project Philly. I had fun.
Victoria Marchiony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org