Tiny Desk Concert—Gone Virtual!

Seniors Allen Wang and Sara Stebbins, along with the SU’s External Affairs department, organized a second Tiny Desk Concert via livestream.

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With social distancing and virtual learning, students have become creative in their efforts to maintain a unified school community. For seniors Allen Wang and Sara Stebbins, as well as the Student Union (SU) External Affairs department, their approach was hosting a National Public Radio (NPR)-inspired Tiny Desk Virtual Concert on May 29. This was the second Tiny Desk concert of the school year; the first was hosted at school in December.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts are a series of intimate concerts where musicians perform live in NPR’s office. This Tiny Desk Concert was instead held virtually through a performance streamed on the Stuyvesant Podcast’s Facebook page. “[Wang and I] both thought the virtual Tiny Desk should take the form of a [livestream], ensuring maximum video and audio quality and still being in the mode of the actual NPR Tiny Desk concerts,” Stebbins said in an e-mail interview.

The SU hosted a virtual concert in April through Zoom, which, though showcasing a variety of vocal and instrumental talents, was not a Tiny Desk Concert. Wang was approached by sophomore and delegate of External Affairs Shivali Korgoankar about hosting another concert. “[Korgoankar] reached out to me to host another rendition of the virtual concert that [the SU] had previously. I was down for it, but not for a Zoom call, since there are audio and video problems,” Wang said. “The participants were on Zoom, and it was livestreamed on Facebook.”

The organizers hosted the event with the aim of providing exposure to artists as a form of social interaction. “A concert is a really nice way to get Stuy artists who aren’t getting their name [or] work out there right now to perform in front of their classmates,” Korgoankar said. “It’s also a good way to interact or see familiar faces that you would normally be seeing.”

There were a total of nine performers: seniors Cecilia Bachana, Zeynep Bromberg, and Christopher Brown; juniors Julian Cunningham, Saarah Elsayed, Oliver Jackson, Chrisabella Javier, and Isabella Lee; and freshman Kate Alvarez. “Some videos were pre-recorded, and others were done over a Zoom call,” Wang said.

Students decided to perform for various reasons, one being the significance of music for them during quarantine. “Music is one of the ways I like to isolate myself from society and to calm down and relax. Participating in the concert was a way to help others take time to do the same,” Alvarez said in an e-mail interview.

Other students who took part in the first Tiny Desk concert decided to perform again. “I participated in the Tiny Desk during the first term, and I really enjoyed the experience. So when [Wang] messaged the performers from that first Tiny Desk asking if we wanted to do another one, I was definitely on board. I love performing, sharing what I’ve created as a singer-songwriter, [and] listening to the music that others make,” Bachana said in an e-mail interview. “I love to hear my classmates play and support their musical endeavors. Stuy may be known as a STEM school, but it’s got so much talent when it comes to the arts.”

Other performers shared a similar experience, enjoying the performances and the support from their peers. “I was reminded that there is a love for the arts even in a very [STEM-focused] school like Stuy. There were super talented performers along with people who watched who were extremely supportive, and it made me love the school a little more and wish we were all back in the building and together again,” Elsayed said in an e-mail interview.

Alvarez agreed: “I was so nervous at first because I didn’t know any of my fellow performers, but I was met with so much support during and after my performance. Seeing the positive comments in the [livestream] was so uplifting, and it reminded me that I had a community even in isolation. By performing, I gained a new community of performers because of our mutual appreciation for each other’s music.”

Likewise, students enjoyed watching the livestream and took it as a chance to unwind. “It was just really nice to watch my friends—and other people—perform because they’re all very talented, and I had a nice time,” junior Mimi Gillies said in an e-mail interview. “I love watching my peers perform, and it was a fun Friday evening activity!”

Despite all the positive reactions, for performers, the concert via livestream wasn’t the same as the one in person. “I missed the normal-school Tiny Desk, of course—being in the Senior Atrium and performing for people in person is always better than a slightly awkward Zoom-Live where you finish performing and then just sort of sit quietly until [Wang] jumps in to announce the next performer,” Bachana said.

Additionally, there were technical issues during the concert. “Our first [livestream], the original link we had shared, got shut down during the first performance,” Korgoankar said. “Facebook took it down because there was copyright music used in the intro.”

The co-hosts, however, quickly resolved the issue by creating a second livestream. “During the event, I was watching on the Facebook livestream, and so anytime there were audio problems, [Wang and I] were in constant communication,” Korgoankar said.

The variety of performances was also limited. “We weren’t able to get all types of performances, which was one drawback about this event,” Wang said. Most of the performances were also from people who had previously performed.

Despite this, the co-hosts still view the concert as a success, with over 800 people watching the livestream in total. “There were 662 engagements and 2,310 people reached,” Wang said.

The SU hopes to take this success one step further. When asked about whether or not more events like these will be done in the future, Korgoankar said, “If students are enjoying it, then I definitely want to continue and play my part however I can to get students involved as if we were in school.”

Gillies encouraged students who enjoyed the concert to attend Open Mic. “Tiny Desk is basically a more organized Open Mic, so they come up with their performer order and set lists ahead of time rather than on the spot like at Open Mic. [And] Open Mic is more than just singing; there’s also poetry readings and stand up comedy and stuff like that. But they’re very, very similar,” she said.

The concert was ultimately an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. “At the end of the day, Tiny Desk was never about any one person—it’s all about creating a space for Stuy’s musical talent, which I still think the virtual Tiny Desk did amazingly well,” Stebbins said. “I think it's wonderful that we were able to put on a concert and come together as a community, even while we’re all stuck at home.”