The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for clubs and student organizations at the University of Connecticut as they transition all operations onto virtual platforms. Rubyfruit is one of 10 organizations that make up the A Cappella Association at UConn and the virtual arena poses many additional problems for these types of student organizations since it is hard to sing collectively over Zoom due to lag time and other technical issues.
Despite the many changes that the group has had to make to continue to practice and perform, the one thing that has remained constant for Rubyfruit is their mission of woman empowerment and strong foundation of sisterhood.
“I think what really sets Rubyfruit apart for me is the sisterhood,” Margaux Acorda, a sixth-semester molecular and cellular biology major, said. “We are a family before we are an a cappella group, and our love for each other reflects in how well we make music together. It’s something really special for sure.”
Rubyfruit is one of three all-female a cappella groups at UConn, the others being The Chordials and Drop the Bass. They were founded in 1999 with the overarching goal of promoting women’s empowerment through music and have taken steps to ensure that this mission continues to shine through in the work that they do, both on and off the stage.
“When our founders set out to create an all-female group, one of their primary goals was to spread feminism and LGBTQIA+ rights through music. One of the ways they (and we) accomplish that is by always trying to include at least one song in our repertoire that has a feminist message,” Anna Scoppettone, an eighth-semester English major and the treasurer of Rubyfruit, said.
Each semester the Rubies have a repertoire, which, according to Scoppettone, typically consists of a set of 10 songs, with five new songs learned each semester and five old songs that are carried over from the previous semester. The process of choosing the songs includes input from all members.
“Before the start of every semester we have a song selection, where we all meet (in-person or on Zoom) to discuss what songs we want to do that semester,” Scoppettone said. “We do a few rounds of voting with discussion in between and at the end we have our setlist!”
Their current set consists of songs like “Kick it to Me,” “Sweet Escape,” “Seven Nation Army” among others. Last month, during the spring rush concert, the Rubies performed “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan. The process for creating their rush video involved recording the audio and video clips on their phones and sending them to Marc Sokolson, who was in charge of editing and producing the music videos for all 10 of the groups featured in the concert.
Whether it be in-person or over Zoom, their foundation of women’s empowerment has continued to guide their work ever since Rubyfruit’s founding and they have gone on to perform as an opening act for the Radio City Rockettes, at the Miss Connecticut Pageant and many other notable locations and events on or near the UConn Storrs campus. Now, in its 22nd year of operation, the current Rubies are continuing the legacy of its founders and building a strong support system that includes both past and present members.
“It’s such a supportive environment in general,” Dina Chowdhury, an eighth-semester applied mathematics and statistics major and the president of Rubyfruit, said. “Having that support system, even outside of our music aspect, is definitely one of the key things about our group.”
Chowdhury expressed how the close bond between the Rubies extends outside of the a cappella environment. She said how, as a STEM major, many Rubies in the same field have served as mentors to her and have also offered professional advice about being a woman who is entering into the corporate sector. Chowdhury joined Rubyfruit during the fall of her freshman year and has been a member ever since. Now in her last semester at UConn, she reflected on the importance of joining clubs and student organizations during your time as an undergraduate student.
“Rubyfruit has singlehandedly made my college experience well worth it with all of the opportunities we have been given,” Chowdhury said.
As mentioned before, one of these opportunities was being chosen as the opening act for the Radio City Rockettes. This performance took place in the fall of 2017, during Chowdhury’s first semester both as a UConn student and as a member of Rubyfruit. She shared how surreal it was to perform on a stage of that caliber in front of many friends and family members who made the trip to New York City to support.
Other meaningful experiences that Chowdhury has been able to take part in are making music videos, going on roundtrips, traveling to Canada for performances and countless other events and group bonding activities that have all contributed to making her four years in the group memorable and worthwhile.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it so groups like Rubyfruit had to transition quickly to holding events and practices on a fully virtual basis. Scoppettone and Acorda shared how their rehearsal schedule has stayed the same for the most part, continuing their tradition of holding two three-hour practices each week, but the biggest change has been transitioning to holding these sessions over Zoom.
“It can be challenging to rehearse virtually because so much of a cappella music is hearing each other and blending our voices together, and due to lag time we can’t actually sing unmuted together,” Scoppettone said.
To deal with this challenge, the Rubies record themselves singing their parts beforehand and send it to the music director. During the actual practice time, group members are sent into breakout rooms with their respective voice parts and go on mute while a designated person sings. This process is repeated until the part is learned. Acorda said that this process makes it slightly harder to learn, but it allows them to continue to be part of the group.
The virtual setting is less than ideal, but Chowdhury expressed how it has created new opportunities to create content.
“Everything has been virtual, as of now, which has obviously not been ideal. But it’s the best we can do, so we’ve been focusing on rolling out our own content,” Chowdhury.
To generate more original content, the Rubies partnered with a music group last semester to produce five music videos, two of which were recognized by the original artists and reposted by them on social media. Making music videos has become the preferred method of performing for the Rubies in this virtual setting since many in-person events are not being held.
“We found so much positivity and attraction for our music videos last semester that we thought we would continue it this semester,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury shared how they have been utilizing social media to post their music videos and stay connected with their audience. Their Instagram has over 600 followers and gives them a platform to post videos, meeting times and information about their members so that prospective members, alumni and other individuals can stay up to date on the group’s activities and achievements.
The Rubyfruit A Capella group is an excellent example of how strong sisterhood bonds can withstand any challenges that life may throw at you. They have dealt with lots of adversity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet have continued to live out their founder’s mission of empowering women through music.