The Art of Dorm Storming

September 12, 2008

The sounds of a first-year residence hall on a Monday evening: the tapping of laptop keys, the slow and reluctant flipping of an Economics book’s pages, the beeping of a printer as it comes to life. And then… chaos. Shouts, pounding on the doors, and upperclassmen screaming, “Free a-cappella in the stairwell! Free a-cappella!”

Before long, bewildered first-years, in various degrees of undress, stumble out of their dorm rooms to witness a performance by a Brandeis a-cappella group in their very own stairwell or lounge. Many refer to this bi-yearly ritual—almost like an initiation rite into the very active Brandeis a-cappella culture—as dorm storming.

During their first week on campus, first- years are literally bombarded with clubs to join and activities in which to take part. Walk down a freshman hall and you can see flyers ranging the entire gamut of Brandeis student activities, from women’s rugby to the Waltham Group. Besides the usual signs, a-cappella groups on campus have their own unique technique: going directly to the people via dorm storming.

Dorm storming is a ritual practiced by many a-cappella groups during the first week of classes—this year the repertoire included Starving Artists, Up the Octave, Voicemale, and Manginah—in which the singing groups perform back to back shows in all of the Freshman residence halls.

During the week before auditions, the groups strategically prepare to infiltrate the freshmen dorms. “Brandeis is notorious for giving people homework early. So if you go after the first two days of class on a school night then people will be in their dorms, doing work or just being social,” said Adam Barish ‘09, the president of the all-male a-cappella group Voicemale.

Doing seven shows (one in each freshman residence hall) over the course of an hour and a half takes an incredible amount of stamina and strength, and not just when it comes to how hard performers can pound on a first-year’s door.

Training for dorm storming includes long rehearsals and sometimes even more intense preparation. Damien Lehfeldt ’09, president of Starving Artists, described the group’s preparation. “We go in a room and take what we call ‘blending pills,’ which are really just PEZ candies. We warm up, we get energetic. It’s been a tradition that’s apparently been around since the group was in its existence.”

Lehfeldt added “you only get one first impression. So every time that we perform we have to be really, really on our game.”

Once they arrive at a building, performers make their presence known, urging every last freshman to come hear their performance in the stairwell. Adam Ross ’10, a bass in Manginah, said, “I personally guilt people if they don’t want to come. I make them feel bad. That’s the art of selling.”

Performing three or four songs several times in a row can be an intense strain on the singers’ voices. Said Barish, “We pretty much destroy our voices. We sing in the halls—there’s no ventilation whatsoever. You’re sweaty, you’re disgusting. Your voice is completely gone by the end of the night. It’s tiring… but man is it fun.”

So why do they do it? Many believe that the purpose of dorm storming is twofold—to recruit freshmen to audition, and to garner a new fan base for the group. “Brandeis is for people who pursue arts, who pursue creativity, who pursue spending way too much time not doing their homework, and a-cappella is a great way to do that. So we find them if they don’t find us,” Barish said.

But even more than that, dorm storming gets the word out to potential fans, so that, according to Barish, when an a-cappella group puts up a flyer six weeks from now advertising a concert, the freshman class will recognize who is performing.

A-capella groups view dorm storming as a great method to gather followers early on. Case in point: Up the Octave, an all-female group, and Voicemale perform for all the freshman in a building, including ones on the opposite gender single-sex floors. As Barish admitted, “I know that we probably have more female fans than male fans.” After interviewing a-cappella heads, however, it is clear that dorm storming is not just an effective tool to get fans and future members excited for the upcoming a-cappella season.

It’s also a way for the a-cappella groups themselves to flex their (somewhat rusty) singing muscles after the summer break and, to continue the metaphor, get pumped for the performances yet to come.“Without [dorm storming] we’d start practicing each year without having done the slightest performance. That kind of thing really energizes us to do the work, [since] it takes at least six weeks to get the group up to par,” said Barish.

Dorm storming is also an opportunity to showcase a little friendly rivalry between the different a-cappella groups on campus. As Lehfeldt summed it up, “It’s great for building interest for auditions; it’s great for getting fans early on. A lot of [first- years] have never really heard a-cappella before Brandeis. Now, they hear it for the first time.”

For some freshmen, their first dorm storm can be an upsetting experience. First-year Alison Uliss’s ’12 first dorm storming incident, during which she nearly walked out into a crowded hall clad only in her bathrobe, prompted her to warn future first years, “Tip for the future: Don’t shower during a-cappella promotion week. That’s my advice to you.”

But for most freshmen interviewed, the concerts came as a welcome surprise after the initial shock and after the first performance first years eagerly anticipated the next a-cappella group’s arrival to hear great music at their doorstep.

For Shane Morris, a resident of Reitman Hall, dorm storming appealed to his innate sense of laziness. “I liked it because I didn’t have to go anywhere—just to my stairwell. I didn’t have to walk all the way to Spingold to go listen to an a-cappella group. It was a nice study break.”Overall, most freshmen interviewed appreciated the performances, even leading some, including Calliope Desenberg ‘12, to speculate on whether dorm storming might be a good technique for recruitment for other clubs on campus.

Though residence hall invasions by a club like, say, the Brandeis Marching Band, might be a little far-fetched, many could imagine dorm storming being instigated by other performance-oriented groups.

Desenberg suggested that it would be a good idea for other performing arts clubs, such as the many improv groups on campus.

“It’s a great tool for a club to get the word out for what they do, particularly for more obscure clubs. If there was a jiu jitsu club” “or something unique [first- years] might not know about,” Lehfeldt said.

As to where the actual term “dorm storming” came from, no one really knows. But it seems to resonate with freshmen and a-cappella singers alike, readily lending to vivid military analogies. “It’s like a blitz,” said Ross. But for Lehfeldt it’s even more dramatic. Dorm storming, he said, is a way to “get the word out—guerilla style.”

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