One of the staple qualities of Muhlenberg is its population of pioneering artists within an already thriving creative community on campus. In order to make a lasting impact within this sprawling community, students must set themselves apart from the rest of the massive arts-oriented crowd and be able to persevere through obstacles and a number of unfortunate rejections before receiving an ounce of uplifting news. However, once the ultimate goal is reached, there becomes no better taste than that of a hard-earned success. One such success story that resonates within the Muhlenberg performing arts community is theatre major Sarah Gordin ‘21, who started her own original music group, GASP (The Great American Songbook Project) in 2017. The group has since become one of Muhlenberg’s most well-known and beloved ensembles.
What is GASP exactly? It is a music group specializing in classic swing and jazz from the first half of the twentieth century that combines the appeal of a college a cappella group with a more traditional jazz music approach of having smaller group performances and piano accompaniment.
“I thought of the idea on the car ride to Muhlenberg,” says Gordin. “The reason I started this group is because I wanted to create a niche group doing something completely different from the rest of the existing groups. The reason I started the group is because there is no group that sings specifically music from the 1920s to the 1960s, which is the music I really love, and I know that other people really love it as well.”
Gordin explained that her fascination with the music of this time period began when she was a child and became exposed to Judy Garland’s music, which she began singing constantly and resonated with her throughout her childhood. Gordin explained that although originally GASP was rejected as a performance ensemble, she was inspired to pick herself back up and try her luck with yet another of Muhlenberg’s endless pool of resources for the performing arts. Eventually, she struck gold when choir director Chris Jackson agreed to act as the faculty advisor for GASP so that the group could function as its own independent organization.
“Our first-ever concert was a cabaret,” explains Gordin. “The following year we decided we wanted a more organized approach, so we had a set group with a semester concert to showcase all of the things we had accomplished.”
In addition, Gordin hopes to continue to use the group as a resource to promote the group’s unique style and agenda within the community. Specifically, she notes the appeal that the music of this time period has on residents of local nursing homes, who grew up hearing this passionate flavor of music, and the songs’ ability to bring about a strong sense of nostalgia. Gordin also notes how refreshing it is to have the two-way personal connection with residents of these nursing homes and how music ultimately acts as the catalyst that paves the way for genuine connection between generations of people.
In addition to the outreach in the Allentown community, GASP focuses a lot of its attention on rehearsing for events on campus, such as its semester concert.
Gordin describes that “the group rehearses for three hours a week, and mainly works on group numbers from the time period, such as female trios and barbershop quartet pieces, as well as solos and duets that fit within the theme [of the Great American Songbook Project].”
However, she explains that this semester’s focus is going to be based on honing in on the group aspect of the performance set. She goes on to include how lucky the group is to have a talented and amazing pianist, Emma Roppo ‘23, joining them this semester. Gordin explains that it is increasingly important to include the piano in the group’s repertoire for the upcoming concert in order to highlight just how beneficial Emma’s presence in the group has been.
She is also grateful for the group’s hardworking musical director, Abigail Sherman ‘22, who teaches incredibly difficult music in large quantities within a very short period of time, and in discussion explained that “for me, GASP is just a great way to improve my musical abilities and try out new genres that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to try.”
“Without all of these people on board, the group wouldn’t be nearly as vibrant and accomplished as it is today,” remarks Gordin.
In the future, Gordin has a number of intriguing plans for the group and what direction they should likely be headed in. Specifically, she places an emphasis on learning more repertoire every semester with the ultimate goal in mind to learn as much as possible and hopefully expand to perform themed cabaret performances and nursing home concerts in the future. Gordin explains that she hopes to be able to go into more depth about composers from the era and hold cabarets based on the work of specific artists and groups to showcase their musical genius.