My 1965 Vito tenor saxophone has taken me more places than I ever imagined. I shipped it across the country freshman year so I could play in pep band. I’d expected tagging along with the basketball teams, but Georgetown had other plans for me.
I was in Fur Nightclub on a cold Thursday night in February 2013. My friends had told me about this great concert, Cabaret, a Georgetown tradition that included some pep band members. For three hours we screamed, we sang and we danced. It was guitar-shredding, drum-pummeling, horn-wailing, song-belting ecstasy. I wanted in.
Cabaret started in 1976 in Darnall Hall with a variety talent show, hence the name, and quickly grew into one of Georgetown’s most anticipated events of the year. Cabaret has always been a fundraiser for charity. It transformed Copley Formal Lounge into a cabaret club and Walsh Black Box Theater into Northwest’s hottest club. It evolved into a concert and moved off campus, but the flight of available and affordable clubs in Northwest D.C. pushed Cabaret away from campus and left its popularity in decline. Cabaret started as and remains an independent event. It is not a part of the Council of Advisory Boards or the department of performing arts. It is simply a handful of kids covering the best music of the last 60 years and producing a few -thousand-dollar benefit concert.
Sophomore year, I traded in my spring semester weekends for 10 hours of rehearsal a week, carting my tenor from the Verizon Center to campus and, finally, the Rock and Roll Hotel. My first Cabaret on stage went so fast I can barely remember it, but by the end of the night I was addicted.
In what is now a blur, lead guitarist Dan McCusker (COL ’16) and I took Cabaret’s life into our hands as juniors when it came time to take the reins. Dan took the helm as general manager, despite a fall abroad in Scotland, and I became assistant manager. My tenor sat out in exchange for a baritone sax and hours of budgeting, meetings, scheduling, marketing and planning were added onto the 10 hours of rehearsal. I’d never been so frustrated or overwhelmed, but I wanted to succeed more than anything.
Last February, I stood on the stage at Black Cat, covered in sweat, my neck sore thanks to the bari, my body in overdrive from lack of sleep, my ears ringing. The screaming crowd made it all worth it. We did a ticket count before the show and I nearly cried when I looked up at Dan and told him we’d sold 500 tickets. We had hoped for 300.
Despite all the challenges it brought, learning to manage a band and maturing as a musician was one of the most fulfilling things that has happened to me as a human being, let alone a Hoya. Cabaret brings together diverse musical interests and honors the old while searching for something new. Last year, we worked out our own arrangement for Joanie Abbott’s (SFS ’16) cover of “Black and Gold,” and one rehearsal we just got it. It was in the middle of another five-hour day, but I could have played forever if it could feel like that. I’d never enjoyed working in a group until I spent late nights talking about production problems with Dan, style from each and every vocalist’s perspective and composition with fellow musicians.
Cabaret turns 40 this year. People are talking about it again — how it’s vital to Georgetown’s music scene and how much fun it was last year, telling their friends to audition this weekend. I don’t know where Cabaret is taking me or my sax, but you’re going to want to be there.
Gwen Lockman is a senior in the College. Life in Art is a rotating column, appearing every other Friday.
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