Shining a light on student performers

Published by Megan John, Date: November 18, 2022
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Dozens of students gathered in the Smith Student Center on Friday Nov. 11 for an open mic night presented by the Guitar Club and WSRU-FM. Acts included solo musical performances and jam sessions, as well as a poetry reading and a comedy routine. 

For freshmen, including at least two of the performers, it was their first open mic night at SRU. 

Christian Mitchell, a freshman biology major, has been playing music for over seven years. During the show, he performed The Beatles’ “Yesterday” and Ricky Montgomery’s “Mr. Loverman.” He also played drums during a freestyle session at the end of the event. 

“I started with playing guitar, but I kind of taught myself,” said Mitchell. “I watched YouTube videos, tutorials, just a bunch of different songs that my family listened to, and learned them.” 

Later, he got into percussion, joining the percussion ensemble and jazz band at his high school. For Friday’s performance, he brought his own drum kit from home. 

“[The open mic night] was announced a lot beforehand, but I didn’t commit to the idea until a week before,” Mitchell said. 

The event marked his first time playing live music, solo, for an audience. In previous shows, he performed as part of a group. 

Another performer, Mikayla Keyes, also has experience performing in groups. She has been involved in school theatre productions, church choir and performances with Pittsburgh’s Alumni Theatre Company. On Friday, she sang a portion of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” 

“I was excited to perform,” said Keyes. “Obviously nervous, because I never know how people are going to react until we do it. And after, I felt really good about it. I was vibing, having a good time … I enjoyed listening to and watching other people perform as well.” 

Keyes chose her song shortly before she went on. 

“Honestly, it was random,” she said. “[I wondered] ‘what songs have I sang before and enjoyed, and I think people would like to listen to?’ ‘Killing Me Softly’ in that particular way is really calm, really chill. It makes people feel good, I’ve noticed.” 

According to Sarah Brandon, president of Guitar Club, the turnout was “way better than we had hoped.” 

For previous open mic nights, we had maybe five people show up,” said Brandon. “We probably had around 50 people throughout the evening.” 

Earlier open mic nights were limited to members and their guests. They normally take place in the ski lodge by the ROCK Apartments. 

“[Performing is] a creative outlet,” Brandon stated. “It makes them feel heard, even if there is only a small turnout. This time, we had an amazing turnout, and it was really good for a lot of people. 

“Most of them, it was their first time doing this. … Anyone can perform, even if you don’t feel like you’re exceptional. If you put yourself out there, people are going to appreciate it.” 

Keyes said that performing helps her “fully dive into who I am.” 

“I’m really a shy, closed-off person, and performing helps me to fully express myself,” she said. “It allows me to show who I am [using] a different type of communication. I feel more myself, more comfortable to be fully myself, when I’m performing.” 

Near the end of the show, Mitchell played “Mr. Loverman” for a dwindling crowd. One person turned their phone’s flashlight on and began waving it back and forth. Soon, almost everyone in the audience joined in, and continued for the rest of the song. 

“That was weird,” said Mitchell. “I’ve never felt like the center like that. 

“It was nice for the community to come together and mesh over music. It didn’t matter what you played, how you played it. Just being together to share that experience with one another – I think that’s what music really is, in essence. Sharing a message back and forth between people. And everybody was willing to listen to each other for one moment.” 

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