Like a typical millennial, I don't like talking to people on the phone. But, in early February, I decided to be brave and dial a number I'd never called before.
I was calling VoicePlay, an award-winning, world-renowned a cappella quintet, in an attempt to get them to come to my school, Stanford University, for a fall performance. I had discovered VoicePlay’s music just a month before and entirely by accident. I was updating my playlists, searching for one song, when I came across a completely different one, which was off the group’s Disney album, Once Upon An Ever After.
At my brother’s suggestion, I then progressed to the group’s YouTube channel, which includes collaborations with other artists and performances on NBC’s The Sing-Off. Recognizing VoicePlay’s musical, theatrical, and interactive appeal, I called the number I had found on the website.
Getting VoicePlay to agree to come was the easiest part. My sorority would officially host the concert, and the ticket proceeds would go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation, one of the nonprofit organization the sorority supports. But I took full responsibility for all aspects of planning because the show was my idea and my passion project.
For the next eight months, I navigated my way through a process completely new and unexpectedly challenging to me. Stanford wouldn’t sign a contract until I had three-quarters of the funds in my student government account and had an auditorium reserved. I had funds promised from various sources but, due to school policy, they couldn’t be transferred into the account until the beginning of the next school year. Similarly, the auditorium couldn’t be officially booked until the second week of the school year — four days before the concert was supposed to take place.
At the end of winter quarter, I put my own money into the student government account as a placeholder and exchanged multiple emails with the auditorium managers to place a hold on the auditorium — one that was replaced by an official reservation come fall.
The contract was signed.
Studying abroad during the spring meant that, from 5,000 miles away and through an eight-hour time difference, I had to act as the liaison between Stanford and VoicePlay and between various on-campus groups, including Student Activities and Leadership, Custodial Services, Event Patrol, Parking and Transportation Services, and Student Enterprises. Groups who promised funds in the winter changed their policies and backed out a month before the fall show. Newspapers promised to cover the event, went radio-silent, and never came. More than 650 emails were sent; most went unanswered. Calls went unreturned. Individuals and organizations who offered their help criticized me behind my back. Invoices were thousands of dollars more than estimated. I asked for the performers’ check three weeks in advance but it was delayed over and over.
Every success — getting the signed contract, securing an auditorium hold, getting promises from different groups — made me thrilled. Every complication and broken promise took me back to VoicePlay’s albums and YouTube channel, where I listened to song after song and reminded myself why I wanted to bring this group to campus.
Two days before the show, the main hurdles had been conquered — until Hurricane Matthew grounded all fights, stranding one of the singers and VoicePlay’s sound engineer in Florida. One of the performers, with help from Stanford’s tech crew, could handle the sound, and I spent the evening on the phone with VoicePlay’s office manager brainstorming possible ways to replace the fifth man. The four singers could attempt to restructure their show to perform as a quartet, they could offer a musical workshop instead of a concert, or the show — and eight months of work on both my end and VoicePlay’s — could be cancelled entirely.
The last option seemed to be the most realistic until, that very night, VoicePlay’s manager found a replacement for the fifth singer. He ended up performing so well that audience members couldn’t believe he wasn’t a permanent member of the group.
The concert went on and was the most successful philanthropy event my sorority has ever hosted.
Even now, though, I still wonder whether I could’ve done something differently. Should I have picked a different date so that the hurricane wouldn’t have interfered and VoicePlay wouldn’t have been stressed about setting up their sound, teaching their guest performer, and pulling together their show; learned more about the auditorium’s sound system so that I could’ve helped the tech crew; talked to more people in order to sell out the seats? I follow VoicePlay on social media and read articles about their concerts; whenever I hear that one of their concerts has been sold out, I cringe, wishing that I could have done the same and hoping the group knew how much I tried.
Regardless of both the successes and disappointments, I learned a lot and earned some really strong allies, including the head of Stanford’s Student Activities & Leadership and VoicePlay’s booking manager. I learned that there are performers out there who'll agree to take a last-minute flight from Vegas to Stanford and pick up an entire set within a couple of hours. I learned that VoicePlay was willing to perform as a quartet, completely restructuring their five-part harmonies in order to prevent the show from being cancelled.
More than anything, I learned how much I’m willing to fight for something I want and how I can plan an event so well that only a deadly natural disaster threatened it.
And, as much as I still dislike making phone calls, I know now that I can step outside of my comfort zone and be brave, make a call to a strange number, and open a pathway to a new experience.