By Kassie Hoffmeister | Photos by Ryan Freeland
Some of JMU’s students work hard not only academically but also by cultivating a passion for performing. These performers spend hours practicing and perfecting every last note or dance move, all for the amusement of others.
You can find him dancing six days a week and sometimes eight hours a day. Joseph Chung is the vice president of breakdance club and co-founder of Visual Distortions Dance Crew.
“When I’m breakdancing, people say I look like I’m always kind of aggressive and want to battle somebody,” Chung said. “For some reason, that’s my style. But when people get to know me, that’s not how I am at all. I’m a really shy person, and it gives me this outlet to push myself.”
Chung has been breakdancing for six years and doing hip-hop for one year.
“It’s not even a hobby I’m doing on my own,” he said. “It’s a part of me now.”
Visual Distortions has performed at the 2011 Breast Cancer Awareness ball and the 2012 Coalescence.
Before joining improv group New and Improv’d freshman year, Amanda Kohr was part of her high school’s theatre.
“I liked the improv games we would play as warm-ups, and because I liked the games so much I just wanted to find a way to do it,” Kohr said.
JMU’s New & Improv’d comedy troupe does a combination of short- and long-form improv.
“It’s hard to describe what we do because we never know what things are going to be about,” she said. “We make up each other’s names, and we make up our relationships all on the spot.”
Kohr describes performing as surreal.
“You need to have complete awareness, but you also live in the moment,” she said. “There’s no time for hesitation. You take your instinct, and then you run with it.”
It all started as a bet at lacrosse camp. Jack Gardner’s coach made a deal with him that if he came back the next year playing bagpipes, he would give him lacrosse sticks.
Sure enough, Gardner made it happen. He attended the National Piping Center at Shenandoah University in Winchester and traveled to Scotland to play for a month when he was 14.
Gardner is now considered a grade-1 bagpiper, on a scale of one to five, one being the highest and three being your average skilled bagpiper.
Gardner says there’s a lot of pressure on bagpipers.
“It’s nerve-wracking when you’re a solo performer, and you have all the pressure,” he said. “One of the nice things, though, is that most people don’t know anything about bagpipes, so normally when you mess up, if it’s not a glaring mistake, only you know it.”
His two favorite song genres to play are hornpipes and jigs.
“I find they are also the best crowd pleasers and can show off skill the best,” he said. “It’s nice to show that bagpipes are capable of some really fast and difficult music.”
Clay Underwood began his singing career in a children’s choir when he was 11. The members sang at George Washington University and the Kennedy Center and traveled to Wales.
When he scored the lead role in his eighth grade musical, Underwood decided to take it more seriously with voice lessons. By the time he was a senior in high school, Underwood knew he wanted to be a vocal major.
“It was either musical theatre or straight classical singing,” Underwood said. “I decided to do the classical singing because I knew I wanted to pursue that.”
JMU has shown him what a real audition process is like.
“It’s taught me how to prepare and how to deal with either success or failure and not to take it too personal, just move onto the next thing,” he said.
While at JMU, Underwood has participated in “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Ba-Ta-Clan,” “L’Enfant Prodigue” and “Die Fledermaus.”
Underwood hopes to get a job singing for an opera company or involved in musicals, but he isn’t too picky about his future.
“As long as I’m performing,” he said.