Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95
While dining at 1920 Commons with some fellow freshmen in the fall of 1991, I saw a sophomore named Tanisha carrying a stack of those ¼ size sheets of colored paper – you know the ones – from table to table. When she got to us, she looked at me and asked, “Do you sing?”
I shrugged and responded, “A little.”
She smiled, thrust an orange handbill towards me, and said, “Audition for The Inspiration!”
I struck a defensive posture, hands up, palms out. “Oh, no. You don’t want me,” I said.
I’d just heard The Inspiration (often mistakenly referred to as “Inspirations”) at Performing Arts Night. The audience was mesmerized by this incredibly smooth, polished, R&B a cappella group. My singing experience at the time consisted of high school musical showtunes with the drama club, and harmonizing with the radio. Let’s say my style (such as it was) seemed all wrong for The Inspiration.
Honing in on my concern, Tanisha replied, “I auditioned with an opera.”
My hands came down. “Really?”
Had anyone else approached me, I would not have taken that flier. But I did. As a result, I would give up every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday night for four academic years. In return, I would gain a room full of new siblings, and memories that still make me smile 15+ years after graduation. An example: a fire drill once interrupted our rehearsal in High Rise East. We gave a brief, impromptu performance for the growing crowd in Superblock until everyone could get back inside. We were asked to sing at all future fire drills, but politely declined.
Just being in the group made my singing better, but who knew I would learn how to arrange music for a cappella performance? By the time I was an upperclassman, the group gave me the amazing opportunity to produce full concerts as a Show Coordinator. Our events were meant to educate as well as entertain so, in addition to living a dream and writing sketch comedy, I got to arrange a song by supergroup Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Then I asked a hallmate from South Africa to translate the lyrics from Xhosa to English for us. This way, we could explain to the audience what they were about to hear.
Each time I step back onstage with other alumni (lovingly dubbed, “oldheads”) at a show by the current group, I am moved by the significance of The Inspiration’s continuity on the Penn campus. Having been a part of it, knowing that our shows have added to the quality of life here over the years, is a source of great pride. I offer special thanks to Tanisha Lyon Brown’s background in opera for making it all possible for me.