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Logging on

Becoming the second woman to join the MIT Logarhythms was already an adventure. And then came the global pandemic.

a group of eleven students clustered together singing into microphones in blue stage light
The Logarhythms (including Catherine Ji ’23, front row, left) perform at their fall 2022 concert.Michelle Xiang

It felt good to spend my last spring break in Miami on my fourth and final tour with the Logarhythms, MIT’s oldest a cappella group. Tour is a time for the Logs, as we call ourselves, to rehearse, learn new music, and perform at local venues. It’s also a time for twigs, or new members, to get to know the rest of us better (and vice versa). And the destination was a bonus: we got to dig our toes in the sand and feel the stress from the semester wash away with the waves. 

I hadn’t always felt so content as a Log. Founded in 1949 as an all-male group, the Logs became gender inclusive in 2018; I signed on the following year. My first year, as the second woman to join, I found I didn’t connect with the Logs’ traditions, upperclassmen, or alumni. I was frustrated by the huge time commitment required and frequently clashed with upperclassmen over how to run everything from auditions to gigs to rehearsals.

I’m not sure why, but I know I felt kept at arm’s length. At our 70th reunion, several alumni told me, “I’m glad we accept women now.” While I appreciated the sentiment, it would have felt awkward to say “I’m glad you accepted me too.” Most alums simply chose not to bring up gender. When I think back to my arguments with upperclassmen, I rarely brought it up either—the distance between us felt so vast that one word seemed meaningless. 

Maybe someone—possibly me, since I’d gotten involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work at MIT—should’ve been up-front about the dynamic that a group of two women and 11 men creates. I wanted Logs to be more open about our inclusivity efforts and think about how we presented ourselves to the rest of campus. Was it clear that we were gender inclusive? Did the other a cappella groups still perceive us as all-male? And did that matter for our internal group dynamic? But I confess I’m a bit glad we didn’t really talk about it when I was a first-year (at least in conversations I was present for). 

As a twig, I’ll admit, I just wanted to enjoy singing, have fun with the people around me, and not constantly think about sociopolitical issues that present more paradoxes than solutions. I appreciated what felt like honest and straightforward communication. We said exactly what we wanted to say, which led to confrontational but productive discussions about whether it made sense to maintain traditions that some members felt isolated the twigs. I found it a refreshing change from my experience with institutionalized DEI. While valuable, that work sometimes seems to focus more on image, committees, and leverage than supporting individuals—an issueI grappled with in my advocacy efforts. Meanwhile, a cappella is all about individuals working together and supporting each other. 

As a first-year, I thought several times about leaving the group to focus on academics. But when covid suddenly hit, priorities shifted. Survival as a group became more important than being well adjusted.

Still, I struggled for many reasons, including my difficulty adjusting to MIT. As a first-year, I thought several times about leaving the group to focus on academics. But when covid suddenly hit, priorities shifted. Survival as a group became more important than being well adjusted. It’s hard to think about much else when you’re shoving your early MIT life into boxes and all the loose trinkets from career fair (acquired before you learned to distinguish between good swag and desk clutter) reveal their uselessness. 

The Logarhythms came close to dying during the pandemic. Virtual a cappella is difficult, and existing, pre-covid tensions contributed to burnout. To be honest, I don’t know how we made it through spring 2020 (when we all got sent home), or fall 2020 (when only seniors were on campus), or spring 2021 (when only first-years, sophomores, and juniors were on campus). My sense of time over that period caves in on itself. The end is the start is the middle. I mostly remember logging in to Zoom feeling a muggy dread, watching people’s indifferent faces with my own indifferent face in gallery mode, and trying to appear excited while recording myself singing. There wasn’t much else to do. 

By spring 2021, I’d gone from discontented, maladjusted first-year to upperclassman serving as president, becoming the first woman to do so in over 70 years of Logs history. In person, the transfer of exec positions marks the end of one era and the beginning of the next. But without everyone on campus, we were still operating virtually, and upperclassmen were desperate to pass off executive roles to the sophomores—who had little interest in taking them on. After a year of covid isolation, a cappella and all its supporting roles felt joyless. 

But being president took on much greater significance when we decided to, finally, run another round of auditions that spring. The twigs we chose from those auditions—David, Evan, and Vanessa—had an enthusiasm for our traditions that confounded me. Watching the twigs progress as part of the group made me realize the value in maintaining those traditions, though I personally did not connect to most of them. Covid changed the group. It wasn’t necessarily better (certainly, our performance quality took a hit), but it was a group I actively wanted to participate in and build. Maybe I also changed over the pandemic, becoming more resilient. 

The new members from the Class of 2024, whom we dubbed Twig Class Eternals, infused the group with their strength, warmth, and sense of responsibility. I don’t think we would’ve made it through covid isolation without them. Isn’t it serendipitous that they heard about Logs, auditioned, and became our rock in a global pandemic? 

That’s the way the Logs work, and it’s what I find most interesting about the group. Here, a single person can change everything. You can feel the energy of the room shift, become softer or harder. To me, the tension around gender eased in a way I still don’t fully understand. Maybe it was having women and nonbinary members in positions of power. Maybe it was the tweaks to traditions or changes made as younger members proposed new ways to run rehearsals, new warm-ups, new concert themes that gave all the Logs more creative power. Or maybe it was that we relaxed expectations of “excellence” since more pressure didn’t necessarily equate to better performance. 

Sometimes I wanted to understand this shift. But from fall 2021 to spring 2023 at MIT, I was mostly interested in the business of the present—cultivating the group, spending time with new members, enjoying rehearsals. People I’d struggled to understand became my best friends, and the group became a community I truly love. Logs is the only place where the highest note I can belt matters more than what internship I landed, and it became my MIT family. It’s a cliché to say “the best thing about MIT is the people,” but it’s true. As my undergrad years came to a close, I realized how lucky I am to have found my people.

Catherine Ji ’23 graduated with a double major in math and physics. She’s now a physics PhD student at Princeton University. Hear the Logarhythms sing here.

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