Ransom Notes

Fifty Fest is more than a few students on a lawn. The 12-hour festival of art, food trucks and interactive activities for students celebrates Blanton Museum of Art’s 50 years of fostering a creative community. 

The Blanton is hosting Fifty Fest this Saturday, which brings together musicians, artists and art enthusiasts from the UT campus and the Austin community. Activities range from poetry readings to discussions with photographers. 

“The Blanton is a university art museum that also identifies itself as a site for creativity,” Samantha Youngblood, the Blanton’s manager of public relations and marketing, said. “Many of our past and current programs are centered around the idea that a song, dance, or poem can be inspired by or respond to a work of art.”

Student groups were asked to draw inspiration from the art and create a performance for the event. These artists range in style, background, and influence, but each will help explain how their creative process works. For example, the Texas Reed Trio is having an “open rehearsal” to involve audiences in their piece creation.  

“It’s like what a string quartet would do in rehearsal when they work on a new piece — interrupt each other when something’s not working, argue about the right way to get through a tough section, start and stop, and be more informal with each other than you’d ever see them be onstage,” said Adam Bennett, Blanton’s manager of public program. 

Student entertainers like the Ransom Notes, an a cappella group, hope to bring their own artistic appreciation to Fifty Fest. As part of their mission to enrich the lives of members and audiences, Ransom Notes agreed to help celebrate. 

“I think the Blanton contributes an artistic escape that is close to campus. Somewhere people can go to separate themselves from the chaos of day-to-day activities and appreciate something beautiful,” saod Lexi Bixler, an economics senior and Ransom Notes singer.

Other performers bring a cultural response to Fifty Fest. Ezekiel Castro, director of UT Mariachi Ensemble, admires the collection of Latin American works represented at the Blanton. 

“Performing at The Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas at Austin Fifty Fest is an honor — a grand celebration. The University of Texas Mariachi Ensemble, Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlan, has prepared music that is festive and embraces the artistic ambiance of this occasion,” Castro wrote in an email. 

The festival coincides with the 50th anniversary exhibition “Through the Eyes of Texas.” Alumni from around the world donated the works displayed in the show. Much like the exhibit, the performances at Fifty Fest show the breadth of the Blanton’s collections. 

“As a Hispanic, I am impressed with the Latin American collection of modern and contemporary art which contains more than 1,800 paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures,” Castro said. “These works of art reflect the diversity of Latin American art and culture.”

Blanton hosts programs that push students to become involved in art. 

“They’re not just warehouses that store artworks created centuries ago — museums are places were creativity happens every day. Artists create new art in museums that respond to the art inside,” Bennett said.

Fifty Fest strives to inspire visitors by showing an interactive side of the Blanton, and artists provide a rare glimpse into their creative processes. 

“Making something new with the visual experience that you get at the Blanton is what our public programs try to facilitate,” Bennett said. “If someone walks away from Fifty Fest and writes, paints, dances or makes a film about something she saw or heard at the Blanton, then our public programs are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Caroline Khoury, a senior member of the Ransom Notes, practices for her upcoming April concert.  The Ransom Notes is a capella group at UT consisting of 13 people who perform 20-30 gigs per year.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

With all of her might, Caroline Khoury stepped on the arched platform and into the spotlight to perform the song she had been waiting two years to sing.

Khoury was accepted into the UT a capella group, Ransom Notes, her junior year. She had not performed since high school and immediately knew this group was what she had been missing.

Freshman year, her roommate encouraged her to audition for the group. Khoury soon realized she missed the deadline for auditions, and during her sophomore year there were no open spots. Khoury, now a journalism senior and music director for Ransom Notes, auditioned for the group her junior year. 

“I was sitting in my room junior year, minding my own business when I randomly remembered about Ransom Notes,” Khoury said. “I don’t know if it was by chance, luck or God, but when I looked up audition dates, they were in two days.” 

More than 70 girls auditioned for the group and only three made it, Khoury included. She auditioned with “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé and “At Last!” by Etta James

Within two weeks of making Ransom Notes, the group had Khoury performing monthly for crowds of 200 people. Her first performance with the group solidified her passion for music.

The Ransom Notes consist of 13 people: six boys and seven girls. They perform anywhere from 20 to 35 gigs during the school year and have an annual winter concert in December and spring concert in April. With a repertoire covering everything from Beyoncé and Patty Griffin to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Ransom Notes explore many genres of music.

“For my first gig with Ransom Notes, all I remember are the smiling faces in the audience,” Khoury said. “I was standing on the smallest, gray-carpeted platform and realized there was no other place I wanted to be.”

Lexi Bixler, director of Ransom Notes and economics senior, said that Khoury was a shoo-in from the second she sang the first verse of her audition performance.

“We look for two main things in our potential candidates: talent and personality,” Bixler said. “Caroline was outstanding in both areas and has grown into a fearless performer. Her incredibly powerful voice, control and clarity set her apart.” 

Khoury and Bixler worked closely this year as they organized rehearsal schedules, picked setlists for gigs and pieced together arrangements for the group. 

“Caroline has been an incredible music director and absolutely wonderful to work with,” Bixler said. “She is a perfectionist, yet has a disarming quality about her that allows her direction to be accepted.”

The Ransom Notes have performed for many UT students throughout the years. Michael Aaron, a journalism sophomore, first heard Khoury sing with the group last year.

“I’ve heard Caroline sing several times, and I think she has an immense amount of talent,” Aaron said. “There is definitely a lot of soul in her voice. She reminds me of Christina Aguilera in a way.”

Though she is only 5 feet 2 inches, Khoury described her voice as surprisingly strong and soulful. While she knew she wanted to join an a cappella group in college, she was unaware of how much it would impact her life. 

“I realized that if I didn’t have Ransom Notes, I’d probably be depressed without even knowing it, because music would have been missing,” Khoury said.

She has found her love for music leaking into other areas of her life. Recently, she has explored combining her passion for performing with her future journalism career.

“I think if I never did anything in music again, I’d be extremely sad,” Khoury said. “As a journalist, I can see myself being a potential music critic.”

Her final performance with Ransom Notes will be Sunday, April 28 at 7 p.m. in Hogg Auditorium, the day after a free performance at the Blanton Fifty Fest

“I am so blessed to have found an outlet to sing while in school,” Khoury said. “Ransom Notes was the best decision I’ve made at UT.”