‘Smooth’ cello duet wins Ovation: RIT Performing Arts Showcase

Brandon Faunce and Gavin Palmer win $1,000 top prize

Scott Hamilton/RIT

Nearly 60 RIT students made up 14 performances during Friday’s Ovation: RIT Performing Arts Showcase, which awarded $1,500 in prizes. Top performers were cello duo Brandon Faunce, center, and Gavin Palmer, right, pictured with RIT President David Munson.

A pair of RIT students who played a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” on their cellos won best performance and a $1,000 prize in this year’s Ovation: RIT Performing Arts Showcase, held Friday night in Ingle Auditorium.

Brandon Faunce, a software engineering major from Fairfield, Conn., and Gavin Palmer, an electrical engineering major from Goffstown, N.H., both second-year students, will split their cash prize.

Second place, and $500, was awarded to Katie Updegrove, a third-year graphic design major from Branchburg, N.J., for her circus act as she twirled, tossed, and moved in and out of up to four hoops at a time.

Their performances were among 14 acts in dance, vocals, and instrumental music in the seventh annual student performing arts showcase.

“I can’t even imagine the number of hours it took to learn that,” remarked Nancy Munson after Updegrove’s performance. Nancy Munson co-emceed the showcase with her husband, RIT President David Munson.

More students involved in performing arts are currently enrolled at RIT than ever before. This year’s class includes a record 515 new students who received Performing Arts Scholarships, some who performed in Ovation. That brings the total number of students who received the scholarships to 1,800 in the five years they have been awarded.

President Munson has pushed to recruit more students involved in the performing arts because he believes they tend to be more creative, innovative, complex thinkers, and work well with others, traits that are desirable with prospective employers. Munson wants RIT to be the leading school in the country for performing arts for non-majors.

“As we grow the size of our performing arts program at RIT, we also are going to be growing this event,” he said. “It is becoming now more of a showcase of our highly talented students rather than just a competition. But for tonight, it’s still a competition. And speaking of talented students, we want to sincerely thank everyone who applied for the showcase this year. We received so many wonderful auditions.”

The acts included marimba playing, traditional Japanese drumming, colorful Mexican folkloric dancing, original urban choreography, classical ballet, modern ballads, a cappella, and more.

“What amazes me is the fact that a lot of these kids are science majors at an incredible, competitive college, yet they find the time to do these talents as well,” said Grammy-nominated Jimmie Highsmith Jr., one of the five judges for the evening. “It’s just amazing. As a musician, I know the amount of work it takes to be a musician. But to do that and to be majoring in science and technology at the same time, I’m so proud of all of them.”


Palmer said he’ll likely use his share of the prize money to help pay for his tuition.

“I came in with no expectations,” he said. “I just wanted to put on a good show.”

Faunce also didn’t focus on winning after he began rehearsing for the competition three months ago.

“There came a point where I said I wasn’t thinking of this as a competition anymore,” he said. “It was just to give the biggest performance we could for the audience.”

“That’s what gave us the adrenaline,” Palmer said.

As the judges deliberated, last year’s Ovation winner, classic rock band Retrograde, entertained the audience with four of their songs, one which was a debut.

Then the performers, 58 students in all, assembled on stage for the announcement of the winners.

“What a fantastic lineup,” Nancy Munson said. “It’s always a pleasure to be a part of this and these kids are just so amazing, and humble on top of it.”

“Congratulations to all of you, and thanks for your participation,” David Munson said. “It’s a big deal just to make this show. Tonight’s performances were so RIT. You won’t see this kind of show on any other college campus. Nancy and I just love it.”

Ovation: RIT Performing Arts Showcase 2024

A frame from the embedded video, with a play button over the image.

Nearly 60 RIT students performed in 14 acts in the 2024 edition of Ovation: RIT Performing Arts Showcase.


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