A cappella 101: The Pikers, tomfoolery in time to music

Welcome to A cappella 101, a new feature in Cadenza in which we get to know one of the many a cappella groups on campus.

The Pikers have been gracing our ears with songs and our eyes with shenanigans since 1985. One of two all-male a cappella groups at Wash. U., The Pikers are known for their quirky and humorous performances, their clever and sexual innuendo-filled advertisements, and their obviously strong vocals.

“What The Pikers strive to be is sort of a walking contradiction,” senior Adam Trebach, prime minister (or president) of The Pikers, explained. “We want to be completely irreverent and make it clear to everyone that we sort of don’t care for propriety or decorum. But at the same time we work really, really hard at what we do.”

And The Pikers’ performances embody that objective: they are fun and filled with energy. They try not to take themselves too seriously, but simultaneously, they are serious about what they do. Every year they spend hours preparing for their annual concert, “Jammin’ Toast,” which includes both their vocal arrangements, amusing choreography and a pre-recorded comedic piece that demonstrates the hilarity so often associated with the group.

Although “Jammin’ Toast” is still months away (mark off Friday, Jan. 18 and Saturday, Jan. 19 on your calendars for this year’s concert), The Pikers are in no way dormant. Just last weekend, they performed at Ursa’s Fireside for a Sept. 11 Memorial, and they have a number of gigs coming up including a performance for perspective students over Discovery Weekend.

All of those performances require a great deal of preparation. Every week, the group meets for somewhere around six hours—but to the group, that time can be extremely relaxing and a break from the usual intensity of school.

“I feel like I never dread coming to practice, even if I’m really busy, no matter how much work I have,” noted senior Zachary Gale, minister of money (or treasurer). “It’s a two-hour block that I know I’m going to love, that I know is going to be a lot of fun.”

It takes a while to learn every one of the 12 to 20 new songs in The Pikers’ repertoire each year—this year songs include “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons and “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” by John Legend. And, although they may sometimes get off task during rehearsals, they work especially hard at the beginning of the fall semester and the months leading up to “Jammin Toast” to ensure they’re thoroughly prepared for each song.

When they’re not performing concerts on campus, The Pikers can be found both in St. Louis and in other places in the U.S. Their off-campus performances include travelling and performing for a fall break trip (last year to Madison, Wisc.), singing at a nursing home in the St. Louis area and performing at various other venues in and around St. Louis.

It’s not only vocals that go into a Pikers performance but also choreography and presence—both things that make the group unique.

“What sets us apart is our showmanship,” junior David Binstock, minister of Puerto Rico (public relations) for The Pikers, said. “We make it more performance-based than most other groups.”

Not only can we expect the usual ugly ties, mismatched shirts, and jeans or khakis signaling The Pikers this year, we can also expect a change: white blazers (a defining feature of The Pikers back when they were the original Wash. U. a capella group).

The variety yet uniformity of Pikers attire truly embodies the dissimilarities within the group. All of the 16 members (one additional member will return from a semester abroad in the spring) are involved in different groups and have various commitments around campus, ensuring The Pikers’ diversity and assorted strengths.

“I love music and I love having a place to explore music with other people,” Binstock explained about what really brings the group together. “[I love to] hang out with a group of fun people and enjoy the music together.”