Back for more: A cappella returns after first semester hiatus
“I never would have thought there’d be a day where a cappella was more dangerous than football,” sophomore Dylan Nelson, the treasurer of the A Cappella Advisory Council (ACAC) said.
That day, ushered forth by the pandemic, has led to an almost total stop to all in-person organized activity. And as singing ranks as one of the least COVID-safe activities for people to engage in together, a cappella has been relegated to the ever-growing electronic world.
In a normal year, freshmen would be greeted during orientation week by singers belting beneath the underpass on the South 40, flyers hung around campus, spontaneous ‘dorm storming’ in freshmen housing and a concert during the first week of school.
Those beginning-of-school traditions have been upended this year.
“We can’t do the showcase. We can’t do dorm storming,” junior Kevin Wang, the music director for The Stereotypes, said. “So pretty much all the recruiting stuff has moved to social media.”
The Pikers, one of the all-male groups on campus, upped their online presence for recruitment this year by putting out a new song on social media and posting a film made by their group on Instagram.
“We just came out with a song and kind of blasted that on all of our social medias,” junior Mike Boeckman, president of the Pikers, said. “We made our last year’s Jammin’ Toast movie public and posted about that, so that’s been part of our effort to get kids to be aware of us as an option.”
In addition to publicity challenges, another difficulty with recruitment this year is how late in the year tryouts are occurring. In years past, auditions occurred the first week of classes. Now, auditions are taking place throughout the first half of February.
Wang said there might be fewer freshmen who try out because the regular performances and practices won’t be taking place. “It’s certainly harder to sell being in an a cappella group right now, for obvious reasons,” he said.
Freshman Anna Escoto has decided to take the plunge into this unknown process even though she is slightly hesitant about the fully online circumstances.
“l take what I can get at this point,” she said. “I think it’ll be fun to at least start to meet people, and then hopefully I’ll already be part of the community once we can go in person.”
For students like Escoto who try out for one of the University’s 13 groups, they will be greeted with enthusiastic singers and a Google Form. The form asks students to provide some information about their musical background in addition to a few short recordings of them singing and carrying out vocal exercises.
In past years, prospective students had to audition for each group they were interested in with a different performance, but this year, they can click on boxes to mark which groups they want to receive their application.
Boeckman noted this part of the auditioning system as a benefit of the online process. “It’s really easy to audition for a group, because you can literally just make one video, and send it out to eight groups if you want to, and it takes the same amount of time,” Boeckman said.
While she has yet to submit her material, Escoto is a fan of the new tryout process.
“I think it gives a good opportunity for people to showcase their specific talents that you might not necessarily think of,” she said. “So for me, I’m more of a choral singer, but I’m planning on submitting a pop song for the audition part and then doing an Italian song for the special skills section.”
Figuring out who is able to harmonize well with a group is hard enough in normal times, but the added layer of figuring out which students fit in with the overall group dynamic has posed new challenges during the pandemic.
“The Pikers [look for] good kids that we think we would have a great time hanging out with,” Boeckman said. “That’s really hard to get a gauge of even in a normal year when you’re with a person. And now, trying to convey that through a video setting is definitely hard, but it is possible.”
Facing these new hurdles, members of different groups have brainstormed together to find solutions to move forward, which has created opportunity for more inter-group bonding.
“It’s been nice working with other groups to figure out how we’re going to do this,” Wang said. “I’ve been talking to people I normally wouldn’t be from other groups, like other music directors, other presidents, on the logistics of how we [are] going to do video submissions, and setting a timeline that we can all agree on.”
While the process of joining a cappella has changed this year, what has not changed is how passionate students are about their organizations and wanting underclassmen to try out.
“A ton of people in a cappella have never sung before or anything like that and they found something really valuable to them, so definitely audition,” Wang said.
Junior Malik Gaye, president of The Stereotypes, noted another benefit of a cappella for freshmen who have been craving social interaction this year.
“I know as first years, it might be really nice to branch out a little bit more than maybe the people that you’ve met on your floors or in your classes,” Gaye said. “It’s sort of like a nice outlet to have a group of people that are not really bound together by being in the same school or being in the same grade…but the music that we do together brings us together.”
Boeckman encouraged all freshmen interested in applying to do so. “Even if you don’t end up joining a group or you don’t like it, it’s what, maybe 20 minutes out of your day to discover that this isn’t for [you], which is fine,” he said. “And if you do decide it’s for you, it will probably be your best decision in a four-year period.”
READ MORE ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT COVERAGE FROM STUDENT LIFE:
- ‘A good song is forever’: Gosha Guppy on his new music video and being a full-time rapper while in college
- Thyrsus adapts to COVID-19 with radio plays, play-reading group
- ‘Horny, young, and pretty’: Rob Apollo releases documentary celebrating his album “Whore”
- Go with the flow: How the WU dance program has handled the pandemic