“Goin’ Pro: The Journey Home”: The Professionals Behind the Amateurs A cappella

| Senior Scene Editor
A young woman in a long-sleeved black dress stands on stage, bathed in blue light holding a microphone. The rest of the Amateurs stand in a half-circle around her. Holden Hindes

A fall semester performance by the Amateurs. Their last concert for the 2021-2022 academic year was April 8. (Holden Hindes/Student Life)

From the opening song to the final encore, the Amateurs A cappella on April 8 stirred up a performance that proves that the group is anything but amateur at singing. 

Formed in 1991, the group was not initially in its full-fledged a capella form — it just consisted of a group of 30 kids who loved to sing and make music. In 1997, the group finally became official — its presence is known today and it has established its mark on campus. 

Griffin Brown, a junior and the Co-Group Coordinator of Amateurs, described the weekend performances as “absolutely amazing. The resonance [in Graham Chapel] is extraordinary, and it is really cool to know that I got to perform in a space that is an iconic part of WashU’s campus.”

Their opening song “The Knife/Dog Years” certainly started the night off with a bang. My impression of a cappella prior to The Amateurs was rather limited — it mainly consisted of multiple reruns of the Pitch Perfect movie series and the occasional walk-by of the outdoor a cappella group practices on campus throughout the year. 

Synchronization in tone, connection to the song and harmony as a group allowed the Amateurs to receive a multitude of “oOOoHs” and “WOWs” in the crowd throughout the night. Through each piece of music, the unity and confidence amongst the singers further exemplified the success of the night’s performance. 

Certainly such unison did not come without hard work. Thea Portnoy, the Co-Music Director, explained how they “average about six to seven hours of rehearsal a week.” Brown further noted how “they spend much more time together by choice, even outside of rehearsal.” 

With long hours spent practicing and goofing off, the bond of friendship among this a cappella group is certainly what makes it stand out from the crowd. 

Brown reminisced about their last fall break trip when they went to the Lake of the Ozarks. “The weather was perfect as my class of Amateurs sat on the dock together listening to music and reflecting on how much the group meant to us.”

One highlight of the night was the intermission break, which consisted of several short YouTube videos of the Amateurs playing pranks on each other, demonstrating silly DIYs of creating slime or filming a dramatic influencer apology video. Not only did the crowd laugh until their stomachs hurt, but as an audience, we were able to appreciate each individual and their story behind the performance. 

“Getting to be in a space with friends that challenge each other to grow out of genuine love and care is truly so rare, and I feel so lucky to have experienced that within my time,” said Portnoy. 

The  performance consisted of ten songs, ranging from soloists to group arrangements, as well as some of their most popular pieces, such as “King of Spain” and “Good Life.”

Brown said that his favorite song that they have sung so far must be “Good Goodbye,” by Lianne La Havas. 

“It is such an emotional and beautiful piece,” he said. 

While the crowd unfortunately did not get the opportunity to hear this particular musical arrangement, we were able to catch Portnoy’s favorite: “Take the Box.” “It is arranged in a way that allows you to express yourself and feel very connected with everyone else…it holds a very special place in my heart,” said Portnoy. 

Both Portnoy and Brown came to music early and joined the Amateurs freshman year. “I started singing in 6th grade after deciding that the trumpet wasn’t enough for me. I did choir through high school and was in an a cappella group in high school,” Brown said.  “I joined the Amateurs freshman year, so in total I have been singing for nine years.”

Portnoy highlighted a similar origin story, as she told her mom she  wanted to start taking singing lessons. “[My mom] told me to go find a teacher, which I did,” Portnoy said. “I started an a cappella group freshman year of high school, and I am now a graduating undergraduate senior…so I guess it has been eight years now!”

As the performance began to wrap up, the crowd was certainly in an uproar. “ENCORE, ENCORE, ENCORE,” they shouted. The Amateurs happily jumped back on stage for one last song.

As the audience swayed and clapped to the beat of the music, the Amateurs gathered into a gigantic hug on stage — certainly a wholesome way to end the night.

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For a comprehensive review of the a capella groups on campus, check out:

WU a cappella groups tell their stories

 

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