A Cappella Groups’ Goal to Connect Intimately with Audiences
Nov 29, 2019 06:28PM
By Hilary Daninhirsch
Harmonix & Beatz perform at In Tune with the Arts Studio
If you’ve ever found yourself saying “Aca-Believe It” or “Aca-Scuse Me,” there’s a good chance you’re a fan of the Pitch Perfect trilogy of movies. Though Pitch Perfect may have launched a cappella into the mainstream since the first movie was released in 2012, the singing style has been around for many years.
A cappella (singing without musical accompaniment) is popular on college campuses. Some colleges boast multiple groups, and many compete in regional competitions or at the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA).
The CMU Treblemakers are a coed, secular a cappella group with 14 members, and students don’t have to be music majors to be involved.
Max Sprigg-Dudley is a sophomore chemistry major at CMU and president of the group. “It’s definitely become a big thing,” he said. “When I think of an idyllic college campus, a cappella is what I think of.”
“A cappella has been around for a while, but the competitive edge is newer,” added Taylor Baer, a music major and the group’s music director.
The Treblemakers perform on campus or at various events around Pittsburgh, such as at Pirates’ games and at Light Up Night. They’re also mixing and mastering a 10th anniversary EP, which is the group’s first big recording project.
“I think a cappella makes a more intimate connection with the audience than other genres because you’re really on the same level; you’re just speaking to them and trying to convey these emotions very directly through song,” said Sprigg-Dudley.
Pitches and Tones is one of the University of Pittsburgh’s a cappella groups. Sophie Shah, a senior, is the president of the rebranded group, founded in 2013. The coed group has 16 members.
Shah said that Pitches and Tones perform in concerts, both on and off campus. Sometimes, all the a cappella groups at Pitt will perform together, like they did in a Halloween concert earlier this year.
Shah said they generally arrange their own songs, but not all songs work well in an a cappella arrangement. “Songs that rely very heavily on complicated instrumental parts would not work very well because that would be hard to translate,” she explained. “Generally, songs that work best rely more on the chordal structure of the song, and on the soloist.”
Like the Treblemakers, Pitches and Tones compete, and they have put out several EPs and videos which can be found on Spotify and YouTube. Shah said that the group is inspired by Pentatonix, whom she calls ‘the gods of a cappella.’
“They revolutionized it,” she explained.
She added that she enjoys the friendship and the musical expression of a cappella, as well as stepping into a leadership role. “Arranging is a good challenge musically—you have to figure out how to create the chords and sounds with the voices in the group to achieve the effect you want,” she said.
Not all a cappella groups are based on campus. The Sounds of Pittsburgh is a 60-member, all-female chorus that is a chapter of Sweet Adelines, the world’s largest musical education organization for women with a focus on barbershop.
“We sing acapella four-part harmony. Because its roots are in barbershop, our parts are lead, baritone, tenor and bass,” said Lois Treloar, president of the board of directors for Sounds of Pittsburgh.
The group does not limit itself to barbershop, however. “We sing show music, pop tunes and rock tunes. We perform all around the area and at different venues, like the Three Rivers Arts Festival, nursing homes, and Christmas parties. Last May, we performed as the opening act for Sheila E at Stage AE,” said Treloar.
Some members of the group have attended education sessions conducted by world-renowned a cappella leader, Deke Sharon, who works closely with Sweet Adelines. “He calls barbershop harmony the ‘martial arts of a cappella singing’ because you have to be so finely tuned to make it work,” said Treloar.
The group also participates in the competition cycle, which includes a regional competition in May. If they make it through, they attend the international competition in fall. Whether or not they place in competitions, the best part for Treloar is the friendships that it fosters. “It is like a sisterhood; you make lifelong friends,” she said.
On Dec. 8, Sounds of Pittsburgh will perform in A Classy Sassy Christmas at the Succop Theater. To learn more, visit http://soundsofpgh.org.
While most schools in the area do not offer a contemporary a cappella outlet, In Tune with the Arts Studio in Gibsonia offers instruction in contemporary a cappella training as well as summer camps.
According to Ryan Perrotte, president and co-founder, people are drawn to a cappella because, “It is like having a rock band without any instruments. Instead of singing everything on the lyric, we emulate instruments. You have to become a bass or become a string or guitar section,” he said.
The studio’s contemporary a cappella group is called Harmonix & Beatz, and members receive training in beatboxing, live looping and pop solo singing. There are also performance opportunities, including at the Hard Rock Café, where students get to experience being on full mikes. “We’ve been talking about going into the competition realm as well,” said Perrotte.
“The human voice is such an emotional instrument that the appeal of being able to sing everything for the audience is amazing,” he added. “It’s impressive to see. You think you’re really hearing this big band. To have that close connection with the people on stage is appealing—not only for the singer, but also for the listener.”
To learn more about a cappella groups, or to try it yourself, check out the following websites:
CMU Treblemakers: http://cmutreblemakers.com
Pitches and Tones: http://www.pittpitchesandtones.com