As I’m sure many of you know, thanks to movies like Pitch Perfect, acapella is one of the most classic parts of college! Finding a college with a great acapella scene was crucial to me as a high schooler. When I visited Oberlin, I was thrilled when the tour guide told me that there were tons of different acapella groups on campus. After being accepted through early decision, I spent many hours watching YouTube videos of the various concerts that took place on campus, creating a mental list of my dream singing groups to join.
And thus began one of my very first entries on my Oberlin bucket list…
Be in an acapella group.
At the very beginning of my freshman year, I auditioned for a few acapella groups with no luck. I was heartbroken, since I had expected acapella to be a big part of my college experience from the very beginning. But after some tears and calls home, I moved on. I wrote a post about that time during my second semester, reflecting on how missing out on that opportunity led me to other unexpected projects and experiences. Truly, I had a great first semester at Oberlin; I became very involved in Students United for Reproductive Freedom, made an awesome group of friends, and had a fulfilling and busy job as a copy editor at The Oberlin Review. Life was good. But something was missing: MUSIC! Singing had been a huge part of my life since I was a little kid (lifelong musical theater nerd here!), so I wanted it to be one of my major activities in college.
In February, after a Winter Term spent interning at a Northern California non-profit, I prepped a song and went in to audition for the Acapelicans, an acapella group that hadn’t had auditions in the fall. The members seemed like such cool people – a group of older girls with fabulous style and quick wit. I sang a jazzy cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and (thank goodness) did pretty well on the sight-reading and tone-matching sections of the audition despite my nerves. I was super excited to get a callback, and enjoyed learning the song they taught us. The next day, I got an email… I was in!
The Acapelicans is an acapella group for women and non-binary people, singing all genres. There are also many other groups on campus! As far I know, there are currently five others, though new groups occasionally pop up. The Obertones are an all-male acapella group, Nothing But Treble is another group for women and non-binary people, Challah Capella sings Jewish music, Round Midnight sings jazz and folk music, and Pitch Please is all-gender, all-genre! All the groups come together each semester to perform at Study Break, a free concert for students that takes place under the ramp of the library during the Wednesday of midterms week. Study Break is an awesome time for everyone to come out and support acapella! Each group also puts on a final concert during reading period and performs in Finney Chapel (such a special experience) during Parents Weekend in November and Commencement Weekend in May.
I was a member of the Acapelicans from spring of my freshman year through the end of my junior year, when I decided to take a step back to focus on other activities, especially film and more engagement with my PRSM job. I definitely miss singing all the time, but think it was the right decision. With the huge number of exciting things happening at Oberlin, it’s easy to get overly busy!
During my time in the Acapelicans, we had between nine and thirteen members, depending on people going abroad and finding people who were the right fit in auditions. Every group does things slightly differently in terms of setup. In the Acapelicans, everyone gets to jump around to different vocal parts, which is a fun challenge. While I was in the group, we rehearsed twice a week, coming together to practice our sheet music, create choreography, and check in about our personal lives. The group formed a tight bond based around our care for each other and our love for singing. Our members were students of different class years. As a first-year, it was incredible to have senior friends that I knew and could wave to around campus. It was important for me to pass on the institutional knowledge of the group as I grew older. My upperclassmen friends taught me so much, from how to beatbox to how Village Housing works to how to arrange a piece of music. I’m thankful for them to this day!
One of my favorite parts of acapella at Oberlin is that students arrange most of their own music. At the beginning of each semester, the Acapelicans always sat down and discussed which songs we wanted to cover. We would sing from old arrangements (like an ABBA medley or “Annie Waits” by Ben Folds) or members of the group would create new acapella arrangements of pieces. I arranged “Long Time Traveler” by the Wailin’ Jennys and was really proud of how it came together when we sang it.
At the end of my freshman year, the wonderful band PHOX came to Oberlin to perform at the Cat in the Cream. Since we had recently learned their song “Kingfisher,” we reached out to the band to find out if we could open for them. Not only did they say yes, but we actually got to sing with their incredible lead singer, Monica Martin! As a huge fan, I was totally in heaven getting to perform with them. It remains one of my most special memories of being in the group.
In the Acapelicans, there were these moments of pure joy, of losing ourselves in the music. My favorite thing we did usually happened at the end of rehearsal. After a few hours of learning music, we would all lie down on the floor in a circle on our backs. We’d breathe in the silence. Then someone would begin to sing – maybe one long note or a beat or a tune they knew. And another person would add their own sounds to complement the first one. One by one, we’d begin to sing, creating a soundscape that was so uniquely ours, so precious and present. I’ll never forget it.
I love to relive all my magical Acapelicans memories by watching our videos, available on our YouTube channel!! Hope you enjoy!
One of my all-time favorite performances during Parents Weekend of my sophomore year. Still puts a huge smile on my face.