It's all about the music

BY MEGAN JACOBS
Daily Arts Writer
Published February 5, 2004

No instruments. No backup. No help from synthesizers or
production teams. Unusual guttural sounds referred to as
“vocal percussion.” But nonetheless, a whole lot of
music comes out. This is no ordinary garage band: It’s a
cappella, straight up. From the Italian for “of the
chapel,” a cappella music originated in the resonant smaller
chapels within larger European cathedrals. Unlike the choral masses
that sang in the main chapel, a cappella groups, usually comprised
of eight to ten, did not have the luxury of organ accompaniment.
Hence, this unique group style was born.

Julie Pannuto
With no accompanying instruments, a cappella groups flex their vocal talents. (Shubra Ohri/Daily)

“It pretty much started with glee clubs on college
campuses,” said Music graduate student Josh Duchan of
Amazin’ Blue. “From there, you begin finding barbershop
quartets and people who start putting their own spin on it until
you get to where we are now.” The University hosts an array
of a cappella groups: two all-male, two all-female, one Christian,
one Jewish, one Asian, seven co-ed non-denominational secular
groups, all adding up to 14 rhythmically superior sensations. One
rookie group and the thirteen returning champions fill practice
rooms and auditoriums with new arrangements on familiar pop
songs.

They chalk up the Diag and bombard unsuspecting students with
flyers. Michigan a cappella is more than just names on flyers,
however; it’s a society unto itself. Driven by their love of
music and their need to support themselves financially, each of the
14 groups performs a fall and spring concert on campus, in addition
to out-of-town gigs around the continental United States Michigan
groups also bring in other collegiate troupes to perform at
conglomerate concerts such as MACFest, the Michigan A Cappella
Festival. Opportunities abound, however, to experience this
finger-snapping, mind-boggling world for those who may have missed
the series of fall concerts.

Welcome to “Friday Night Live: A Cappella Style.”
Hosted by Circle K as a charity event, GMen, Amazin’ Blue,
The Sopranos and 58 Greene will perform musical selections and
skits tomorrow at Rackham Auditorium. All proceeds from this
comedically harmonized show will go to the Bates House, an
organization in Ann Arbor that supports the tutoring of homeless
children.

Looking for the top of the ladder, la crème de la
crème, the best of the best? The search stops at the
International Championship of Collegiate a cappella. Just a short
road trip away, quarterfinals are at Penn State University on
Saturday. It’s worth the weekend out of town to see Dicks and
Janes, Amazin’ Blue and GMen compete as three of six chosen
groups from across the nation. From there, the top two groups
advance to semifinals right here in Ann Arbor. The Compulsive
Lyres, winners of the ICCA competition in 2001, are co-hosting this
year’s competition with Dicks and Janes at Rackham on March
20.

“It’s fun, a chance to perform, a good show. And you
can make a little money on the side,” said Music sophomore
Rebecca Blinder, a member of the Compulsive Lyres.

Out-of-town groups crash in Ann Arbor. “I’m assuming
they are staying at our houses,” said LSA sophomore and Dicks
and Janes member Stephanie Fajuri, “unless they are paying
for the hotel themselves.”

The final round will be held at the Town Hall Theater in New
York City on April 25. “It’s a high stakes game that
can be a lot of fun to play,” said Duchan.

If winter semester class schedules do not allow a moment of time
for extracurricular activity, the a cappella crews have you in
mind. Once again, the Best Of College A
cappella is releasing a BOCA CD this spring. Groups from far
corners of the United States submit recorded tracks by Nov. 1,
which are narrowed down to the top 16. Two Michigan groups are
featured on this year’s CD, Dicks and Janes with Moby’s
“Porcelain” and Amazin’ Blue singing Tori
Amos’s “China.” Amazin’ Blue is one of two
groups tied for the most appearances on BOCA. Since most a cappella
music goes unrecorded, this is a somewhat unusual venture for most
groups. BOCA features tastes of the best live acts, as well as
those who specialize in recorded work. Additionally, several groups
on campus record their own individual CDs every few years.

Ready to jump on the bandwagon with thousands of other college
students across America? Pay attention to flyers and chalk art
around campus, or check group websites to find out spring concert
dates. Tickets for most events are available at the Michigan
Underground Ticket Office in the basement of the Union.

“We do this because we love to sing and love to sing with
others who love to sing,” said Duchan.