Every year, nerves and excitement escalate for MACFest performers as, group by group, they take the stage before an auditorium full of a cappella fans. For freshman performers, the 11th annual MACFest will be their debut into the tight-knit University a cappella community, one of the largest in the country.
Saturday at 8 p.m.
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“As a freshman, I was so nervous, because it’s like you’re proving yourself to not only your group and to the audience, but to this huge a cappella community,” said Chaz Cox president of the Michigan A Cappella Council and member of the all-male a cappella group GMen.
MACFest features seven-minute musical sets from 13 of the 15 a cappella groups on campus. Since 2002 it has been organized by MACC, which brings representatives from the a cappella groups together to talk about issues related to the community and acts as a liaison to the greater Ann Arbor area.
By assembling the groups to perform, MACFest exemplifies the purpose of MACC. The concert is the main source of revenue for MACC throughout the year, and it can mobilize a solid following for every campus a cappella group.
“There are definitely groups that have ‘groupies,’ if you will, but those groupies quickly become a cappella groupies when they come to concerts like this,” said MACC Vice President Lance Fletke, member of Amazin’ Blue. “It’s like, ‘There’s not just this one group? There are 14 others too? This is wonderful!’ ”
Since the “huge cultural explosion” of group performance in shows like “Glee,” there has been a dramatic increase in a cappella attention this year, Cox said. At this fall’s A Cappella Rush, in which all of the campus groups perform and present information to recruit new members, people had to sit on the floor due to a lack of space. According to Cox and Fletke, this year’s was the greatest attendance ever, by far.
While that puts more pressure on hopefuls to get into a group, it only strengthens the solid University a cappella community.
“We make it very apparent to the auditionee that this a community and that they need to choose a group that fits them the best, and every single group is on the same page,” Cox said. “There is absolutely no competiveness or hard feelings whatsoever.”
Each group is distinct, and that diversity is on display at MACFest. Ranging from the India-influenced American pop of Maize Mirchi (a co-ed group with South-Asian interests) to Kopitonez (a co-ed Asian-interest group that sings in Chinese). Each group will perform two songs, the majority of which will be contemporary pop, rock, oldies and classics.
However, it’s hard to know what to expect from each performance, as the groups lose graduating members and gain new voices each year.
“One year you may have a group that sings oldies and serious ballads, and the next year they’re doing pop songs and Disney tunes,” said Fletke, a junior in LSA and the school of Music, Theater & Dance. “It really is a grab bag of a cappella — you get a little bit of everything.”
For group members, MACFest isn’t just a chance to show off their group to others for the first time in the year; it is also a chance to get excited about what every other group is doing.
“I love MACFest because oftentimes it’s the first time in the year where you’re able to see the groups,” Cox said. “It’s really fun to see where they’re at, what they’re doing and who their new members are.”
Fletke and Cox both joined groups as freshmen after hearing about a cappella for the first time upon entering the University.
“I stumbled upon Amazin’ Blue and listened to it, and I was like, ‘this is really bizarre; this is really cool and different!’ ” said Fletke, who had sung in his high school choir.
“I was in shock,” Cox added. “As in, ‘This cannot be real. What is this? This is fabulous!’ ”
“Yeah, it’s just like, ‘Where has this been?’ ” Fletke said.
Both fell in love with a cappella their first year and have stuck out the often 10 hours per week time commitment and frequent late-night rehearsals. MACFest is one of the big pay-off events for all involved, literally and figuratively, even for the nervous freshmen.