Glee makes unlikely stars of a cappella singers
Glee makes unlikely stars of a cappella singers Abby Drumright sings with The Amazin' Blue, an A Cappella group, during a practice session at Pierpont commons in Ann Arbor, Michigan (AP photos)
Glee makes unlikely stars of a cappella singers
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Their musical performances pack university auditoriums. However, they play no instruments.

Universities have long nurtured the niche community of a cappella singers. The TV show "Glee" and movie "Pitch Perfect" also helped create a new generation of fans. They propelled the soulful, unaccompanied vocal sound into mainstream culture. Now, they're unlikely stars on campuses across the U.S. A cappella is pronounced aah-kuh-PELL-uh.

On April 18, about 3,000 people will flock to New York. They will watch eight groups compete in the collegiate championship of a cappella singings. The sold-out show will be at the Beacon Theatre. It is a far cry from the paltry crowd of 200 that watched the national finals more than a decade ago.

"Now the larger world is seeing that it's awesome," said Amanda Newman. She is the executive director of Varsity Vocals. It is the event's organizer. "Everyone's just over the moon. It wasn't a secret that we wanted to keep."

This isn't your grandfather's barbershop quartet. With pop songs like Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" and Hozier's "Take Me to Church," the groups earn the adulation of cheering fans. The groups perform with complex harmonies and choreography.

"People used to think of vocal music as boring choir stuff," said Isaac Hecker. He is a member of Amazin' Blue at the University of Michigan. "Once you figured out that you can do crazy beat-boxing, awesome bass lines (and) throw everything together, you just have really cool music."

The April 18 contest is the 19th International Championship of Collegiate A cappella, or ICCA. In its early years, Newman said, only 35 groups competed leading up to the finals. This year, about 320 groups in the U.S. and Britain vied for a spot.

The SoCal VoCals of the University of Southern California made the cut. They practice for hours every week. "Because we all really want it," junior Malia Civetz said.

"It is very difficult and we all know that. So when we nail it, it's just this incredible feeling," Civetz said.

Though Civetz is majoring in popular music, many students who sing are pursuing studies unrelated to the arts. They want to make the most of their brief time in the spotlight.

"This is their first and last big chance to be a pop star," Newman said. "And they are when they're on their campus, they are when they're on our stage."

The a cappella craze showcases a tradition that dates back decades. The Yale Whiffenpoofs were founded in 1909.

Off the Beat started more than 25 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania. Then, it had audiences of fewer than 100, said junior Jasmine Barksdale. She is the music director. Now the 15-member group performs in an auditorium that can hold about 1,000, she said.

"There are people I meet randomly who are like: 'Oh my gosh, you're in Off the Beat? I've been to every Off the Beat show since I was a freshman,'" said Barksdale. She is an economics major.

The success of "Pitch Perfect," based on a book about the small but robust a cappella community, has led to the planned May 15 release of "Pitch Perfect 2." Two days before that, the Pop cable network debuts "Sing It On." It is a documentary-style series on this year's ICCA competition. Grammy winner John Legend is the executive producer. He is a former a cappella singer at Penn.

Critical thinking challenge: How has popular culture changed a cappella?

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Assigned 19 times

  • madisonn-war
    4/24/2015 - 01:41 p.m.

    I think that is a cool idea. they were inspired by glee and pitch perfect, which are a great tv show and a great movie. I like how they don't use instruments they just use their own voices.

  • TaylorM-Kut
    4/27/2015 - 08:38 p.m.

    i think this is a good thing for people to express there singing talents and it is also good for people to join groups

  • frankfuentealba
    5/02/2015 - 05:15 p.m.

    The text talks about how a capella singers and choirs are more important nowadays, because before they were called "nerds" or boring people. They are now big groups of young people who dedicates their lives into this activity. Series and movies have helped to make this movement bigger and now the events are crowded and they have a lot of fans. These groups of people can sing full songs without any instrument, and this is very hard, because they used complex harmonies and they do amazing choreographies to complement their singing.
    For me this is a very interesting topic, because I really like singing in groups doing that "harmony thing", and I think this is more popular now because people have more opportunities to use Internet and play YouTube videos and follow their favorite artists, and the a capella groups use the most popular songs to do their shows, so they can have many fans from this reason. And also series like Glee and movies like Pitch perfect promote this amazing hobbie.

  • elliep-lam
    11/18/2015 - 10:31 a.m.

    I am glad people are finally realizing that music is cool. Glee and choir clubs are thought to be nerdy, but there are slowly growing into major clubs. I think it's important to have musical groups at school. Music helps people find and express who they are. I think it would be fun to join an a cappella group in college even if it was just for fun and not competitive. Also, I hope to see the National A Cappella Competition one day.

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