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, though they play no instruments.

While universities have long nurtured the niche community of a cappella singers, the TV show "Glee" and hit movie "Pitch Perfect" helped create a new generation of fans that 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 to see eight groups compete in the collegiate championship of a cappella singings. The sold-out show at the Beacon Theatre 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, executive director of Varsity Vocals, 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 through their complex harmonies and choreography.

"People used to think of vocal music as boring choir stuff," said Isaac Hecker, 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 in the rounds 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 after out-singing their regional competition. 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 completely 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 or longer at some schools: The Yale Whiffenpoofs were founded in 1909.

Off the Beat started more than 25 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania with audiences of fewer than 100, said junior Jasmine Barksdale, 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, 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," a documentary-style series on this year's ICCA competition. Grammy winner John Legend, a former a cappella singer at Penn, is the executive producer.

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

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COMMENTS (13)
  • darbyd-Koc
    4/21/2015 - 09:47 p.m.

    As someone who enjoys singing myself and listening to a cappella (never knew it was separated like that!) I'm glad these groups are getting more recognition. They deserve it.

  • marya-Goo
    4/22/2015 - 11:17 a.m.

    Popular culture has changed a cappella. The text states that popular movies and television shows such as "Glee" and "Pitch Perfect" have created a new generation of a Cappella fans. The text also states that the groups sing pop songs such as "Crazy in Love" and "Take Me To Church". This evidence from the text explains that popular movies and songs have changed a cappella,such as bringing in a new generation of fans.

  • clairedoucet
    4/22/2015 - 01:18 p.m.

    A capella has been around for a longer time than you may think. In the past, a capella was originally people just singing in big groups in churches or even just a quartet inside of a store. The would sing just for fun and to get some attention, they didn't know that they could eventually make a living out of it!!! I researched the history of a capella and learned that people started actually preforming as a capella groups in the 60s and 70s and they introduced this different type of singing to the modern pop culture and started preforming current pop songs. It has evolved much more since then because people have, instead of just singing, discovered they can add dance and make different sounds, such as beat boxing, to make their performance more interesting. Now a days there are things like Pitch Perfect and Glee that have really introduced a cappella to everyone. Personally, I think it is very cool that young people dedicate their time to practicing with their a cappella groups to try and make it to competitions.

  • halleyd-Fit
    4/22/2015 - 11:12 p.m.

    I think that the original A cappella concept is the best. A cappella reminds me of the old days because that is where it came from. I thunk that it is now a trend in pop culture and faction to be bringing back the 50s style. So i really don't think that that pop culture has changed the way A cappella is sung. I really like A cappella because it sounds so beautiful and shows real talent other than just recording it and adding auto tune and music. My favorite A cappella band is Pennitonix, they change up the ways of A cappella with adding some dub-step in their songs :)

  • Enyam-Pav
    4/23/2015 - 09:58 a.m.

    Wow! This is really great that based on todays TV and movies that we can introduce a who other genre of music! Its not just like little too, whole auditoriums are being sold out solely to watch acapella groups preform. For these kids glee and pitch perfect must have been their saviors!

  • dianaz-Che
    4/23/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    I think it's good that they're singing a Capella. When you sing a Capella, you're showing you're natural voice without any music or instruments in the background.

  • makaylar-Che
    4/23/2015 - 01:51 p.m.

    I think its cool because they were inspired by pitch perfect because of the acappella group on the in the movie plus the show glee was a inspiration to because the love them so they formed groups and they are competing each other, the competition is before the movie comes out a day before. its going to be a amazing day for them they get to see john legend and I think that is so cool to get to meet a legend in music and acappella and that is cool to get to see him I would love to go but its in new York so its cool for them to see him.

  • stephanieg-Che
    4/23/2015 - 01:54 p.m.

    I would like to join the college a cappella song thingy but I can't sing. I find it cool that are getting recognized from singing and that it's from glee.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    4/23/2015 - 07:42 p.m.

    A cappella has always been a thing since I could remember; we used to have to sing it in church when the sound system wouldn't work. Then all of a sudden BAM Pitch Perfect came out and it became a craze. I think it is has turned into one of those typical fads that will die out in a few years.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    4/24/2015 - 01:13 p.m.

    A cappella has become a very big hit since the airing of Pitch Perfect. It's a good thing too. Music has become very dull and bland now. We need a change in the music industry.

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