Songs and stories: Reviewing NU’s a cappella traditions

Zach Barr, Columnist

I had a vague idea of what to expect when entering Extreme Measures’ a cappella show, “Extreme Measures Quits The Group,”  in the Jones Great Room on Friday. The purported story, from the posters as well as the Facebook event, seemed to be that the various members of Extreme Measures all started leaving due to conflicts, and the performance would feature them all eventually putting aside their other commitments out of mutual adoration for a cappella.

The evening started with that intent prominently displayed. A video showed two or three of the members discussing their reasons for why they “left” Extreme Measures, ranging from the realistic (class conflicts) to the comical (obsession with beat poetry). As the video ended, a single member of the group, Weinberg sophomore Caroline Hatch, walked out to the single mic at the front and apologized for being the only one who was left in the group. As the audience laughed, she began singing, weakly, Rihanna’s “S&M.”

Only a few seconds after this, however, the rest of the group members burst out from the back door in multicolored outfits and proceeded to sing their first song, “Chasing Twisters” by Delta Rae.

Now, I know that theatrics are not always the first priority for a group that is all about singing, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was cheated out of a story. Imagine, if you will, that instead of the entire group appearing, only a couple more people came out to sing, filling in what parts of the song they sang to Hatch’s singular part. Then, as the song progresses, the other singers slowly enter and fill the harmonies until everyone is joyously singing as a group again. Personally, I think that would fulfill the story of “everyone quit and then came back” more successfully than coming back all at once.

Still, your impression coming into the theater changes its effect. I had already seen one a cappella show before, ShireiNU’s “Kvetching Fire” back in November, and had noted that the story was not central in a cappella shows. The show began by stating that the members of ShireiNU would have to participate in a “Hunger Games” of sorts, competing against other a cappella groups. Naturally, betrayal and survival were the name of the game but during songs they seemed to say, “Right, you got your story segment, now get back into arcs and aca-bop.” I’m fine with the story not being center stage, but I can’t help feeling like the work required to make the story more central wouldn’t be that extensive. If you find motivated reasons for why the songs are being sung, it could have a better storyline. But I suppose that for many a cappella groups, story comes second to music.

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