Student a cappella groups adjust strategies for fall quarter


Daily file illustration by Jacob Fulton

Student a cappella groups prepare for fall recruitment, album release and upcoming showcase.

Lynn Yang, Reporter

During a usual Fall Quarter, student a cappella groups like Brown Sugar, X-Factors and Freshman Fifteen would be recruiting and preparing for the fall showcase.

However, after Northwestern canceled spring shows and made Fall Quarter instruction remote, they adjusted their rehearsal strategies and concert plans.

This includes scheduling for album releases as well as planning social media updates and group member reunions, both in person and online.

Riya Kumar, Weinberg sophomore and president of a cappella group Brown Sugar, said the group had a difficult time rehearsing through a virtual format last quarter, which led their virtual performance to fall apart. While Zoom provided a platform for members to meet regularly, their voices failed to blend as one.

“Editing parts together isn’t the same no matter how hard we try,” Kumar said.

Moreover, not being able to communicate in person prevented new members from growing closer with the group, Kumar said. While Kumar said she considers Brown Sugar her family, the pandemic created obstacles against bonding.

To repair the loss of the spring show, the group plans to host their Fall Quarter show November virtually through Zoom. Club members will record in advance, edit the tracks separately, then put the song together with the help of music directors. Unlike in-person shows, the virtual one will not include any skits, but consists of up to four songs rerecorded by the group.

Brown Sugar finished their first rounds of fall auditions last Saturday, during which they tested incoming member’s ability to hold the scale, finish the whole pitch and repeat improvised melodies.

Starting this week, Brown Sugar will host callbacks, asking auditionees to learn a part of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and record themselves singing over the version covered by the groups’ members.

The group also aims to publish their new single before the end of this year. After resolving copyright issues, the group is excited to release their a cappella version of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”

Natalie Bartolomei, Weinberg sophomore and member of a cappella group X-Factors, said the group will not host any auditions or online shows during Fall Quarter. Instead, X-Factors members will continue their weekly meetings through a virtual format, during which they will prepare for Winter Quarter and executive board transitions.

Unlike most of the a cappella groups at Northwestern, X-Factors distributes solos to all members, granting each participant equal opportunities before their respective graduation dates. However, according to Bartolomei, missing two consecutive shows will disrupt the X-Factors solo circulation cycle, creating obstacles for the group’s future planning.

Bartolomei said while rehearsals might be put on hold due to COVID-19, X-Factors members will continue reunions and meetups that adhere to Northwestern’s social-distance policy.

“A fair amount of us are in the Evanston area,” Bartolomei said, “so we try to go on socially distant walks with each other, just to make sure that we’re checking up on each other.”

Freshman Fifteen, another a cappella group, experimented with different recording strategies, Samuel Rosner, Weinberg sophomore and member of Freshman Fifteen, said.

After students went home last spring, Freshman Fifteen asked each member to record separate tracks, then merged the respective recordings into one file, Rosner said.

Starting this fall, Freshman Fifteen plans to adapt their pre-designed strategies to their virtual meetings, aiming to put together a finished product by the end of the quarter.

“In the past many years, Freshman Fifteen has done a tradition called the ‘breakdown,’ which is kind of a medley of all of the most popular songs from that year,” Rosner said. “So we’re hoping to keep that tradition alive in 2020. ”

Besides the breakdown, Freshman Fifteen will continue weekly meetings to maintain the group’s commitment.

However, instead of releasing an album by the end of this quarter, Freshman Fifteen will continue with its social media content updates, including potential singles and tracks.

“Because a cappella is so much about the community, it means that we didn’t think that a virtual Fall Quarter would do it justice,” Rosner said. “So we’re hoping to wait until we can be together in person. So that audition process, as well as just the first quarter of being an a cappella, can be as positive as it can be.”

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