The Northwestern Undertones use art and music to connect as a family


File photo by Joshua Sukoff/The Daily Northwestern

The Undertones perform at Rock the Lake. The Undertones are one of Northwestern’s co-ed, competitive a cappella groups.

Beatrice Villaflor, Reporter

Communication freshman Yara Nasr auditioned for the Northwestern Undertones on a whim. But by callbacks, she ranked the group first on her preference list. 

“I resonated with the Undertones a lot during our callback as people, as friends … not even as an a cappella group,” Nasr said.

As an out-of-state student, Nasr worried she’d struggle to find friends. Even though she is one of the newest members of the Undertones, affectionately known as a “baby,” Nasr said the tight-knit group eased her transition into NU. 

The Undertones formed in 2001 and is one of three competitive a cappella groups on campus, traditionally performing pop and rock songs while wearing black and blue. 

Weinberg junior Maria Luiso, who runs the group’s public relations, said she also stumbled into a cappella despite initial reservations that performing would negatively impact her academics. 

But Luiso said a cappella has actually had the opposite effect.

“I feel so much more fulfilled here on campus,” she said. “I can be better academically because I have this outlet to express myself in another way.”

The Undertones won its International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella quarterfinal within the Great Lakes region in February, where it received three Special Awards at the quarterfinal: Outstanding Soloist, Outstanding Arrangement and Outstanding Choreography. 

Three covers made up its ICCA set list: “It’s Gonna Be Me” by *NSYNC, “Fallingwater” by Maggie Rogers and “Lips Are Movin” by Meghan Trainor.

Communication senior Sean Zuckerman, the Undertones’ former president and current treasurer, said “It’s Gonna Be Me” is one of his favorites in the group’s repertoire. 

The group is now working on “Movement” by Hozier and “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, Zuckerman said.

Bon Iver’s “Woods” is the group’s “tradition song,” Zuckerman said — the Undertones singers often end their concerts singing the song with their arms around each other. 

Though the group prides itself on performance and musicianship, Zuckerman and Luiso agree that what sets The Undertones apart from other a cappella groups is how members prioritize their friendships with one another. 

“A graduating senior said this about the Undertones, it’s my favorite quote ever, she said, ‘The Undertones take their music really seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously at all,’” Luiso said. 

Rehearsals fill with laughter, even as the group works late into the night, Luiso and Nasr said. Those late-night rehearsals sometimes descend into “insanity,” Zuckerman said, and that’s when Zuckerman said his truest belly laughs come out. 

As he gets closer to graduation, Zuckerman said a cappella is what comes to mind when he reflects on his time at NU.

“When I look back, what am I going to see in my brain? Or who am I going to think about?” Zuckerman said. “And one billion percent, it will always be the Undertones.”

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Twitter: @beaviilla

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