On this, the eve of SoJam X, my excitement is mounting. The reasons for this are mostly obvious. I mean, it’s SoJam X – FORK, Pentatonix, competitions, PickUps, AcaBombs, Workshops, and all of my friends in the a cappella world. This weekend is just going to be amazing, I have no doubt about that. But my heart is here in DC, so it’s particularly thrilling to know that groups in this area, and even entire schools, have strong a cappella scenes. So though my mind is already in Raleigh, NC, part of me remains entrenched here in this region.
Some programs in DC are ready to take the region by storm – and yes, I’m making a hurricane reference! I recently had the chance to sit in and (thoroughly) enjoy a concert put on for “Parents Week” at George Washington University. “Acappellapalooza,” possibly one of the longest aca-infused words of all time, was a great opportunity to listen to not one, not two, but all seven of the a cappella groups at GeeDub. The Sirens, the Troubs, The Pitches, The Vibes, and the rest of the a cappella family at the university was in attendance and ready to show their parents where all of the thousands of dollars in tuition has gone!
For some in attendance, this was a chance to see the groups for the first time – Parents of freshmen in the groups, Freshmen at the schools that hadn’t seen the groups yet this semester, and someone who you wouldn’t expect: an alumnus of the group. I had the pleasure of watching the concert with former Troubadour, Sam Smith. The one-time beatboxer for the Troubs, Sam looked forward to graduation but now misses his a cappella family. We talked about life and studies (we’re both in Graduate programs) getting in the way of a cappella music and how he looks to continue doing a cappella once things “settle down” with grad school.
“It’s surreal,” Sam told me. “After years of being with the group, this is the first time I’ll actually be able to sit and listen [to The Troubs].” Sam told me that he had only heard them once before he auditioned and was accepted in to the group. It’s different, you know – actively listening to the group while you’re in it and passively sitting in the audience. From the experience of starting multiple groups in college, I understand the awkward feeling of listening to your group for the first time. You have the same expectations for the group as when you were in it, but now your charge is just to enjoy the performance. It’s an interesting duality.
And much like Sam hearing things for the first time, this was also a chance for some freshmen to perform for the first time. I had the pleasure of speaking with a couple of the Freshmen singers at GeeDub, but one that stuck out was Sumner Byrne, a fresh voice for The Sirens. “I’ve been singing all my life,” she informed me. “These are my people!” Sumner sang a pretty amazing solo that impressed both Sam and I during the concert. When I spoke with her, I was very interested in how she got to GWU and why she joined the a cappella scene. “I applied to a whole bunch of different schools. The time that I was here for admitted students day, I was still undecided on if I would be coming here or not. And The Vibes sang, and they sang three of my favorite songs in a row!” That’s when she decided on The George Washington University – “let’s do this – it’s gonna be great!”
And when I asked if she had applied to colleges with a cappella in mind, she shyly looked away and, with almost a guilty voice, said “a little bit, yeah!”
And she’s not alone. Ross Levy, freshmen beatboxer for The Troubs, told me that he hadn’t really done much singing in high school, but he knew he wanted to do something with a cappella in college. In high school, he discovered a new talent of making noises with his mouth. “I listen to a lot of hiphop and I would see videos of these kids beatboxing and making really cool sounds with their mouths. So I started trying it out, walking around the halls seeing what sounds I could make.” Ross likes to view himself as a double-threat, auditioning not only as a beatboxer but as a vocalist as well.
It’s clear to me that the a cappella scene is strong at The George Washington University. One evidence was the attendance of the show. Not only was it standing room only at Acappellapalooza, but they actually had to stop admitting people due fire code. But a stronger indication is the excitement for the program from both new singers and alumni. Not only is it important for alumni to remain active with their former groups, like Sam is, but it is more important for freshmen to be excited to come sing for your group. Both parts of this equation are fully apparent at GeeDub, and I am excited to see what this does for a cappella music not only at the University, but in all of DC!