Michael Marcus

Dispatches from the Commonwealth: Richmond Rocks!

It has been a busy few months here in Richmond. Before I got here, I wasn’t really sure what kind of a cappella community I’d find — because let’s be honest, this city doesn’t exactly leap to mind when listing a cappella hotbeds in the US. But based on what I’ve seen so far, that may be about to change.

University of Richmond

My first Richmond a cappella show, fittingly enough, was the University of Richmond (UR) Family Weekend concert on Saturday, September 28. This showcase of all four of UR’s a cappella groups was given twice, once in the afternoon and once in the evening. The evening show was done outside in the Greek Theater. It’s a beautiful space that would be ideal for classic plays, and indeed this stage has seen its fair share of Shakespeare and Euripides. (Unfortunately, the sound system turned out to be woefully inadequate for a cappella.)

Each group did a set of 3-4 songs, including their alumni songs. Choeur du Roi, clad (naturally) in colorful corduroy pants, had a more traditional sound without vocal percussion. The all-female Sirens did a cool mash-up of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” and Nelly’s “Just a Dream”. Off the Cuff, the younger of the two mixed groups, had some killer perc and a more modern sound overall. I was very pleased to get introduced to these fine groups, and I certainly hope to see more from them in the future!

But this show belonged to the Octaves. They made the best use of the microphones, so they sounded the best. They also had the most entertaining set, which included an un-ironic cover of “Wrecking Ball” (below) and singing to the seniors’ moms on stage. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are also the most widely known of all the Richmond groups, having previously released “Ricochet” to positive reviews and recently hosting the first ever AcappellaEd. They have also appeared on local morning television. And with their recent inclusion on Sing 10: Neon, their star will only continue to rise.

Richmond Rhythm

There’s another university here in Richmond called Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Unlike UR, it’s a local state school, so I didn’t even know it existed before moving here. They have two groups of their own, both mixed: the Notochords, and the RAMifications. (The school’s mascot is Rodney the Ram.) The Notos, as they are popularly known, are perennial SoJam competition hopefuls and have attended the festival the last few years. The Rams, meanwhile, have in their brief existence (founded 2010) been quietly building a network of Virginia college groups through an annual a cappella showcase, which they plan and run themselves, called Richmond Rhythm.

Richmond Rhythm has always been an invitational of sorts for collegiate groups throughout the state. But this year, for the first time, the showcase featured a competition format. The competition was hardly the point, though I’ll recap the results for you shortly. All the groups had a great time, and new friendships were made behind the scenes.

For me at least, it was a great opportunity to get acquainted with some of the Virginia embassy’s constituents. I mean this figuratively of course; there were far too many groups there for me to physically meet them all after the show. (If any of you are reading this: please get in touch!) Of the seven groups competing, six were entirely unknown to me, and five hailed from schools I barely knew existed let alone fostered a cappella. The University of Mary Washington (UMW) was particularly well represented with three groups: the Symfonics (mixed), BellACappella (all-female), and One Note Stand (mixed). They clearly brought along their fans, too — the cheers after all those groups’ sets was deafening.

Highlights:

The Notochords performing “Telephone”

CNU Take Note’s amazing vocal percussionist soloing on “Wrecking Ball” (yes, again — hey, it’s a popular song!)

Naturally Sharp’s overall polish:

The UMW Symfonics’ beatbox solo — and frankly, their whole set. (No videos from this year’s show, but check out this playlist to see some of their performances from past Richmond Rhythms.)

Results:

  • Audience favorite: Take Note
  • First Place: The Symfonics

By the way, I’ve created an interest list on Facebook for all our Virginia groups, including the ones mentioned above. Feel free to follow the whole list, or individual group pages, as you like.

The Beginnings of a Post-Collegiate Scene

Sadly, outside of the DC metro area we are still severely lacking in the post-collegiate department. But as you may remember from my introductory post, I’m actively working to change that. I have started a small mixed post-collegiate group called Uncommon. The group is, to my knowledge, the first (and so far only) post-collegiate a cappella group in the region. We’re seven members strong, and we already have three gigs booked before January! We’re working like crazy, but we’re having a great time.

I’m headed down to Raleigh for SoJam today. (Are you ready?) This will be my third time attending the festival, but my first as an active member of a group -– and I have Richmond to thank for that.

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