Whether you’d dare to admit it or not, you had a blast watching Pitch Perfect. Yes, I’m even looking at you, middle-aged man in the Joy Division T-shirt and fully tatted sleeves. Betwixt the jazz hands, beat-boxing and bombastic singing, what’s not to love about a cappella groups?
In summary, a cappella is a group of people who strip down and rearrange music to be performed without any instruments, often reinventing familiar or popular tunes. They sometimes even use their voices to emulate the instruments themselves, while the more traditional groups focus solely on harmonizing. The a cappella scene is blossoming, and it’s been sweeping across the collegiate stratosphere.
One group of performers particularly talented at making music with their mouths is No Southern Accent, from the University of Florida. It’s a completely student-run award-winning coed a capella group originally established in 2001. No Southern Accent annually attends SoJam, a convention held in North Carolina, and ICAA, the International Championship of Collegiate Acapella (which was the exact competition featured in Pitch Perfect).
A YouTube video of No Southern Accent performing its 2013 ICAA piece in a parking garage is what initially sucked me into the a capella world. It’s like watching the full circle of a movie — the beginning, middle and end — in less than 12 minutes. The group performed a mash-up of Imagine Dragons' “Radioactive,” Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life,” Alex Clare’s “Too Close” and The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Setting all indie cred aside, the musicianship in this arrangement was just stellar.
Now, you’ve probably seen, or at least heard of the “Royals” video performed by Florida State University’s Acabelles. Yes, a simple video of a talented group of females sitting in a classroom and belting out a radio hit has managed to creep its way into the Huffington Post, Good Morning America, CNN and Buzzfeed. The video has since received 8 million views and counting. Talk about going viral.
The Acabelles are an all-female group founded in 2001, making them the second-oldest a cappella group on campus.
“I believe the story goes that the girlfriend of an All Night Yahtzee member [another FSU group] was spending too much time with the group, and when they broke up, she decided to form her own a cappella group, and Acabelles was created,” said Acabelles Marketing Director Brittany Taman.
They were ICAA champions in both 2009 and 2011, which is kind of a big deal; ICAA is the main national collegiate a cappella competition. It’s comprised of three rounds: quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. The top two groups from each quarterfinal compete at semifinal, and then the top group from each semifinal compete at finals, along with an international group and a wildcard winner. Needless to say, you can’t aca-cuse these students of messing around.
Watching these groups perform, it’s easy to understand their ever-increasing popularity. With all the cheesiness of The Sing-Off and Glee warblers aside, there’s a strong sense of passion, unification and artistry in what they’re doing.
“Today, a cappella music is not only mimicking instruments and sounds with your mouth, but reinterpreting and reinventing music,” Taman said.