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It is Sunday afternoon and my friends and I are all making nonsense syllables. “Dim dims” and “Ooh bop bops” fill the room and flow out of the windows we have opened in the heat. We’re not crazy – we’re just having a cappella rehearsal.
Contemporary a cappella is a style of music in which voices are used in lieu of instruments to cover popular songs. The voices are usually accompanied by “beat-boxing,” a style of making percussion with the mouth. I joined Sophistikeys, the all-female a cappella group at my high school, at the beginning of my freshman year.
Maybe you recall the movie Pitch Perfect, which came out a few years ago? The story of the Sophistikeys is not unlike the a cappella group in Pitch Perfect, although maybe without the perfect Hollywood ending. In the film, the female Barden Bellas are considered inferior to the all-male a cappella group at their school. Through hard work, seen through some classic training montage scenes, the Bellas come out on top, proving everyone who doubted them wrong.
When I joined Sophistikeys in my freshman year, our school had a coed group that everyone considered the best. During my first two years, even after a third, all-male group formed, there was animosity between the groups. It frustrated me, as it still does today, that our groups should be compared so directly because it is very different to work with all-female voices than to work with the full range of male and female voices, or even just with male voices. Still, many people just accepted this “aca-hierarchy” as the way things were.
When I joined the leadership of Sophistikeys in my sophomore year, it would have been easy to accept that the student body would never consider us as good as the coed group. However, I really wanted the hard work that the members of Sophistikeys and I put into every practice recognized. Or maybe I felt a little bit competitive, too. I learned how to arrange music for a cappella. I tried to figure out the best ways to arrange given the particular voices and musical backgrounds of our members. I often had to be the bad guy, scolding members who didn’t come to rehearsals or were unfocused. Sometimes I felt like none of this was doing any good but then, at the start of my junior year, things began to change.
It’s hard to explain how it happened, but suddenly Sophistikeys started sounding better than we ever had – and people started to notice. It was probably a combination of my becoming a more experienced arranger and an increased level of dedication from the members of the group, but, boy, did it feel good.
Countless people have told me after performances that Sophistikeys always looks like we’re having fun on stage. I’ve begun to respond, “We are!” I am very proud of this. I strongly believe that performing should be fun and that sometimes joy is more important than pure talent. I am committed to making Sophistikeys an enjoyable experience for its members and to making it a community. I have made some of my best friends through Sophistikeys and I hope that the same thing will be true for younger members.
Where my story differs from Pitch Perfect, however, is that things still aren’t, well, perfect. Many people still consider the coed group better and they are frequently the group that talented new students join. I’ve decided, however, that I would rather Sophistikeys be a group that takes in singers who are not as accomplished and helps them grow as musicians than one that only accepts raw talent. And while we haven’t completely toppled the “aca-hierarchy”, all three groups have become more friendly and much less competitive, which leads to a more enjoyable environment at performances.
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