Staying sharp: After School Specials a ca-prosper

Nine people wearing black sing into microphones.
After School Special members connect with each other by virtually recording songs together and attending weekly social hours. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

From students who annually attend SCAMFest, the 5C a cappella showcase, to those who are a part of an a cappella group themselves, many 5C students are aware that a cappella is part of the on-campus college experience for much of the student body. 

One of the most well-known a cappella groups at the 5Cs is the After School Specials, a group originally formed by friends who wanted a casual and welcoming space to sing. Over the last two decades, what was previously known as “Shower Quality” turned into a much more competitive a cappella group called the After School Specials. The acronym ASS is intentional, originating from classic college humor and the original leaders’ fondness of “butt puns.”

The group has participated in several a cappella competitions, most notably the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, which they reached the finals of in 2018. ASS usually takes a year off between ICCA competitions to prepare and regroup, but even in their off-season, they keep up their competitive spirit and spend time acclimating their new members to the group. 

However, with a cappella competitions cancelled and the 5Cs virtual since March, ASS had to reevaluate their plans. Initially, when students were sent home last semester, the group switched most of its energy away from singing and focused on adjusting to the new way of life. 

“We were just sort of at a loss,” ASS Co-President Carter Henderson CM ’21 said. “We had ceased a lot of our music operations, to be frank. If we were getting together at all, it was mostly through the social and, at times, emotional support capacity because that’s honestly what we needed at the time.” 

Even though singing together was not the group’s priority last spring, ASS still wanted to keep up their tradition of performing at Claremont McKenna College’s admissions day for accepted students. Co-President Anya Zimmerman-Smith CM ’21 explained how the group pulled off a performance virtually. 

“We did a virtual video where we recorded all of our parts separately and put them together,” Zimmerman-Smith said. “That was also just a nice way to bring some singing back into our lives, and it was also really sweet to see the reactions of the newly committed CMC students.” 

Twelve people lean against gray lockers.
After School Special is a 5C a cappella group. (Courtesy: After School Special)

With the knowledge that the fall semester would be online, ASS had a bit more time to prepare for the fall and make adjustments to the virtual format. Henderson mentioned that the group has actually been stepping away from their competitive nature and focusing more on their love for music. 

“[This semester] one of the approaches has been to address the purpose of our group and its mood and intentionality and really convert that to a remote context,” Henderson said. 

Henderson also recognized that everybody who is a part of the group is dealing with different circumstances that don’t necessarily allow for a strong commitment to a competitive a cappella group. 

“Everyone’s willingness to be in a cappella and do a cappella things is just different, and that’s OK,” Henderson said. “In light of that, the shift has really been to music as something we enjoy doing. That’s the bottom line and the reason why we all joined this group.” 

As for interacting as a group this semester, ASS has primarily met for the purpose of social interaction. They generally host at least one social hour a week, and they sometimes hold virtual events with their alumni. Opportunities to meet with alumni are something that ASS would typically be hosting on campus, so they have made an effort to continue fostering that experience for their younger members. 

From a more structural perspective, ASS has modified a lot of their rehearsal schedules to make things more flexible and relaxed for their members. Rather than their typical schedule of rehearsing three times a week, students can stop by “whenever [they] feel like it; [they] can come to our weekly hangouts or check in with the music director for projects on [their] own time,” Zimmerman-Smith said. 

This new format has also allowed the group to try out some techniques and material that they normally wouldn’t be able to do. 

“Since our projects are virtual and we have to have everyone record on their own, we’re focusing on doing smaller snippets of songs,” Zimmerman-Smith said. “[This] allows us to try out a bunch of new genres and new soloists and kind of test our skills and see what we enjoy in other ways.”

After releasing their first recorded and edited song of the semester, the group decided to invest a portion of their budget into purchasing microphones for their members in order to create higher quality recordings from home. ASS recently released their first short-form recorded cover — or what the group is calling a “snippet” — of “Brother” by Matt Corby, and they plan to continue releasing snippets throughout the rest of the school year. 

Their music can be found on Spotify, and the group is also active on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. Even though none of the 5C a cappella groups have taken new members this semester due to potential inequities in the audition process, ASS has been using their Instagram account to introduce their new members from last year to their followers. 

Although they cannot physically be together, ASS is doing what they can to maintain their group’s spirit and honor their love of music.

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