While shows like Glee and Pitch Perfect might lead one to imagine that there is a cutthroat, competition-driven a cappella scene in Claremont, there is very little to no competition between the eight a cappella groups across the 5Cs.
“There’s no way to compete because we, each a cappella group, all do such different thing,” said Hannah Doruelo PO ’16, President of The Claremont Shades.
Even students who audition who are called back and given offers by multiple groups are given the choice of which group they want to join. As a cappella has become increasingly popular amongst colleges in recent years, the 5Cs consistently have more and more students audition each year. Auditions for each group are all held on the same day. This year, 70 students showed up for the preliminary auditioning day.
“One reason that we do our auditions all together is because when new students are coming into the five colleges, they don’t really have a sense of what different groups are like or what even groups there are. So, when we’re all advertising together and having auditions on the same day in just one or two locations, people will generally be more open to auditioning to all the groups,” said Daniel Choi PO ’15, musical director of the After School Specials. “It’s really for them to have the maximum exposure and choice because it’s in their best interest for us to coordinate it together. We want them to pick the group that they want to join.”
Unlike larger universities, where the a cappella environment may be cutthroat and where there are usually fewer groups to choose from, Claremont a cappella is a more supportive and collaborative environment from the get-go. While the auditioning process is selective, due to the specific voice parts a group needs in a given semester or how well an individual vibes with the other members of the group, those who do not make the cut the first time around are always encouraged to try out again the next semester.
“I think that it’s really great to have an a cappella community that can accommodate people to develop an interest in a cappella music,” Choi said.
“We want a good fit for everyone,” said Sarah Ridge SC ’15, president of the After School Specials. “Because there are so many groups in such a small space, we really enjoy being non-competitive with each other.”
To start off this year on a positive, more communal note, Men’s Blue and White president Chris Albanese CM ’14 hosted an a cappella mixer at Claremont McKenna College’s senior apartments. This party was a great way for new and old members of the a cappella groups to get to know each other better and to establish the sense of a mutual connection.
“There’s a commitment on every group’s part to be a more supportive, inclusive community,” Doruelo said. “The point is that we’re each a different group with our own different flavors. There’s more of a comprehensive understanding of that [this year].”
Aside from the opportunity to build lifelong relationships through Claremont a cappella, leaders from each group work together to choose which songs and musical arrangements each group can perform that year. They share a Google Drive document of songs they have called for their respective performances on a first-come, first-served basis to avoid any overlap or potential conflict. While the details vary from group to group, a majority of the musical arrangements are completely original. In some cases, groups even borrow members from other groups to fill certain voice parts for particular songs.
Many students also attend many of their fellow a cappella singers’ performances.
“It’s a very friendly community,” said Frances Kyl PO ’14, president of Women’s Blue and White. “I love going to other groups’ snack concerts and seeing what other people are doing.”
Joint concerts, often the product of friendships between students in different groups that began outside of a cappella, are a particular highlight.
“I really like interacting with other groups as much as possible, [and] I love joint concerts,” president of Ninth Street Hooligans Daniel LaPook PO ’14 said.
“I think it’s always better when I’m singing with another group because it’s just more material and it’s really fun,” said Anna Walton SC ’14, music director of Ninth Street Hooligans. “Everyone benefits when you do joint concerts, in my opinion, so we try to do as many as possible.”
“The attitude of groups, in general, has changed,” said vice president of The Claremont Shades Emily Ross HM ’14, adding that the a cappella community has grown more integrated over the years. “We all love a cappella.”