Q&A: A cappella group Midnight Echo talks SCAMFest and group traditions

The Midnight Echo performs during 2018 SCAMFest at Big Bridges Auditorium Nov. 10. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

Life & Style contributing writer Sean Ogami PZ ’19 sat down with two members of Midnight Echo following the 23rd SCAMFest at Pomona College, and discussed the group’s unique traditions and camaraderie.

TSL: How did you personally start singing?

Reed Stevens PZ ’19: I sang a lot as a little kid, but all little kids do that. I guess I started with real, trained singing in middle school choir, and I did high school choir, joined a couple of the audition groups. There was a jazz choir at my school that was essentially an a cappella group that did one or two jazz songs every semester. I thought it was really fun, so I joined a capella in college, and now I’m here!

Zayn Singh SC ’20: I’d say pretty similar for me. I started singing really seriously in middle school choir. I had exposure to it in elementary school, but third or fourth grade choir, that’s just the whole class that’s performing in front of your parents. Not that big of a deal. Then I went into high school as I did also band, so a lot of jazz singing as well as big cool stuff. Then I started private lessons in high school, got really into writing and recording my own stuff. When I came to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, because music was such a huge part of my life, so I was like, “oh, I’ll just do some kind of music something at college” and a capella was the best outlet for me.

TSL: You write your own songs?

ZS: I do!

TSL: That’s cool!

ZS: Thank you!

RS: How come you haven’t dropped your Soundcloud in the Slack yet, Zayn? We’re your fan club!

TSL: So, do you know how your group formed?

RS: I think it was a lot of people who like to have fun, because we have two mascots, and they’re wolves and dragons. So somebody down the line was wild. But quite recently — it was year before last — the group almost completely fell apart. There were three remaining members: the president, the music director, and one member … And they hosted auditions and got some obscene number of first-years — I think there were 13 or 14 first-years who joined the group. And they also absorbed the remnants of another group, Men’s Blue and White, which was also in the process of falling apart. But Men’s had no real leadership, so they were sort of consumed by Midnight Echo. It turned into a really great group of people.

ZS: This year, we kind of expanded even more beyond the reformation of Echo. We have a bunch of new first-years as well, this year.

TSL: Can you tell me about those mascots?

RS: I mean, we’ve got wolves—

ZS: And we’ve also got dragons!

RS: —And we’ve got dragons!

ZS: So at auditions … we split a whiteboard in half and each of us draws either a wolf or a dragon, depending on what team you wanna be on. And we make an auditionee who comes in, after they’re done singing, pick whether they’re team wolf or team dragon. And they have to pick the best drawing of either one and it’s this whole big competition thing for no fucking reason, but that’s what we do!

RS: It’s a little bit like a personality test. We can sort of see into their heads by seeing how they react to being asked to join team wolves or team dragons.

ZS: At their first snack concert they have to howl like a wolf. But why don’t we do a dragon roar?

RS: I don’t know! Hey, I’m team dragon.

ZS: I’m team wolf, so …

TSL: What is the relationship between a cappella groups on campus like?

RS: It’s pretty friendly! We get somewhat competitive with each other, especially around audition times when we’re all vying to get all the talented new people. There’s sort of an informal competition around the big concerts like SCAMFest. We all try our best to sound as good as we can and impress the other groups. But normally, groups don’t die and normally groups don’t absorb other groups.

TSL: What is it like to perform at SCAMFest?

RS: It’s really fun.

ZS: This is your last one!

RS: This is my last one. It’s kind of sad! It’s a really cool experience ’cause you know there’s thousands of people out in the audience and you can’t see any of them because of the stage lights. You just have to hope that you’re sounding good. It’s a really good time. It’s a really stressful week beforehand because we — and I’m sure all of the other groups — have a lot of extra rehearsals. We had rehearsal every night for two hours for a week beforehand, trying to get our choreography together and trying to get our songs to sound as good as they can.

ZS: Overall, I think it pays off. Because the experience of being onstage, knowing you’re in front of that many people, is really cool. Also, being able to sit and watch the rest of your groups … perform as well is kinda fun. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. It’s a big stage, it’s a big audience.

RS: It’s a good feeling, walking on and having everybody scream for you.

ZS: And hear people screaming your name, and you’re like, “which one of you idiots is it screaming my name?”

TSL: How do you pick what to perform?

RS: In our group, everybody at the beginning of the semester gets to suggest songs, and we vote on them. Whatever the most popular songs are, we either try to arrange — both Zayn and I have arranged things before in our lives, but we’re not dedicated arrangers. We’ll find a popular song that everyone in our group likes, and we’ll get an arrangement of it. Generally, whatever the most popular things are at the beginning of the year, we’ll perform at SCAMFest. Occasionally, if there’s two songs that are slow or boring that are popular, we’ll try to pick an exciting one for SCAMFest.

ZS: Echo also tries to include one group song and one with a soloist. “Disney Love Medley” was kind of our group song because there were multiple soloists, and it was the whole group performing the song, versus “Lost in Japan” from this year, which had one specific soloist.

TSL: Do you have any favorite pieces or styles to sing?

ZS: For me, I did a lot of jazz singing in high school, so I guess that’s my thing? I like to sing anything. I think it speaks to my want to learn and have a wide range of music that I can pull from and sing. Like a big repertoire of stuff I can pull from and expand my musical ability that way.

RS: I just enjoy singing. I play guitar a little bit — I’m not good at it — but I enjoy the folk fingerpicking and singing style. I also have a soft spot in my heart for choral music with big pretty chords, ’cause I loved that in high school. If you know Eric Whitacre or composers like that, there’s this genre of choral music that’s just these sweeping harmonies that are really beautiful to sing and you get the chills and the hair sticking up on the back of your neck when you really lock a chord in. It’s a good feeling.

TSL: Did you have any favorite performances that you saw?

RS: I thought the ScatterTones were fantastic.

ZS: Yeah, I agree! I think they were my favorite.

RS: [Bruin Harmony], their arrangement of Young Blood was very cool, and the lead singer was sexy. But among the Claremont groups, I thought we all did—

ZS: Tremendously well.

RS: —A great job this year.

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