O-Issue 2013: A Cappella

There’s more behind the clever names.

By Rebecca Guterman

Beware of the crazed upperclassmen eyeing you like you’re fresh meat. They’ll be hosting open houses, courting you with food at the O-Party, and accosting you to sign up for listhosts at the first-week fair. But eight organizations in particular might catch your attention more than most RSOs: the color-coordinated, dancing, singing masses that make up UChicago’s a cappella groups.

Of the groups in the A Cappella Council, two are all-female, one is all-male, and the remaining four are co-ed. Another group, Chicago Men’s A Cappella (CMAC), is also all-male. All, however, are very, very good at the art of unaccompanied singing, and there are few moments more surreal than hearing a holiday classic or pop hit echoing through snowy archways during the winter. A cappella is one of the more immersive opportunities on campus; if you’re accepted to a group, expect to spend hours upon hours with your fellow singers, honing melodies to perfection, traveling to competitions, and even recording albums in professional studios.

To find out how to audition for the groups in the a cappella council during first week, visit the University of Chicago A Cappella Council Web site at acappella.uchicago.edu, and to audition for CMAC, visit cmacsings.com. In the meantime, here’s a short guide to all the different ways you can have your voice heard:

Voices in Your Head, who marked their 15th anniversary this summer, is one of the most acclaimed a cappella groups on campus, having recorded two award-winning singles last year and four award-winning albums in the past. They often perform on national tours and claimed fourth place in the 2012 collegiate international championship. Larger than most groups, they include both graduate and undergraduate students, and wield a diverse repertoire that includes original pieces as well as genres spanning R&B, pop, rock, and alternative music.

Men in Drag (MiD) is one of the two all-female a cappella options with a “no men, occasional drag” philosophy. These women bring an edge and attitude to a cappella that’s difficult to find elsewhere. Last year, in addition to celebrating their 15th anniversary and releasing a critically acclaimed album, MiD co-hosted a Midwest ACapellaFest on campus and went on tour. The group is also well-known for their yearly pie/date auction in the spring: “Want Love? Buy Pie!”

With their first single released and a performance for the President of the United States in the books, The Ransom Notes make big waves for a 12-member outfit. This relatively small co-ed group performs each quarter and tours in the winter and spring, and are especially notable for their eclectic mix of indie rock and Top 40 hits.

Rhythm & Jews is perhaps the most eccentric group among the University’s a cappella offerings. Don’t be fooled, though: Despite its name, this co-ed group accepts students from all walks of life, and then proceeds to sing some seriously good tunes. We’re talking everything from “Lady Madonna” to “Georgia On My Mind” to “Ahava Ktana.” Formed in 2001, the group also performs an annual tour during the first week of winter break.

Unaccompanied Women is the second of the two all-female groups, and the oldest a cappella society on campus. Founded in 1989, the group consistently has 16 members and performs everything from barbershop classics to folk ballads. Known for their prolific performances and matching costumes, they also annually sell Singing Valentines and will be recording their fourth album this year.

Make a Joyful Noise, one of the smallest singing groups on campus, is the University’s only Christian-based a cappella group. As such, their repertoire includes popular hymns and spirituals, Christian rock, and more secular choices from the Disney canon. They also perform in collaboration with Northwestern’s Harmony in Spirit group, and are especially popular during the holidays.

One of two all-male a cappella groups on campus, Run For Cover is just five years old, making it the youngest of the eight. Their relative newness hasn’t impeded their growth, though: They’ve expanded to 10 from their original four, and have an album in the works and national competition ambitions this year. Part of their success may be their typical rehearsal schedule each week: two-hour full group rehearsal, a one-hour sectional, and a one-hour choreography rehearsal.

Founded eight years ago, CMAC is the second all-male a cappella group on campus. With a core repertoire of University fight songs and classical men’s choral arrangements, CMAC has performed everywhere from the University of Virginia to the Chicago Symphony Center in Orchestra Hall to Rockefeller for the Alumni Weekend convocation.