One rainy Thursday evening a group of singers huddle into a music practice room in Goodspeed Hall. The room is tiny, and the group squeezes in together near the lone baby grand piano in the corner. The singers are the Voices in Your Head a capella group, and tonight they will be rehearsing a new song for their upcoming performance and CD release party. Someone plays a note, and the room falls silent. A few people begin humming, and practice begins.
Voices in Your Head is a diverse collection of students bound together in musical camaraderie: its singers range from a soon-to-be mathematics Ph.D. to a second-year music major. Ask the singers what makes their group stand out among all the other a capella groups on campus (there are at least eight, seven of which are on the A Capella Council), and the group hesitates. After a moment, Ph.D. student and accompanist Chris Rishel pipes up, “We treat a capella as an art. Some of the other groups don’t take it seriously, but we do.”
The group has plenty to be proud of. They recently received three nominations in the 2011 A Capella Community Awards categories Favorite Original Song, Favorite Female Singer, and Favorite Mixed Collegiate Group. In the meantime, until the competition results are released in June, the group is busily preparing for their upcoming performance, which marks three years of work brought to fruition. The group’s CD release party will also feature performances by Xtension Chords, the all-male University of Illinois a capella group, Off-Off Campus, circus group Le Vorris & Vox, and dance performances by third-year Kate Oppenheimer and second-year Andrew Rosner.
After warming up the group begins their practice in earnest. Having run through “Break Your Heart,” a familiar piece the group has performed before, the singers switch to a new track. Tonight they’re tackling “The Message,” an arrangement of the popular Coldplay song. This is group member Russel Becker’s first arrangement for the group, one that has taken him over a year to complete.
Not all practice sessions are this rushed. Fourth-year Lily Baker explains, “Sometimes it is longer [when] it takes choreography and planning. It depends. But we’re trying to get this song in time for the show.” The group hopes to learn it in about a week, but they will have to see how much they can accomplish tonight. “Not everybody in the team comes to the practice sometimes, because grad students have jobs and work and the undergrads, well, are UChicago students,” Ph.D. candidate Michael Glista said.
However the group has more pressing concerns. Most of the singers are graduating and will leave before the end of the year. Though the group must act fast to find fresh talent, they remain optimistic.
Graduate student Zach Madden hands out music scores and the singers move into action. They divide by gender, and the men head into a separate room to practice. The women and accompanist Rishel stay with the baby grand piano. At his direction, the group begins to vocalize, practicing their melodies with “oohs” and “ahhs.” They will not add in the lyrics until the second run-through, but it is apparent that the speed and the complex rhythm of the piece is going to be tricky enough.
After thirty minutes the men come back into the room, and the group starts a full run-through together. As the song approaches the bridge, the harmony becomes difficult; stray notes fly and the melody starts to feel a little jagged, the rhythm out of place at times. Rishel, who is playing the music, rhythmically taps his foot to get the beat back on track. The singers sway and snap their fingers. Some will miss their notes, but soon they’re sure to be pitch-perfect.