June 18, 2018

Voices in Your Head celebrates growth and history in 20th anniversary concert

A few weeks ago, The Maroon joined acapella group Voices in Your Head for a rehearsal as they prepare for their twentieth anniversary concert.

Audrey Teo / The Chicago Maroon

“More breathy,” “more assertive,” “more tasteful,” “more note.” These are some of the directions that Will Cabaniss, who serves as music director of Voices in Your Head, throws out. It’s a Thursday night, and members of Voices stand in a lopsided circle. They are learning a new piece, Bruno Major’s “Easily”. Gathered in groups of twos and threes, some squint at the new score on their phones while others peer at laptops balanced on music stands. For the majority of the group, this is their first time interacting with the arrangement.

The piece is relatively straightforward and members do a preliminary run through. They sight-sing with ease, though not without some slight falters here and there. As they break into groups, practicing their own parts, there’s talk of “funky jumps” and questions about vowels, “is it eas-ee-ly  or eas-uh-ly?”.

The atmosphere during rehearsal is focused, yet light-hearted. Members talk in a patois of inside jokes, shared references and, of course, technical and musical jargon. When a break is announced, members noticeably relax as they file out of the room. “We need a Voices union,” a member jokingly declared, a statement testament to how hard each member worked.

Voices has always been committed to their mission of pushing the limits of collegiate acapella. This year, they did just that by performing an all-original set at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). It was the first time any group had attempted an all-original set, as the status quo is usually to perform covers of catchy songs. With original music, there was nothing familiar that audiences could latch on to, and Voices had to believe that what they had was compelling enough in itself. The group’s hard work and risk-taking was rewarded—they placed third in the ICCA Finals.  

“When you’re performing covers of songs, there’s always an implicit comparison,” remarked Lauren Torian, who is a rising third-year in the College and the group’s AcaCouncil Representative. “With original music, you really get to put your whole heart into rather than having to distract the audience from the original artist.”

When asked to identify her favorite song from the set, Voices’ Creative Director Kate Connors answered that “Sing For Myself” was her—and probably the group’s—top choice. “It’s surprising, as it was the last idea of a song and the last to get written and fully embodied,” she said. “I don’t think, in the talks of it, any of us thought it was going to be super special, but it has been a real gem…It hits home and really gets at why we sing, who we sing for, and connects us all through that.

In June, Voices celebrated twenty years since it began as a group of seven students who did not get into any other acapella groups on campus. To reflect that milestone, they put together a concert that featured classics, new covers, as well as their award-winning 2018 ICCA set.

The first half of the concert was a journey through Voices history, with numerous alumni performances. Aptly, it began with a video showcasing just that: the brightly-colored tights and ties jumped out from grainy footage as we see Voices perform at everywhere from small, anonymous stages to the White House. As the lights dimmed, Voices members flanked the aisles of the performance hall and the concert began in earnest with a percussive introduction by Cabaniss.

The group performed a wide range of repertoire that highlighted the skills of every performer in the group through bold solos, heart-wrenching melodies and dynamic textures. The cover of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “The Lion The Beast The Beat” featured an electric solo with soaring notes by Jaclyn Satler (A.B. ‘16). With Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” Tyler Neenan (A.B. ‘16) showcased his expressive vocal stylings, going through riffs and runs with ease and precision. Even choral-style pieces like “We Found Love” and “Heroes Listen” showcased impressive blending and dynamic phrasing, which is admirable considering the group was comprised of numerous alumnae, some who had not been singing regularly. The group also invited members of other acapella groups on campus to join in their celebration as they performed Adele’s “Remedy.” Members of the acapella community were scattered throughout the hall and the audience were immersed in the ebb and flow of the music as the parts of the song rippled outwards.

To put on a show of this caliber, to learn music, choreography in such a short period of time, and maintain the legacy of an organization that is entering its second decade is no small commitment to take on. While the show was undoubtedly excellent both musically and technically, perhaps the true star of the concert was the group’s chemistry. As Brianne Holland belted out the chorus of Titanium, unbeknownst to her, sheepish grins were being exchanged right behind her as members were moving their arms just slightly out-of-sync. Even when Lily Baker’s (A.B. 11) microphone had not been turned on in time for her solo, she laughed it off, encouraging cheers from the audience.

The bond that members, even those who have graduated years ago, share with each other is like that of close-knit family, and it creates a uniquely intimate space for the audience. If it wasn’t evident from the behind-the-scenes videos sprinkled between songs, or the speeches dedicated to graduating seniors, the group’s mutual love shone throughout the buoyant performances and the way in which the members interacted with each other on stage.

As to where Voices is headed in the future, ICCA Great Lakes Producer and MC Emily Flanders, said it best, “Voices, keep doing what you’re doing, which is what you’ve not done before”.