At Coffman Union Friday evening, a line of bundled-up undergrads stretched from the building's theater, around the escalators and out toward the doors by the Goldy statue.
No, it wasn’t free hot chocolate; it was the A Cappell-Off, a performance by student groups, for students. A cappella means singing without instrumental accompaniment, and these groups certainly didn’t miss it. They had everything they needed: beatboxers for vocal percussion and about a dozen members to sing every possible range.
“Pitch Perfect” and “Glee” put a cappella on the pop culture map. Tristan Fargione, a bass singer in 7 Days A Cappella and a junior in communications and product design, said, “I’d just seen ‘Pitch Perfect,’ of course, and I was like, ‘I want to do a cappella.’”
The five groups who performed were Urban Sound, Basses Wild, 7 Days A Cappella, The Enchantments and Vocal U.
The host and designated comedian of the evening introduced each group and threw banana-flavored Laffy Taffy at the audience while the judges took a few minutes to assess each performance.
Urban Sound opened the show with an energetic arrangement of “Come On Eileen.” Now, thanks to them, everybody actually knows the lyrics.
Basses Wild, in matching t-shirts and khakis, charmed with a deep-voiced cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
7 Days A Cappella made the audience roar when the tenor, Treyson DeJager, hit the high note in “Take On Me" (Be honest. We’ve all tried, and most of us have failed).
The Enchantments followed up with a “dad medley” — a blend of their fathers’ favorite ‘80s hits, including “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Born to Run.”
And the winners, Vocal U, wrapped up the evening with “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Sing to the Moon” by Snarky Puppy and “Moondust” by Jaymes Young. Their song choices and the combinations of their voices struck exactly the right chord, and they left with the trophy.
The groups performed with heart and evident enjoyment. Whether you think a cappella is dorky or cool, whether you had friends on stage or were there for a free Friday night event, it would have been difficult to walk out of that show disappointed in the evening’s music.
Part of a cappella’s appeal: it’s enjoyable to hear so many voices working together instrumentally — there are too many sounds going on at once to pick them out individually for very long, and the effect is quite beautiful.
And you don’t have to be music-savvy if you want to join, though a background in choir or in playing an instrument does help.
“We actually have one person in our group who never did choir at all, who has less musical experience than others, and she’s a phenomenal singer,“ said Erik Lucas, a sophomore in environmental and ecological engineering. "But it definitely helps to have a music background."
Apart from a filler hour of cringe-worthy stand-up while the scores were added (poor guy hadn’t planned on killing that much time, and self-deprecating humor and Laffy Taffy can only keep you going for so long), the A Cappell-Off was a success.