Students discuss community and music through a cappella

by Amanda Zhou | 8/11/16 10:37pm

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The Rockapellas, an all-female a cappella group, perform.
by Tiffany Zhai / Tiffany Zhai/The Dartmouth Senior Staff

After the singing and dancing during trips, many freshmen join a cappella groups to find an immediate family of friends, whether that comes in the form of a co-ed or single sex group.

Michael Harteveldt ’19, a member of the all-male Dartmouth Aires, said that the Aires functions like a professional group since they regularly perform off campus. The group has performed for both the Clinton and O’Malley campaign. Hartvelt said the Aires have become accustomed to the frequent travel that these performances entail.

“We’re kind of a well-oiled machine when it comes to getting from point A to point B when traveling,” Harteveldt said.

As for classic songs, Doug Phipps ’17, another member of the Aires, said that the Aires’ repertoire contains both Dartmouth traditional pieces, such as the alma mater, and traditional pieces specific to the Aires such as “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington, “Up the Ladder to the Roof” by The Supremes, and their crowd favorite, “Shamma Lama Ding Dong” from the film “Animal House” (1978).

The group even has a private song, “Somewhere” from “West Side Story,” which they primarily sing to each other and other Aires alumni, including at end of term group meetings.

Harteveldt said the Aires has had “the biggest impact of anything” on his Dartmouth experience. This is partly due to the amount of time the group spends together. On top of the six hours of rehearsal every week, the Aires go on tour together during winter and spring breaks and spend another two weeks together at the end of the year before commencement. In total, the extra time adds up to over a month.

Phipps said a highlight for him was their 50th reunion show last spring when several Aires alumni flew back to Dartmouth for a weekend.

“That blew my mind [and] I couldn’t believe it,” Phipps said. “I knew the Aires were a close community, because we were friends and got along well and had fun traditions, but to see so many people come back just because of the Aires was pretty moving.”

Emily Golitzin ’18’s all-female group, the Rockapellas, was founded in the 1980s with the mission of spreading social justice through song. Fittingly, Julianne DeAngelo ’19, another member of the Rockapellas, said, each performance will usually include “freedom songs,” which seek to spread a positive message about awareness and acceptance on campus.

“[It] also gets me thinking about issues that I should be thinking critically about,” she said.

Golitzin said that one of her favorite freedom songs is “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé because it is musically intricate as opposed to other a cappella pieces which can be repetitive in imitating instruments.

“We have two soloists who trade off on singing and it’s just a really fun song,” Golitzin said.

The group also sings “Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey and the Rock, lyrics of which were taken from speeches by Ella Baker, a 1960s civil rights activist.

One of DeAngelo’s favorite moments was touring in Denver, or as the group referred to it, “Rocks in the Rockies.” She vividly recalls driving back with the group to an alumni house, their host, while improvising complete with beatboxing and clapping.

She said while driving back to an alumni house where they were staying they started to improvise in the car complete with beatboxing and clapping.

“I didn’t think it was actually a real [thing] like in movies … it was so spontaneous so much fun,” said DeAngelo. “It was great to feel like I had a group of people that I could do that kind of thing [with] and just people would laugh and talk and share music together.”

Similarly, Golitzin recalled feeling immediately welcomed and accepted when she joined, even as only a “pebble” (or first year Rockapella).

“From the get go, we were made to feel like our opinions were important, stuff like that. So we already had a hand in like steering the group in a certain direction or included on how the group functions,” Golitizin said.

Similarly, DeAngelo said that the group helped eased her transitioning into Dartmouth, especially when it came to talking to professors or even learning how to open her Hinman box.

Nick Vernice ’18 said that the co-ed a cappella group, Sing Dynasty or “the Sings” since their founding in 2008, has prided themselves on taking members based solely on their vocal talent.

“You see there are certain homogeneities in the [a capella] groups that exist on campus and we try actively never to define ourselves on a persona,” he said.

Vernice said one of his favorite songs is a Sings classic, “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, though he is also partial to their current arrangement of “Hello” by Adele. Owen O’Leary ’19, another Sings member, enjoys singing Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” in which O’Leary sing the solo.

Both Vernice and O’Leary found singing at an internment ceremony at the USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii to be a memorable experience. The group sang in memory of John Langdell, a recently deceased officer who had been stationed on the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attacks.

The group sang the Navy hymn, “Amazing Grace” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the officer’s favorite song. He said the experience was “very powerful,” enjoying “seeing how we were able to add to [the ceremony].” Similarly, Vernice calls singing at the ceremony his proudest moment in the Sings.

“I know this might sound trite, but I honestly cannot imagine Dartmouth without them,” Vernice said. “When I think about my most fond moments on and off this campus it has always been with the Sings.”

He said the group provides emotional support for him, but it also intellectually challenges him. Vernice noted that the Sings’ members fall across the political spectrum and the group has a GroupMe dedicated to discussing issues called “Sings Phil 101” which he always reads.

“[I’m] glad that I tricked the Sings into letting me in so I had a group of upperclassmen that were obligated to spend time with me,” joked O’Leary, quoting his online Sings bio. “Hopefully now, at least, some of them enjoy spending time with me.”

O’Leary said at Dartmouth, a capella can be a nice way to make friends and to have a social group that is an alternative to “that party life” or rushing a Greek house.