A Cappella at Dartmouth: A Real Life ‘Pitch Perfect’?
From open rehearsals to audition dates to testimonials from current members, here’s everything you need to know about a cappella at Dartmouth.
This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.
Watching the Barden Bellas defeat the Treblemakers in the film “Pitch Perfect” gave me a slightly unrealistic perception of what a cappella would be like at Dartmouth. From lavish costumes to bright lights, intense rehearsals, sing-offs and fierce competition, the film certainly paints an intimidating picture of collegiate a cappella. However, similar to the strong bonds shared by the protagonists in “Pitch Perfect,” many students who participate in a cappella at Dartmouth shared that these groups have provided them with new friendships, camaraderie and a sense of community on campus.
There are eight a cappella groups on campus. The all-male groups include the Aires, the Brovertones and the Cords. The Decibelles, the Rockapellas and the Subtleties are historically all-female groups, while the Dodecaphonics and the Sings are co-ed groups. Each group rehearses about six hours a week divided between three days, and regularly performs at different spaces around campus. Some of the groups have even toured around the country.
According to Maddy Spivak ’24, a member of the Subtleties, the number of shows a group performs varies by term and depends on the special events happening around campus, the number of members taking off terms and whether the group is preoccupied doing other things, such as recording their own albums.
At this point, you might be intrigued by a cappella at Dartmouth and how to get involved. Trust me – I was in your same shoes. Last fall, I attended the a cappella preview show during Orientation week and was absolutely enthralled by each group’s talent. We did not have a cappella groups at my high school, so it was my first taste of a cappella aside from “Pitch Perfect.”
In an email statement to The Dartmouth, president of the Subtleties Julia Herman ’23 wrote that all a cappella groups will perform in the Orientation week showcase on Sept. 10 and host open rehearsals to allow incoming students to get to know the different groups from Sept. 11 to Sept. 16. Auditions for the historically female groups and the co-ed groups will take place on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, and auditions for the all-male groups and co-ed groups will take place on Sunday, Sept. 18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, she wrote.
On these two days, all auditioners perform scales and pitch-matching, with one representative present from each a cappella group. Then, auditioners return later in the day to perform a 30-second solo of a song of their choice for all groups they are eligible to join. So, make sure you drink your tea the night before — you could be singing your song up to five times!
According to Herman, the entire audition process on Saturday and Sunday takes most of the day, but the adrenaline and nerves won’t end after you sing. You could get a callback, which means you have to rehearse a different song to perform at the next round on Sunday night.
If you are called back to at least one group, you will receive an email by Sunday night. Then, you will attend a small showcase with every other auditionee. Every a cappella group will sing and tell you what their group means to them and why you should join their group.
This is where the process gets interesting – you must choose just one group with which you’ll attend callbacks. Callbacks vary from group to group, but generally consist of singing another solo, learning your vocal part of one of their arrangements and, in general, seeing if you vibe with the group. Callbacks can have two outcomes: You can be accepted into the group, or if the group does not choose you, you can “trickle down,” or attend the callbacks of another group you were called back to.
Griffin Thomas ’24, a member of the Brovertones, said that he advises students interested in a cappella to trust the audition process and that “trickling down” sometimes works out for the best. After Thomas felt he did not perform his best at his first callback audition, he ended up attending the callback for the Brovertones. He said that he was glad he joined the Brovertones because he thinks it is a great fit for him.
“The community of guys that I have been able to meet and the mentors that I’ve been able to get [are people whom] I really look up to,” Thomas said.
Other members of various a cappella groups also expressed enthusiasm for their respective group, the friends they have met and the sense of belonging a cappella has given them at Dartmouth.
“We care a lot about the music, and we care a lot about the singing,” Avery Fogg ’24, a member of the Decibelles, said. “But at the end of the day, we care about each other more.”
While the audition process can be competitive, there is no harm in trying. Your first term of college is all about trying new things and having an open mind. And, if you don’t succeed at joining a group, you have several years to try again.
Suri Prabhu ’24, a member of the Sings, explained that confidence is key to doing well at auditions.
“It doesn’t matter what song you sing,” Prabhu said. “Be certain that you are comfortable and have fun with it. That’s what matters.”
Spivak said that the Subtleties has been part of her support system at Dartmouth since she joined her freshman fall.
“It is very special to have a group of friends with whom you can both work towards goals with and have fun,” Spivak said. “My favorite part about the Subtleties is our group culture, which is a byproduct of the remarkable women that make up our group. The Subtleties is a space where I feel seen, heard and loved, and the group has been a big source of community and support for me on campus.”