When I heard that all the a cappella groups on campus were performing a concert at the Auditorium this past October, I recruited my roommate and told her we were going; I wanted to experience a different music style.  I’d never been to an a cappella show on campus, and I’m a junior – shameful, I know.

A cappella, a vocal musical performance without any instrumental accompaniment, isn’t exactly topping the charts, according to Ph.D candidate in American studies Mike Spencer. He said a cappella music “represents about 1% of record sales each year.” Not record breaking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. The concert, Acappalooza, featured Capital Green, State of Fifths, Spartan Dischords, Ladies First, and RCHApella. I became an instant fan because these groups were making music with their voices, and just their voices; it was amazing to see the the groups’ twists on popular music and their enthusiastic performances.

Journalism junior Anthony Sabella, a member of State of Fifths, provided insider info on performing a cappella and what his group is all about. According to Sabella, his group is different from the others.

“We are the newest group on campus. We’re only a year old. We’re different because we have all different majors. There are even four Spartan Marching Band students, myself included. Most of us didn’t have experience,” he said.

Well, it didn’t show. Even though State of Fifths is the newest group on campus, the group’s performance was not lacking, and was comparable to bigger and older groups. The group practices twice a week, for two hours at a time, and gives free sample performances on each floor of the dorms each month. Practice involves a lot of song choosing and harmonizing.

“I like doing top 40 songs, but that’s a matter of opinion,” Sabella said. “We are working on a Jason DeRulo song that’s popular on the radio, and we’re also doing Ingrid Michaelson.”

Popular songs are more likely to be crowd-pleasers with college students, but some slick moves can impress too. “We’re starting to incorporate choreography in our routines,” said Sabella, “We’d really like to start doing more.”

State of Fifths is really starting to make a name for itself on campus, and Accapalooza was a great opportunity for them to perform. “There is so much camaraderie,” he said, “I’m in a group with people that love music. We get to arrange the music ourselves. It’s great meeting new people and seeing our music get better and better.”

If you’re an a cappella fan, don’t limit yourself to the MSU scene. Patrick Monks, human resource management senior and President of Fish n’ Chips A Cappella group at Central Michigan University (CMU), said they does things similarly to MSU’s groups.

“As a group, we try and do a lot of newer songs, stuff that is on the radio or pretty recognizable,” he said, “The newer music is usually what we get the best crowd reactions out of.  We do throw in a couple of older tunes, anything from boy band music to older rock and roll.  As long as we think it’s a crowd pleaser, we’ll sing it.” When asked what Fish n’ Chips performances were like Monks said, “We try to put on a show for our audience, not just sing.  We try and incorporate a little bit of choreography, a little bit of humor. Whatever we think will help the audience enjoy their time.”

A lot like MSU, CMU has other a cappella groups as well. But Monks says, “we are all similar groups; we like to do similar music and are in it for the same reasons, but we are all original in the way that we perform and interact with our audience differently.” So has Fish n’ Chips visited East Lansing? “Yes,” Monks said, “we have gone to many other schools, both to see other groups and to perform with them.  We’ve been to U of M, Western, and MSU.” I think it’s safe to say that no matter what school you visit, these groups love performing and have fun putting their own spin on popular music.

It seems as though group performances involving popular music, a cappella, co-ed choirs and glee clubs are getting more attention these days due to the popular television show “Glee” on FOX. Although the show isn’t based solely on a capella performances, Spencer said that “Glee has helped popular culture dig down and bring a cappella out and create more interest in it.” When talking with Monks and Sabella they both said that their groups enjoy singing more popular songs and these get positive reactions from the college crowd. Spencer said this is largely due to the fact that the groups “rearrange the songs. They are all songs we know and love. We want that familiarity. We accept it easier because there’s no change, just a new twist on our classic favorites.” Spencer also said the appeal of many a cappella groups is that, although it’s a different genre, it’s still what we like.  If the groups were singing lesser-known music, it wouldn’t be as popular. Popular music has a positive effect on us, no matter how it’s presented.

After I left the Accapalooza concert, my roommate and I made a vow to never miss another concert. We had so much fun singing along to some of our favorite tunes and watching our peers amaze us with their talents. I also have to admit that boys who can sing aren’t half bad to watch either. All ogling aside, I definitely realized how diverse our campus is. All the performers got up on that stage to have fun and put on a show, not because they are music majors, but to make music with their friends because they love it. When the show ended with the crowd swaying to MSU’s alma mater, and a group sing-along to the MSU fight song, I left with a smile on my face, and many songs stuck in my head.

Editor’s Note: This piece is a creative non-fiction, and is meant to represent the views and experiences of its author- not TBG or our sponsoring organizations.

4 thoughts on “No Instrument? No Problem!”

  1. What a great article! I learned things about music that I’ll share with my students. thank you.

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