Blinding, pure white lights shone down upon a black painted stage, ridden with dust and neon tape.  Purple and white Christmas lights strung across the stage’s edge and twinkled luminously as the audience filed in for the imminent concert.

Maura McGlynn leads the Ladies First group in practice. Photo credit: Julia Grippe

Acapalooza, a Michigan State University a cappella community tradition, is an annual event showcasing the campus’s a cappella talent.  Essentially a concert, Acapalooza is a two-night event where MSU’s a cappella singing groups perform, one after another in a two-hour long showcase.

But what is an a cappella group?

An a cappella group is a collection of 15-20 singers, co-ed, all male or all female, that use only their voices to sing a song, including all the background instruments.  Some voices act as the guitar, the string, or even the trumpets, while a soloist sings the lyrics and a beat boxer pounds out the drumbeat.

The evenings of October 5 and 6 were filled with the melodious harmonies, percussive beat-boxing and choreography of seven unique on-campus groups including: Capital Green, The Accafellas, The Spartan Dischords, Ladies First, RCAHppella, Spartan Sur, and this year’s first-time hosts, State of Fifths.

The host group is in charge of the event.  From ticket sales, poster making, scheduling the event and introducing the groups during the performance, the host groups are the overseers of the event.

Sonya Major, one of State of Fifths’ music directors, said that hosting the show as a group for the first time was not only fun, but also a supremely exciting venture.

“Hosting Acapalooza was definitely a learning experience,” said Major, a senior majoring in linguistics with a minor in Arabic and specializing in Jewish studies at MSU.  “I hope we use it to grow and move forward as a strong group.”

But hours before all of the sweet sounds and tight harmonies began, Hannah Community Center, the location of the two-night event, was bombarded with student-singers.

Each group is scheduled a sound check time.  During this short stint, the groups run their sets, or group of three songs they chose for the night, and test microphones with the soundboard and sound technicians located in the balcony of the 483-seat auditorium.

Major said warm-ups are an important process before any type of show.

The Accafellas after a great practice and audition taping. Photo credit: Julia Grippe

Behind the swaying black curtains of Hannah Community Center’s stage after sound check, the energy simmered with anxiety and excitement.  Groups, huddled together in preparation, sang scales and warm-up exercises to practice for the upcoming show.

“The moments leading up to going onstage are really influential on the following performance.  It’s really important to focus and feel as cohesive as possible,” said Major.

Aside from warm-ups, pre-show boosts are also implemented.  From dancing to “random hug time,” each group has a unique way to energize before stepping out onto the stage.

“Some of the stuff we do is really silly,” laughed Major.

No matter how silly the exercise, the a cappella groups’ focus exercises are essential.  Likewise, there is no denying the sense of community that goes on backstage.

Huddled in a large room beside the entrance to the balcony, the a cappella groups chatted, sang and danced, all in preparation for the two-night event.

“It’s chaos! Completely wonderful chaos!” said economics senior Shama Lakdawala, a member of Spartan Sur.  “We met so many people throughout the weekend it was insane.  We were so excited to finally get a chance to connect with everyone in the a cappella community.”

Though created four years ago, this Acapalooza was Spartan Sur’s first, and they were ecstatic to perform at this year’s event.

“It took us a while to really get our feet off the ground,” said Lakdawala. “In the last two years things have really picked up for us. We have been very fortunate to have started singing with other south-Asian a cappella groups around the country, but it was so exciting for us to perform at Acapalooza at our own university.”

Spartan Sur is not your run-of-the-mill a cappella group, though.  As a south-Asian group, Spartan Sur fuses melodious south-Asian music with American pop and rap.

“It’s important to know about the world around you,” explained Lakdawala.  “And for us, it’s important to stay grounded to our roots. Sur allows us to see our worlds collide in the form of music, which is pretty cool.”

For Spartan Sur and the other six groups at Acapalooza, performing well is certainly the goal, but it is just as important to have fun.

As each group walked on stage, shouts are sounded from the audience, welcoming the performers.  As silence covered the crowded auditorium, a distinct humming and tinny note is blown from a pitch pipe, allowing the singers to find their starting pitches.

“Walking on stage with 14 of my favorite people is a really cool feeling.  It really solidifies the unity needed to do our best,” Major explained.  “There’s nothing like that feeling in the world.”

After the pitch is blown, the groups begin their three-song set, entertaining and connecting with the enthused audience.

Dr. Kirstin Parkin of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, as well as advisor to State of Fifths, raved about the university’s a cappella community.

“This was not my first a cappella concert, but it has been years since I’ve attended one.  This was also my children’s first a cappella concert,” Dr. Parkin explained, “and they truly enjoyed it.  We will definitely be attending more.”

Once the groups finished and the applause was through, the audience filed out of the packed Hannah Community Center. Without a community-based show until next year, the two-night concert closed as quickly as it opened. With the balloons taken down, posters recycled and lights unplugged, there was no denying between audience and performers that Acapalooza ended on a high, pleasant and harmonic note.

Photo editor Julia Grippe provided a glimpse into what practice is like for a few a cappella groups in the video below.

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