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May 5, 2004

Baltimore City Paper

Tradition might be too strong a word, but after a dozen years of enthusiastic, competitive, unpaid performances, vocal music at Hopkins has definitely evolved beyond fad status. Hopkins boasts at least seven groups, several of which originated in the early '90s and have continued to be replenished, year by year, with fresh voices. The present array includes the all-male All Nighters, the all-female JHU Sirens, the mixed-gender Vocal Chords and Octopodes, the humor-oriented Mental Notes, the Jewish group Ketsev, and the Christian group Adoremus. While some of the groups come up with original songs, the bulk of the repertoire is cover material performed in styles ranging from doo-wop to hip-hop. Some popular songs come all but ready-made for noninstrumental treatment--think of classic Beach Boys hits--but much of the fun of modern a cappella lies in clever vocal adaptations of current instrumental music, including percussion.

By nature, a cappella music enforces a fusion of musical and social relationships. Without instruments to keep voices on pitch (and to mask mistakes), the singers must listen to each other intently. Individuals get their turns at the lead--some individuals more than others--but it's clear that a cappella is not a breeding ground for prima donnas. "Every once in while you have a girl or guy come along who has a great voice and wants to be a diva, and that doesn't last very long," says Hopkins senior Michael Vu, president of the Octopodes. In-group coziness is spiced with friendly intergroup rivalries and contests of skill. Some years ago, Hopkins a cappella was drifting toward a Yale-ish elitism, with different groups understood to be the A, B, and even C teams in their respective gender categories. The school and the student-run Performing Arts Council discouraged such stratification. These days, the groups tend to sort themselves out according to style. More

Posted by acapnews at May 5, 2004 9:01 PM

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