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October 18, 2010

The nerd turns: A cappella singers suddenly the popular kids on campus

Washington Post (DC):

When the Saxatones and the other five a cappella singing groups hold their annual rush at Georgetown University, hundreds of underclassmen race to sing for each ensemble. The audition process is so extensive that it might remind some students of getting into college in the first place: Paperwork and surveys. Ever-narrowing lists of callbacks. Passionate persuasion. Offers and rejections. Initiation ceremonies featuring singing, traditional rites and, most of the time, drinking.

For decades, a cappella was a tradition that thrived mainly at Ivy League institutions and small liberal arts schools. But a cappella is enjoying an explosion on all manner of campuses, with new groups popping up every year, burgeoning national a cappella competitions and, for the first time in about half a century, a high profile in the popular culture.

The popularity of a cappella has translated into tougher competition at the annual auditions. At Georgetown, each group generally fills a handful of spots each year, leading students to say that the odds of getting in are even steeper than those they faced to get into the highly selective college.

Experience isn't nearly as important as skill. Some who try out arrive on campus having spent years singing with a high school a cappella group. Others don't even know what a cappella is. (One former Saxatone still gets ribbed for having brought a guitar to his audition.) Most a cappella singers have no plans to pursue a musical career; they're just looking for a way to keep singing.

"I'm the kid who sings just walking around," said Tim DeVita, 18, a Georgetown freshman. He and a friend, Alex Field, studied the groups' Web sites and watched dozens of YouTube performances. They asked around to learn each group's reputation.

The campus's oldest group, the all-men Chimes, has been around since 1946. The Chimes have their own rowhouse near campus, don't usually sing anything more modern than the Beatles, and operate like a frat, with pledges who have to clean the house after keggers and aren't allowed to sit on the couches during rehearsals. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at October 18, 2010 9:57 PM

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