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Acappellics Anonymous steps up to competition

by Katie Prisco-Buxbaum / Beacon Staff • December 1, 2011

They sing. They perform. And now, they compete.

Acappellics Anonymous, one of Emerson’s two main a cappella performance groups, will be putting their vocal talent to the test against Boston’s best a cappella performers in Bristol Recording and Voice Studios’ “A Cappella Armageddon” this Sunday.

The competition, hosted by the local recording studio, will be held at the Middle East club in Cambridge. Contemporary A Cappella Society of America (CASA) is sponsoring the showdown. Acappellics Anonymous President Amanda Spinella found out about the performance opportunity after CASA sent out a mass email.

Acappellics, currently a group of 14 singers, was founded in 2007, and has mainly focused on performing within the Emerson community, hosting events like open mic nights and participating in last semester’s WERS a cappella competition.

The organization is constitutionally different than Emerson’s other a cappella group, Noteworthy, in that they tend to be more theatrical in their performing methods. According to Acappellics member Rachel Dunnigan, the group has often included skits during their gigs and acting within songs. For the upcoming competition, they have added dance moves.

Erin Kelly, vice president of Acappellics, said a major goal for this year was to reach out to other organizations outside of Emerson and to perform off campus.

Spinella said that she looked into participating and it seemed like a good opportunity for the organization. According to Spinella, the singers are talking about getting the material they recorded out into the Boston community, as well as networking with other groups from the area.

“It is a good idea to make friends in other groups and share ideas and what everyone is doing,” said Spinella.

Spinella said that on top of the annual concert they host for groups around Boston, competing would be another way to get their name out there.

Acappellics is one of nine finalists after their audition for the competition, which began with about 30 collegiate and community groups, said Acappellics member Dunnigan.

According to Dunnigan, one of the judges during their audition directed them to different competitions in the area like the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. In addition, each group in the finals got a free session with Bristol Studios.

Kelly, a junior marketing communication major, said that a studio representative offered suggestions during the session.

“He said like the other groups we have a great sound, with really full voice parts,” said Kelly. “But, he said the soloists should own the stage more, work with the audience, and own their performance. As a recording studio, they are looking for audience appeal.”

Dunnigan, a  junior marketing major, hopes that the experience will help the group grow and learn to incorporate visuals and choreography, as opposed to focusing solely on the vocal aspect.

“It is not something we do now, but we want to learn more about competitive standards and expanding our reach,” said Dunnigan.

The group plans to perform Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” Dunnigan, Spinella, and sophomore Danny Irwin will be performing solos.

An open rehearsal was held last night to receive peer critiques on their performance before the big day. Kelly said the singers have already coordinated a wardrobe and choreographed their songs, and they want to see how students feel about the way they look and sound.

Two students came to the rehearsal to critique the performance aspect. The singers belted out their three-song set, and then held an open discussion with the non-members about what they thought.

“We are looking for suggestions on what could be tighter, what looks good, and whether we are going together,” said Spinella before they executed the routine. “It is not about how we sound tonight.”

Jacob Porter, a junior marketing communication major who visisted the rehearsal, suggested that the group work on using rifts as transitions into the next song amd focus on soloists. He said channeling the theme of the music would boost the audience reaction.

“There are so many personalities in this group,” said Porter. “Keep that essence while still keeping focus, using the theme, having that unity within the unit.”

Nick Medvescek gave similarly positive feedback with small tips for sharpening up the showcase.

“I think it is really refreshing to see an a cappella group on campus incorporating this stuff,” said the junior performing arts major in reference to their new choreography. “And it is obvious you guys are good at it.”

Medvescek offered advice such as clarity in how moves should be executed, as well as focus and unity in movement. He also suggested letting the music flow through the dance moves.

The score will be partially based on audience reaction, and the group hopes to get a large Emerson turnout, said Dunnigan. The potential prizes include studio time, a spotlight article in the recording company’s newsletter, and an opening slot to perform at one of the studio’s upcoming events, according to the Bristol Studios website.

Spinella, a junior theater studies major, said that performing off campus will rally support for the club. “It is not just like going to the Cabaret or the Multipurpose Room,” she said.  “It is bringing people together and wearing the Emerson colors to support us.”

Kelly said the choice to compete was more about the experience of performing at an offcampus venue and gaining the experience that comes with performing in a new setting. As vice president, Kelly organizes the gigs and said the troupe wants to take advantage of the networking opportunity to develop working relationships with other local and collegiate performers.

“Any chance we get to perform, we perform, and we’re always looking for opportunities,” she said.