A capella media portrayals alter image of all-female singing group
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 22:10
By now the picture is recognizable to many — a small group of people stand on a stage under a spotlight and make music with no instruments whatsoever.
This is the modern interpretation of a capella. Media portrayals on shows like ABC’s “Glee,” NBC’s “The Sing Off,” and movies such as 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” have changed the a capella landscape for at least one campus group.
Texas A&M’s Femmatas, an all-female a capella group, believes the increased interest in a capella music stems from the way a capella groups offer unadulterated talent mixed with familiar songs.
“With the media you have now, you get to hear someone’s raw voice and you know it hasn’t been completely altered, and I think people are craving that kind of raw talent,” said Mary Milius, junior sociology major and Femmatas musical director. “And a capella brings that. It’s stripped down to everyone’s voices, and I think that’s what people want to hear.”
Sabrina Vogel, senior English major and group performance manager, said popular a capella has existed in many forms across the years, but since the days of barbershop quartets the discipline has faded a little, and the revival trend has taken some people by surprise. She said audiences sometimes do not expect the sound that comes across when the Femmatas remix popular songs with only their voices.
“[Older audiences are] not always quite as in tune with the modern a capella that’s happening,” Vogel said. “It’s fun to watch their faces just light up.”
The Femmatas said depictions of a capella in the media are often true to life.
“We went to see ‘Pitch Perfect’ together, and a lot of the personalities and things that they say are very accurate,” said Melina Sitaras, junior allied health major and Femmatas president. “Exaggerated, of course, but pretty accurate.”
However, producing the music takes more work than is sometimes shown in the movies.
“We do have a lot of fun singing, and that’s the biggest part of a capella,” Milius said. “Everyone can see how fun it is. We do beat box, and we do arrange everything ourselves. But you know that scene in ‘Pitch Perfect’ where they make it up on the spot? That is not something that we do.”
Sitaras said arranging pieces can take hours of work.
“Every show makes it seem like they make it up, and it’s a lot more than that,” Sitaras said.
Arranging music is a skill the girls generally learn over their time in the group. Many members join without knowing how to break music down into different vocal parts.
“If you had told me when you joined that I would be arranging music, I would have told you that you were nuts,” Milius said. “Not all of our girls have a lot of background in music theory. Obviously all of our girls can pick up notes and harmony and everything, but sometimes you don’t have that perfect choir style, where everyone can sight read on solfege on one foot.”
Although this sort of work is a learned skill, it can often be hard to teach to new members, who must work hard to develop the skill in their own style.
Although they cannot produce music in a moment’s time, the group is constantly ready to perform.
“The most spontaneous thing we’ve done is probably sing in restaurants,” said Jenn Potter, senior agricultural economics major and Femmatas public relations officer. “We like to take field trips to Naked Fish, and every time we’re there the owner knows [us] so he’ll ask us to sing happy birthday to someone.”
With the advent of all the new media attention on a capella, the group has found increased appreciation for its music locally.
“I think it’s fun because I joined before ‘Pitch Perfect’ came out,” said Tierney Rose, senior communication major and Femmatas treasurer. “I knew I liked to sing, but a capella was kind of foreign to me. But when ‘Pitch Perfect’ came out, everyone was like, ‘That is so cool.’ I think it’s fun because it’s really starting to make this come back.”