On Tuesday afternoon, Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College was filled with energy as college students streamed in for the hourlong, twice-a-week Hawkapella rehearsal.
And no one was complaining about being in class.
“It’s awesome. It can be stressful, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Jeremiah Tjossem, a senior pursuing a double major in history and English.
“I’ve been singing for a long time – I think my first choir was middle school – and when I found out we had a pretty good chorale department here, I auditioned with Chiaravalloti, and I got into all the choirs.”
The Chiaravalloti he’s talking about is professor Charissa Chiaravalloti, with the FLC music department, who leads the group of 17 students and is tasked with selecting not only the members of the Hawkapellas, but choosing what songs they’ll perform as well.
Students have to audition for their spot in the group. “They have to run through a regular routine of vocalizing, music reading, and then they also have to prepare a solo with a popular style of music,” she said.
What is a cappella?If you’ve never heard an a cappella group sing, you should check out the Hawkapellas when they perform next weekend at the Community Concert Hall at FLC. There are no instruments save for singers’ voices, which are used for everything from singing words to making noises that sound like instruments.
“Traditionally, ‘a cappella’ means ‘unaccompanied’ that translates directly to the term ‘in the manner of the chapel,’ Chiaravalloti said. “Usually, we refer to it to mean unaccompanied music, but it could be in any genre, really. The modern version of a cappella music now is kind of starting to gain a new definition where it’s really based on pop music with a beatboxer.”
In the Hawkapella’s case, the beatboxer is freshman Jeremy Monday, a psychology major.
“I took up the interest because I’m also a drummer, and I have an interest in vocal percussion and I’ve been doing it for about a year now,” he said, adding that the audition was a little nerve-wracking. “It was my first try-out for this kind of thing. I was pretty nervous because I didn’t know how other people were going to sound.”
But he earned his spot, and he hopes to stick with the group throughout college.
“These guys are awesome,” he said.
A new face for an old styleYou may have heard a cappella music and not even known it because of its fairly recent popularity in movies and television.
“A modern a cappella group typically – now because of ‘Pitch Perfect’ and movies like that – kind of means something new,” Chiaravalloti said.
And while the group performs rather than competes, the pop-culture popularity is what wins fans – and members.
“It’s obviously pretty popular, and when we perform for high school students and stuff, they always love Hawkapellas’ songs; they’re usually familiar tunes,” Chiaravalloti said. In fact, the first song the Hawkapellas were practicing Tuesday was Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
The fun aspect of the music is what drew senior music business major Graci Clark to the group. Clark is in her third year with the Hawkapellas.
“As a music major, you have to be in ensembles, and I auditioned for it because of ‘Pitch Perfect’ (laughs). I think everybody wants to be a part of that,” she said. “It’s really fun getting to work with pop music because I study a lot of classical music.
“It’s kind of what sounds fun, but it’s also challenging. It is a challenging course,” she said. “You have to listen to everybody, you have to stay in tune – it’s really cool; it’s more intense than a regular choral group.”
It’s a good way to be introduced to singing in a choir, Chiaravalloti said.
“From my standpoint as a professor and someone in the music department, I use it as a recruiting tool,” she said. “So it can be kind of a doorway or a first step into being more involved in choral music because it’s so fun and it’s so accessible to most people.”