The voice of a cappella at Harvard

by Simon de Carvalho '14

A few things for college-shopping high-school juniors to expect when they visit schools: over-enthusiastic tour guides, boring information sessions and about a million and one a capella performances.

These days, there is probably no college or university at which a cappella is not a major facet of the campus life, and Harvard is no different. Students flock to concerts and informal gigs en masse, and recently there have been plenty of opportunities.

Two weekends ago, the Harvard Din & Tonics and the Radcliffe Pitches had their annual fall jam, Autumn Leaves, and this past weekend, the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones and the Harvard Callbacks had their jam, Headless Horse-Jam, both at Sanders Theatre.

I wanted to discover what exactly is behind the enormous popularity of a cappella, and so I spoke with a few of the performers from these recent concerts.

"I think a cappella is popular on college campuses primarily because it provides students with an immediate friend group that they can also sing with. I think it's a somewhat informal, friendly way to participate in singing and performing away from the formal structure of a theatrical performance or a choir," said Anise Molina ’14, assistant music director of the Veritones.

Along those same lines, Dylan Nagler ‘14, music director of the Dins, added: "Collegiate a cappella music is inherently a bit silly; it amounts to a soloist singing a popular song over a block of people singing nonsense syllables, but it's incredibly enjoyable to both perform and experience."

And that’s what’s really great about a cappella: Because it’s so silly, it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved. And there are many different ways to get involved, whether on the performing or listening end. Harvard has a sizable number of a cappella groups, and the "groups are all pretty unique in terms of repertoire and sound and since there are so many, a student can find one that is tailored to their preferences," said Kyra Atekwana ’14, a Radcliffe Pitch. That's true whether you want to sing or simply watch.

For the audience, a cappella concerts are enjoyable for a few reasons: the atmosphere of light-hearted fun, the often hilarious on-stage antics of many of the groups (if you have yet to witness the Dins do their "Din Impressions," you’re missing out) and of course the music.

"I love the concept of being to recreate recognizable songs with nothing but voices," said Nagler.

Sitting in the audience and hearing 12 or 13 voices come together to create a familiar song is not only exciting, but also a little bit humbling. It’s a testament to the power of the human voice and the power of people working together to make something beautiful.

[Caption: Founded in 1975, the Radcliffe Pitches are Harvard’s oldest female a cappella singing group. Photo: Radcliffe Pitches]