Throughout the school year, students flock to campus venues to hear their favorite a cappella groups perform. Whether the event is the large holiday concert in Pickard or a more intimate, laidback gathering in Ladd House, the performances are well attended almost without exception. However, there is a lot more to the world of a cappella than belting out your favorite Macklemore song in the chapel. There are logistics involved: organizing auditions, obtaining recording funds and the ongoing effort to dispel the prevalent notion of tense rivalries between groups.
The A Cappella Council, spearheaded by Noah Gavil ’14, works to facilitate communication between the six groups to ensure that these logistics run as smoothly as possible. Although the groups perform together three times a year, their contact is otherwise fairly limited, and the Council has recently been working to change that.
“This year, for the first time that I remember, we had a big meeting between all the other groups to work through some of the kinks,” said Kevin Miao ’14 of the Longfellows. “In the past, it was much more fragmented and there wasn’t much communication.”
One of the most important aspects of this communication occurs during audition period. At the beginning of the year, each group goes around to the first year bricks to do “dorm sings,” making sure not to overlap too closely with anyone else. Interested students then sign up for auditions later in the week.
“People kind of do their own thing with auditions, but it’s mostly a variation of the same thing,” said Gavil, who added that after the first wave of auditions, leaders from each group consult to create a schedule for callbacks. This way, if someone gets a callback from two groups, they can attend both.
“There’s a big draft through all the groups where we talk about who wants whom,” said Erica Nangeroni ’14 of the coed group BOKA. “If we have someone we really can’t make a decision on we say, ‘Hey, you got into a couple groups; you have a few minutes to decide which one you want to be in.’ It’s a little high pressure.”
As a side note, Nangeroni added, “We tend to have more girls audition than guys. The general trend is that boys are pulled a little bit more towards all-male groups and girls are pulled more towards coed group.”
“There have been occasions where someone has been in two groups, but it is somewhat discouraged,” said Gavil. “They are always in one group first and then if they want to be in another group, they can audition in later years.”
The lack of overlap in groups could feed the idea of their being rivalries amongst them, but Gavil, a member of Ursus Verses, maintains that this is not the case.
“It’s all artificial to me—it’s sort of funny,” he said. “I think any rivalries are not real rivalries—they’re not like Seahawks and 49ers—and I think what is cool is that all the groups definitely have their own vibe, and their sort of type of repertoire and type of presentation.”
Meddiebempster Michael Yang ’14 agreed, highlighting the difference in presentation between the two all-male groups. Where the Meddiebempsters (Meddies) are more “barbershop and tongue-in-cheek,” according to Yang, the Longfellows have a slightly more modern style in terms of song choice, arrangement and choreography.
“We sing completely different things,” said Miao. “The kinds of kids who are attracted to the Longfellows aren’t necessarily attracted to what the Meddies bring to the table and [vice versa].”
However, just because such rivalries do not exist does not mean that they never did.
“I know that my freshman year, some of the Meddie/Longfellow seniors—I don’t even know who—just personally didn’t like each other, and that grew into a group thing,” said Yang.
“We have been trying to get rid of the perception of rivalries. I’ve loved a lot of Longfellows…As long as both groups are good, then that is a great thing,” he added.
Nangeroni expressed similar sentiments.
“When I was younger, there were more rigid rivalries so to speak,” she said. “I think there was just a little bit more contention when I was an underclassman, and I can’t really say why.”
She added that Thursday night’s Bursurka—a joint concert with BOKA and Ursus Verses—is a good way to dissolve the notion of rivalries.
“I think the [idea] stems from the fact that there are two male groups, two female groups and two co-ed groups, and automatically people think that all of them are going to be butting heads,” she said. “Bursurka is a good opportunity for us to show the campus that the coed groups are here to work together and we’re just here to have fun with each other.”
“There’s always a friendly rivalry,” said Margaret Lindeman ’15 of Ursus Verses, “but I think it more comes from the fact that every group wants to make really good music. So we’re always pushing ourselves to perform better and be as good as we can be, not by putting other groups down, but by doing the best that we can.”
One aspect of the a cappella community that has always been strong is alumni relations, particularly with the Meddies and Longfellows, who hold frequent reunions.
“We have really tight alumni connections,” said Yang. “I know alums from ’06-’07 pretty well even though I never went to school with them, because they visited here sometimes. I’ve been added to the email thread list of recent alumni from 2001 on, and there’s a Facebook group too.”
Although the alumnae networks in the all-female groups may not be quite as established, the leaders say that their alumnae remain an important part of their identity. Over Spring Break, Miscellania did a weeklong tour of New England and New York, where they were able to touch base with several alumnae.
“We’ve done relatively informal reunions in the past, but I think it would be great to do a bigger, official reunion, too,” said Paige Gribb ’14 of Miscellania. “We’ll have our 45th anniversary in 2017, so that will definitely be cause for celebration.”
Above all else, the singers all seem to agree that a cappella has been a defining part of their Bowdoin experience, and many of them hope to continue singing after graduation.
“[A cappella] has helped me with my personal confidence in terms of singing,” said Nangeroni. “It’s honed my leadership skills but also my public speaking skills. After college, I know that I want to keep singing. I don’t know when or where, but I know that I need some sort of outlet, because it’s been a great way to just relieve stress and I enjoy it so much.”
Founded 2001 * co-ed
BEHIND THE NAME: Ursus means bear in Latin, and verse is a musical term for a line of words
Founded 1972 * ALL WOMEN
BEHIND THE NAME: Created the year women were first admitted to Bowdoin; wanted the name to match the Meddiebempsters; looked in a dictionary and chose Miscellania
MUSICAL STYLE: Range of classical choral music and current pop
MOST POPULAR SONGS: Depends on the audience, but currently “Royals” by Lorde
TRADITION OR EVENT THEY’RE ASSOCIATED WITH: ValJam with the Longfellows and Meddielania with the Meddiebempsters
CLAIM TO FAME: They were on Maine Public Broadcasting Network with the Meddiebempsters a couple of years ago.
RECORDINGS: Several CDs are out, most recently Little Black Dress, and another in the works for this year or next
SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE ATTIRE: Black dresses
IF THEY COULD PERFORM ANY SONG, WHAT WOULD IT BE: “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel
Founded 2004 * ALL men
BEHIND THE NAME: Named after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, class of 1825
MUSICAL STYLE: Pop, contemporary a cappella and traditional American choral pieces
MOST POPULAR SONGS: “Hey Juliet” by LMNT
TRADITION OR EVENT THEY’RE ASSOCIATED WITH: ValJam with Miscellania
CLAIM TO FAME: Semi-finals at the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella 3 years ago; made the Top 30 on the show Sing Off two seasons ago; sang the national anthem at a Celtics games
RECORDINGS: A new EP is on the way, and they have previously recorded three CDs.
SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE ATTIRE: Black suits
Founded 1994 * co-ed
BEHIND THE NAME: It stood for Bowdoin’s Only Co-ed A Cappella, but the Best of College A Cappella CD acronym caused confusion, so the C was changed to a K
MUSICAL STYLE: Pop, with a little bit of indie
MOST POPULAR SONGS: A mashup of “As Long As You Love Me” by Justin Bieber and “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry
TRADITION OR EVENT THEY’RE ASSOCIATED WITH: Bursurka with Ursus Versus
CLAIM TO FAME: Low-key concerts for friends in college houses
RECORDINGS: The last CD was recorded 3 years ago, and another one is due this spring
SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE ATTIRE: Jewel tones
IF THEY COULD PERFORM ANY SONG, WHAT WOULD IT BE: “No Scrubs” by TLC
Founded 2007 * ALL WOMEN
BEHIND THE NAME: Randy Nichols said that the group was pretty in crime so they decided to incorporate it into the group’s name.
MUSICAL STYLE: Mostly folk with some higher energy music.
MOST POPULAR SONGS: A mashup of “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys and “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem ft. Rihanna
TRADITION OR EVENT THEY’RE ASSOCIATED WITH: PrezJam with the Meddiebempsters
CLAIM TO FAME: They perform in many elderly homes in Brunswick and for the Portland Review.
RECORDINGS: One currently out, with another coming next year.
SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE ATTIRE: Seasonal. They wear sweaters and try to coordinate.
IF THEY COULD PERFORM ANY SONG, WHAT WOULD IT BE: “Elastic Heart” by Sia
Founded 1937 * ALL men
BEHIND THE NAME: The original story is that someone was blindfolded while throwing darts at a map of Maine, and one dart struck Lake Meddybemps.
MUSICAL STYLE: Founded on barbershop, but they also do jazz arrangements and modern pop songs
MOST POPULAR SONGS: “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington and “Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby” by Les Applegate
TRADITION OR EVENT THEY’RE ASSOCIATED WITH: PrezJam with Bellamafia, and their annual tour
CLAIM TO FAME: They’ve sung at the White House, in Korea and in California
RECORDINGS: Decades of CDs, including Christmas with the Meddies
SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE ATTIRE: Khakis, white shirts, blue blazers, and Bowdoin polar bear ties
IF THEY COULD PERFORM ANY SONG, WHAT WOULD IT BE: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot