At quarter to six last Tuesday evening, Kavya Doraswamy ’24 stood outside the Peucinian Room in the basement of Sills Hall, waiting. She was there to audition for BOKA, one of six a cappella groups on Bowdoin’s campus.
Though trained in classical Indian singing, Doraswamy had never tried a cappella before. It was only after seeing BOKA’s performance at the a cappella recruitment show that she decided to begin her final year at Bowdoin by auditioning.
“This year I was like, I’m just gonna say, ‘screw it,’” she said.
Doraswamy was just one of countless a cappella hopefuls scattered about campus on Monday and Tuesday of last week—the two nights all six groups agreed upon to host auditions.
The groups—BOKA, Bear Tones, the Longfellows, the Meddiebempsters, Miscellania and Ursus Verses—have similar methods of testing candidates’ capabilities. Auditionees are asked to prepare a few bars of a song of their choosing, as well as perform on-the-spot vocal exercises and fill out questionnaires on personality, availability and experience. Each group has a distinct identity (for example, the Longfellows lean barbershop while Ursus Verses leans choral), so no two groups’ priorities are identical.
Nadia Puente ’25, an alto and co-leader of BOKA, stressed two of her group’s major needs after losing eight seniors last spring: good energy and high numbers.
“Going into this new set of auditions, our goal wasn’t to replace anyone,” Puente said. “We would just love some young, powerful singers who are ready to sing, have fun [and] get back to what BOKA used to be.”
The group’s knack for keeping it light shone through in Doraswamy’s audition. Between scales, ear exercises and Doraswamy’s rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Puente and her fellow vocalists laughed about their misbehaving keyboard and polled Doraswamy on her least favorite ice cream flavor (her answer: anything with raisins).
When Doraswamy expressed anxiety about her lack of a cappella experience, Puente was quick to put her at ease.
“BOKA is where glorified shower singers and people who have done choir their whole life meet,” Puente said.
The auditions process is governed by the A Cappella Council, a body made up of representatives from each of the six groups. The council is central to every decision about a cappella on campus, from scheduling performances to recruiting new members.
This year’s elected Council chairs are Chunwen Ko ’25, a bass from the Meddiebempsters, and David Gelinas ’25, a bass from Ursus Verses. They are the group’s main organizers and oversee all internal processes, including auditions.
“I didn’t realize how detail-oriented auditions would be,” Gelinas said. “It’s really just a matter of thinking ahead, being proactive and having some foresight into what could go wrong.”
Following callbacks, the Council comes together for what is perhaps the most crucial part of the audition process: draft night.
The Thursday night after auditions, the council assembled under the fluorescent lights of a conference room on Coles Tower’s 16th floor. The A-Trak remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s “Heads Will Roll” blared from a council member’s school-issued MacBook. It was time for the draft—the moment when each group’s Council representatives come together to make membership offers to the season’s most impressive candidates.
Gelinas and Ko (who was clad in the traditional Meddiebempsters sport coat and tie) stood at the whiteboard, Expo markers in hand. They made six columns on the board—one for each group.
Ko instructed each group to make a list of their most desired candidates. After several minutes of furious scribbling, groups passed their lists to Ko and Gelinas, who copied them on the whiteboard. Candidates contested by multiple groups were denoted with a red circle.
“No one knows what other [groups’s] lists look like,” Puente said. “You have to assume you’re getting everyone you put on the board.”
The word “draft” used to describe this process is a misnomer. Unlike a cappella councils at some other schools, Bowdoin’s council does not barter for candidates. Instead, candidates contested by multiple groups are called and notified of all of their offers by a member of the council. They’re then given five minutes to decide which offer they’d like to accept.
“We tell [candidates], ‘Make sure you’re by your phone, and keep tonight free,’” Puente said.
As soon as lists were finalized, the mad dash to call new members began, with council members ducking in and out of the hallway to notify candidates privately. Whenever someone emerged with news about a candidate’s decision, their new teammates invariably erupted in cheers, often getting up out of their seats.
BOKA made the most offers of any group to increase their numbers. When acceptances started mounting at a dizzying pace, Puente couldn’t stop smiling.
“This feels really nice,” she said. “We’re so excited.”
At the end of the week, the audition process came to a happy end, with every group adding new talent to its roster.
Though Ursus Verses didn’t have many spots to fill, Gelinas said a record-high number of auditions made it easy for the group to meet its needs.
“We ended up having, I think, the most auditions our group has ever had…. There were like 43 in total,” Gelinas said. “It couldn’t have gone better for us.”
For BOKA, the draft was especially successful; it increased its membership from just seven members to 18.
“This was a historic year,” Puente wrote to the Orient. “We normally only let in three [or] four, so this was crazy.”
One of BOKA’s new additions is Nate Hagedorn ’27, a baritone who auditioned for multiple groups to continue nurturing a love of singing he’s had since high school. When he got a call at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night from an unknown number, he was ecstatic.
“I was waiting for the call,” Hagedorn said. “It’s kind of stressful, but it was kind of fun.”
As soon as all new members were notified of their offers, they were initiated into their respective groups. The Council says each group has its own initiation style, but that initiation traditionally starts with recruits getting picked up at their dorms by their new a cappella families on draft night.
According to Hagedorn, BOKA initiation consisted of new members being whisked away to a secret location to perform their audition songs for their new teammates. He performed “Slide” by James Bay.
For all the bureaucracy and uncertainty that marks a cappella auditions at Bowdoin, each group does its part to make the process enjoyable for existing members and hopefuls alike. With auditions officially wrapped up, the real fun begins: gearing up for a packed year of performances.
“I’m super excited about all the people who are in [BOKA],” Hagedorn said. “I’m just really ready to start singing with them and performing for people.”