Pitt a capella groups reflect on past year, discuss new season

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Image courtesy of Irene Cho

The Songburghs, a co-ed a cappella group at Pitt.

By Anna Ligorio, Senior Staff Writer

The 2012 film “Pitch Perfect” introduced viewers to many things — the infamous Cup Song, Anna Kendrick and most notably, cutthroat college a capella competitions. But how much of this a capella depiction from the movie is accurate, and how much is just fiction?

According to Irene Cho, president of the Songburghs, a co-ed a cappella group at Pitt, some parts of the movie are very accurate.

“So you know how, in Pitch Perfect, they do the ICCA’s, the competition where they all compete and like they do medleys and like choreo?” Cho said. “We do the same thing.”

Along with the Songburghs, Pitt has many other a cappella groups. Some of these groups include Sounds Like Treble, a women’s group; The Pitt Pendulums, Pitt’s oldest group; Pittch Please, a men’s group; Pitches & Tones, C Flat Run and Pitt Avaaz.

Krittika Banerji, a junior at Pitt and member of Pitt Avaaz, a co-ed South Asian a cappella group, said her group usually performs a fusion of western and South Asian music.

For most of our live performances, we do a mashup of like an Indian song and like a Western song,” she said. “It’s a pretty cool mashup, so we kind of do a mixture of both.”

Anya Lee, a rising senior and president of the co-ed Pitches and Tones, said when it comes time to audition for a group, newcomers should look through each a capella group’s Instagram and YouTube accounts to get a better grip on what style of music they make.

“I know each group likes to dabble in lots of different genres of music, but each group primarily has one genre of music that they do the most,” Lee said. “If you’re looking to be a little bit more pop or a little bit more alternative or something a little more Broadway, there’s a group for all of those things.”

For Banerji, joining Pitt Avaaz was a great way for her to appreciate her South Asian heritage while also performing a cappella.

“Being South Asian, I thought it’d be a cool way to stay connected to my culture,” Banerji said.  “I also auditioned for a couple others, and I think this one just appealed to me the most.”

Banerji said she has been involved in singing and performing since she was young. Because of this, she knew she wanted to join an a cappella group before she even came to Pitt.

“I have always been singing since I was young, I did choir all of high school and musical theater, so I couldn’t see myself not being in some type of vocal group in college,” Banerji said.

A cappella groups aren’t just performance outlets for talented student vocalists. According to Sreya Dey, rising sophomore and business manager of the Songburghs, joining a cappella groups isn’t always competitive, and it is a way to meet other students and create friendships.

“Everybody’s on the same page, and we all respect each other’s opinions and value each other’s membership,” Dey said. “One thing that I really like about our group is that we all are friends, but we also know how to switch and go in business mode when we need to.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a cappella groups to adjust to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pitt safety guidelines this past academic year. According to Dey, the Songburghs did not participate in any of their usual performances or competitions. Instead, the group rehearsed and learned music for fun. 

Cho said the Songburghs toned down their rehearsals and practices to focus on their members’ mental health.

“I think something that a lot of people struggled with was just burnout, not just in the a capella sense, but just also the life sense,” Cho said. “It came to a point where we decided that it would be better for us to prioritize mental health by making sure that we all have the time to just kind of rest and recharge. 

Of all the things Lee has learned from COVID-19, she said when the season starts up again in the fall semester she’ll be implementing new rules, particularly about cleaning. Lee, who served as the tech director for all of the a cappella groups on campus her sophomore and junior years, wants the mics especially to be clean.

“All the a cappella groups on campus share one set of maybe 20 microphones,” Lee said. “I’m not running that anymore but for whoever I’m training I will definitely have a new system for cleaning and for checking out the equipment just so that we keep it all on track.”

And with COVID-19 restrictions loosening, a capella groups can now look forward to a revival of in-person performances in the fall. One of these performances, an annual Halloween concert, includes all of Pitt’s a cappella groups. 

“In the fall, we have our retreat as well as a Halloween concert, which is with all of the a cappella groups combined,” Dey said. “And we’re hopefully getting ready to get back on track and perform at the ICCA’s in the spring semester.”

For Cho, some of her favorite moments with the Songburghs have been performing in concerts with her group. She said being able to show off their hard work throughout the year is an incredibly satisfying feeling, no matter where the group places. 

“I remember thinking that no matter where we placed, or no matter what the results would be, I would be completely satisfied just knowing that we finally got to show people how much time and dedication we put into it,” Cho said.

 

Diana Velasquez contributed reporting.

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