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Tuesday, September 29, 2020


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A cappella spring concert brings groups together

The Octaves had a barbershop-quartet feel to them, but with a modern twist, during their rehearsals for their spring concert. The only doo-wopping happened during warm-up, then it was on to more contemporary tunes such as "Fireflies" by Owl City and "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz - songs that set a mood for spring.

The 11 members of the Octaves, the oldest a cappella group on campus, are rehearsing for their biggest performance of the year - the Spring Fever XVI concert at 7:30 p.m. on March 26 in the Camp Concert Hall. The event will include performances by the University of Richmond Sirens as well as the College of William & Mary's Accidentals and the University of Maryland's PandemoniUM.

The young men nearly filled an empty classroom in Booker Hall as they rehearsed, wearing the telltale indicators - flip-flops, shades and shorts - that spring has finally arrived. They talked about the physics Olympics, discussed the possibility of a compost pile for the University Forest Apartments and shared a few choice words about the Sirens before forming a semi-circle at the front of the room and performing a few warm-up doo-wops.

"We usually practice three to five hours a week," said Ben Paul, president of the Octaves. "But we have four performances this week and we're practicing a whole lot for Spring Fever. This is going to be the 16th year we've done this concert and for us it's the culmination of our year's work. And we'll get to present our repertoire."

Every Octave was anticipating a blowout this Friday. The group's advertising strategy for the event was to make it viral on Facebook and sell T-shirts, said Geoff Weathersby, vice president and executive officer of professional events, during rehearsal. Being able to spread the word through friends and tabling in the Tyler Haynes Commons this week was also vital for the success of the show, he said.

Paul said the aim of their tabling efforts was to be obnoxious. He said he wanted to see a packed house and earn more than $2,000 from the concert by selling tickets, which are $6 in advance and $8 at the door, and merchandise.

"That's what I've been working toward as president," Paul said. "I want to sell out the concert hall. I want it full of friends and family and strangers who can enjoy the music."

It's easy to see that the group interacts like a family when one glimpses the chemistry the Octaves share during practice. They teased each other's singing and laughed it off afterward. They worked an air guitar into their rendition of "New Perspective" by Panic! at the Disco.

They paused to watch freshman Ryan Papera e-mail his mom. They were, in short, jammin', snappin', singin' brothers that were serious about a cappella and Spring Fever XVI but were always up for a good or raunchy laugh.

One of the best things about the group's fraternity-like personality when it came to the Spring Fever concert, was hosting the visiting a cappella groups, Paul said.

"Everyone understands what it's like to be in a cappella," Paul said. "They know the amount of work that goes into it."

That understanding usually helps the groups bond both during the concert and afterward at the wrap-up parties, he said.

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Mary Bonney, business manager of William & Mary's Accidentals, agreed with Paul about the camaraderie that comes from being in this type of musical group.

"I'm not in a sorority because I'm in a cappella," Bonney said, adding that there were 11 a cappella groups on the William & Mary campus. "It gives you a huge social life. It's an entire subculture here. And when we go to y'all's campus we're looking forward to hanging out with [other a cappella kids]."

The Sirens' rehearsal was as genial and familial as the guy's group, as they settled into piano room 201.

Megan Bell, a member of Sirens, said the group members considered themselves a support group of sorts, and acted like a sorority. They comforted one member with a hoarse voice and complained about the University of Richmond's NCAA game. The Sirens' close friendships help them perform, both in and out of the practice room, said Catie Venable, president and music coordinator. She said the bond was especially important with the Spring Fever performance only days away.

But it's not all work. Like the members of the other performing groups mentioned, students get into a cappella because it's social and fun. Before a single song was sung at rehearsal, for example, the women laughed at a dedication on the room's main piano that read: "Guyon Worth Comby who gave many hours of pleasure to others."

"I want that on my tombstone," said one member, under her breath almost in a deadpan.

In rehearsal, the students work hard practicing songs that are instantly recognizable, filling rooms with careful harmonies and melodies that are addictive. The men and women's faces exude a sense of passion and distraction indicative of the conflicting period of beauty and work that is spring before finals. And the Octaves prepare to welcome spring with one of their favorite activities:

"Singing it soul to soul / Brother to brother / A cappella / Well, it sounds good to me."

Contact staff writer Jordan Trippeer at

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