Aca Pittsburgh

Marci Calabretta

"Everything you sing needs to have intensity." This is the motto of the a cappellists all over Pittsburgh. And not just music – the vocalists involved in A CaPittsburgh do everything with intensity. Although they are as diverse as any student body can get, they all share a love of music.

Those who think the voice is easy to control have never sung a cappella. Vocalists are as much musicians as the most sensational rock star or orchestra soloist. The voice requires as much practice and care as any other instrument. Shower singing culprits can be found as easily as iPod-bopping street dancers, but when it comes down to it, true vocalists know when to get serious. Some of the best of these performers congregate for the biggest event of the year: A CaPittsburgh.

A CaPittsburgh Project has only just seen its second year, but already it has become a sensational staple for the fall semester. This year it was held in Carnegie Mellon’s Rangos Ballroom. Even as eager freshmen and seasoned upperclassmen brought families who trekked miles and hours for Parents Weekend, the larger Pittsburgh community flocked to Carnegie Mellon’s campus in support of the event. At the start, people began filing in, taking their seats and wondering just what sort of treat they were in for. Even as the emcee introduced the first group, a hum of conAlmost unnoticed, the first group took the stage. The soloist, clad in a stunning black gown, stepped up to the microphone - and a hush came over the room. The first few beats of Rihanna’s “Disturbia” kicked up the air; “I’m going crazy now…” The crowd went wild. The beatboxer may have been small, but she pumped out a rhythm that reverberated through the stage as strong as any drummer. Whistles and cheers mixed with the song for each of the thirteen lovely young ladies. These ladies are the sweet and sexy hostesses of the evening: Counterpoint, the only all-female a cappella group in Carnegie Mellon. Their voices rose in spine-tingling harmony, melting away majors, ages, heights, and homework deadlines. Even the freshmen, who had had less than a month to learn six completely new songs, sounded as gorgeous as they looked.

Not three heartbeats after the rhythm of hip hop faded into the throng of captivated listeners, the “bumcha bumcha” of the Jason Mraz classic “I’m Yours” had the crowd almost immediately swaying in their seats. An alto rose in solo as the others cooed and crescendoed. With only two songs, Counterpoint had proven they could cross genres as easily as they crossed streets. The crowd was already theirs when they ended the song, leaving them wanting more. But they didn’t have long to wait because almost immediately the next performers appeared.

Joyful Noise, a mixed-gender group of nine, started with a challenge, perhaps Switchfoot’s most famous hit: “Dare You To Move.” The beatboxer invited the audience to bop to the beat as the soloist’s high, clear voice struck their heartstrings. And how can you not move, with the power of their voices chasing shivers down your spine and rising to the ceiling? This is not an ordinary Christian group; these nine members have been known to hold impromptu jam sessions, practice air guitar in front of the mirror, juggle homework from Carnegie professors, and lift a joyful noise to praise Jesus Christ. By their final song in which they ask for a blessing on the audience, one can’t help but believe as well as they that music has the power to save.

Joyful Noise is not the only group to go all out for charity. Soundbytes is not just giving all concert proceeds to charity. Oh no, these hip, happy, hoppy singers are “Going The Distance,” as their first song by Cake denotes. They’ve even added a bit of a dance routine – their first ever – to their second song, putting the “perform” in performance. Their whole bodies were as engaged in the music as the crowd was, clapping and swaying to the rhythm of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Their last piece was one of last year’s top ten billboard hits. They performed for the last time a stunning arrangement of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.” The soloist was strong and clear, and put his soul into it. Viva la Vida. Viva la Music.

Soundbytes was easily the largest ensemble at sixteen members, evenly split between guys and girls. They have already recorded three albums in Carnegie Mellon’s studio since 2000, which can all be found on their website:

The next group, the Vokols from University of Pittsburgh, mixed Hebrew and American songs, and to add another flavor to their performance, did two British songs: Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” and Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The cool vibrato in the first song balanced the unique and heavy beatboxing to pitch-perfect performance. The sadness filtering through the hushed crowd made one feel as though their deepest yearnings were being manifested in the music.

Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but not for the barefoot crew of Deewane, which is Hindi for “madly in love.” In this fresh a cappella group, thirteen Southeast Asian men bring their charms and vibes to Pittsburgh. They blur genres as flawlessly as, they say, “mixing red hot chili peppers and Indian music, a combination that, until now, only worked for food.” Clad in the Indian traditional formalwear of maroon kurta and white chunni, their music was captivating, their energy vibrant, and their song arrangements original. Their first song, called “Delhi Destiny” by Raja Hassan, displayed the wide range of pitch at their disposal. From the highest note to the lowest bass, these vocalists stole the hearts of the audience in short order with the translation: “We have finally arrived. We are the new kings of this town”. But all doubt about their eclectic style was swept away with the campus favorite, “Snow” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, rendered in their own foreign flavor. Their closing piece, “Down” by Jay Sean, a recent hit played in supermarkets and sand parties alike, immediately became an audience favorite. Girls screamed as the chorus began: “Baby are you down down down down down.” Yeah, Deewane, we’re down, and we’re definitely “deewane with Deewane”.

The second group from University of Pittsburgh was the Pitt Pendulums, eleven students who kicked off their performance with the lighthearted hit, “Roll To Me.” Their voices matched as perfectly as their black and blue outfits. And for these talented vocalists, standing around a microphone or two didn’t quite cut it for them. They bopped around the stage, made faces at each other, and generally had the time of their lives. Their second song, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” made us fall in love with them even more. “Dreamers Disease” by the New Radicals had some of the craziest sound effects to ever come from the human throat, adding a new layer to the enjoyment of their songs. Indeed, this spunky group has “got the music” in them.

The last group started with one man, who with a trembling voice begged his fellow legends to come on stage. Immediately thirteen other men, clad in white shirts, blue jeans, and blue ties, stormed the stage from the back of the room. Their crazy, barely restrained energy was palpable even in the silence they used to situate themselves. Their rendition of “If You’re Gone” by Matchbox 20 was so angelic it sent shivers of delight through the crowd. As they continued their set, not one female heart went un-smitten by the voices of these fourteen charmers. The last song of their lineup was dedicated to the parents as they took it back to the oldies with a mash-up of “Get Ready Cuz Here I Come,” “My Girl” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” The younger people may have enjoyed this piece, but the parents couldn’t stop smiling, clapping in time to the classic beat. These engaging and gorgeous Originals reinvented romance through the perfect harmony of their songs.

To finish off the concert, Counterpoint reappeared to sing a final four songs, the first of which was “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” from Hercules. They may not say it, but the reaction from the audience was more than enough evidence to show that they were definitely in love with these singers. Counterpoint ended with their version of the epic classic “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” From the tiny body of Disturbia’s beatboxer rocked the most powerful soprano solo of the night. As the last notes faded, the audience burst into a final round of deafening applause.

Music is Power. Power to sing. Power to dance. Power to push boundaries. Power to unite. Power to heal. Every year the goal of the A CaPittsburgh Project is to collect proceeds from the concert to a musically-related program in Pittsburgh. This year they chose the Autism Center of Pittsburgh’s Music Therapy Program, which harnesses the healing power of music as a form of therapy. A CaPittsburgh was able to raise a fantastic $3,500 to the Autism Center for musical equipment for music therapy classes.

If you missed A CaPittsburgh or just can’t get enough, don’t feel like you have to wait an entire year for the next concert. These groups are spread out across Pittsburgh’s campuses and are performing in venues all over town. Be sure to check bulletin boards, Facebook events, twitter accounts, and look out for the Soundbytes and Originals co-hosted event No Instruments Aloud. Counterpoint and all the participating a cappella groups would like to shout out to their sponsors and also to an audience of music lovers who came to hear them, and first-timers to this non-instrumental genre. If the a cappella groups continue to create such successful renditions of both time-honored hits and radical new experiments, the Steel City will resound with captivating four-part harmony and deafening applause.