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Sunset Serenade attracts new students to a cappella

(From right) Valerie Sauer, Susanna Trotter, Taylor Lingle and Katie Arney practice their rendition of "Love Runs Out" by One Republic in preparation for Monday's Sunset Serenade.
(From right) Valerie Sauer, Susanna Trotter, Taylor Lingle and Katie Arney practice their rendition of "Love Runs Out" by One Republic in preparation for Monday's Sunset Serenade.

Maybe it was their intricate harmonies, or a desire to mimic the movie “Pitch Perfect,” but the freshman knew she belonged on that stage.

Now, Celia Vitale is a junior in the Loreleis, an all-female a cappella group, and said she owes her great years at UNC to Sunset Serenade.

“After I heard the Loreleis at Sunset Serenade, I knew that could be my niche at Chapel Hill,” Vitale said. “Seeing this powerful group of girls killing it on stage, I was like, ‘I have to be part of that.’”

Vitale wasn’t the only person hooked on a cappella after her first Sunset Serenade. Senior journalism and communications double major Alyson Smith said her freshman year Sunset Serenade helped her appreciate a different art form.

But a cappella hasn’t always been thought of as cool.

“There’s a switch when you get to college that suddenly gives you an appreciation for different things, like a cappella,” Smith said.

“I think there’s a greater acceptance of diversity here, whereas you couldn’t always showcase what you liked in high school.”

Vitale said she never received the same recognition as a high school choir student that she gets now with the Loreleis.

“Getting to college, people aren’t as obsessed with being cool or fitting in a certain stereotype,” she said. “And actually I think ‘Pitch Perfect’ had a lot to do with a cappella being cool. Everyone knows that movie and will often ask me if that’s my life.”

The a cappella community is a friendly one, Vitale said, in spite of the competitive image “Pitch Perfect” portrays.

“Sure, we have competitions, but we aren’t rivals with the other groups or anything,” she said. “Because the Clefs and Loreleis are both sponsored by the GAA, we are paired up a lot and have become good friends.”

The General Alumni Association hosts Sunset Serenade as part of its Week of Welcome activities, featuring six a cappella groups.

“The GAA came up with the idea of Sunset Serenade as a way to welcome kids back to class,” C. Hawkins, GAA manager of student engagement, said.

“We’ve kept the tradition going because the response was so overwhelming.”

If the concert is not rained out, Hawkins said the GAA estimates 4,000 people will attend the event. Approximately another 200 will attend “You’ve Got Mail,” the run-off event on Aug. 21 for a cappella teams not chosen to participate in Sunset Serenade.

“We believe in being involved with the current students and looking for ways to connect them with alumni,” Hawkins said. “So, sponsoring two groups and hosting concerts makes sense because the a cappella culture is so strong here.”

But this isn’t the only time to catch the a cappella groups in action.

“I love it when the Clefs or Achordants come to my sorority for Bid Day,” Smith said. “It’s like we are getting our own private concert.”

Whether promoting concerts in the Pit or helping with wedding proposals, it all begins with Sunset Serenade.

“There’s a lot of anticipation because we know Sunset Serenade is where we get potential new Loreleis. It also sets the tone for the rest of the year,” Vitale said.

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Smith said she is looking forward to kicking off her senior year with one of her favorite Carolina events.

“It’s definitely one of those experiences you have to do because it’s the best way to start the year.”