Junior Patrick Dow didn’t choose the a cappella life. The a cappella life chose him.
After arriving from the United Kingdom as a first-year student to attend school at UNC, he auditioned to join the Clef Hangers, the University’s oldest all-male a cappella group.
“Obviously, I came to a university in the United States for a few reasons. A cappella wasn’t one of them,” said Dow, who now presides over the group. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea about a cappella groups, the history, nothing.”
But his talent and expertise in exercising his vocal cords made him one of three students to receive an invitation to join the group after 85 auditioned in the fall of 2016. Dow said he auditioned for the Clef Hangers because he was unaware of how popular a cappella groups were on campus — at least 10 are registered on the Heel Life website.
Generally, there isn’t a set number of students associated with each group, as they fluctuate every semester, but dozens sacrifice their time for the camaraderie and the opportunities the groups offer.
For Dow, it’s been a wild ride. Although, he blindly became a Clef Hanger, he’s stayed with the group for the past three years — rehearsing six hours and performing at least a few more every week. But the music major has sung at the White House, at a NASCAR race and in more than five countries with the Clef Hangers.
“One reason I stayed is because you get these great friends, and then you do all these things — while singing,” Dow said.
Dow calls the 14 other Clef Hangers his best friends. But for Elizabeth Jackson, the president of Tar Heel Voices, the oldest co-ed a capella group at UNC, the members are more than her friends – they're her roommates.
Jackson, a junior public policy major, also discovered a cappella as a first-year in 2015, but didn’t get into the group in the fall — when about 90 people applied and only five were accepted. She joined the following semester and now serves as the president.
During her tenure, the group participated in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella for the first time in five years and won for outstanding arrangement in the regional quarter finals.
Her involvement in THV takes up a lot of her time. They perform around three times per week and rehearse for about six hours.
“It’s the time commitment of a job,” she said. “I remember I had five exams and a paper one week. It wasn’t a good scenario, but I made it through.”
Sophomore Hannah Hendren, the president of the UNC Walk-Ons, a co-ed a cappella group, said they also are a tight-knit community.
“We’re actually so very different,” Hendren said. “Everyone comes from different walks of life. It’s a complete mashup of people.”
For the rehearsals to be successful, members start by sharing the events of their days. She said it helps everyone get a sense of the energy in the room.
Hendren balances classes for her business administration and dramatic arts double-major with practices for theater shows, rehearsals and gigs for the Walk-Ons. Much like Dow and Jackson’s accounts, she said what keeps drawing her to the group is the friendships she’s made.
“Our group is a very nice family,” she said. “It’s the one constant in my life. No matter what happens they’re there.”
The Tar Heel Voices will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year with their spring concert. Similarly, to commemorate their recent 40th anniversary, the Clef Hangers also performed in front of 175 of the group’s alumnus.
The current members are fundraising for a scholarship endowment for future members.
“As a group we feel strongly about giving back,” Dow said. "And we can’t think of a better way to do so than helping a future Clef Hanger pay for his education.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.