As a performing art reliant on the collaboration of numerous, unaccompanied voices, a cappella is one of many musical communities on campus forced to reconcile with social distancing boundaries.
Since vocalization is accompanied by a heightened risk of droplet and aerosol viral transmission, most a cappella groups have opted to confront the challenges of a fully virtual format rather than risk in-person gatherings. Consequently, communication technology such as Zoom has become paramount to the safe operations of a cappella groups.
In order to mitigate the chaos that Zoom often creates, Gayathri Raghavendra, a senior at UNC and the president of the co-ed a cappella group The Tarpeggios, explained that rehearsals with the entire group are divided up into smaller breakout rooms by respective soprano, alto, tenor and bass vocal parts.
Raghavendra said the main sessions are then devoted to more general musical goals such as blend and recording strategies, as well as simply catching up with other members.
“We are trying to discuss how we can blend over Zoom and record it in that way," Raghavendra said. “So it sounds cohesive on the recording.”
In addition to overcoming technological limitations, the rapid mass exodus of students from Chapel Hill has made new member recruitment another significant hurdle facing a cappella organizations.
Maggie Albert, a sophomore at UNC and the business and co-publicity manager of the all-gender group the UNC Walk-Ons, said students leaving campus led to increased uncertainty during the audition process.
“I remember the weekend that we were doing our callback people were moving, because it was that week that everybody got sent home, or that the housing stuff came out, so there were a few people who had to drop out of the audition process because they were just too overwhelmed,” Albert said.
Despite the innumerable struggles with rehearsing online and coordinating members in widespread locations, the enthusiasm to uphold standards of performance excellence and facilitate meaningful experiences for a cappella group members has remained untarnished.
Albert emphasized the most important aspect of virtual performance for the Walk-Ons this semester.
“I think what makes a good online performance is maintaining that energy that we did have when we were together, despite the fact that we're now performing for a camera instead of a group of people," Albert said.
Raghavendra said one of the greatest challenges for the Targeggios this semester will be maintaining a social connection between members. She said the group wants to preserve its social aspect, rather than just being a series of responsibilities.
Everette Oxrider, a junior at UNC and the business manager of the Loreleis, an all female a cappella group, also has bittersweet feelings about being fully virtual. She said having their members remote from one another has made the community aspect of a cappella feel disengaged at times.
In conjunction with virtual performances, the presence of an entirely online audience has also precipitated the groups to adjust their digital content.
“I think all of this has kind of put into perspective how we really need to funnel more energy into our online presence,” Oxrider said.
For Raghavendra, Albert and Oxrider, a cappella goes much further than just singing. Although Zoom has served as a practical substitute for a cappella itself, they said the friendships and emotional connection will never quite be the same virtually.
"A cappella at the end of the day is a piece of art, or a form of art, that is truly strengthened by the people standing beside you,” Raghavendra said.
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