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'A really cool experience': UNC a capella groups balance commitment and fun

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The UNC Achordants perform during their fall concert on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. Photo Courtesy of Caroline Bittenbender.

UNC a cappella groups have performed in a variety of places — by the Old Well on the last day of classes, at Sunset Serenade, in the Pit and even at the White House. Some groups also release their own music.

But how much work goes into these performances?

According to the president of the Clef Hangers, Imani Chabikuli, a cappella is a large time commitment.

“We rehearse two times a week, three hours each,” he said. “Beyond that, we usually do a good amount of gigs throughout the week.”

The Clef Hangers are an all-male a cappella group and the oldest on UNC’s campus. They hold a traditional concert each semester and perform at many private gigs throughout the year. Chabikuli said the balance of the group and academics caught him off guard his first year.

“I was kind of expecting it to be just another regular club," he said.

Since time commitments vary by group, some groups take a more laid-back approach.

According to their website, the Achordants, another all-male a cappella group, believe in having fun making music and not taking themselves too seriously.

When looking for a group to join at UNC, Achordants Music Director Luke Farinelli said he knew he just wanted to have fun.

“I did the whole suit and tie thing in high school, and I was like, I want to wear a jersey with a dumb name on the back,” Farinelli said.

The Achordants put on a concert every semester consisting of comedy skits and over a dozen songs. Farinelli said in the week leading up to each performance, the group will practice four or five hours a day for the entire week.

“It’s a lot of work,” Farinelli said. “But man, even those five-hour rehearsals, when we do have them, go by very fast.”

The Achordants have a sister a cappella group, Cadence, which consists of all-female singers. Olivia Stokes, the design chair for Cadence, said she was very fortunate to have found community in such an amazing group.

Cadence, like the Achordants and Clefs, rehearses twice a week and performs at the end of every semester featuring about a dozen songs in their show.

Stokes said she used to think the goal of music was to make it as clean and perfect as possible; through Cadence, she has since shifted towards the idea that music should be fun.

In addition to the concerts and gigs, all three of these groups record their music and have released albums on streaming platforms.

“It’s a really cool experience to be able to record, and then also to hear yourself on Apple Music,” Chabikuli said.

Some groups on campus, like the Walk-Ons and Tarpeggios, choose to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Rehearsing for the ICCA is a big time commitment, Farinelli said, because groups who compete have to commit even more time to rehearsal.

Although the Clefs rehearse six hours a week, they choose not to compete in the ICCA.

Chabikuli said the group values their gigs a lot, and they aren’t willing to trade off those performances in order to practice for competition.

“Competitions are a really big deal and a huge time commitment,” Chabikuli said. “And I have the utmost respect for the groups who do [compete].”

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Many UNC a cappella groups have had successful showings at ICCA, most recently in February when the Tarpeggios won the ICCA quarterfinals.

While time management can be difficult, both Farinelli and Stokes said they have a close relationship with their respective groups which makes the many hours they've put in even more enjoyable.

“Going to rehearsal doesn’t feel like extra work for me,” Stokes said. “It just feels like I’m going to hang out with my friends.”

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