Throughout the fall semester, Canvas will follow several of UNC’s student a cappella groups, looking and listening to what makes each unique.
In this third installment of the series, staff writer Everett Handy looked at the time honored traditions of the UNC Clef Hangers.
Whether starting or finishing their education at the University of North Carolina, many students may remember hearing the Clef Hangers singing “Carolina in My Mind” during commencement and graduation.
From their vests to their bowties, the all male a cappella group is filled with tradition and remains part of the UNC experience for many tar heels.
The group has been together since the 1970s when it was first organized as the "Morrison Dorm Singers." Dorm singing is a UNC tradition that still remains for residents of Morrison and South Campus, but it is only a part of the long history that makes the Clef Hangers the ensemble it is.
Barry Saunders, the group’s founder in 1977, came to UNC wanting to sing harmony with his fellow peers. When opportunities for him within UNC’s music department seemed scarce, he decided to start his own musical organization. By December, the group that would become the Clef Hangers held its first performance at the Morrison Dorm Coffeehouse.
It wasn’t until 1978, after the group had changed their name, that they had their first official performance in the Pit. In the following years the group began to branch out to new venues, gaining popularity among students and Chapel Hill residents.
Since its foundation, the Clef Hangers have released 16 professionally-produced albums with the last being "The Mallard," released in 2013. The Clef Hangers received its first contemporary a cappella recording award - CARA - for “Best Soloist” in the song “Easy,” featured on their 2004 album “Breeze," and won two more CARA’s in the years since.
From singing to music lovers in Chapel Hill, the Clefs have performed for audiences in a variety of other countries, including Spain, France, Scotland, Jamaica, Greece and Italy, as well all over the U.S.
Junior year President, Channing Mitzell, said he’ll never forget how the Clef Hangers traveled to Indiana to surprise his sister and sing for her wedding.
“I was a new member to the group when we went there," Mitzell said. "I’ll never forget how every member of the group drove the 16 hour car ride to Indiana to add an element to one of my family’s most memorable moments. Those moments where the members don’t have to go but they choose to surprise my sister for her wedding in Indiana or drive to Nashville to sing at the funeral of one of our member’s grandfather anyways are when this group really shows how awesome it is.”
While touring New York City, the Clef Hangers performed live for “Good Morning America” on ABC. The group's most popular performance on campus is their semiannual concert in Memorial Hall each fall, which will be on October 25th this year.
The group experiments with a mixture of music styles, but regularly performs top 40, Folk and Pop-Rock songs. This semester, the Clef Hangers will be performing adaptions of popular 1980s songs “Your Love” by The Outfield and “Africa” by Toto, as well as the recent hits “Chandelier” by Sia and “Ignition Remix” by R Kelly. Senior music director, Jeffrey Popkins, explained the group's process of democratic song selection.
“Essentially we sit down as a group and listen to music together," he said. “I suggest songs for us to listen and choose from, as do others, but in the end we always decide together."
The Clef Hangers practice regularly, at least 7-8 hours a week, not only to perform well, but to bring music to students passing through the Pit or on their way to class.
"All of the arrangements come from within the group," Popkins said. "I know how to arrange songs and so do a couple others. We arrange it, practice it and perform it.”
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