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Davis, California

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Aggies in a cappella


Overview of a cappella community at UC Davis

It was roughly 9:30 p.m. one night her freshman year when Yanise Nevarez remembered that auditions for the one of Davis’ a cappella groups ended at 10 p.m. After not getting into any groups at the joint a cappella auditions beforehand, she thought there was nothing to lose. So she showed up in her pajamas, blew the crowd away, and was accepted into the Cleftomaniacs, quickly becoming a part of the UC Davis a cappella community.

“Once I went to my first rehearsal with them, they all just wanted to get to know me,” said Nevareza, a third-year English and Chicana/o studies double major and now president of the Cleftomaniacs. “They had made nicknames for everybody the first day, I remember I was late so my nickname was like something about being tardy all the time. It was a really great experience. It really is a small family inside of Davis.”

A cappella is a form of music that doesn’t use any sort of instrumental accompaniment. Those who sing in a group use only their voices to produce the music, and modern a cappella has transitioned to using percussion noises created by beat boxers.

There are a number of a cappella groups on the UC Davis campus, and each one tends to range between 7 and 16 members. The Cleftomaniacs (Cleftos) started in 2014 and are one of Davis’ newest groups.

“Right now we’re actually the smallest we’ve been,” Nevarez said. “Two years ago we were pretty big [at] about 20 members, and that was probably the biggest size of most of the groups on campus. Since then it’s gotten a little bit easier to reduce the size so that we can have a more equal balance of members.”

The Cleftos were born in the interest of being an all-female group, but that idea didn’t last long. The group has since become co-ed in order to open the door of possibilities for its sound. As the newest group on campus, it has worked hard the past few years to prove itself to the existing a cappella community.

“We were literally amateurs, so it definitely took some time to kind of prove ourselves as being a part of the a cappella community,” Nevarez said. “As far as the group itself, it was fairly welcoming. [Other groups] would invite us to shows and showcases so we could feel what it’s like to perform and be a part of the community.”

Since “Pitch Perfect” was released in 2012, a cappella has risen in mainstream awareness and popularity, but it was around on the UC Davis campus long before the film. The very first group established at UC Davis was the Lounge Lizards, which was founded in 1995 by a group of students in the Tercero dorms.

“[The name] is actually an old saying in the music community, like a lounge lizard, somebody who hangs around and lounges, old jazz musicians I think,” said Gabriel Pereyra, a third-year transfer English major and member of the Lounge Lizards. “Basically we’re a competitive a cappella group, so we go around to competitions and we practice about two to three times a week.”

The Lounge Lizards is a co-ed group made up of about fifteen people who characterize their sound as warm and dark and prefer to sing songs from genres influenced by jazz and pop.

At UC Davis, a cappella groups hold joint auditions in the fall, but throughout the year individual groups may also host their own.

“We have two rounds of auditions,” said Brendan Caskey, a third-year genetics major and member of the Lounge Lizards. “The first round is almost all entirely listening to the voice and confidence, but then the second round if they get through that, we bring them to one of our rehearsals and teach them some of our music. A major part of that is seeing how they interact with the other members of the group and looking for any red flags that might indicate future conflicts.”

Members of the Lounge Lizards pride themselves in the close-knit connection of their group — they’re not only looking for new members with great voices, but also a personality to vibe with other members. This is the running theme for many of the a cappella groups on campus when it comes to auditions.  

“The way that we go about picking new members is music comes first, that is the priority, we are primarily a music group, and the family and the connection and the personalities and the friendship that we all share is a very close secondary,” said Anusha Suresh, a fourth-year biology major and co-president of The Spokes. “Sometimes people walk in and you just feel that Spokes energy. All of us have some sort of spunkiness, or honestly weirdness to us, but we are very comfortable around each other to really show that weirdness.”

The Spokes is Davis’ only all-female a cappella group. It began in 2004 by a number of members who actually used to be a part of a different a cappella group on campus but wanted to be in charge of their unique sound.

“[The founders] started this group basically with the idea of ‘we want an all-female group that empowers each other through music’ and we have really created a sisterhood within our group,” Suresh said. “[When] we pick our songs they can be fun, we don’t really restrict ourselves to a genre. Most of our songs are pop, but we like to do different types of interpretation, we throw some jazz in there, we do our classic ballads, but in the past we’ve done more electronic-y stuff.”

The Spokes are responsible for Davis’ biggest a cappella show, HellaCappella, which has now been running for 14 years. Over time, it has transitioned from the small stage of Rock Hall to filling the tiers at the Mondavi Center. The small profit made from the tremendous event goes toward recording songs and albums that are available on Spotify.

“It’s taught me a lot in terms of music production, event production, and also what it’s like to balance being in the group as a performer, but also putting on these really big logistical passion projects, so that’s really cool,” Suresh said. “I take a lot of pride in it, and it’s definitely a team effort between all the leadership and also all the members.”

This 16-member group has fluctuated in size over the years, and a generational shift will be taking place this June with the graduation of eight of its members. Suresh pointed out that it will definitely take some hard work on the part of its remaining members to expand their ranges and round out their sound in the absence of voices.

The Afterglow, a steadfast group that’s been on campus for more than six years, tends to fluctuate in numbers quite drastically at the end of each Spring Quarter. While The Spokes have no shortage of soprano and alto voices, the all-male a cappella group on campus carries the ability for the opposite kind of sound.

“I would say [our sound is] barbershop, a lot of our members have roots in jazz and soul and funk, so we pull out some of those,” said Zachary Whittles, a fourth-year materials science and engineering major and Afterglow member. “[All] of our members are at least moderately into pop, so it ends up being a lot of pop music that we at a certain degree change around a little bit, just to make it fun for the people who like jazz to sing, make it fun for the people who like soul and R&B to sing.”

According to Whittles, the name Afterglow comes from barbershop, where performers would host “after parties” after their shows. Essentially, as the origins of the name indicate, The Afterglow is a group all about pleasing the crowd. In fact, their slogan suggests just that: “we put the XY in ‘sexy.’”

“No matter what event we’re doing, we really just want to spread our appreciation for music through engaging the audience and making it fun for everybody, regardless of how much music experience you have,” Whittles said. “We try to do a lot of crowd-pleasing songs or songs that we like to sing. Obviously with an all guy group you don’t have the upper range of girls, but then again you get a much deeper sound, so it can turn into kind of a really cool dynamic that you just can’t get with other groups.”

The Afterglow’s big annual show, known as “Lights Low with the Afterglow,” takes place in the winter and invites groups from other schools to perform. Even though The Afterglow has recently focused on performing for local community groups and businesses, many of the groups on campus actually compete in capstone competition: The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.

“Competing in ICCA’s is definitely such a highlight every year because you see not only your own development as an a cappella singer, but you see yourself as a group develop this perfection in your set,” said Neil Capulong, a third-year microbiology major and the social media chair for The Liquid Hotplates. “You also see other groups in that competition that have worked hard, each week they rehearse so many hours and you see that in there and I’m just so proud to see that.”

The Liquid Hotplates is a co-ed, competitive a cappella group on campus that has competed in the ICCAs many times. At this year’s quarter finals, the group won best arrangement for their 13-part set. Other Davis a cappella groups also competed in ICCAs, with The Spokes winning best choreography and the Lounge Lizards winning best soloist in the quarter finals.

“Before [joining LHP] I used to be so shy and not very sure about the group, but being able to sing with these people and sharing the same interests in music is such a nice comforting thing to be in,” Capulong said. “Singing in a cappella has actually made me more confident in singing by myself too because it kind of validated that you are talented, that you have this music in you.”

Although all these different groups have their own distinct style and sound, at the end of the day they are all a part of a robust and inter-motivating a cappella community. Each group pushes each other to not only improve vocally, but also work together to create an integrated a cappella community thriving with deep friendships.

“Every single year it’s been getting better and better, not just how we sound, but our friendships,” Nevarez said. “That’s something that I don’t know how many campus orgs can say, is that the people you make friends with in those clubs are the people you’re going to have as friends for lifetimes. I feel really comfortable saying that with a lot of the people in my a cappella group.”


Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org


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