For a college with under 2,500 students, Vassar has a surprisingly large number of a cappella groups—nine, to be exact. These singing groups are an integral part of Vassar culture; with numerous performances and events every year, a cappella has filled student life with music, harmony and a stronger sense of community. However, when the pandemic hit, the resulting restrictions on campus deeply impacted a cappella groups and their ability to function.
Vassar’s vibrant a cappella scene engages a wide variety of genres, from jazz and pop to Broadway hits and Disney classics. Among the nine groups are the Accidentals (also known as the Axies), AirCappella, Beauty and the Beats, Broadway and More (BAM), Home Brewed, Measure 4 Measure, the Night Owls, the Vassar Devils and the Vastards.
Aptly named, AirCappella (@vassar_aircappella) is Vassar’s only all-whistling ensemble. With 10-12 whistlers every year, AirCappella repertoire emphasizes fun, performing group-favorites like “Lollipop” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” However, COVID-19 completely derailed their plans for practicing and performing, even when students were able to return to campus last year. Co-President Sufana Noorwez ’24 explained in a Zoom interview, “[I]n the fall, there wasn’t really any a cappella—or at least AirCappella didn’t function in the normal way.”
Following Vassar’s safety restrictions and guidelines, the group conducted all auditions over Zoom in the spring, after an entire fall semester without a cappella. Later in the spring semester, members were able to meet outside in tents, socially distanced and wearing masks. Neither Zoom nor masks are ideal for whistling, but AirCappella members made it work, continuing to engage with each other and make music together.
Looking forward to this upcoming year, Noorwez hopes to continue rehearsing outdoors while the indoor mask mandate is still in place. She hopes to eventually move AirCappella indoors. This move will depend on the group’s comfort level though, since, as she acknowledged, “Whistling is pretty high risk.”
A similar emphasis on community comfort was shared by Measure 4 Measure (@vassar_measure4measure), an all-female and non-binary identifying a capella group. “Everyone had different comfort levels practicing together in a larger group once restrictions eased, so we continually reassessed how everyone was feeling!” Lily Thompson ’22, the group’s Business Manager, expressed via text.
Measure 4 Measure also felt the effects of Vassar’s COVID-19 guidelines. “I think our biggest challenge was really just being unable to practice normally—it’s super difficult to hear standing six feet apart,” Thompson noted. This semester, though, the group is hoping things will return to normal in terms of rehearsals and touring; in previous years, Measure 4 Measure has visited a cappella groups at other colleges. Thompson also hinted at song recordings and a music video for the near future.
The Vassar Devils (@vassardevils), one of Vassar’s many co-ed groups, experienced similar challenges at the start of the unprecedented year. With the required social distancing and inability to rehearse indoors together, the group struggled to find the same musical synergy as in previous years. “It was so difficult hearing one another and blending our voices,” Co-Website Manager Clay Rountree ’23 expressed in an email correspondence. “It felt really sad and frustrating at times, so our group decided to shift focus to arranging and composing music (which can be done six feet apart in a much less frustrating way).”
Moving into the new year, the Devils, along with the other groups, are excited to welcome new members. When asked about advice for first-years and new students interested in auditioning for an a cappella group, Rountree’s enthusiasm and passion for the Devils shined through. He stated, “Ultimately we are just looking for people that love to make music with us. The Devils are committed to preserving the joy of music making. To us this means recognizing that excellent music and caring for one another’s mental health is inseparable. We put each other’s well being first, and the result is a beautiful environment conducive to really connecting our voices and making an incredible sound.”
Thompson also shared Rountree’s passion. She encouraged prospective a cappella singers, regardless of class year, to audition for Measure 4 Measure, stating, “If you’re a first-year interested in singing next to waterfalls, beatboxing on Joss Beach and/or collaborating with a small group of dynamic people and other a cappella groups, Measure is the place for you!” More information regarding a cappella auditions will be forthcoming, and interested students are encouraged to reach out to specific groups with questions. All of Vassar’s a cappella groups can be found on Instagram.
While the pandemic made rehearsing more difficult, a cappella prevailed, proving the importance of creating, sharing and performing music. And with a new academic year just around the corner, returning singers are ready to continue filling the campus with music, all while preparing for new members to join the mix. No matter what group they join, new Vassar students can find themselves immersed in a supportive, positive community rich with music and memorable experiences. “Go in with no expectations, because I would never have imagined myself being part of an a cappella group and as ‘out there’ as we are, I did end up being part of one, and it’s been a great experience,” Noorwez shared. “So even if things don’t really work out the way that you imagined that they would, it will still work out, and you might end up with a better experience than you ever thought you would have.”