The room is eclipsed by a vibration of sounds. A melody paints the four walls enclosing this human boom box. Every note is brought to life as ASU’s only all-male a cappella group transforms the once-bleak practice area into a full-fledged performance stage. The fourteen musical prodigies that make up the group Priority Male successfully transform every dimly-lit fluorescent bulb in the room into a string of spotlights.
The recent film “Pitch Perfect” showcases two quirky collegiate-level a cappella groups competing for a top spot, all the while exceeding the expectations of those on the outside looking in. However, the all-male a cappella group in “Pitch Perfect,” the Barden University Treble Makers, may want to consider retiring their blazers once and for all because Priority Male only half-jokingly admits to being better.
Founded in 2009, the group has worked to develop a brand for themselves. Their hard work will culminate in the release of an album they plan to begin recording in April or May.
“It all started off simply as a group of guys that wanted to sing,” says music education senior Kevin Hougham. “The more people knew us, the more talented people wanted to join us.”
Club founder and political science and Spanish senior Danny Englese says this year alone, 48 people auditioned for Priority Male, and only four made the cut. But the risks are worth it, because the only thing worth losing is themselves in their music.
“Only one of our guys, Kevin Hougham, is actually a music major,” says group vice president and sociology junior Ben Whitmire. “That’s why this group is so great for the rest of us because it allows for us to have an outlet.”
An avenue for escape is just what these gentlemen find as they sing with heightened expression and closed eyes, opening them only to scan the room for invisible sheet music.
In December alone, the group fundraised approximately $4,000 through performances. Setting a precedent in price-rate and establishing a strong clientele has reassured revenue, says group president and biology and psychology senior Steven Carter. Recent performances ranged from Camp Kesem to the Arizona Midday show on Channel 12.
The approaching International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella Quarterfinals has prompted the group to tone up for their competition by increasing their practices. This locally-based competition brings in a cappella groups from all over the state, which sets the bar almost as high as the notes Priority Male is capable of hitting. The group normally meets twice a week for a total of five hours, but with Quarterfinals so close they have amplified their practices by adding an additional two hours each week (total of seven) spent perfecting their ICCA competition set. Their current routine is a fusion of both classic pop hits from the ‘80s and new-wave hip-hop songs of today, producing a motley of mash-ups.
The group draws their inspiration from a myriad of muses.
“Everyone has their own preference, so he’s like classic rock and he’s more acoustic/folk,” Carter says. “We all arrange and contribute our own stuff.”
Friends and fellow group members of theatre freshman and choreographer Erik Kausin say Rihanna is his principal influence.
“I am Rihanna, and you can quote me on that,” is Kausin’s response with a smirk.
Kausin prefers to observe Rihanna’s live performances versus her music videos in order to achieve a better feel for the choreography.
“I will incorporate some of the dancer’s moves into our pieces, but then make sure to put the ‘Priority Male’ spin on it,” Kausin says.
It seems as though he did find love, and not in a hopeless place after all.
During intermissions that took place throughout their practice, the men would loosen their metaphorical ties and take on the role as stand-up comedians, laughing and joking with one another. Almost every one of their discussions harbored some underlying playfulness.
When compared to the a cappella groups in “Pitch Perfect,” the group says that breaking into unrehearsed and synchronized song, or “riff-offs”, is not as effortless as it appears in the movie.
“While we do have riff-offs often, the things we perform take a lot of work,” says psychology sophomore Steven Hobaica. “It’s certainly not as easy as it’s made to seem in ‘Pitch Perfect.’”
However, there are occasional exceptions.
“During this year’s retreat, we were all sitting around a campfire when all of a sudden Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ starts up, and it was literally so magical,” political science junior Yasin Muhammad recalls. “Derek Victor started rapping off the entire thing and everyone just started going into it while we recorded it on an iPhone, which sounded like a studio recording up until a certain point.”
Appropriately enough, a harmony of unrehearsed beat boxing ensued.
Each individual group member’s character is perfectly articulated through his expression of song. Yasin Muhammad sings with his hips, Tanner Buckler with his eyes, and Phillip Nikola’s voice is almost as big as his beard.
Nothing speaks, or in this case, sings, louder than the group’s rapport this year.
“This group this year has swag. So much personality and it just comes right out,” Muhammad says.
In “Pitch Perfect,” members in the all-female a cappella group, the Bellas are not allowed to date members of the all-male assemblage, the Treble Makers. But at ASU this rule does not exist, and so members of the all-female a cappella group, the ASU Pitchforks have surrendered to the power of serenade and steak dinners.
“My entire collegiate dating career in college has been spent dating them [ASU Pitchforks],” Englese says.
The ASU Pitchforks first established themselves back in 1992, and these fierce females laid the groundwork and helped to build credibility for Priority Male.
“Dating them is inevitable because you’re spending so much time with them at parties and events,” Muhammad says. “You learn to appreciate and respect them, and sometimes when they sing, you’re like ‘Damn, I think I just fell in love’.”
The acoustics in the room are harnessed by the group’s closing beats. The walls are given yet a second melodious coat as the boom box retreats back to human form once again. Not long after the music ceases, the group’s members become immersed in laughter; their second language after song.
To see Priority Male perform at this coming ICCA West Quarterfinals on Feb. 2 at Tempe Center for the Arts, you can purchase your tickets at tca.ticketforce.com.
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