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A cappella groups find synergy, family through performative music on campus

Students find their perfect pitch on and off-stage


"I think that a cappella is a really great way to still be involved in singing and doing that without it having to be your whole life."

Joining an a cappella group was the last thing on Savanna States's mind. 

"I honestly didn't even know that a cappella was a thing," States, a senior studying biochemistry and the co-president of the all-girls a cappella group, The Pitchforks, said. "Truthfully, I thought it was just the Pitch Perfect movie. I didn't think it was real."

When she was encouraged by one of her friends in her sorority — who was the co-president of The Pitchforks at the time — to join the group, she said it was a way to get out of her comfort zone and try something new. 

Delaney Balk, a senior studying business law and the music director for The Pitchforks, shared a similar experience. 

"Coming to college, I also had that feeling like I was missing something — that kind of creative outlet," Balk said. "I think that a cappella is a really great way to still be involved in singing and doing that without it having to be your whole life."

A cappella groups at ASU are a subsection of student music organizations, straying away from their choir counterparts by performing contemporary songs in smaller groups at competitions. Members say the energy put into the sets the groups create leads to friendships and interconnectedness on campus. 

There are four competing groups on campus: Priority Male, The Pitchforks, Devil Clefs and TEMPEtations. A fifth a cappella group called Something Along the Lines Of Music started this year as well. 

The Pitchforks faced a transitional period at the beginning of its academic year when the seniors, with whom States and Balk made close-knit friendships, graduated. 

Due to this transition, the team recruited six new members to fill the empty spots. States said the new members they recruited offered her a different perspective than what she had the previous year.

"They have made it such a different vibe," States said. "It really is like these are my siblings, and I love these people like family members, and I just think all of them are so hardworking and determined."

A moment for States that captured the group's passion was during the first song on their competition set: "Unstoppable" by Sia, where they all stood in line for the final chorus and sang in harmony.

"The emotion that came through our voices because of the words that we were singing in that song, and in the way that we were singing it in such a belting, powerful manner, it made me feel so empowered by all of these people around me," States said.

The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Southwest Quarterfinals, where they performed the song, took place at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. At the competition, Balk won the outstanding arrangement award for the group's rendition of "COPYCAT" by Billie Eilish. She said winning the award exemplified the closeness of the team and their encouragement of each other. 

Balk said there was worry about measuring up to the other music directors, who had experience compared to her freshly going into the role, but her team's encouragement and the eventful moment took away that intimidation and worry. 

"I have faith in myself," said Balk. "I'm empowered by these girls that just stand behind me and show me that I'm so capable of whatever I set my mind to."

Balk said that the team has fostered a close connection with Priority Male, the all-boys a cappella group on campus.

Priority Male faced a transitional period at the beginning of the school year similar to The Pitchforks.

Benjamin Vinz, a junior studying business communications and co-president at Priority Male, said that his first year with the group was a fantastic experience, embracing the closeness of the group and its culture, but in his second year, the group faced difficulties. Vinz said the efforts put forth by the new and returning members helped tighten the bond within their group.

"Last year, it struggled a little bit," Vinz said. "I think the meshing of the group just didn't fully click, but this year it almost completely turned around."

Group dynamics are a fundamental part of bringing a group together, according to Vinz. If the dynamic is off, choreography can look stiff, and the purpose of an a cappella group is lost: finding community through shared interests. 

Vinz said this group dynamic is present in Priority Male, and it was the main reason he wanted to join the group in the first place. 

"I remember thinking back to freshman year, there's a lot of confusion, a lot of worry and angst about where I was gonna belong," said Vinz.

Vinz was part of an a cappella group in high school. When he found Priority Male through a mixer,  he instantly knew this was what he wanted to do during his college career.

"The connection that this group has, it's the majority of my life here at ASU," said Vinz. "These guys are definitely my best friends." 

Cameron Gray, a junior studying business communications and the other co-president of Priority Male, had a different experience. He said his brother was originally in the group, and he knew of its existence since his sophomore year of high school. When he joined in his first year, he found a way to embrace his college experience with his brother. 

"My brother and I are really close, and being able to join this friend group with my brother, and then now to be able to lead that friend group, it's a really cool feeling," said Gray. 

Now that Gray and Vinz lead the group, they want to encourage members to enjoy their experience instead of stressing about competition.

"We want to leave the example that you can still be leaders and run the group and create a fantastic competition set and create awesome music while still having fun and letting people goof off sometimes," said Vinz.

Priority Male also competed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Quarterfinals, where Dylan Stucki, a member of Priority Male, won the award for Outstanding Soloist in his performance of "October Sky" by Yebba.

"What makes us unique is we have a lot of power behind our vocals," said Vinz. "We have a lot of big moments that blow you away. Our choreography, this year specifically, we like to implement a lot of interaction between group members to emphasize that group dynamic."

Gray said that the group sometimes gets gigs to perform at bridal showers and birthday parties, as well as publish music on Spotify, but the friendships he made through his time at Priority Male triumph over the music. 

"Primarily for me, it's the friendships that we've made," said Gray. "Having a group in college that is bonded over something that we all like doing." 

Edited by Katrina Michalak, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.

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