Before “Pitch Perfect” and its onslaught of cup song covers swept the nation, there were the AcaBellas, an all-women a cappella group at The University of Alabama.
The AcaBellas held its first auditions in Sept. 2012, just one month before “Pitch Perfect” came out in theaters, effectively taking over popular culture. Caitlin Roberts, co-director of the AcaBellas and a sophomore majoring in history and journalism, said although it gets old to have people constantly comparing the AcaBellas to the movie’s Barden Bellas, she is glad a cappella groups are finally getting recognition.
“A cappella groups were kind of underrated before that movie came out,” she said. “So it kind of made the way for a cappella to make it to the mainstream.”
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After working with an a cappella group in high school and spending years in choir before coming to the University, Madison Butz, a junior majoring in psychology, felt her lifelong passion for singing was missing from her college experience, so she decided to start an all-women’s a cappella group.
“There weren’t a lot of opportunities out there run by students that were available for people who didn’t fit into the mold of a traditional music or vocal major,” Butz said.
Butz, who is now the AcaBellas’ director, said when she started advertising for an all-women a cappella group she never imagined so many women would show up to audition. The AcaBellas’ first audition brought out almost 40 women, from which 18 were chosen to make up the group.
The group rehearses every Sunday afternoon and performs at multiple school-sponsored events throughout the year. In the spring semester, the AcaBellas often sing the national anthem at University of Alabama sporting events. The group has also performed at Starbucks Xpress Night and recently performed at the Bama Idol finale, where two members of the AcaBellas competed.
Butz said her favorite AcaBellas performance was the group’s final concert in Moody Music last spring, because smaller groups within the AcaBellas performed songs in addition to the pieces performed by the entire group.
“It was really an opportunity for these girls to showcase their talents in a way that they might not have gotten to do otherwise,” she said.
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The group generally performs music familiar to audiences. Often these pieces result in mash-ups that can range anywhere from “Pitch Perfect” pool mash-up to one of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” and “Paradise.”
The majority of the music performed by the AcaBellas is arranged entirely by its members, none of whom are music majors. Roberts said AcaBellas rehearsal provides a way for her to challenge herself more creatively outside of doing schoolwork.
“All of us love to sing no matter what format it’s in, but there’s something really special about a cappella because you’re able to make the sounds of the instrument with your voice,” Roberts said. “It’s fun to get together on a Sunday afternoon, take a break from studying and just sing. We all love it so much. It’s comforting and it’s easy.”
Alex Harris, a junior majoring in philosophy, the AcaBellas’ co-director, originally auditioned for the AcaBellas because she was looking for a way to express her creative side, but has found the relationships she has made with her fellow AcaBellas to be more rewarding than anything.
“I have made some close friends during the two years that I have been with the group,” she said. “These are memories that will last forever.”
For AcaBella director Butz, the collaborative atmosphere and incredible teamwork of the AcaBellas has resulted in a sisterhood experience.
“It’s like hanging out with friends and doing what you really enjoy,” she said. “There’s no pressure; it’s not an extremely competitive group and it’s not intense, but we do really good work. It’s kind of this balance between producing something you can be proud of and having it feel like you’re taking a break.”
Assistant professor of voice Emily Herring, who is the faculty advisor for the AcaBellas, said she is proud of the goals the AcaBellas have accomplished thus far, but she has big dreams for the future of the group.
“They are singing quite a lot on campus and hopefully will branch out and compete on the TV show ‘The Sing Off’ one day,” Herring said. “There is a ton of talent on UA’s campus. These types of groups are important because they’re independent and not associated with certain departments and majors, so they provide opportunities for female singers on UA’s campus that might not have another outlet to perform.”
One of the major goals for the current women of the AcaBellas is for a future AcaBellas group to make it to the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. However, Butz said this goal is a long way down the road.
“I personally really want the AcaBellas to be something that will continue after I leave,” Butz said. “I hope I can come back to see their performances after I graduate and be proud to have created the program.”
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