ICQ 2003/4
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A Cappella Groups Rule

Very popular in the 1960s and '70s, student-run a cappella singing groups are again thriving on campus. The all-male Ithacappella, the all-female Premium Blend, and the newest group, a mixed ensemble called VoiceStream, each has its niche and faithful followings.


The newest addition to the IC a cappella scene, Voice Stream
Photo by Ryan Dowling '05

Ithacappella is known for regularly filling Ford Hall with its large local fan base. The group is so popular that it has had to start issuing free tickets to keep a head count and avoid overcrowding its venues. Ithacappella was founded in 1996 by John Michael Maury '99, Zachary M. Levi '98, Ronald K. Smith II '00, and Jerome Doherty '97, advised by associate professor of music performance Randie Blooding. The men perform a wide variety of music, and most of their songs are arranged by group members, principally the conductor and assistant conductor. While at first the members were primarily vocal majors, today about half the 18 members are vocal and instrumental music majors and half are from other fields. The ensemble's weekly officers' meeting with Blooding is held at 6:30 a.m. -- leaving no doubt as to the performers' dedication.

This year's conductor, Christian Carichner '05, is a tubist in the four-and-a-half year music education/performance degree program. He says the group is "almost like a fraternity. . . . We all share the bond of loving to sing, to entertain, and to be the best we can be." The men do work hard: they rehearse four hours a week on top of curricular work, and they have a busy performing schedule including a five-day tour during the Thanksgiving break. Ithacappella is in demand for numerous functions at Ithaca College. Offering performances and vocal workshops in public schools is especially important to the group, which has inspired not only high schools, but even the State University of New York College at Geneseo to form a cappella ensembles. Community service is also important to Ithacappella: at a fall concert the ensemble auctioned off dates with members to raise money for needy families, and can drives are a regular feature at concerts.

Ithacappella has two CDs out. Selections from 2003's Left on Gravel -- "The Muppet Show Theme," "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel," and "Love the One You're With" -- show the wide diversity of musical styles this group enjoys. The earlier release The Band Never Showed is equally eclectic, with numbers ranging from "Danny Boy" to "Crash into Me."


Premium Blend recently performed at Longview.
Photo by Sheryl D. Sinkow

Premium Blend was started in 1998 by Amy Sanchez '00 as a non-auditioned group of 25 women. By its second year it had evolved into an auditioned group that did its own arrangements. The ensemble's current conductor, Alison LaGarry '04, is a voice major. The women have performed for the IC after Dark program and also perform frequently at Longview, the retirement community near campus. The group asks for donations at its performances, giving the money each semester to a different charity, such as the Children's Miracle Network or Helping Hands. Last year's Thanksgiving-break tour took the women to New Jersey, Long Island, and Pennsylvania.

Jessica Holl '03 was a driving force in taking the group to new levels of organization and musical achievement, serving as president, assistant conductor, and conductor in consecutive years. "Premium Blend meant the world to me," she says. "Auditioning for the group was the best decision of my College career. Besides developing close friendships, I had the opportunity to compose, arrange, and conduct -- not to mention the time behind the scenes seeing how a professional group could be run. This fall we had our first alumni reunion, and it was amazing to be there with all my best friends from my Ithaca college career. A cappella groups create a social atmosphere similar to frats and sororities, except that the main focus is to make music and share it." Premium Blend's first CD, Premium Premiere, debuted at the end of 2002 and is available at the Ithaca College Bookstore.

The newest addition to the IC a cappella scene is Voice Stream, differing from the other two groups in a number of ways. A coed group with 14 current members, it encompasses not only a wider vocal range, but also a different vision. Paul Canetti '05 has steered the group away from "classic a cappella" to more of a "vocal band" that experiments with ways to use consonants and vowels to imitate the sounds of instruments. This ensemble does not work from written arrangements, so reading music is not required and most members of the group are non-music majors. Now in its second year, Voice Stream hosted the other two IC a cappella groups in last year's Valentine's Day Concert and is planning a CD. Member and writing major Bobbi Ahearn '05 says, "The group has bonded very well, thanks to the hours we spend learning music and coming up with creative ways to be expressive and entertaining."

And then there's Sons of Pitches, a professional a cappella quintet that grew from Ithacappella and is composed mostly of its alumni. The all-guy group has been building a following throughout the region.

Typical of the camaraderie among all these groups was last year's "Acappallooza" event at the State Theatre of Ithaca. The three IC groups were joined by the Sons of Pitches, Cornell's Last Call, the Potsdam Pointercounts, and APC Rhythm, a female group from New York University. The concert brought 800 audience members to their feet many times that night. A cappella is on the rise. Watch for groups from Ithaca College at a venue near you.

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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 5 May, 2004