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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

Aca-ditions: A survey of the Middlebury a cappella scene

“Why on earth does Middlebury have six a cappella groups?” Or so I asked myself on a Sunday as I sat in the Chapel and watched each group perform a song at the annual “A Cappella Jambo” to advertise their upcoming auditions. For such a small college, Middlebury has an astonishing variety of a cappella groups. So, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, I took it upon myself to try out for each one, with the goal of answering one question: what makes each of these groups so different from the other five?

Stuck in the Middle (SIM)

I walked into the Chateau for a friendly and laid-back first audition with SIM, the newest male and non-binary identifying group on campus. They are known for high-energy performances, as was clear at the Jambo in their successful guitar solo, as well as the inclusion of a pause for a musical jingle advertising their group mid-performance.

The group performed “Just a Gigolo” by Louis Prima, a dynamic, funny song that describes the group's desire to create an engaging musical experience. “We want to create a culture of people who listen and participate in a cappella,” said Ryan Yin ’23, co-music director of SIM.

This year’s Jambo was important for all of the groups on campus. After the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, this was the first time since the fall of 2019 that Jambo happened in-person indoors, allowing for a more vibrant audience — a situation that SIM thrived on. “This Jambo was an important opportunity to really showcase our energy, which is very uniquely SIM,” Thomas Long ’25 said. The term the group uses to define itself: boolery.

The Dissipated 8 (D8)

Next, I walked into a very different atmosphere, the darkest and most academic room, and thus the most decidedly D8 room on campus: the Abernethy Room. D8 is the oldest male and non-binary identifying group on campus, and their aesthetic is part of an old Middlebury tradition. It also, however, came in stark contrast to their performance of “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” by the Script at Jambo, a song that showcased a more emotional side of the group in addition to putting their singing abilities on full display.

While the group is very committed to providing a technically beautiful performance and upholding their long-standing reputation, it was also important that they performed well at Jambo for themselves. “Sure, sometimes we sing for the audience, but, for a lot of us, we sing for ourselves and each other,” Business Manager Kyle Matthys ’24 said. The word that D8 used to describe themselves? Dedication.

The Bobolinks

After D8, I hustled over to the Forest East lounge to meet up with the oldest gender-inclusive a cappella group on campus, the Bobolinks. At Jambo, the group sang “Pure Imagination” by Gene Wilder, which was a very conscious choice. Not only did this arrangement play to the group’s strengths with rich, close harmonies, but it also emphasized how important opening their arms to new singers is to them. “The main line in the song is ‘come with me,’ and we really wanted to show how open we are to others,” Music Director Phoebe Davis ’24.5.

The Bobolinks find Jambo important for several reasons, mainly that getting their community back together early on in the school year and performing together is a big part of why they are so close. “Music is also really important for everyone at the school to set the tone for the year,” Bella Lucente ’25 said. The one word the Bobos use to describe themselves: joyous.

The Mamajamas

The Mamajamas, a gender-inclusive group, welcomed me into the cozy Atwater B Library with snacks and plenty of comfy sofas to settle in on before a great audition. For Jambo, the group chose “Pusher Love” by Justin Timberlake, a song that showcased the group’s talent and strongest voices. Performances like these are what make the Mamajamas stand out. They exhibit a fuller and warmer sound because of their large vocal range. While  those vocal considerations are important, some group members see the Jambo song choice as much simpler. “Our process of choosing the song was simple. We ran through all of our options and this one we thought was the most groovy,” Social Chair Jack Waitz ’24 said.

One part of Mamajamas culture is to check in with each other before each rehearsal. “It really feels like we make sure to have our emotions and community in tune alongside our voices,” Business Manager Marina Prikis ’25 said. The word they use for themselves: steezy.

Mischords

While I was not able to officially audition for the Mischords, Middlebury’s oldest female and non-binary identifying group, I was able to sing a bit with them and hear about their Jambo experience. In my mock audition, I was surprised by the extra technical singing tests. The music director would play three notes and ask me to sing a specific one back, and I also had to complete a three note chord after being given only two of the notes. 

The Mischords sang “Next to Me” by Emily Sandé at Jambo. This song has two soloists, and singing it is a big tradition for the group. This song was sung many years ago when some of the current seniors were first-years, and seeing their growth through this song was very important to the soon-to-graduate singers. “This song reminds me how important an all-female group was to my growth during my four years here” Aidan Amster ’23.5 said. The song is also a good fit for the group because it emphasizes the unique energy that the Mischords bring compared to other groups that sing in a lower register. The word the group uses to describe itself: playful-femininity.

The Paradiddles 

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The Paradiddles, Middlebury’s newest group for women and non-binary people, performed “Sister Golden Hair” by America at Jambo and chose the song because it is a classic, upbeat tune they enjoy performing. My audition with The Paradiddles was also unofficial and followed a similar format to my Mischords audition, including technical singing tests. The Paradiddles emphasize the aspects of their community that take place outside of rehearsal. “While we do work hard to create a great group sound, we view the social part of our group to be just as important,” said Paradiddles’ treasurer Cate Parkinson ’25. The word they use to describe themselves: genuine.

Although my voice was gone by the end of the jam-packed evening of auditions, my heart was content with the raw beauty of making music as a group. I felt like I had a really good grasp on the quirks of each of the six groups and how they were able to create such a dynamic Jambo that weekend. I sincerely hope that this guide serves as a way for any interested future-singers to gauge the overwhelming a cappella scene on campus. If there is anything I have learned about why there are so many a cappella groups on campus, it’s that there are a lot of niches to fill!

Editor’s note: Abigail Chang ’23 is the Editor in Chief of The Campus, and she is also the music director of The Paradiddles. Chang was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.  


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