Without supporting instruments or digital synthesizing enhancement, a cappella groups are as bare bones as music can get – and yet, the sheer talent and range these singers exert in collaboration can upstage the most cutting-edge technology on the market.
A cappella is a peculiar branch of vocalist performance that abandons all musical instruments in favor of blending performers’ voices to the different harmonies, bass lines and percussion beats. On Saturday, May 24, six of these talented groups came to UC Irvine to perform at the first annual CAFE: Coolest A Cappella Festival Ever.
CAFE has been in the making for three years – more or less since Circle of Fifths, UCI’s oldest existing a cappella group, was founded. In the fall of 2005, five a cappella enthusiasts noticed the lack of any a cappella groups here on the UCI campus and formed Circle of Fifths; since then, CoF has grown to 12 members and has inspired the formation of two other UCI a cappella groups, Clair de Lune and Deceptive Cadence.
With eight of their 12 members in attendance, Deceptive Cadence took the stage at noon for the inaugural performance of the exhibition. DC began with the popular contemporary classic “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer, and followed with “Sons and Daughters” by The Decemberists, then finished with “Morgan the Conqueror,” a song composed by a former member of the group.
“We sort of existed last year, but we really started this past fall,” said Andy Ball, fourth-year clarinet performance major. Deceptive Cadence will be playing its next gig with Clair de Lune on Tuesday, June 3.
Cal Tech’s performers were unavoidably lost navigating the maze of streets around UCI, so Berkeley’s Artists In Resonance filled in. Their premiere song, “Too Late to Apologize” by One Republic, seemed like an appropriate choice, given its symphonic accompaniment in the normal version; it was so appropriate that Clair de Lune also performed the song later in the day. AIR followed up with “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan, and finished with an original composition, to the tune of “A B C” by the Jackson 5. After their set, Artists In Resonance thanked Circle of Fifths for putting CAFE together, noting that “When one of our members was here three or four years ago, there were no a cappella groups, so we’re glad that it’s growing.”
AIR’s relaxed performance was in somewhat contrast to Notre Dame’s Undertones, who arrived replete in full, color-coordinated suits. The Undertones are a splinter group of the larger Notre Dame Glee, comprised of 55 students. The Undertones have been on tour on the West Coast since last Monday, and have made their way from Sacramento to the Bay Area to Reno and will finish their tour in the Los Angeles area. Fortunately, they contacted Circle of Fifths in time to be added to CAFE’s roster. The Undertones began with “Voice on the Sea” by Vertical Horizon, and proceeded to perform “Satellite” by Dave Matthews Band, both with impressive solos by Tim Connings and Damian Carny, respectively. They finished with recent radio favorite, “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5.
After a break for lunch, Clair de Lune, UC Irvine’s all-female a cappella group, started off their set. Their second song, a zesty number from the film “Ratatouille,” wowed the audience with solo lyrics entirely in French. CdL followed this international bit with two songs from independent female artists: “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor, featuring soloist Emily Steelhammer, which was fun and light without being too poppy; and “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap, a song noted for its unique and difficult tone transitions, which CdL hit excellently. CdL finished with “I Won’t Say” from the Disney movie “Hercules,” and “Too Late to Apologize.” Thankfully, CdL’s unique all-female blend of voices gave the song a different spin.
“We had the six original members of the group at the end of last year,” said Emily Steelhammer, a second-year social science major, “and auditioned six more members last fall. We’ve been together in this form for two quarters.” Clair de Lune has performed joint concerts with Deceptive Cadence before, including the recent Flying Sams gala, but also seeks gigs at veterans’ hospitals and retirement homes to give back to the community.
No longer lost, Cal Tech’s Out Of Context featured several little-known songs, such as “So Much Cooler Online” by Brad Paisley and “Hey Eugene” by Pink Martini. OoC finished with an interesting song derived from the theatrical version of “The Lion King.”
Circle of Fifths hit the stage around 3 p.m. From the get go, it was easy to see that CoF had benefited from its extra time, developing its brand of a cappella performance. Though the voice performances were top notch, CoF brought an angle of showmanship and fun choreography that kept the audience chuckling and entertained. Resplendent in bright yellow ties and shimmering blue vests, CoF started the set with “Superman” by Lazlo Bane and “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” by Marvin Gaye. Their next number, Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” was arguably the best song of the day, replacing the haunting piano with similarly haunting hums from the performers. As far as entertainment goes, however, the best song was their next one, “All I Care About Is Love” by Chicago, which was accompanied with hilarious choreography, a “Thriller” reference and twelve men doing the “Can Can.”
CAFE was entirely funded by private donations. “We didn’t get funds from ASUCI, so me and Eric [Li] crunched some numbers and decided that we could do it cheaper if we got donations,” said Reuven Gonzales, third-year computer engineering major. Fortunately, a member of Gonzales’ other singing group, Wendell Ballantyne, was able to donate a portion of the funds to keep CAFE afloat.
“The big plan is to get a recording out for the ICCA – the International Collegiate Championship of A Cappella,” Gonzales said. “I just hope we can inspire people. I feel UCI lacks a lot of school spirit through culture, and I am hoping we as a group can help change that.”