UCI A Cappella Harmonizes

The sweet melodies of Billy Joel, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney charmed the Student Center last Thursday night — completely sans instruments.

UC Irvine a cappella groups Circle of Fifths, Claire de Lune and Vermillion Vocalists, plus Cal State Northridge’s Acasola, put on “Autumn Harmonies,” the first big event of the year for UCI a cappella.

The one-hour show started off with all-male Circle of Fifths singing “For the Longest Time,” by Joel, with sophomore Curtis Hoffman soloing. One of Circle’s long-standing songs, the song was a great display of the group’s different ranges working together.

Next, the all-female Claire de Lune sang “Dancing in the Moonlight,” which was a bit rushed in tempo. However, the group settled down with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which started off with a beautiful arrangement and proceeded into an entertaining choreographed movement around the stage. They finished their short set with an early Christmas surprise in “Silent Night.”

“It went well for the amount of preparation we had — we were missing almost half the group because of sickness,” Claire de Lune Co-President Belinda Lau said.

Joy Kim, Via Aquino, Sacha Rose Robbins, Jennifer Compton, Lauren Del Rosario, Rachelle Young and Lynn Wang all took turns soloing.

The still fledgling Claire de Lune (established May 2007) will put on their own holiday concert during 10th week.

Next up, UCI’s co-ed group, the Vermillion Vocalists, took the stage. Soloist Blake Soderstrom shined as a dramatic Britney Spears with the song “Toxic.” They followed that up with two classics, “Drive My Car” and “Penny Lane.” The humorous Vocalists were excellent performers, spicing up both classic songs with splashes of comedy. “Drive My Car” featured a nice “twang twang twang” and hilarious air guitar solos of Le Do. Meanwhile, “Penny Lane” was modernized with commentary and a very nice barbershop quartet feel. Vermillion ended with a valiant attempt at the Kurt Schneider arrangement of the Michael Jackson medley circling YouTube. The group, less than a year old, displayed arguably the best showmanship and comedic effect.

Acasola, a group from Cal State Northridge, started with their trademark “Always Acasola.” Next, Korean foreign exchange student Jun Kim was the special soloist in “Special” by the band Garbage. A soloist with a voice like Adam Levine then sang “Dreaming of You” by The Coral, followed by “I Will Love Again” by Lara Fabian. The last song Acasola did was also the most impressive, with multiple beatboxers and a variety of impressive ranges. The rarer set list was executed splendidly.

Circle of Fifths came back out to finish the night, with soloist Reuven Gonzales starring on “Nothing from Nothing” of Billy Preston fame. Gonzales, one of the original members of Circle, showed his star power with a soulful rendition that impressed the entire crowd. Circle followed up “Silhouettes,” one of their fan favorites. Sophomore Leo Wiggins, Hoffman, and senior Mike Ushino took turns singing solos in Circle’s cheerful and humorous rendition of The Rays’ 1957 classic. Reuven returned with another Circle staple, “A Change in My Life” by Rockapella. Circle did a great job of not falling into a trap of just covering popular songs of today, but covering songs that are very suitable for a cappella. They rounded out the evening with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” by Bill Withers, which featured the outstanding vocals of freshman Bradley Fairfield. “Kiss Him Goodbye” originally by The Nylons was Circle’s finale, with soloists Fairfield, Wiggins and senior Sterling Roberts.

In its 5th year, Circle of Fifths has come a long way since its humble beginnings with just five members — hence the moniker. A bigger culture at many other college campuses, Circle hopes to keep the a cappella momentum going for UCI, which admittedly does not have the tradition that some other schools have. Other groups in the past have died out, fates that Circle of Fifths, Claire de Lune, and Vermillion hope to avoid.

“We wanted to be the ones who didn’t fall apart, and we’re hoping and wishing that it doesn’t,” Gonzales said. “We’re hoping this is something that goes far beyond me and all the guys in this group … something that becomes part of UCI culture.”

Last year, Circle won its first round at the International Championship Collegiate A cappella, a landmark honor for the group. “We had really intense auditions this year, a lot of great talent coming in,” Gonzales said. “We lost a lot of guys last year, so we’ve been on rebuilding the core. Soon we’ll work on getting our recording done, too.” Autumn Harmonies, in its second year, is a kick-off demo night of all a cappella groups on campus and select invited off-campus groups. Look for more in-depth concerts in the near future and check out all four groups on YouTube.