Walk into Old Main Brown Auditorium on the SUNY Cortland campus for an A Cappella practice and you will meet not only a group of big voices and clear talent but plenty of warm personalities, too. The student singers laugh at their group’s inside jokes seemingly on cue and maintain a sense of family that is matched only by their cohesion on stage.
That vocal talent will be on display Thursday, Dec. 1, when the group offers its major fall performance. The show, at 6 p.m. in Old Main Brown Auditorium, will serve as a senior sendoff of sorts, where graduating seniors will select a piece they would like the group to perform and arrange and direct it themselves.
The event is free and open to the public.
This semester’s seniors are Yazmin Mczorn-Hines, a community health major, and Caroline Cregan, an inclusive special education major.
The group’s repertoire is just as diverse as each of its members, relying on songs that range from negro spirituals and Africana heritage pieces to more contemporary music that is heard on the radio. Each year the Special Topics class, which is run through the College’s Africana Studies Department, has Africana spirituals at its core.
The 18-member group performs a genre that goes without musical accompaniment. Noelle Chaddock Paley, the group’s director and founder, described A Cappella’s singers as “individuals with a communal sensibility.”
“Every one of these people were soloists,” said Paley, who also serves as the director of multicultural life and diversity and as a lecturer of philosophy and Africana studies at SUNY Cortland. “They came from a place where they were the best at what they did and they all got here and built a musical community, and for all of these big personalities to do that is extraordinary.”
Student group members echoed her sentiments.
“Other groups rely on instruments, but to us, we are the instruments,” said Sara Laursen, a senior musical theatre major and second-semester member of A Cappella.
Cregan said the group’s family atmosphere calmed her nerves when she auditioned for the group last semester.
“I fell in love with the group,” she said. “This is like my family. (Group practice) is always a nice end to my week and I’m always in a better mood when I’m here.”
The group began in 2009 when SUNY Cortland Gospel Choir co-founders Samuel Kelley, a professor of communication studies, and Seth Asumah, a political science professor and chair of the Africana Studies Department, asked Paley if she would like to form a group of vocalists that would be much smaller than the Gospel Choir.
Paley began with two of her former voice students: Cassandra Criscitello ’10 and Quinn Singer ’10. The trio performed at smaller events and luncheons around campus before Paley heard the voice of Khalia Brown, a junior speech and hearing science major. Paley described Brown’s voice as “unbelievable” and invited her to join the group. The group grew over five semesters from three to its current enrollment of 18.
“I love A Cappella because it’s one of the few places we can put all of our creative juices together,” said Brown. “We’re like a little family and we’re really diverse. So I love it.”
For more information on the group, contact Paley at (607) 753-2336.