A cappella — no instruments, no software, just voices — is growing in popularity. Italian for “in the style of the chapel,” a cappella singing groups have been gradually raising their voices and garnering attention for the last 10 to 15 years. Groups like Straight No Chaser (founded at Indiana University in 1996) have won the hearts of millions of YouTube fans and live audiences across the country. The popular TV show “Glee” often presents high-energy singers who frequently perform show-stopping numbers in a cappella. Most recently, “Pitch Perfect,” a humorous movie about college a cappella groups, was met with generally enthusiastic reviews in October of 2012.
At the University of Evansville, two established a cappella groups, Ladies in Pink and Trebles Without a Cause, have been pleasing crowds for years — long before many people began to realize a cappella is, in fact, pretty cool.
Ladies in Pink, the campus’s a cappella group for women, was founded in 2004 by theatre majors Erika Haaland, of Boulder, Colo., Ashley Albertson Magnus, of Bedford, Ind., and Rebekah Hardeson, of Goshen, Ind. Originally, the group had no faculty advisor and was not an official student organization. “We were just a group of girls who wanted to sing,” Hardeson says.
What started as three women with an idea grew into a group of 12 singers, allowing three voices each for songs that are split into four voice parts. The women gathered musical arrangements, and then, to the delight and surprise of their growing audiences, took to arranging some of their own songs. A few of the women even delved into vocal percussion (or beatboxing) to provide a driving rhythm for the singers and extra entertainment for the fans.
Today, Ladies in Pink has become an established student organization with a faculty advisor from the music department, Dr. Jon Truitt. The group has added one more to its ranks, topping off at lucky number 13. Junior theatre majors Jenève Dubé, of Clifton, N.J., and Lilli Hokama, of Denver, Colo., and senior theatre major Beccah Dowden, of Lewisville, Texas, lead the energetic group. Their musical backgrounds range from lots of high school and college experience to almost none.
“The first time I ever sang was the University of Evansville theatre audition,” admits powerhouse vocalist Dowden. “The second time I ever sang was my audition for the UE theatre season. The third time — Ladies in Pink auditions.”
The group typically practices twice a week — one hour on a week night, two hours on the weekend. These rehearsals entail learning new music, perfecting musical dynamics, blending voices, memorizing music, and generally working as a team to produce moving songs. Work isn’t limited to the rehearsal room. Outside rehearsals, the women are consistently looking over their parts, arranging new music from scratch, and performing in extra gigs. Despite the stress and worry over each and every note, things always seem to come together for the concerts at the end of each semester. “Somehow within those last moments, all those worries just fall away,” says Hokama. “It’s just about singing.”
Trebles Without a Cause, the male counterpart to Ladies in Pink, has existed on and off since the fall of 2003. The group was founded by two theatre majors, Chris Grant, of Denton, Texas, and David Hudson, of Plano, Texas. Originally started as a barbershop quartet with an additional two music majors, the group built up its repertoire, had a few concerts, and even hosted a holiday pops concert. Its numbers grew to six by its fourth year, then dropped back to four after some of the original members graduated. The group disappeared for several years until senior theatre major Ryan Rohtla, of Novato, Calif., was encouraged by an upper classman to revive the group. By spring of 2011, Trebles Without a Cause was up and running again — 10 singers strong.
The group of men today has grown to include 18 charismatic singers, partly led, partly wrangled, by Rohtla, junior theatre major Nick Selting, of Laramie, Wyo., sophomore theatre major Reagan Wallace, of Dallas, Texas, and junior music major Josh Kight, of Evansville. All of the leaders have strong musical backgrounds, and though they strive and succeed in producing pleasing music, their ultimate goal is to entertain. “We really want to make a show out of it,” Rohtla says. “We want people just to have fun.”
Since the group’s modest revival nearly two years ago, it has grown from an opening act for Ladies in Pink to a well-established group with its own fan base. The leaders proudly report that roughly 320 individuals attended the group’s last concert in November of last year. “It’s really validating for us,” says Selting. “When that many people walk through the door it makes it all worth it.”
Like Ladies in Pink, Trebles Without a Cause practices twice a week, and though Selting admits that the large group can be “a little hard to contain,” the leaders always manage to get everyone on the same page while having their fair share of fun in the process. “We love music, we want to sing, and we just enjoy being with each other,” Rohtla says. “We make jabs at each other just as any group or family would, too.”
All the leaders attest to the “family” feel of their groups. Ladies in Pink’s Hokama describes her group as “almost like a little sorority,” while Trebles’ Wallace says of his group, “It’s such a brotherly thing.” The groups support each other as well, attending one another’s concerts and occasionally collaborating to produce complex, powerful music. In spring of last year, Ladies in Pink and Trebles Without a Cause combined for a stirring rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” singing the piece at both of their concerts and for UE President Tom Kazee’s birthday celebration. They have plans to collaborate again in the near future.
With their fall semester concerts behind them, the groups now look toward the coming months with excitement. On Feb. 14, both groups will offer the special gift of singing Valentines. Available for purchase now, fans of a cappella music can delight their loved ones with a song entirely dedicated to them. In April they will each hold free concerts for anyone wishing to attend. They would also like music lovers to know one very important fact: “We’re hirable!”
For more information on Ladies in Pink and Trebles Without a Cause, visit their Facebook pages.