9 Ways College A Cappella Changes You Forever

by Jane Brendlinger

For decades, throughout the halls of American colleges everywhere, men and women have been joining forces in the name of one absurd and futile pursuit: to create facsimiles of popular songs by pretending to be instruments. The word “a cappella” did not originally refer to the bizarre collegiate trend of fabricating incoherent mash-ups of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Indeed, “a cappella” is actually Italian for “in the manner of the Church,” a term with religious origins that indicates music intended to be sung without instrumental accompaniment — note the emphasis on intended.

But what fun, really, to hear a rendition of some Boyz II Men ditty sung by a bunch of fellas in vests and bowlers. That one kid is making the sounds of a snare with his mouth. They’re just boppin’ around up there on stage — oh look, some coordinated movements! I love when they do that.

As a graduated member of one of these silly organizations, my days of do-do’s, bum-bum’s, and my favorite, bow-bow’s, are officially over. Unofficially, though, a cappella is something that gets into your blood. It rewires your brain. Like years spent in solitary confinement, or a stint working retail at an Abercrombie and Fitch — it changes you.

I’ll only say that joining an a cappella group is the collegiate equivalent of The Matrix. Take the blue pill, and the story ends: you can be a normal student, graduate, and believe what you want to believe. Take the red pill, though, and you’re in for a rabbit-hole of Destiny’s Child medleys and a heated Bloods/Crips rivalry between the Treblemakers and Mixed Company, a journey that lasts far beyond four years of an education.

Here are nine ways that being in college a cappella will change your life (apart from that time Ben Folds impregnated you while listening to University: A Cappella!):

1. “Singing along” will now always include instrumentals and percussion.

Have you heard “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift? I love that song so much that at night I go to bed excited to wake up in the morning to listen to “Blank Space” again. Can you sing a bit, you ask? Oh, you know, it starts, “ooooh, oohh, ooooh, ooh” then the bass comes in, “Dummm dummm. Dummmm dummm.” And the percussion’s like, “duv, da duv duv, duv ka ts.” But like, syncopated. I don’t really know the lyrics.

2. When you think of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” you'll hear the cover by the Pentatonix.

I’m going to make a confession that is only possible because of my faith in the Internet as a judgment-free zone (which is why I treat Twitter like a therapist). The first time I heard Adele, it wasn’t Adele — it was an a cappella cover of her song “Hometown Glory.” I didn’t even know who Adele was. And this wasn’t the only time that’s happened. R. Kelly’s “Ignition.” Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” The majority of my entree into the popular music world was indeed made through a cappella covers. I’m such a LOSER. And now that I’m out of the college a cappella scene, how am I supposed to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days? The radio??

3. Breaking into spontaneous song with your friends on the street, in a car, or in a bar will never be weird to you again.

We’re back together, kicking back some drinks, and guess what it’s time for? Pat Benetar’s “Shadows of the Night”! Too bad for you fellow bar-goers, you didn’t know it was Open No-Mic Night Every Night. But you’re like, loving this, right? Pulling out your phones, texting videos to your mom. Can you believe that we sound even better sober?

4. Pitch Perfect will always be your favorite movie.

The rivalries, the drama, the gratuitous vomiting — this was all your life once. You can identify so strongly with Anna Kendrick that sometimes it’s her face you see in the mirror and not your own. And ever since you heard that there’s going to be a Pitch Perfect 2 this spring, you’ve been on the verge of climax. On the verge — and come May 15, when Rebel Wilson bursts onto that screen, you are going to jizz your pants.

5. You will, at some point, consider a tattoo of your group’s insignia.

What better way to remember something that’s changed you forever than to get a commemorative tat with your BFF? This just symbolizes how you’ll never forget your harmonies in Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” or that time you participated in the strangest game of “Never Have I Ever” with an a cappella group at Brandeis, or that tenor you banged in the trash room who was probably (definitely) gay.

6. Your voice will become an octave lower.

When you got to college, you might have been a soprano. Hitting those high C’s like it was NBD, and no one ever asked you to sing below a G before. That’s what men are for, you thought. But before you know it, you’re in an all-female a cappella group, and it’s all “smoke these cigarettes” and “take these testosterone pills” because “you’re a bass now.” Post-college, you realize your vocal chords have been whipped and beaten into wheezing fire bellows, your high clear tones replaced with rasping death knolls. You can hit low C now — hard.

7. You'll be able to beat box, or at least roughly approximate beat boxing, if called upon.

At one point in your a cappella career, you might’ve learned the art of beat boxing, in a Mr. Miyagi wax-on-wax-off sort of way from some wise, white-haired senior. Or if you’re like me, everyone in your group “nosed it” and you had to step up to the proverbial plate of vocal percussion.

To prepare, I watched countless YouTube tutorials (one) and spent hours (hour) perfecting (guessing at) the sounds. By the end of my rigorous training, my “oral drum kit” consisted of three instruments: Duv, Ka, and Ts. During the performance, nothing escaped my free-flowing saliva, and I fractured a rib. But I still harbor the wish that, one day soon, I might be on a plane where a flight attendant comes in over the intercom, “Excuse me, passengers, but we’re experiencing an a cappella emergency —does anyone on this plane beat box?”

8. You'll become aware of The Sing-Off.

Admittedly, you might not watch The Sing Off on principal, because of it’s one of those formulaic reality shows that’s devoid of the raw violence of a real a cappella battle, or because Nick Lachey. But secretly you’re thinking, does this group a.squared really count as a cappella since they’re using that electronic mumbo jumbo? I mean, they say it’s just live voices so technically it counts, but there’s some serious manipulation going on there. Also, Jewel’s a judge this season, and we all haven’t thought about her in ages, so let’s think about her now.

9. You will find your best friend, roommate, lover, spouse, and/or soul mate.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from a cappella, it’s this: friends that sing together, stay together. However strange that thing we all did was, with all the bopping and the “bummm”-ing and the curious choreography, it united us, for better or for worse, until the cold hands of death will tear us away from each other. We might not be in college anymore, but we still all live together in a big house and live off Double-Stuf Oreos and make music videos. Seriously, though, we’re all going to marry each other.

Images: screenrelish/Flickr, Giphy (10)