Posts tagged Less Than Three A Cappella
For the past two years, I’ve spent fall break at Cornell: sleeping in, writing, and composing blog posts about my unfortunate inability to go back home during the longest weekend in October. To my delighted surprise, however, I was able to spend the past few days running around New York City with my a cappella group, < 3! Goodbye sitting in my room watching The X-Files, hello…sitting in one of my best friend’s living room watching Star Trek.
In order to reach the Big Apple, of course, our fellowship of nine had to spend a good number of hours driving across the beautiful fall countryside. Because this is only my third year of living in a place where autumn colors actually happen, I was still pretty excited by the reds, oranges, and golds.
One of the <3 girls’ mother welcomed us into their Long Island home for the weekend, and so the greatest slumber party of my life began in earnest!
Following a wild evening of late-night food and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, <3 boarded the LIRR (there were real conductors punching tickets and everything!) to ride into the city and join Columbia University’s Science Fiction Society for a geek-themed tour of Manhattan before our mini-performance later in the day. What, exactly, do geeks do in the city? Apparently, they shop at eclectic stores–from pop culture megagiants like Forbidden Planet to a Japanese import store and the Strand–and ride lots of subways. Except for the subway part, I’m perfectly cool with that!
After we’d stuffed ourselves with crepes, delicious hot Italian sandwiches, and other treats, we crowded into a Columbia mini-auditorium (after, naturally, going through security at the door to the building–Cornell looks like an open safe compared to that school!) and performed a set of old and new nerdy repertoire, including songs from Spiderman, The Lord of the Rings, Buffy, and more. All were, of course, greatly appreciated by our audience.
Once our official performance was over and done with, we were able to spend a lazy day touring Central Park and taking pictures in photobooths. (I was just happy to be able to wear my jacket and winter hat because of the cold weather!)
Best fall break yet? Definitely! Most exhausting weekend ever? Absolutely. Time to stop singing and start working on my next coding assignment…
To clarify, my title isn’t supposed to have a double meaning: the compound “geekend” does not, in fact, refer to the time when geeks and nerds no longer rule this Earth. Rather, it describes this past Friday, when <3′s celebration of nerdiness (in other words, our concert) temporarily took over part of Risley (and my life–that’s why it’s been a bit since I posted).
If you asked a guidance counselor to describe college in a word or two, he or she would probably say something about academics, while I’ll bet the media would make a snarky comment about binge drinking. In my opinion, college is, on the most trivial level, defined by bubble tea and a cappella music.
Though I’m a big fan of those chunky straws myself, I’ll personally never understand the bubble tea obsession here at Big Red. I do, however, have a few theories about why collegiate a cappella is such a big deal. The popularity of TV’s Glee certainly hasn’t hurt the popularity of covering songs and dancing around onstage, but this trend was alive and kicking way before a bunch of middling auto-tuned performers started rehashing pop hits on Fox.
Honestly, I think a cappella’s appeal among the 20-ish set is based mostly on recognition. It’s always awkward when you go to a concert and your favorite band plays some silly song that you’ve never heard before (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Coulton!). What could be better, then, than attending a performance where it’s almost guaranteed that you’re at least somewhat familiar with all the selections ? Plus, you get to see that reserved dude from your bio class and that chick you always see drinking lattes at Libe Cafe belting out the power chords instead of Adele or Bruno Mars.
Now, <3 never tries to emulate any of the current Top 40 superstars, but we’re still fundamentally aiming for recognition, too. It’s delightful when we do more obscure things, of course, (e.g. one of our staples, the YouTube classic “They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard,” certainly wasn’t played on any radio recently), but our best performances occur when people get what we’re doing.
And, based on the huge number of fans who stormed the doors of Risley Hall like orcs attacking Helm’s Deep to see our show, Cornellians do understand us. By the time the girls and I took the stage, we had a line of folks standing in the back because all of the seats were taken!
One final note before this post just turns into a pointless rant of <3 love: our concert would have never been such a success without the support of our advisor. While it’s true that no advisor is required to play a particularly active role in his or her organization’s activities, I was surprised by our faculty ally’s enthusiasm.
When our advisor and his wife attended our dress rehearsal, they were cheerful, kind, and full of great suggestions for last-minute improvements. (They also proudly mentioned their love for Joss Whedon’s work, and even recognized the picture of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Spike that I currently have as my desktop wallpaper, so, you know, that helped too). I’ve never met professors at Cornell–or anywhere–more actively interested in their students’ lives!
This coming Saturday represents another special milestone for <3 as well. We’re having our first real open auditions! Though I’ve attended billions (that’s a very precise number, I’ll have you know) of auditions in my life, I haven’t ever been on the decision-making side (except when I directed and wrote a dorky musical in tenth grade, but we won’t talk about that). Incidentally, if you’re coming here next year as a freshman and want to try out in the fall, send me an email!
When I transferred to Punahou (my high school alma mater) as a sophomore, I read YA “school stories” to prepare myself for dealing with the ups and downs of tenth grade. The pubescent protagonists of these novels assured me that I could achieve my own high school happy ending by following a few simple steps:
- Bonding with fellow outcasts and eventually creating a ragtag band of allies
- Joining a nerdy organization and immediately falling for one of its adorkable yet unattainable members
- Eventually capitalizing on my fame amongst the commoners and defeating the Super Hot Popular Babe in the epic battle for Senior Class President.
Unfortunately, life is neither a Taylor Swift song nor written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. I did find a clique, but most of them had already been friends since middle school. My presidential campaign posters, which featured a supportive-looking Yoda and my last name typed in the Star Wars font, were hijacked by a group of anonymous punks who plastered the campus with pictures of Vader captioned “Rise, Lord Keely!”
So, with two strikes, I had one last hope: finding comraderie in a league of extraordinary teenagers with similar interests. Except the Punahou club scene never really did much for me. I signed up for the French Club, Model UN, the Environmentalist Club and a wide variety of others, but didn’t stick with any. It would be a year until I finally had time to join the Speech Team or the lit mag. In the meantime, sophomore Keely had a grand plan: she’d just make her own clubs.
I wanted to start not just one new organization, but two. The first was fairly generic–a vegetarian support group, which Punahou desperately needed to combat the idiotic guild known as the “Meat Club.” The second was a Lord of the Rings fanclub whose members were to be called the TASLs.
Forming a group of one’s own, though, was much more difficult than I thought. I had to find an advisor as well as a significant number of members from each grade level. Then, provided I completed these tasks, my application would be assessed by a committee consisting of some select students and one of the crankiest women I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet.
Needless to say, Punahou remains unadorned by TASLs to this day.
That’s why I assumed Cornell was, to use a professional term, totally lying when I heard that it was simple for students to form their own organizations at Big Red. Cornell is obviously at least fifteen billion times bigger than my high school–how could it be easier to start a club here?
Forming <3 A Cappella this year taught me otherwise. Though we’ve been singing since last fall, <3 only very became official. Based on my past experiences, I had no desire to go through the madness again: I thought it would take weeks for us to finally have our own listing on the CU RSO website.
Make that approximately three days, guys.
We found an advisor, snagged his autograph, filled out some personal information and now–bam!–we’re eligible to reserve rehearsal spaces for free, apply for funding, and generally brag about how legit we are.
In short, don’t be afraid to create something new if Cornell’s massive amount of pre-existing clubs doesn’t hold anything that strikes your fancy! And hey, if anyone feels the need for a Middle Earth group, shoot me a line. I promise my acronym-making skills have improved since the last time I was a sophomore.
Readers, I’ve made a miraculous discovery. That much-discussed Mayan calendar wasn’t counting down to the end of the world (or, for that matter, the theatrical release of The Hobbit). Oh, no. 2012 instead simply marks the auspicious year when Keely Sarr attends a dance that actually isn’t awkward, terrible or downright scarring.
The cultish prom worship that pop culture encourages in young students (particularly of the female variety, I’m sad to say) is absolutely disgusting. These poor innocents spend weeks dreaming of their perfect year’s end “rhythmic ceremonial ritual” (to quote the sage Doc Brown). They envision matching their dates perfectly, waltzing gracefully in the moonlight and not having to listen to some joker repeatedly declare that party rock is in the house tonight.
Tragically, these dreams, as I’m sure you all know, are ruthlessly crushed in every way possible. Your man-friend of the evening wears some dorky sport-coat he stole from his recently deceased great-grandfather because he “forgot” that tuxes existed. A booking mishap by a member of your clique results in an unwanted pre-prom bus ride instead of a horse-drawn carriage. Instead of being surprised by a graceful, conservative fox-trot, you are shocked to see the dance-floor is alive with the thumpin’ beats of bizarre men singing the praises of those enigmatic “shawties.”
Well, I still can’t say that I was driven in style to this weekend’s formal–but that’s because it took place right in my own dorm. Risley Hall, you see, hosts an annual Valentine’s Day themed shindig featuring fancy clothes and free food. Now, I’m normally above such activities (by which I mean I hide in my room whenever an event involving more than, say, six people is mentioned), but the promise of an a cappella performance opportunity (my group managed to secure a slot in the evening’s events) forced me to buy a red dress and come out of my shell.
Surprisingly, I’m really glad that I did.
My < 3 girls and I had been preparing for about three weeks (which is, amazingly enough, a long rehearsal period compared to last time) and sang a set of four dorky and/or hipster-esque songs in Risley’s Tammany (a “coffee-house” style lounge venue that often features local/in-house acts and free milkshakes).
If I thought singing the theme from “Robot Unicorn Attack” to an appreciative and understanding audience was going to be the highlight of the evening, though, I was wrong. Somehow, things managed to stay consistently awesome throughout the entire night.
Generally clean and grind-free dance floor behavior? Check. Speakers playing Beatles songs? Gotcha. Slightly disturbing footage of romantic scenes from Disney movies projected onto the wall in place of the standard slightly-more-disturbing music videos? Roger that.
I’ve certainly recovered from traumatic prom drama experiences, so I suppose the moral of this ridiculous post is to attend these seemingly dorky events in college: they can be great fun (especially if you, like me, are pretty dorky yourself)!
As the title of this post suggests, yes, I was lucky enough to see Billy Joel perform–I mean, “answer questions”–at Bailey Hall this past Friday night. Clad in a Cornell sweatshirt and baseball cap, Billy proved that he was still the master of the grand piano even if his voice isn’t what it used to be. Though Billy did spend most of the time talking, I did get to hear “Piano Man” and “Only the Good Die Young,” along with a special performance of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
Since I’m a college student (obviously), I found Billy’s life story very interesting. Although he’s now the happy owner of several honorary degrees, Billy was a high-school dropout who spent most of his pre-twenties life working in bands. While I’m glad Billy’s career worked out so well, his past worries me a little. Say I secretly still want to be a musician: am I wasting my time learning about Ragnarok and rococo as an undergrad when I could be making my way onto the folk scene instead?
Fortunately, I have no plans of leaving Cornell and standing on a street corner playing guitar with my hat out for some time–my a cappella group has satisfied all my music-making urges for now. I mentioned on Friday that <3 was booked to appear at the Johnson, and I’m now proud to say that everything went (surprisingly) smoothly.
As <3 singer Tara wrote in an email to the Risley Hall list-serv, “Our debut mini concert of non-denominational winter songs is sure to put a joyful spin on your ideas of unrequited love and dying in frozen Canadian waters.” The program included “Winter Winds” by Mumford & Sons, “Frozen in Frobisher Bay” by Canadian folksinger James Gordon, and “Winter Song” by Ingrid Michaelson & Sara Bareilles.
If that sounds like your cup of tea (and you’ll need a cup of tea after listening to these chilly songs), you’re in luck, blog-readers! Here’s some of the highlights of our performance.
What’s next for <3? Well, the other ladies and I will be meeting sometime this week to discuss the very exciting future of our ensemble, and since I’m such a shameless self-promoter, rest assured that I’ll discuss every detail of our rise to greatness (or something) on this blog.
Readers, I promise you that I’m not the only person who thinks the Johnson is a hoppin’ place: it’s seen quite a number of celebrities in its time. One of the front-desk receptionists recently informed me that she once welcomed Marty McFly–I mean, Michael J. Fox, to the museum. The Dalai Lama stopped by during his visit to Ithaca a few years ago (sadly for him, the elevator decided to break that day and he had to use the sketchy fire stairs instead). In more recent news, I was working in the education offices a few weeks ago when a coworker suddenly informed me that John Lithgow was on a special V.I.P. tour that afternoon.
Moral of the story? Important people lurk everywhere. Before agreeing to, I don’t know, put on a show in the Johnson, it’s wise to remember that anyone could be watching. Isn’t it good that I’m not going to be perform–
Hey Internet! Do you want to know a secret? I started an a cappella group. Through the combined powers of friendship, the electric keyboard in my room and Sibelius (a music notation software), I’ve attempted to transform my dorky self into an arranger and musical director. We’re an all-female ensemble that sings–surprise, surprise–nerdy music. Our current repertoire includes such gems as “John Williams is the Man,” “Laundry Day” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog and the opening theme to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Appropriately, we’re called <3 (for all my Luddites in the house: that’s pronounced “less-than-three” and it represents a heart/love in chatspeak).
Though we’re not an official group yet, I plan on making <3 a registered student organization in the spring, which means we’d get a (minimal) amount of spending money and general bragging rights. Of course, I’m a little anxious about what kind of reception we’ll get when <3 finally takes the stage for real in the spring. While I hesitate to reference The Incredibles in yet another blog post, the scene where Syndrome attempts to “save” the city from the very robot he sent to destroy it seems particularly apt here. Poor “Buddy” uses his inventions to save a baby and the surprised onlookers, instead of bowing before their new savior, immediately start comparing him to other superheroes.
What if people are outraged and skeptical when we (metaphorically) announce that we’re the “new supers”? What if they only judge our outfits against Byronic’s…I mean, our sound against other treble ensembles’ on campus? What if a giant ”learning robot” of my own design punches me into a building and ruins my ‘do?
Well, even though I can’t promise that you’ll see me get kicked to the curb by a sentient mechatron, you can help alleviate my fears by coming to our performances at the Johnson’s Holiday Open House this Sunday, December 4th. We will have two performances (one at 2:45PM and the other at 3:45PM) in the old lobby. Our set-list includes wintery songs by Mumford & Sons, Ingrid Michaelson & Sara Bareilles, and more.
Here’s hoping it will be…wait for it…incredible.