The High Notes: Inside a cappella

    Although singing is a hobby of mine, I can count on my fingers the number of times in life I sang in front of an audience. But the famed and illustrious NU a cappella scene was just too enticing – I signed up for auditions with a slightly self-conscious chuckle. Ten days of viral bronchitis? Check. Tiny role in high school performance of Into the Woods? Check. I think it’s safe to say I was going to be the next Idina Menzel.

    With the limited performing experience I would soon describe as “some musical theater” on my resume, I marched into auditions with my head held high. That is, until I picked up my audition form. Holy crap. Six a cappella pros are about to scrutinize every sound that comes out of my mouth. I wonder who decided to describe this sensation as “butterflies,” because it feels more like “writhing snakes” to me.

    But the secretary was calling my name. I took a deep breath, and walked into my first audition.

    And it felt like… a stadium? Fanatical cheering, welcoming faces and cheesy radio sound effects filled the room. I suddenly felt pretty damn cool.

    Six grinning judges sat by a keyboard and introduced themselves as the group’s executive board. I repeated all their names out loud, thinking they might appreciate the first-day-of-kindergarten approach. They smiled throughout everything, which was both comforting and questionable – I didn’t know how they could be that enthusiastic after sitting through five hours of mediocre singing, but they seemed excited.

    They had me sing some shaky scales in which I revealed my under-pressure range to be about an octave, and they pretended to be impressed. Then I performed a nervous, wobbly rendition of “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5. We thanked each other about 40 times and they sent me out on a wave of vigorous applause.

    I sauntered over to my next audition with probably a bit too much kick in my step. The other students there seemed nervous too, which made me feel even better, until I discovered that my fellow auditioners were all theater majors and had a lot more than “some musical theater” experience on their applications. Cue my heart sinking. And then I remembered that the Northwestern A Cappella Auditions 2015 Facebook group has 464 members. Cue my heart plummeting.

    The competitive atmosphere was thick. Sitting outside one audition, I heard the solid, open ring of inhumanly high notes. The a cappella member next to me glanced over and said matter-of-factly, “Oh, she’s in.” I didn’t audition for that group.

    Still, my second audition went well and I couldn’t help but see myself belting my heart out with a stomping, “ooh”-ing and beatboxing squad behind me. Alleviated from the weight of my self-doubt, I floated to my fourth and final audition.

    I entered to the usual applause and sound effects. But when it was time to sing, something went wrong. This was my Mariah Carey moment at Rockefeller Center moment, circa 2014. I started on the wrong note, and my voice cracked on the high part. There was an unusually long pause when I finished. They didn’t ask to test my range.

    Even with no expectation of getting accepted to any a cappella groups, it’s hard not to get your hopes up. Maybe you hit a note particularly well and your heart soars. Inundated with adrenaline, you might see the president blink twice and just know that your angelic voice is giving her a musical epiphany. Passing delusions of grandeur are inescapable. And the crash back into reality is rough.

    Of the 160 students who auditioned, 115 got callbacks. Only 65 were accepted into groups, according to Communications senior Meghan McCandless, president of Northwestern A Cappella Community Alliance.

    Sitting in my dorm after auditions, nursing my sore, bronchitis-ravaged throat, I could see clearly the actual quality of my performances, untainted by the filter of anxiety and adrenaline. I couldn’t help but smile to myself; in this moment I knew I had done it. All my hard work, my hasty day-of-auditions practicing, the liters and liters of honey tea I chugged, the anxiety – everything had been worth it for this moment, because now I sigh with relief and sleep peacefully knowing the truth: that I would not be getting a callback.


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