Photo courtesy of Alyssa Arre, Staff Photographer

Saturday, Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m. at the Palestra. Instead of basketball hoops and UR jerseys, a stage was set up to overlook an expanse of white folding chairs. People filing in were dismayed to find most of the seats already taken; the bleachers were not much better.

Popular does not even begin to describe A Cappella Jam, a two-hour, four-act concert featuring UR’s lauded vocal crews in full performance spirit. This event celebrates the talent of UR’s enrollees and is thus exhilaratingly appropriate for the University’s annual Meliora Weekend. Though occasionally choppy in its delivery, “ever better” has never sounded so good.

The show opened with yellow blazers and a chorus of powerful male voices belonging to the YellowJackets, UR’s oldest a cappella group and a team that deserves to be associated with the University mascot. Characterized by a blend of groove and class, the YellowJackets began each musical number with a bit of half-staged casualness, ensuring the audience that although they look dapper, they are fun at heart.

And they are. After starting off with a stylistic slice ’n’ dice of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” the YellowJackets progressed to a soaring medley of classic Disney songs, where an astonishing solo during “Hercules’” “Somewhere I Belong” stole the show. Fun’s “Some Nights” made an appearance as well, with swelling harmonies and deft beat-boxing. A slight dip into safe, “mainstream” Bieber territory rebounded with the alumni song “Up the Ladder to the Roof” by the Supremes, ending the YellowJackets’ presentation with a soulful flourish.

Next up was Vocal Point, UR’s only all-female a cappella ensemble. It could be that the YellowJackets set the bar too high, but VP’s performance came across underwhelming. The lead vocalist for one of their multiple numbers had a voice that pinches in the upper registers, sapping her solos of their potential resonance; the opening heart-themed love song medley is a case in point. The next song, “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, showcased VP’s technical precision, but demonstrated little structural creativity, while JoJo’s “Leave (Get Out)” received a braver, but pitchy, rendition.

VP’s low point came with a soporific singing of Beyoncé’s “Until the End of Time,” which featured virtually no redeeming elements apart from the mild merits of the original song. Fortunately, VP’s strongest piece, a faithful performance of the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” concluded the group’s performance itinerary. Where previous songs conveyed the VP women’s voices as tinny and constricted, this song accentuated the group’s lilting vocals and impressive harmonies.

Following a 10-minute intermission, co-ed After Hours took the stage, sharply dressed in black and red. One of the group’s most striking features is the equilibrium between its male and female voices, most evident in an astonishing performance of Gary Jules’ “Mad World,” easily one of the night’s best and most beautiful. A lone female soprano soothed the melody into motion, and then the voices began stacking one upon the next, surging and ebbing as a tidal collective. Each note seemed to melt into the music’s substance, and the effect seemed to evoke raw, liquid emotion. The group reprised this effect in their rendition of Marianas Trench’s “So It Goes,” which also  appeared to draw its breath from the elements, forming a lovely ballad to untainted lyricism.

With that said, After Hours is also privy to the makings of a good time, demonstrated by a couple of rowdy but rewarding pop music covers.

Alex Clare’s “Too Close” got a stylish makeover, climaxing with an innovative a cappella dubstep riff that is all the more thrilling because it was voice-generated. A take on David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium” tied up After Hours’ performance slot, beginning somewhat unremarkably but ending in a powerhouse hurrah for the group’s vocal virtuosity.

Last up for the night was the Midnight Ramblers who, decked out in their matching gray baseball jerseys and constantly showing off their goofy antics, appeared as the unofficial class clowns of UR’s a cappella scene.

The potpourri medley they opened with basked in glorious chaos; when “Gangnam Style” popped up in a flurry of Korean rap, it felt both mildly incongruous with the rest of the medley songs and right at home in the Ramblers’ seemingly improvisatory showmanship. The exiting salute to the audience featured partial disrobing and fake histrionics, a ludicrous but endearing way to end the show.

But when it comes to musicianship, these guys are serious and seriously good. Virtually all the soloists possess powerful, crystalline voices that radiate through the Palestra; one highlight was the gentle but voluminous vocal capacity of one of the lead singers the audience members were privileged enough to see.

In all the performances, every singer flew high with energy, bouncing and gesturing in rhythm to the music. Even though each member moved of his own accord, the entire group felt physically and dynamically unified, completely at home on the stage and with each other.

That is precisely why A Cappella Jam so eloquently encapsulates the spirit of Meliora Weekend. On the one hand, the jam marks just one of the myriad events that capture the diverse talents of UR students. On the other, though composed of so many individuals from so many different backgrounds all moving of their own accords, they all operated as a unified body. Just as each a cappella group worked as a cohesive whole, so the University’s students strive to work together to achieve ever greater aspirations. It is the hope of the weekend’s masterminds that students call this place of unified diversity their home, and we have a cappella to thank for reminding us of this.

Jeng is a member of the class of 2016.


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