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Voice in harmony

A lthough the lines do not exactly rival those to get into a Duke basketball game, students have been known to stand in queues that stretch across quads to listen to a cappella groups sing.

Most know what it's like to be in the audience, but few know just what is it that drives these singers to put in hours of practice each week and perform countless concerts throughout the year.

From glee clubs to Chapel choir to mandolin groups and string quartets, Duke's campus has always had a rich history of music. But today's a cappella groups sing to a different beat than their predecessors did.

"We like to dispel some of the old notions that a cappella is like a glee club," said junior Dustin Pizzo, president of the Pitchforks.

Pizzo's group combines classic a cappella singing with current musical trends that began with their establishment in November 1979.

"There are a lot of students at school who's only exposure to music is MP3's.... A cappella brings together classical tradition with pop culture," said junior Erica Featherstone, president of Rhythm and Blue, an female group that began nine years ago.

The desire to expose their peers to a broad realm of music is a popular sentiment among these singers.

"Every year we try to define our goals," said senior Carolyn Sattin, president of Out of the Blue, the oldest female a cappella group on campus. "We just want to have a visible role on campus... and have a diverse repertoire and attract different kinds of audiences."

The groups draw their audiences through a variety of performances. Most reach students through dorm concerts, as they are often hired by residential advisors as part of year-long programming.

The multiple groups on campus all come together to hold the annual A Cappella Jam that kicks off the academic year. This year, the Aug. 26 concert featured eight groups and attracted long lines of students who waited more than hour to get into Page Auditorium.

In addition to dorm concerts and the annual jam, groups participate in other activities, such as charity concerts, a parent's weekend show and various sorority events.

"Everybody seems to enjoy it if you like music at all," Pizzo said. "[People enjoy it because] we take the top 40 songs and put our own twist to it."

Some of the groups attribute their talents to a higher cause and cite religion as their motivation. "We sing for God," said Dave Chong, musical director for the group Borrowed and Blue. "We think that everything we do and have.... Our ability to sing has been given by God and we aim to share what God has done in our lives through music."

Showy choreography along with improvisational humor is a trademark of some of the groups. This can lead to fan clubs of sorts; Pizzo said that some of his group members have been given girls' phone numbers after concerts.

Sattin also mentioned the social benefits and student unity the groups create. "It's fun entertainment, and at the same time, it's a great social outlet that allows older and younger students to intermingle," she said.

The groups are often attractive to freshmen intimidated by the time commitments required by other campus musical groups.

"I think it provides a good number of students the opportunity to continue singing," Sattin said. "[With a cappella groups], they know they'll have the chance to sing in college."

But in the end, the thing that drives most of these students is their love for music and the joy it gives them.

"Our most immediate goal is just to have fun... We work really hard to make beautiful music," Featherstone said. "But if we're not having fun, we know something is wrong."


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