Students Find Community Through A Cappella Groups
Franklin & Marshall’s four a cappella groups took the stage at the final Common Hour of the semester on Thursday. The student-run groups bring together Diplomats from various majors who share a love of music.
“I think it really is the epitome of the small liberal arts experience,” said Liz Joslin, a senior government major and president of The Poor Richards, a coed group. “We have so many students here that did music and sports in high school and want to continue to come here and do a little bit of everything.”
Brianna Herrera, a senior public health and anthropology joint major, knew she wanted music to be part of her experience. After being in her high school’s orchestra, she wanted to try something new and auditioned for Kite & Keys, a group for women and gender minorities.
“Keeping music in my life was important because it’s something that I think really unifies people,” said Herrera, who is now president of Kite & Keys.
For other students, like Yasmin Nicholas, a cappella was nothing new. The senior math and German studies double major was in a cappella groups in high school but was drawn to the leadership opportunities available in a student-led setting.
“I could maybe become the person who leads rehearsals, I could start to learn how to arrange music,” she said of her decision to join The Poor Richards. “I’ve done all those things, and I’m currently the music director. It’s been very rewarding.”
Joining an a cappella group can also expand students’ social networks. Micheala Patalano, a senior psychology and music double major, said the adrenaline of live performance helped her form strong bonds with the members of the all-female group Sweet Ophelia.
“Everyone’s nervous. I think there’s something so special about sharing those jitters and fear and excitement,” said Patalano.
Herrera said the rush of her first performance is one of her favorite memories from her time with Kite & Keys. “Our first performance was the first time I had ever seen people really come together like that and be so inextricable from the music they’re making…it was really profound.”
That sense of community was especially important for many seniors in the groups, who came to campus in the fall of 2020, the year after COVID forced students, faculty and staff to be remote for several months.
“There wasn’t as much going on,” Reece Chang, a senior music major, recalls of his first semester, “but I still wanted an opportunity to perform.” Through virtual auditions and outdoor performances, he was able to find community by joining the Chessmen.
In addition to forming friendships on campus, the groups can connect current students with alumni. Darij Kulchychyj, president of the Chessmen, said some of his favorite moments with the group have been virtual and in-person meetups with alumni, including several of the all-male a cappella group’s founding members.
“The kind of momentum and uplift that gave our group was this huge positive boost,” said Kulchychyj, a senior environmental studies and economics double major. “Being able to facilitate that kind of energy and attitude is something that I’m really proud of.”
Joslin also emphasized the role of alumni in helping the groups thrive. One of the highlights of her time with The Poor Richards has been working with music producer Ed Chung ’97, who recorded an album with the group in April.
Joslin said a network of Poor Richards alumni helped her get in touch with Chung and provided logistical support when she needed to access the group’s Spotify account.
“It was really special and I think it really spoke to the alumni base that we’ve been able to tap into in the last few years,” said Joslin.
Four a cappella groups at one school may seem unusual, but students say their support of each other and the campus enthusiasm for their performances creates a robust a cappella culture.
“I think it’s important to know that all of us really work together,” said Herrera. “Where you would expect competition, instead you see people holding each other up.”
It helps that the groups focus on having fun, said Joslin. “Our main objective is to have a good time. We want to be good and perform well, but everyone is using this as an outlet.”
Knowing that people across campus look forward to their concerts helps too, said Kulchychyj. “Concerts are definitely a two-way street with the people that support us. Everyone commits so much time to it, and I think that’s recognized by the student body.”
Although the groups are student-run, Joslin said she has always felt they are well-supported by the entire F&M community.
“Our show at True Blue Weekend was standing room only, and there were a million other things going on at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday,” Joslin said. “I think it’s really special and the College has done a really good job of supporting it.”
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