Smile Politely


Although movies often exaggerate real life events, skewing the facts and glamorizing the truth, it could not be a more satisfying discovery that the musical world of a cappella is precisely like the film Pitch Perfect. At least through the eyes of Jordan Pettis, a two year Xtension Chord member, who jokes that the movie’s release has simplified the explanation to the recurring question, “What does an a cappella group… do?” Whether or not there is a correlation between Pitch Perfect’s fame and the increased popularity of a cappella groups on the UIUC’s campus, it is apparent that the acca-society is a growing force illuminating talent, passion, and brotherhood — and that it is enriching the roots of the Champaign-Urbana community.  

The title of “premiere group on campus” goes to the a cappella group The Other Guys, founded in 1968 by Bruce Johnson from the Varsity Men’s Glee Club. Although previously exclusive to the Men’s Glee Club, the group has since opened up auditions to the whole University.

Ryan Smetana, a second-year member of The Other Guys (or OGs), describes the group as a close-knit circle of friends with strong alumni affiliations that pride themselves in tradition. Although the OGs don’t stick to a specific genre, they do stand out from the other a cappella groups by avoiding vocal percussion and emphasizing their musicality through their focus on vowel work.

“I think our sense of humor, mixed with our musicality, is what we pride ourselves on,” says Smetana. Professionalism doesn’t deter the OGs from having fun, Smetana explains, recalling the time one of their members got locked in a locker at a country club before a show, which resulted in a rescue from a janitor.

The group is allowed such adventures for, in their 2006 competition in ICCA (yes, another Pitch Perfect reference), the OGs came in first in the country and third in the world. Although The OGs haven’t competed in ICCA since, Smetana has high hopes that they will be re-entering the battlefield sometime soon.

“We’re the biggest bunch of five-year-olds around,” exclaims Pettis, describing the Xtension Chords. “That’s what our program’s says.” The Xtension Chords were founded by four previous members of the Men’s Varsity Glee Club who didn’t make The Other Guys, explains three year XChord, Suraj Patnaik. Every year since, the group has expanded in numbers and popularity, becoming an acca-force to be reckoned with.

Patnaik (pictured, right) describes the phenomena of being “XChorded,” or recognized on the streets, as the closest thing in the community to paparazzi, and is just another “day in the life,” for Pettis. When asked the strangest thing that has ever occurred during a performance, Pettis replies, “We once performed at this old lady banquet convention; and, in the middle of one song, it looked liked one lady was dying. She put her head down and we almost stopped singing because we thought she was dead.” Alas, her health was fine, but it allowed for both a bizarre and hilarious memory of performance. Laughs aside, Patnaik assures that the Xtension Chords are more than talented musicians, calling them a “tight-knit brotherhood.”

“We each have a personal number, mine is 103. That number is assigned when you make the group,” says Patnaik. This small gesture illustrates the heart and devotion of the group.

“Once an Xtension Chord, always an Xtension Chord,” smiles Pettis, 102.

Rip Chords (pictured, above), an all-female a cappella group was established in 1992. “Legend has it that the Rip Chords were started from the girlfriends of Xtension Chord members who wanted their own group,” says Lexie Mallow (left), three-year member and current President of Rip Chords. Mallow describes the girls’ brand as down-to-earth and relaxed, but highly passionate and supportive. With a large high school and college audience, the group tends to lean towards pop music, but the group does not limit themselves to any specific genre. Rip Chords’ signature song is “Yesterday” by the Beatles, a classic to draw in all audiences. “A group favorite is ‘No Light, No Light’ by Florence + The Machine,” admits Mallow, humbly, (despite her impeccable solo performance).

Girls Next Door (GND), another all-female a cappella group, was founded in 1971 and was originally affiliated with Women’s Glee Club, but it is currently a completely student-run organization.

“GND has two jazz standards that we have been singing since 1971 and we continue to sing to this day. They are called ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Java Jive,’” says Kayley Smetana, first-year member and sister to Ryan Smetana of the OGs. (Vocals must run in the family.) While the GNDs are unique to UIUC a cappella for being one of two all-female groups on campus, they also have four shows a year, where most groups only have one or two.

“Two of [the shows] are traditional a cappella concerts, and the other two are at Canopy Club; and each girl gets to sing solos with a live band that shows the audience more about her personality,” explains Smetana. This tradition is exclusive to the GNDs, and it allows their group to express themselves outside the box of traditional a cappella.

“We’re definitely the classiest group on campus,” jokes Thomas Welsh-Huggins, first-year member of No Strings Attached, explaining their dress code palette of red, black, and white. In addition to their snazzy apparel, No Strings also sets itself apart by identifying as the “jazz group.”

 “It Don’t Mean a Thing” is the group’s classic jazz standard, performed every year, but that doesn’t prevent them from dabbling in other genres.

“I really liked performing ‘Paradise’ by Coldplay,” says Welsh-Huggins. “I also enjoyed our junior high medley that was a bunch of 90s hits.” This flexibility allows No Strings to cater to both particular as well as broad audiences.

Another group, No Comment, was formed in 2004 and was originally called Guys and Dolls. But, due to some confusion between the musical and the a cappella group, they decided a change of name was in order. That same year at auditions, a suggestion box was created to help create a new group name. “As a joke, someone wrote, ‘No comment,’ and the name stuck ever since,” says Max Antman, fourth-year member of “No Co.”

No Comment may be one of the newer a cappella groups on campus, but it hasn’t prevented them from leaving an impression.

“Last year, we sang [Whitney Houston’s] ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody,’ and we took it to ICCA Finals in New York City,” exclaims four year member Jessica Clark. No Co tries to keep their set list diverse, arranging songs from electronic to country. Expect anything but screamo.

Says Antman, of the group’s guys and dolls mix, “I think there’s something really unique about co-ed groups. We have a really wide range of voices, in my opinion, a different and fuller sound.” Like the previous groups, there is a high level of friendship found in No Co. Antman explains that one of their more fun, personal traditions, that consist of (playful) scaring of different members of the group with a Saw mask.   

“The bond that we share outside of rehearsals definitely enhances our performances because the friendship that we have is evident when we’re on stage,” says Clark. “I hope that [future members] can all look at each other while they’re performing and be able to smile and be happy that they’re on stage with their best friends, because that really is a great feeling that I hope No Comment will always get to experience.”

While each campus a cappella group has its own personal flare, they all seem concrete in their essentials, especially those that revolve around producing a quality musical experience with an appreciative audience and a lot of close friends.

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