The Cherry Tree Massacre, a four-showing a cappella festival hosted every spring semester by the Georgetown Chimes, returned last weekend with a diverse set of performances by both Georgetown University a cappella groups and guest performers.
Started in 1974, the Cherry Tree Massacre tradition started when neophyte John O’Grady (COL ‘74) developed the idea to save the Chimes from financial difficulties. Often a point of speculation, the show’s namesake was meant to intrigue audiences and draw them to the show, a method which has worked now for 33 years.
“The [Cherry Tree Massacre] anchors the Chimes in its role and in its identity as a fixture of the university,” Chimes Ephus John Labossiere (COL ’16) said. “When people think of Georgetown, they think of Cherry Tree, and, when they think of Cherry Tree, they think of Chimes.”
The show spans four weekends and showcases both a cappella’s past and future. Host group the Chimes will be accompanied by other Georgetown groups, such as the Phantoms, Gracenotes, Superfood, Resonant Essence Live, Chamber Singers, Saxatones and the Capital Gs. Guest groups include the Univeristy of Virginia’s New Dominions, Duke University’s Speak of the Devil and Boston College’s Heightsmen, among others.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, the Chimes opened up the festivities with endearing renditions of “We Meet” and “Who Loves You,” two pieces from the Four Seasons’ repertoire. Then, the Georgetown Gracenotes followed, stunning the audience with a sultry rendition of “Death of a Bachelor,” by Panic! at the Disco.
Immediately from the start of their performance, the Heightsmen, wowed the crowd with their soulful voices, tight harmonies and barbershop style. Their performances of “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, “Me & Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul and “60 Minute Man” by Billy Ward and The Dominoes energized the crowd and put smiles on everyone’s faces.
The New Dominions closed out the first half of the show with a mashup of “In the Name of Love” by Martin Garrix and “How Deep is Your Love” by Calvin Harris, as well as a sultry performance of Ariana Grande’s “Into You” that built from start to finish.
Following the intermission, the Chimes put their singing skills to good use with a comedic Chimes tradition detailing, “If I were not a Georgetown Chime, I wonder what I’d be.”
The interlude was followed by the Phantoms, which was the only coed Georgetown group to perform that night. For its performance, the Phantoms chose to juxtapose the sweet sounds of “You’re Just Too Good to Be True” with the upbeat jaunty “Proud Mary,” a classic by Tina Turner.
Treble in Paradise, an all-female group from American University, was the last of the guest groups to perform. The group stuck to a theme of female empowerment with a set list featuring songs by Little Mix and Beyoncé.
The Chimes ended the night with a variety of songs that were equally uplifting and poetic. The sonorous harmonies of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera were sweetly juxtaposed with a lighthearted rendition of “Strangers Like Me,” which most cartoon devotees will remember from “Tarzan,” the Disney animated classic .
This year’s senior quartet, another Chimes tradition, consisted of a soulful and flawless execution of the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” The strong voices of Alex Nickel, Bryan Renslo, Dylan Convoy and John Labossiere rang out across Gaston Hall in perfect unison, capturing the vivacious essence of the night’s festivities. “It’s such a sublime moment of standing there on stage with three guys who I’ve shared so much with over the past 3½ years,” Labossiere said.
A unique, almost enchanting, rendition of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” served as the Chimes’ last performance of the night. The Chimes combined soft and powerful voices to create a rich sound, responsible for ending the night in perfect harmony.
It is no surprise that the Cherry Tree Massacre was such a success, given the hours of preparation required to put it up.
Preparations for the event usually begin a year in advance and involve collaboration between past and present Chimes members, while also involving some members of the Georgetown community. Having transitioned into being a full-fledged business, the Chimes oversee its own credit card payments, taxes and ticket distribution in an effort to further streamline the planning process.
The Chimes practiced five to six days a week for an hour-and-a-half each night, receiving feedback from alumni and faculty.
“It was really hard practicing. I was exhausted for two weeks leading up to the show, and we practiced almost every night,” Neophyte Jake Gile (COL ’20) said.
Being a Chime implies more than just performing. It means becoming part of a brotherhood and bonding over an ineffable love of music. As the saying goes, once you’re a Chime, you’re a Chime for life. The Cherry Tree Massacre is more than just a celebration of a cappella; it is a celebration of the Chimes’ history, Chimes alumni and the future of the Chimes to come. It is for this reason that it can take up to a year for a neophyte to be inducted as an official member of the group.
“The reason it’s such a long process is that there’s a lot to understand, but it makes what it means to be a part of the group worth that much more when you finally get in,” Gile said.
The Chimes’ initiation process is about entering a community. While learning Chimes history and the group’s historically acclaimed, though ever-growing, repertoire, neophytes reach out to at least 70 alumni in order to truly understand the ethos of being a Chime.
“When you rise through the ranks and get to the level of a Chime, you get the tie with three stripes. The three-stripe tie means that you are a member for life,” Labossiere said.
While the Chimes prides itself on its legacy, it simultaneously looks forward to embracing new challenges, ideas and inspirations in order to add to its rich tradition. Current members recognize that the Chimes of 71 years ago are not the exact same Chimes of today and look forward to seeing how the group continues to grow in the future.
The Cherry Tree Massacre has two more performances Feb. 11 and Feb. 25.