D.C. A Cappella Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two weekends of performances from six of Georgetown’s undergraduate a cappella groups and four guest performance groups.
Performances in the festival, which is co-hosted by the Georgetown Phantoms and the Georgetown GraceNotes, include a variety of musical styles, encompassing everything from oldies to barbershop music to contemporary pop. Following a successful first performance Nov. 7, the concert’s second weekend will be held in Gaston Hall at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 14.
“Over the past 25 years, DCAF has established itself as a tradition on the Georgetown campus and throughout D.C.,” Phantoms Music Director Taylor Perz (COL ’16) said.
The Phantoms — then known as the Phantom Singers — held their first festival in 1988. Since then, the concert has brought nationally recognized guest groups like the Yale Whiffenpoofs to Gaston Hall while adding Georgetown’s newer groups, Superfood, the Saxatones and the Capitol G’s, to its regular lineup.
Ron Lignelli, the current administrative director of the Georgetown University Department of Performing Arts, was one of the key players in the creation and development of the very first DCAF 25 years ago. At that time, there were no a cappella groups officially recognized by the university under the office of performing arts. The Phantoms, the first co-ed a cappella group that was steadily securing a place in the a cappella scene at Georgetown, together with the Gracenotes, embarked on a mission to host a fall performance mirroring the annual spring Cherry Tree Massacre a cappella festival.
“In the beginning, it was only a mild success because Cherry Tree had its tradition and DCAF was not in the mindset of students yet, but in a few short years it really caught on and it became a huge tradition,” Lignelli said.
Regarding the growth and evolution of DCAF over the past 25 years, Lignelli says, “All of a sudden you had the boom of the shows on TV and in the media. Now it’s a huge business and everybody coming to Georgetown, even if they have never sang in their life, knows what a cappella is.”
“This is probably one of the best years we have seen just as far as the talent level and there are really good vibes in the a cappella community,” said Connor Joseph (COL ’16), president of the all-male Georgetown Chimes.
Though the Chimes maintain a repertoire of oldies and choral arrangements, most other groups at Georgetown — and all over the country — have updated their sound. Typical performance sets of groups competing at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella now feature rap, electronic dance music, and dubstep arrangements.
“A cappella has really come a long way from the days of barbershop quartets,” Superfood Music Director Ryan Sudo (SFS ’17) said.
The hype surrounding Georgetown’s a cappella community seems to be correlated to a rising tide of a cappella that is creating waves in popular culture today
“DCAF gets better and better every year, and I think that’s in large part due to the increasing popularity of a cappella music,” Sudo said. “You have groups like Pentatonix winning Grammy awards, for example. And there was that whole ‘Pitch Perfect’ phenomenon too.”
Most Georgetown groups look to DCAF as a platform for showcasing their newest members and latest arrangements. This past weekend, the GraceNotes performed a collaborative song with the Chimes, the first in the groups’ histories.
Alex Smith (COL ’17), music director of the Gracenotes, and Chime Tim Lyons (COL ’15) composed the joint arrangement of “Nirvana” by Sam Smith.
“The Chimes would just crash our rehearsals once a week,” Alex Smith said. “I think we all enjoyed adding new elements to our performances, and overall I think the sum was greater than its parts.”
As a concert in itself, however, DCAF also exposes its Georgetown-centric audience to groups that hail far from D.C. This weekend saw performances from the Columbia Kingsmen, Columbia’s oldest all-male a cappella group and the all-female Princeton University group Tigressions.
“It’s amazing to see the Georgetown a cappella community but it’s also amazing to hold a yard stick up to the other a cappella communities too,” Joseph said. “You meet up with other a cappella groups and sing with them and go to a party with them and you bond and you switch some things around based on what you learn from other groups and you exchange ideas and that’s always really cool.”
“We really enjoyed meeting the other groups,” Haley Gordon, a member of the Tigressions, wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and very supportive of us.”
This upcoming Friday, hosted by the Phantoms, will feature the New York University N’Harmonics and the Johns Hopkins University Octopodes.
“In general, performing as a guest group on a different campus is a thrilling experience no matter where you go,” Octopodes Music Director Joseph Paek said. “But singing at Georgetown for DCAF is one that tops my list of favorite events to perform at. … The crowd is one of the most receptive that my group has performed for. Whether we sing a slow ballad or an upbeat closer, they’re with us for the entire ride.”
For many at Georgetown, one of the most rewarding aspects of a cappella is the family they find within their respective groups.
“You know it’s not like ‘Pitch Perfect’ in that we are not competing with each other,” Joseph said. “We try to do our best to make it not very competitive but rather really supportive, almost like an extended family type of atmosphere.”
“My experience with the Phantoms has sincerely been the most rewarding experience I’ve had,” Perz said. “I have met my best friends through this group, and I get to pursue a passion with a group of people who care just as much about making music as I do.”
Tickets can be purchased today and tomorrow online or at Red Square for $10 for the general public and $8 for students.