Princeton High School’s a cappella groups play a prominent role in the school’s performance scene. A cappella groups perform in a unique way, singing songs with many voices acting as the instrumental accompaniment.
Around Eight, Cloud Nine, PHS Testostertones, and The Cat’s Meow are the four a cappella groups at PHS, varying in gender, choir affiliation, and sound. Since it’s the beginning of a new school year, the groups are trying out new sounds and adjusting to the overall group dynamic.
The all-female, non-choir-affiliated group Cloud Nine sings all genres but tends to perform more pop, jazz, and non-contemporary songs. The group is especially looking forward to Friday Night Live at the Princeton Public Library in early December.“It’s always a fun concert because it’s the first big one of the year, and there’s great energy at it,” said Talya Inbar ’17, a Cloud Nine leader.
PHS Testostertones, an all-male, non-choir-affiliated group also has plans for this year.
One of the Tones’ leaders, Theo Trevisan ’17, said, “Last year, we competed in the [International Championship of High School A Cappella], which is basically the high school version of the competition in Pitch Perfect. We plan on doing that again this year, so I’m excited about that.”
Around Eight is a co-ed, choir-affiliated group that performs pop music, with some non-contemporary songs.
One leader of Around Eight, Claire Burden ’17, said, “We’re excited to arrange some new music and just have fun.”
The only all-female, choir-affiliated a cappella group is The Cat’s Meow. They perform traditional songs every year, like This Little Light of Mine, that fit into pop, alternative, and R&B genres.
Around Eight and The Cat’s Meow will be on tour in Spain in February with PHS Choir.
Around Eight leader Zack Schapire ’17 said, “We’re gonna sing for various schools in Spain, so we’ll get to collaborate with Spanish choirs, which is very fun.”
The Cat’s Meow leader Olivia Skopas ’17 expressed similar sentiments and said, “Getting to perform with [The Cat’s Meow] in Spain will be a really special experience.”
Last year, each group said goodbye to its senior members, leaving room open for new students to audition for a specific singing part. The leaders made sure to integrate each new member into the groups as best as possible.
“We have a tradition of teaching [‘Helplessly Hoping’] by word of mouth as opposed to with sheet music. Probably the hardest part about learning that song is that teaching without sheet music can be difficult, especially if your person has a hard time staying on key or recognizing the key to sing in,” Schapire said .
Despite these challenges, “[The group was] sounding enormously better just by the end of rehearsal,” Burden said.
As for Cloud Nine, the group lost six seniors last year, leaving room open for new members to create a different fusion of voices.
“We brought in six freshmen who are now sophomores, so I’m really excited to see how the group blends, and so far, it’s been amazing soundwise and socially,” Inbar said. “Not everyone sings a specific voice part but it is good to have strong voices in different ranges.”
The Tones don’t have any members currently back for their third year.
“We don’t have an extra year of experience in the group,” Trevisan said. “But it’s something we can pretty easily work out.”
For The Cat’s Meow, it was tough trying to find five new singers to replace the graduating seniors, according to Skopas.
“But the five new kids are already showing a lot of potential and we saw something in them last year that made us think they would be a good fit for The Cat’s Meow,” Skopas said.
She also talked about how it can be challenging for members to learn the music at first, as well as to prepare for and become accustomed to the pressure of performing solos.
“Solos can be scary because you really want to give off a good impression. But eventually everyone becomes really good friends and nothing becomes too intimidating.”
To overcome challenges, the leaders of the a cappella groups set concrete goals for their groups to achieve throughout the upcoming year.
In terms of the group’s dynamic, Burden said, “In past years, there’s been social tension, so this year, one of my goals is to make the group socially coherent. When everybody’s happy and there’s no drama, we always sound better.”
As for The Tones, they would like to perform better in the International Championship of High School A Cappella competition.
“I’m looking forward to taking all the lessons we learned last year from the competition and applying them to this year’s competition. I really hope that we do better in the semis—maybe even get an award or make it to the finals. It’s gonna be tough but you gotta have high expectations sometimes,” Trevisan said.
Friday Night Live is an event for which The Cat’s Meow especially hopes to be prepared, and is going to focus on during practices.
“We always want to be able to show the other [a cappella] groups that we’re accomplishing something too,” Skopas said.
Cloud Nine’s leaders want to make the group more cohesive and find a good blend.
“At first, it’ll be a little difficult. We haven’t really had any trouble this year at all so it’s actually worked out pretty well. We want to have fun but also make sure we sound good,” Inbar said.
Despite challenges that might arise as the year progresses, each leader expressed enthusiasm about this year’s group of singers and how excited they are to perform for audiences in and out of the PHS community.