In its concert, the a cappella group sang original renditions of music selections spanning all genres, including 1950s oldies, alternative rock, top-40 pop and the national anthem. | Dylan Sun/Mustang News

Kelly Trom

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That’s the Key, one of Cal Poly’s a cappella groups, performed a delightfully cheesy holiday-themed concert Friday night. With transitions referencing favorite Thanksgiving dishes and cold weather, the performance was laced with puns and laughs. Then again, what else would you expect from a performance entitled “That’s the (Tur)Key”?

This was the group’s first performance of the school year, featuring songs from the 1950s to current chart-toppers such as “Flaws” by Bastille. The eclectic mix of music was chosen by the choir’s arrangers and approved by the group’s overall opinion, That’s the Key President and liberal arts and engineering studies senior Jason Lu said.

“This was a nine-week work in progress and it paid off,” Lu said. “Our arrangers arrange what they feel like or get suggestions from the group or outside. We just try the song out and see if it fits our group, mixes well with our sound, how can we improve it.”

The show kicked off with some patriotism, with That’s the Key singing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” arrangement they performed at the UC Santa Barbara soccer game earlier this month. This simple rendition of the national anthem showed off the group’s natural rapport.

“We have a lot of chemistry,” Lu said. “We all can count on each other because we spend so much time together. It is one of the great things about being in an a cappella group: You have a whole new family.”

Most of the tight-knit group has been singing together for years, with only one newcomer — child development junior Skyler Pestle — who would have the chance to prove herself with a solo later in the show.

For those in the audience who had never experienced an a cappella performance, the show was a feast (pun intended) of different styles of music and arrangements.

“A cappella is a beautiful thing because there are no instruments except for your human voice,” Lu said. “All through middle school and high school I listened to rock, but when I heard my first a cappella song I thought it was amazing that they were doing it all with their voice.”

Though some pieces — such as a mashup of Jimmy Eat World’s “Sweetness” and Paramore’s “That’s What You Get” — seemed too complicated to enjoy, the show had its bright moments.

One of the show’s highlights was a unique beatbox solo by computer science sophomore Jeremy Chen. He displayed the amazing sounds someone can make with a trained voice and a knack for strange noises.

“It kind of happened back in junior high when I was the one weird kid in the back making all of the funny noises, and people thought it was really weird,” Chen said. “But then after a while you meet another funny kid in the back who makes a lot of weird noises and then you realize it’s beatboxing.”

Chen started honing his beatboxing talent during his junior year of high school, when he started doing talent shows and contests. Chen joined That’s the Key his freshman year at Cal Poly and became the group’s only beatboxer.

“My favorite part is being my own section,” Chen said. “There is no other beatboxer in this group so I can dictate what goes on in the beat. So if I want to change things, then I can, so it’s a lot of freedom.”

The show started to pick up steam in its second half with powerful renditions of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Royals” and a stunning performance of “Chandelier” with a solo by Pestle.

After the show, geology senior and tenor Jon Woodward acknowledged all of the hard work the group — and especially Pestle — put into the performance.

“I think we did a lot in a small amount of time,” Woodward said. “Skyler, our soloist for ‘Chandelier,’ had to learn every single song when all of us knew most of them already. She really pulled it together and was one of the driving forces of our show.”

The group is gearing up for the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), made famous by the movie “Pitch Perfect.” This will be the third time the group has qualified for and competed in the contest.

Preparing for the championship is different than preparing for a typical performance in a number of ways. For starters, the group is only allowed to perform three songs.

“We have to choreograph the songs and they have to be as good as we can make them,” Woodward said. “So when we practice, we only sing those three songs. We will take it more seriously, focus on intonation, making sure everyone is getting the notes right, cutting off when they should.”

Competition has been one of the group’s best learning experiences.

“It’s the adrenaline and rush of performing in a high-pressure situation,” Lu said. “Also, to get actual results as well. To know what score you got and how to improve for next year is invaluable.”

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