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Chatter about Thanksgiving break bounced around the room as the members of Take it SLO gathered in the music building for one of the last rehearsals before winter break. Questions about holiday feasts, family and finals echoed through the choir room.
Then without warning or signal, the chitchat merged effortlessly into vocal exercises. Members rose from their seats and formed a semi-circle in the middle of the room as they began to warm up their vocal chords.
Transitioning into one of their songs for the Christmas show, they stomp their feet in sync. Some snap, some point to other members in the group, others pat their chest to the rhythm. Their passion for the music flows through their voices.
“Be conscious of your internal metronome,” “Remember to scatter breathe,” and “Don’t go off pitch” are phrases heard throughout the practice as they perfect the songs to be performance-ready.
Take it SLO, Cal Poly’s student-run a cappella group, was formed 10 years ago. The members are composed of various majors that sing original arrangements ranging from current Top 40 songs to classic tunes. Currently, there are 15 members.
Because only a small number of singers can be accepted, the audition process is long and grueling. This year, eight students were selected out of the nearly 100 who auditioned.
Take it SLO President and city and regional planning sophomore Spencer Johnson remembers the process well because he auditioned just this past year.
“Everyone filters into room 218, and they all sit and watch each other,” Johnson said. “We put the lights on them and make it kind of intense because we want to see how they do under pressure.”
During callbacks, hopefuls are sent through different rooms to test tone memory and sight reading.
“Everyone in the group has a say,” Johnson said. “It’s not like any one person has more of say then others. I am a tenor, so as far as tenors, I could have a little more leeway in who I think worked well with me for my section.”
Those who make it are immediately inducted into the Take it SLO family.
“We are able to form a pretty strong bond with each other just by having this mutual desire to sing,” Johnson said. “Whether we do poorly at a competition or we mess something up, we are always still the same tight-knit family.”
Modern languages and literatures senior Madelyn Frey remembers how she felt when we she was welcomed into the group.
“It was awesome coming into it as a freshman because I had this automatic family of older kids, too, which I thought was so cool,” Frey said. “I am still friends with all of them. They just came down last weekend, and we all hung out.”
In addition to having input on new members, current members also have the opportunity to contribute to the playlist. All of the songs are arranged by students in the group. The songs are chosen democratically by voting on a Google Doc.
“Whatever we hear and we like, we arrange,” Johnson said. “There is a whole democratic system. It takes kind of a long time to pick a song, but we want everyone’s voice to be heard.”
While all of the members have a say in performance songs, only some have the ability to arrange the songs. Those members need a large knowledge of music theory.
“The arrangers know more about which syllables to sing when and when you want the song to be louder you sing a louder syllable, humming you can sing to make it quieter,” Frey said. “The arrangers know a lot about music theory because they have to put which notes fit together in a chord.”
New members learn a lot about music during their time in Take it SLO. Business administration freshman Daniel Catelli had only just started singing at the end of his junior year in high school. With a little more than a year’s worth of music experience, he made it into the group based on talent rather than knowledge.
“I have learned a ton about music since joining,” Catelli said. “It is something that you have to develop an ear for. You can hear the music and pick out your part in your head.”
Take it SLO performs its original arrangements for private parties, during University Union hour, concerts and competitions. The group also travels up and down the Central Coast. This past year, the main focus was on The Varsity Vocals International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (IACC) competition, the same competition depicted in the hit movie “Pitch Perfect.”
“When we went, since ‘Pitch Perfect’ had just come out earlier that year, they (“American Idol” producer 19 Entertainment and their parent company Core Media) were doing a reality documentary on the competition,” Frey said. “They interviewed us before the show.”
That competition may be the only thing Hollywood a capella and actual a capella college groups have in common. The magic of Hollywood shows the singers naturally being able to perform on the spot, with dynamite choreography. In reality, this is not likely.
“As far as naturally being able to be perfect at everything, it is not obviously the case,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot of practice and even with practice, it is a little hard to nail everything because we are also a social group. So we like to talk because we are all friends.”
Although there was a large emphasis on competition this past academic year, Take it SLO will focus on recording a CD of at least 10 professionally-recorded songs this year.
“There is always a battle — do we compete this year or do we record a CD?” Johnson said. “They both take a lot of time, so you have to pick one or the other.”
Frey’s favorite part about recording a CD is the physical proof of Take it SLO’s hard work.
“It is real once you have a CD,” Frey said. “You can show everyone that your song that you have worked really hard on is on iTunes.”
The CD will drop in June, but the next Take it SLO performance is Dec. 8 during its Christmas concert at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the H.P. Davidson Music Center (building 45). The group will perform a mix of traditional holiday songs and classic Take it SLO songs. Tickets are $5 for students at the door and $7 for general admission.