CIO Spotlight: The Virginia Belles

University's oldest female a cappella group explores its song selection with A&E

Making a name for yourself as an a cappella group at the University is no small feat, especially given the ever-increasing number of these groups around Grounds, but the Virginia Belles, the University’s oldest female a cappella group, have nonetheless managed to steal the spotlight.

The Belles were founded as an offshoot of the Virginia Women’s Choir in 1977 and today consist of 18 undergraduate women — a relatively small group given the number of women who audition every year. Third-year College student Taylor Luckey, the group’s president, said more than 200 girls auditioned for just five spots last fall.

“We have extremely talented girls who are passionate about music,” Luckey said. “I also think we get some credit from alumni and current students who respect that we have maintained the highest level of performance for over 35 years.”

Though you may have heard the Belles locally at Rotunda Sing or Lighting of the Lawn, the group also has a strong presence off-Grounds.

“We take our biggest trip during the fall semester for four or five days over fall break,” Luckey said. “We call this ‘Fall Roll.’ On this tour we stop at different colleges along the East Coast, where we perform and stay with other a cappella groups.”

In the 18-member group, music tastes vary considerably, leaving the Belles with an interesting dilemma when it comes to song selection.

“Throughout the year, members will send song suggestions to the Music Director and the Assistant Music Director explaining why they think we should add a particular song to our repertoire,” said Jenna Schilstra, third-year College student and Belle. “At the beginning of each semester the group votes on which songs we would like to sing from those suggestions and the Music Director makes the final decision based on that feedback.”

But the members’ opinions aren’t the only ones the group considers when selecting songs to perform.

“We try to cover a variety of genres because we are very aware that when we perform, our audiences have diverse tastes in music,” Schilstra said. “While the majority of our songs are contemporary country, pop and R&B hits you’d hear on the radio, we also cover classics such as ‘At Last’ and ‘Dancing in the Moonlight.’”

But perhaps one of the most important factors the Belles consider when planning their shows is a song’s ability to elicit emotion in listeners.

“The most powerful moment we have experienced as a group, in my opinion, was singing ‘Oh Shenandoah’ for a conference attended by President [Teresa] Sullivan and numerous esteemed guests,” Schilstra said. “It was a special moment that brought President Sullivan as well as a few of our members to tears. We love all aspects of a cappella but the traditions here at the University and our history here are invaluable to us.”

related stories