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Perfect pitch and prestige: uncovering the famous a cappella culture at U.Va

How a culture of friendship, support and tradition has cultivated a thriving a cappella community

Wells said that long-standing traditions within the VGs, like singing “Lonesome Road” by James Taylor, help to connect generations of singers through a shared experience.
Wells said that long-standing traditions within the VGs, like singing “Lonesome Road” by James Taylor, help to connect generations of singers through a shared experience.

A cappella is a serious matter at the University. With close to 15 unique groups ranging from the No Tones, a group for people who claim they can’t sing, to the Flying V’s, a “rock-appella” group, there’s something for everyone — though the intense audition process can make joining a group competitive. 

A cappella is so renowned at the University that it has been rumored to be a source of inspiration for the book behind the Pitch Perfect movie, “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory” by Mickey Rapkin. 

With so much lore, prestige and attention surrounding the art, it begs the question — why does this school care so much about a cappella? The Cavalier Daily sat down with three of the oldest a cappella groups on Grounds — The Virginia Gentlemen, The Virginia Belles and the Hullabahoos — to find out what drives the dedicated, talented and numerous a cappella singers at the University. 

The Hullabahoos — recognizable in their signature colorful robes — are perhaps the biggest name in local collegiate a cappella, expanding their reach far beyond the Charlottesville community. In past years, they performed as themselves in the popular film “Pitch Perfect” and guest starred in the television comedy series “The Office.” 

Today, the Hullabahoos have fun and a strong community of support to thank for their success. Nick Chu, Hullabahoos president and third-year College student, said friendship makes all the difference. 

“I think at our core, we're a group of really close friends that also enjoy singing together,” Chu said. 

Since the group's founding in 1987, generations of Hoos have sung with the Hullabahoos. Today, the group has a strong alumni community that Chu and Joseph Ascoli, former president of the Hullabahoos and fourth-year College student, say has contributed to the group’s support and connection with one another on Grounds and beyond. 

“It really is so wild to think about how this one group ties together so many people that have gone to U.Va, continue to and will in the future,” Ascoli said. “It's definitely really special.” 

Kelly Snow, class of 2012 alumna and the Hullabahoo who led “The Final Countdown” by Europe in “Pitch Perfect” and guest starred in “The Office,” says that the closeness of the group is what comes first. 

“The group is what matters — it's the friendship, it's the relationships, It's the cohesion,” Snow said. 

With so much history and so many accomplishments behind them, there is a certain pressure that comes with being a Hullabahoo today, but Chu and Ascoli say they use this history to inspire themselves to do better. 

“We have a high standard for ourselves, which is not necessarily a pressure,” Chu said. “I would just say I want to be really proud of what we put out.” 

Ascoli added that the group wants to continue to “uphold that legacy” to show students what the “Hullabahoos are all about.”

The Virginia Belles — the oldest all-female-identifying group on Grounds, founded in 1977 — have a legacy of their own to uphold, but like the Hullabahoos, the connections are what matter most. Olivia Conniff, social chair of The Virginia Belles and third-year Commerce student, said that the relationships she has made in the Belles have shaped her college experience. 

“Honestly, I joined as a first year and I immediately felt like I had a group of women who cared about me,” Conniff said. “I think that's a big part of it for me. It's how supportive and loving everyone in the group is of one another.”

Conniff went on to say that annual traditions like Rotunda Sing — Wahoo Welcome Week’s a cappella showcase — and December’s lights spectacular-slash-performance extravaganza Lighting on the Lawn are very special for groups on Grounds.

“After the performance, you just feel so accomplished and like you're contributing to the University community in some way,” Conniff said.  

The Virginia Gentlemen is the University’s oldest a cappella group, founded in 1953. Sam Wells, president of the Virginia Gentlemen and fourth-year Batten student, elaborated on the rich history of the VGs and what it is like being a member today. 

“We're definitely trying to build off of what our predecessors have accomplished,” Wells said. “We feel very lucky to have such a strong network of alumni to advise and support us.” 

This strong network was highlighted at the group’s reunion concert last year — the VGs celebrated 70 years last April. 

“Being able to stand on the stage with so many of our alumni and sing these songs, you don't realize how many of us have had this shared experience,” Wells said. “It's amazing to be part of something [so] much bigger than yourself.”

Wells said that long-standing traditions within the VGs, like inviting alumni on stage to sing “Lonesome Road” by James Taylor at concerts, help to connect generations of singers through a shared experience. 

“It is the first song that you sing when you are accepted into the VGs and it's the last song that you sing when you leave the VGs,” said Wells. 

Lastly, each a cappella group was asked why they personally thought a cappella is so popular, supported, and celebrated at the University. Chu and Ascoli said that traditions like Lighting on the Lawn and the support of the University help the a cappella community to thrive. Wells and Conniff cited the immense pool of talent at the University as the key reason behind the success of a cappella. 

A cappella thrives at the University because singers love what they do. Chu, Ascoli, Conniff and Wells all said that there is a community of support within a cappella, traditions help connect them to singers of the past, and they have fun singing with their friends.


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