OSWEGO, N.Y. – “It’s always good when you come to a concert and you’re like, ‘I want to be up there,’” said SUNY Oswego sophomore Victoria Evanchick.
Evanchick was among the 42 attendees at the fall semester concert of SUNY Oswego’s newest and only a cappella group, called “Octavia.” Since Octavia’s founding in the early 2023 spring semester, Evanchick has been following the group, both eager to watch them perform – and possibly join.
Octavia’s founder and director Faith Summerville said Evanchick is one of the many students who have taken interest to the university’s newest musical club.
Octavia is SUNY Oswego’s first-ever a cappella group, according to Summerville.
“There’s definitely been an increase in interest since we started in March. I noticed even in May of last semester – whenever I would say ‘my a cappella group, Octavia’ and try to explain what it is, people would say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of them.’ And I don’t even know the people, so I think that it’s really gained traction,” laughed Summerville.
A cappella is a style of singing using no instruments. It is creating all the noise heard in music “with our mouths,” said Summerville.
While a cappella can incorporate a variety of musical genres, like many other college a cappella groups, Octavia tends to perform mainstream pop music.
A cappella has long been present on college campuses, according to Octavia advisor and SUNY Oswego Director of Choral Activities Ben May.
“I think it’s always been present on college campuses even back into the 1950s. There have always been a cappella groups, but they hadn’t really been part of the mainstream culture,” said May.
Summerville said she is unsure why SUNY Oswego never had an a cappella group until Octavia. In founding Octavia, she wanted to introduce students to a new style of performing and make a “safe space” for people who love singing.
“We’re a family, there for each other in and out of rehearsals, and we just love doing what we do, which is singing music,” said Summerville.
Octavia opens auditions to all majors, according to Summerville.
Sammy Karp, of Syracuse University’s tenor-bass a cappella group, Otto Tunes, said Otto Tunes also holds open auditions for students of any major. Karp is the group’s musical director and main beatboxer.
“We just look for what most groups look for,” said Karp. “We have them sing a solo, see how they sound as a soloist, and we do a lot of range-checking and a lot of sight-reading.”
Otto Tunes is one of six a cappella groups on the Syracuse University campus. Differing from Syracuse’s other a cappella groups and from Oswego’s Octavia, Otto Tunes is a competition group.
Otto Tunes is currently preparing for the 2024 International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). The ICCA competition is “the big one” for college a cappella, said Karp.
The ICCA consists of approximately 400 selected college a cappella groups from around the world, which totals around 6,000 competing singers. One winning group is chosen at the end of each annual season, which runs from January to April each year, according to varsityvocals.com.
ICCA adjudicators evaluate each competing group based on a variety of metrics within both vocal and visual performance categories.
In May’s opinion, extensive ear-training is key to a successful a cappella performance.
“If you have an instrument, you can sort of rely on the instrument for the key’s center and the harmonies but if you’re singing a cappella, you have to generate all of that for yourself,” said May.
Summerville said she would love to see Octavia compete in the ICCAs in the future.
Competition could change the group’s dynamics, as it brings “a lot of expectations” and “demanding rehearsals,” said May.
Beyond performance expectations, Summerville said she discovered a cappella was “a community more than anything” when she participated in Lakeside A Cappella, a youth summer camp, at Cazenovia College during high school.
Lakeside A Cappella has since switched locations to the Ontario lakeside, as SUNY Oswego hosted the camp for the first time in the summer of 2023.
The six a cappella groups on the Syracuse University campus are all “really connected” and like “little families,” said Karp.
The caring network of a cappella also extends beyond college. May’s all-men’s barbershop choir, Harmonic Collective, helped him move into his new apartment when the original movers could not help as planned.
“A cappella is worth trying out at least once in your lifetime if you like music. It’s a great community, it’s a great new experience, and it’s just filled with so much fun. I feel like I can say the same thing, all those things, about Octavia,” said Summerville.