Why can’t we all just sing along? Upon closer inspection, it is clear that a performance groups such as a cappella are the first taste—and gateway—of a vice far more addictive to Princetonians than Beast or cocaine: elitism. It would seem that admission to Princeton—one of the most selective schools in the country—does not satiate, but rather sparks a craving for kicking ass and taking names. This craving for ego-blow is apparent in every aspect from eating clubs to academic majors, but the administration must do something to nip this plague in the bud: the performing arts.
The specific problem that these groups pose has nothing to do with the noise complaints from borough citizens every Thursday and Saturday night as they wail away under every arch in town, but rather the attitude with which they do so. The sassy, jazzy way that these ladies and gentlemen shuffle their feet and shrug their shoulders to emphasize the subtle nuances of a tune is a window into the cocky, oversexed lives that they lead outside of the arches and theaters.
The a cappella singer interviewed approached the table with fingers snapping and hips swaying late one Thursday night.
KT: “You drunk?”
Smith*: “Ooooh no, just the drunkenness that is my life.”
KT: “And by drunkenness you mean singing?”
While this diva may seem to be merely a singing enthusiast at first glance, further probing into the details of the nature of performance groups reveals that it is about much more than the song and dance: a cappella, among others, covertly trains a select few of the tender, fresh meat of the class of 2008 to be complete, attitude-riddled badasses. Getting into Princeton, the Woodrow Wilson School, or the UCC is a song compared to the rigor of the a cappella selection process. When Smith was a freshman, three of the fifty girls who auditioned are lucky enough to proudly sing under arched venues. For reasons not yet known, this past year only twenty freshmen girls braved the auditions process, and a staggering four got in.
Brave these freshmen must be indeed, as the grueling auditioning phase wears their vocals to the very cord. Standing before a tribunal of divas in pink popped-collared Polos, they must sing from high to low, and high again, then loud to soft on the same note. If they survive this stage to the elusive “callbacks,” they are forced to sing obscure, difficult tunes such as “Flim Flam Man” and “Sentimental Journey.” While one might hope that there is a scientific measure for purity of voice, Smith reports that they select girls more arbitrarily: “If we hear someone we like, we take them.”
If luck be the lady for a certain freshman girl, she is awaken in the middle of the night by a new sister in song serenading over her bed, then taken outside to join her sister neophytes as they are surrounded by girls chanting and raving. While this yearly ritual seems as harmless as a lullaby, the dark underbelly of a performance group life reveals itself all too soon.
From practicing eight hours a week to tours and performances, the line between extracurricular activity and full-time job becomes hazy. Strict punishment is reserved for those who shirk their choral responsibilities. Yet the true scandal lies in the old adage that those who work hard, play hard. In the annual “drunk sing” with the male cohorts to Smith’s group, these fun and games quickly escalated out of control. Smith’s presence was missed as she prepared overzealously, and spent the concert in the ladies room of Frist. “I have learned my lesson now,” she says.
Irresponsibility and social stratification extends to their interactions with brother a cappella groups as well. Of all groups, Smith describes her group’s cohorts as being “matched” with personality-wise, as they “think they’re hot shit.” Aside from this hot shit self-assurance, performance groups are riddled with a little-known promiscuity. With so many male a cappella groups vying for affection, sometimes these ladies have too much fun “being the a cappella whores that we are.” Interestingly enough, the founding members of Smith’s group nearly chose the moniker “Prosti-toots” over the current name. The question remains: should the University continue to allow such behavior to persist within its hallowed arches?
As intensely selective as these performance groups may be, Smith downplays the groups’ importance. “Let’s face it, if you sing a cappella, you can’t be that cool. I mean, there are levels of coolness, but we’re not talking like majorly badass, here.” However, popular feeling on campus reveals quite the opposite, as the saying goes, there are two types of people in this world: those who sing unaccompanied, and those who wish they could. Smith recalled a particularly eerie display of this a cappella obsession, in which a certain former president of the Ivy Club overheard the group practicing in a ground-floor dorm room. This crazed enthusiast busted through the window and landed on their floor, screaming “I LOVE YOUUUU!”
As for the future of a cappella groups at Princeton, there is sure to be a tense relation between the ultra-elite performance groups and the administration, ever eager to flex its muscle in hopes of buffing up the student body. However, does such exercise improve the health of the University overall? Today the problem is a cappella, tomorrow it may be theater, and in a few years it could even be modern dance.