You are on page 1of 6

Devin Sweeney

UWRT 1103
16 September 2015
A Cappella Literacy: Learning to Sing in a Whole New Way
N-n-n-no, no, no, no place I'd rather be. When I am with you, there's no place I'd rather
be. The end of the song is greeted with a moment of silence before the audience explodes with
applause. We all look around with smiles on our facesthe seniors with tears in their eyes. That
was it. The final song of our final concert in our final year of high school. The applause dies
down, and we all throw ourselves into a crowd of hugs and tears. After four crazy years in the
choirs of Minisink Valley High School, it is all over. I hug all of the great friends Ive made, and
we promise to keep in touch. After I wade through the mass of emotional high schoolers, I
finally get to approach my choir director to thank him for everything.
IZZO! I yell out at him like I have so many times before.
DEVIN! he returns with the yell I have come to know so well.
As I talk to him, I cant help but remember all the time and effort it took to get to this point. I
remember the rejection and success, I remember the rehearsals and extra practices after school,
and I remember the family that helped get me to where I am now.
I have always loved to sing. Singing is at the top of my list of passions, and I cant
imagine my life without it. It wasnt until high school, however, that I realized singing could
require work. When I was in 9th grade, I was quick to join the Mixed Chorus. I spent that year
having fun and singing with my friends. The year was problem free until the auditions in April.
In my high school, there are three choirs: Mixed chorus, Womens Chorus, and Chamber Choir.

The Mixed Chorus is the lowest level chorus that anyone can join and it requires no audition.
The Womens Chorus is the next highest choir. An audition is required, but you find out if you
make it at the end of the audition. The Chamber Choir is the most advanced of the three, and it is
an a cappella choir. You need to audition to get in, and since it is the most elite choir, the director
has to deliberate over all the auditions before posting the results to make sure that all the
members can work together to form a cohesive sound. Going into my combined Chamber and
Womens audition, I was terrified. I have always hated auditions, and I try to avoid them at all
costs. I faced an internal struggle when it became apparent to me that I would have to audition in
order to get myself into a choir that would further advance my passion. Because of my fear, I
wasnt expecting much good to come out of the audition. I figured I would get into the Womens
Chorus because I was a decent singer, but I didnt really have any expectations for Chamber. I
cant deny, however, that I really wanted to get into Chamber. I wanted to know that I was good
enough, and I wanted to experience a cappella singing. It seemed like a whole new world, and
the audition was the key to getting there.
When it was finally time for my audition time slot, I was sitting outside the chorus room
and freaking out. My heart raced while thousands of scenarios tumbled endlessly through my
head. The girl that auditioned before me walked out and gave me a nod. It was my turn. I stood
in front of the intimidating wood doors and took a deep breath. When I thought I had gained my
composure, I opened the door. What was once an open, airy, and comforting environment
changed before my eyes. Through my nervous haze, the room seemed to be cold and full of
judgment. I made eye contact with my chorus director. His round face was warm and welcoming,
but my irrational fear almost made me turn around and leave. Somehow, I found the courage to
make my way over to my director. There was nothing different about the man on the other side

of the piano. Mr. Izzo was still the same funny, sarcastic, and likable man that taught me to
appreciate music every day during Mixed Chorus, but looking at him in that moment made him
seem sinister in a way I know he is not. When he thought I was ready, we began the audition. He
ran me through some warm ups, during which my voice cracked horribly. After that, I had to
sing excerpts of some songs we had sung for Mixed Chorus. I was shaking like a leaf all the way
through singing The Circle of Life and River in Judea, and I couldnt wait for it to be over. At
the end of the audition, he told me I had successfully made it into the Womens Chorus, and that
the Chamber list would be posted the following Friday. When I left the chorus room, there was
no sense of relief that the audition was over. I was ecstatic to be in the womens chorus, but I
was in for a long and anxious wait to see the Chamber Choir list.
The only reason that I was able to survive the week was because my friends Jaclyn and
Amanda were waiting together. We all spent the week trying ease each others minds and
avoiding thinking about the looming moment of truth. When the day finally came, the walk to
the list seemed to take a lifetime. I approached the swarm of people, and waited for them to thin
out before I went to look. They all left quickly without sparing me a glance. I finally took a step
forward. After scanning the list for what seemed to be the millionth time, I understood why the
other students wouldnt look at me. They didnt want to be the ones to break the bad news: I had
not made the cut. In my three scans, however, I had taken notice that both Jaclyn and Amanda
did make it. I wasnt surprised. In fact, I wasnt surprised by any of the results. Mr. Izzo is a very
smart man, and he knows what hes doing. Despite knowing that the right decisions were made,
it didnt hurt any less to know that my a cappella dreams were deferred for at least another year.
Although it was lonely without my friends, Womens chorus was a great experience for
me. After my audition, I realized that I needed to put more effort into my singing, so I spent the

year in Womens trying to learn all the skills I would need to succeed. I learned vocal control
and some basics of reading music. I was also able to learn to connect more with the text and tell
the story of a song as I sang. All of these skills really helped me when I signed up for another
audition at the end of my Sophomore year. My hard work and familiarity with Mr. Izzo after
working with him for another year made this audition slightly less nerve-racking, but my fear of
auditions didnt make for an ideal situation. There were a few cracks in my voice, but it was
definitely a better audition than the first one. Once the audition was finished, all that was left to
do was wait until the list was put up. Although I felt more confident in my audition, it was still
hard to sit and wait for the verdict. On the day that the list went up, I remember asking my
chemistry teacher to go to the bathroom as a way to sneak to the chorus room. The hallway
leading to the chorus room was deserted, so I was able to take my time working up the courage
to look. When I finally did, I had to hold a hand to my mouth to smother the squeak that
threatened to come out. I had actually made it! All of my hard work had paid off, and I would be
able to join my friends in the best choir at our school. I was beyond excited to have finally made
it into the Chamber Choir, but getting in was only the first hurdle.
A cappella music, I discovered the next year, is much harder to execute than I had
previously thought. In order to do it correctly, all instruments in the original song need to be
covered by a voice part, and the entire choir needs to work as one to become a band. The goal is
to make the audience believe there are instruments playing. Achieving this level of success relies
heavily on listening to the singers around you and putting complete trust into the director. More
work was required outside of rehearsal, and many sections had to meet afterschool in order to get
all of the note and rhythm problems solved. Rehearsal time was usually spent fixing problems
and portraying the right mood in the song.

Circle up! Izzo called out to all of us at the beginning of rehearsal. We quickly got up
from our seats and stood in a circle around the piano. We were standing in sections and facing
the center where Mr. Izzo stood. Doing this for the first time was a strange experience, but it
quickly became my favorite way to rehearse. It allows all the sections to be able to hear each
other properly, and it is really fun to look around the circle and see so many friends working
towards the same cause. After singing through the version of Carol of the Bells that we had
been working on, he stopped us.
You guys are still dragging in the middle section. Were going to try something new.
Izzo began to rearrange people by moving the basses into a clump in the center of the circle.
Following that, he arranged the tenors and the sopranos. Finally, the altos were dispersed around
the outside. We had never done this before, so we all looked around in confusion. When we sang
in a clump like that, however, we sounded better than ever.
Although we were able to have a lot of fun and experiment in Chamber, the pressure was also
more intense than in the other choirs. We had a reputation of being the best, and Izzo was hellbent on making sure we lived up to it.
If you want to be mediocre, we can stop right now, I remember Izzo saying during a
particularly bad rehearsal where people were talking over him and singing poorly.
Youre better than this, but if you dont want to care then I wont either, he continued,
leaving us to stew in our shame under a heavy, suffocating blanket of silence. No one dares to
speak under his disappointed gaze.
Sing it again, he finally breaks the silence, and we singdesperate to redeem
ourselves. Though these methods were intense, we were always able to come out as an amazing

The road to succeeding in the Chamber Choir was long and hard, but it was an incredible
experience made up of wonderful little moments and monumental events that I wouldnt trade
for the world. Times that we nailed the harmony to the point where it made your insides feel
warm, or when we were finally able to put a song together completely. Days we received praises,
and days we simply sang beautifully. Successful concerts, and emotionally charged
performances at our Relay for Life events lumeneria ceremony. Getting gold with distinction for
my final State evaluation in the group. Becoming closer to such great people every time I walked
into the room. Inside jokes with friends and Mr. Izzo. Spending my days in a room full of
friends, music, and love. Simply getting to sing my heart out everyday. Those are all the things
that made it worth while, and theres no place I would have rather spent my time during high