Section: Arts

Low acceptance rates common among a cappella groups

Low acceptance rates common among a cappella groups

Cora Markowitz

By Elana Spivack

It’s nerve-wracking enough to audition for an a cappella group at Kenyon. Then there’s the added pressure of knowing only a small percentage of auditioners get in. Although some groups are more selective than others, the unfortunate reality is that each group takes a small percentage of those who audition.

No matter how the Kokosingers, commonly known as the Kokes, come across to students, they are, at least based on acceptance statistics, no more exclusive than the others. The Kokes, having been established in 1965, hold the prestige of being one of Kenyon’s oldest a cappella groups. Their dashing, debonair style gives them a seductive yet genteel air. Their cohesiveness, musical prowess and charisma have influenced the reputation of the group, and many students — especially hopeful auditioners — see the group as exclusive and intimidating. Whether or not the Kokes are as competitive and exclusive as they seem, their perception as such has discouraged some men from auditioning.

Henry Toohey ’18 attested to the intimidating nature of Kokes auditions. “It’s a bunch of dudes who are just sitting in a semicircle and watching you sing, and they’re really good,” he said.

The slim chances of acceptance don’t help. “You know that there’s going to be like 50 people auditioning … and two are going to get in,” Toohey said.

Chris Wilson ’16, co-president of the Kokes, explained the inner workings of auditions. “We auditioned 24 guys — mostly first years, but a couple of upperclassmen — and we took two,” he said. Wilson detailed the myriad variables that factor into acceptances, including which voice parts the group lacks, how many members graduated in the spring, how certain voices blend with the rest of the group and whether a potential candidate will mesh well with the group’s personality. Acceptances in the past few years have decreased from five to four and, finally, to two, in order to shrink the group, which had grown to a relatively large 15 members last year.

Wilson is aware of the disinclination to audition. “Someone tried out for the Ransom Notes [and] after hearing that he tried, I asked him if he was trying out for the Kokes,” Wilson said. “He said, ‘I was going to but you guys are really intimidating.’”

While the Kokes may appear especially exclusive, they are not alone in the competitiveness of their auditions. Peter Birren ’15, president of the Ransom Notes, described a similar process for his group. This year, they accepted six people out of the 50 who auditioned. With 19 members last year, they were larger than their goal size, and they plan to accept fewer people in the future. “It seems likely that we might only take three or four and that seems to me the place where we would settle at,” Birren said. This year, the Kokes accepted eight percent of auditioners while the Ransom Notes took 12 percent.

However, other groups prove as or more selective than the Kokes. The Chasers chose three of 38 candidates, putting them at eight percent as well, Chaser Gabe Brison-Trezise ’16 — who is the Collegian’s chief copy editor — wrote in an email. The Stairwells will take only about three of 53 candidates (or six percent of auditioners), Stairwell Kate Lindsay ’15 wrote in an email. Take Five clocked in at a seven percent acceptance rate last year after accepting three out of 60.

As an all-male group, the Kokes only audition men, limiting considerably their number of possible candidates, while their female counterpart, the Owl Creeks, face larger audition numbers but accept about the same number of new members as the Kokes in order to maintain equilibrium within the group. Rioghnach Robinson ’16, musical director for the Owl Creeks, said this year they took three of 40, leading to an acceptance of about eight percent.

As both Wilson and Birren described, some factors — be it losing a group of graduating tenors or accepting too many altos previously — affect the acceptance rate for different groups. Emma Brown ’17, musical director of the Ransom Notes, broke down the approach a cappella groups take to audition processes: “What a cappella groups want from people auditioning changes every year,” she said. “In the Ransom Notes last year, we needed women. This year we could barely take one woman because we want a balance. … If we didn’t take you, it … just means you were not what we needed that year.”


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