A half-dozen students, many of them in stocking feet, sprawled on top of each other in the center of the Rosse Hall stage around 9 p.m. Tuesday night. Members of the a cappella group the Ransom Notes, they were enjoying a break from rehearsing for the Great Lakes quarterfinal of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCAs). The Notes are one of 10 groups slated to participate in the event, which is being held this Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
“It’s exciting because we get to perform outside of Kenyon to a huge audience, with really impressive sound and lighting equipment,” Emma Brown ’17, the group’s music director, said.
In addition to adjusting to the high-tech nature of the event, groups must also incorporate choreography into their sets. The Notes have been performing their four-song set — a mash-up of “Over the Rainbow,” “Halo,” by Beyoncé, “Fly Me to the Moon,” and “E.T.,” by Katy Perry — for years, but are just now learning a dance routine to go along with it.
“Everything gets harder when you introduce choreography,” Peter Birren ’15, co-president of the group, said. “We’ve sung these parts so many times that when we’re performing we’re concentrating on what steps we’re doing.” Among those steps are the Charleston, which Birren borrowed from his musical theater experience, and the jazz square, a smooth motion involving repeated foot crossovers.
The blend and build of the singers’ voices, together with their dynamic choreography, drove the group’s roughly 10-minute set forward at their Tuesday-night rehearsal. Standing in an arc to begin “Over the Rainbow,” the popular ballad written for The Wizard of Oz, the group’s clean harmonies set the tone for what was to come. The altos stepped forward, and the rest of the group soon filled in, creating a smaller arc that then folded into a line at the front of the stage for the transition to “Halo.”
The seamless way the set’s songs flowed into each other was no accident. ICCA rules cap groups at 12 minutes, and the Notes use artful transitions between songs to both “make best use of time” and “maintain momentum,” according to Birren. These moments are largely the work of Taylor Hartwell ’14, who arranged the set and was a founding member of the group.
“Halo” was soloed by Conor Tazewell ’15, who fell back into the choreographed arms of his peers when he sang, “But this don’t even feel like falling.” As the harmonies that ended “Halo” faded out, the group turned their backs on the audience, whereupon Erich Slimak ’15 broke out of the huddle to solo “Fly Me to the Moon,” marking the most entertaining part of the set.
Birren, standing in for usual beatboxer Mark Ashin ’18, provided a cool percussive complement to Slimak’s rich bass voice.
At one point, the group organized itself into two parallel lines behind Slimak and, in synchronized fashion, leaned forward and back. “Fly Me to the Moon,” a song popularized by Frank Sinatra, “is probably the most intense choreography that we have,” Birren said. “How does Sinatra make you feel? It makes you feel cool; it makes you feel laid-back. So there’s a lot of sitting back and snapping.”
The group then moved into its rendition of Katy Perry’s “E.T.” Kendall Theroux ’17 handled the solo with aplomb. The song built beautifully, and the herky-jerky, alien-like dance moves that backed Theroux when she crooned, “This is transcendental; on a whole ’nuther level,” were fun to behold. Upon finishing “E.T.,” the group ended its set with a calming return to “Over the Rainbow.”
“We went hella sharp in ‘Halo,’” Bryce Wedig ’18, who has perfect pitch, said after the group completed its performance. Theroux remarked that some people weren’t smiling at the beginning. However, these little mess-ups were hardly impediments to enjoying the group’s performance.
“I am just going to have fun, and I think that’s the mindset we are going into it with,” James Wojtal ’18, one of six new members this year, said of ICCAs. “It’d be nice to win, but I don’t think that’s the first thing on everyone’s mind.”
Lauren Katz contributed reporting.