Stage Left: WACappella finds harmony
To call WACappella a musical group falls short. Officially considered a club by Washington College, it is more a tight-knit community, small with between 20 and 25 members, comprising students who share a passion for one thing singing.
Having formed about 10 years ago, WACappella is a more recent addition to the offerings at the historic liberal arts college in Chestertown and likely one of the few to include beat-boxing.
Alum Taylor Goss, who grew up in Denton and is now in Portland, Ore., joined WACappella as a freshman in 2009 during the group s early years. He learned about the group while walking home from a dorm and hearing some female members singing outside the campus library.
“I walked up. I thought it was really cool, and I started talking to them. And they needed male voices,” Goss said, noting his love of singing but lack of training. “The only reason I ever got in it in the first place is because I was a dude, and I was willing to sing, and they were willing to work with me.”
Emma Way, now a resident of Charlotte, N.C., also joined her freshman year in 2012. She spoke about how movies like “Pitch Perfect” and television competitions like “The Sing-Off” kept the spotlight on a cappella music when she was growing up, leading her to start a group as a student at Newark High School in Delaware. When she arrived at Washington College, she sought a similar experience.
“I just really wanted to find a new community that I loved as much as that group in high school,” Way said. “And I went to college not knowing anyone and I thought that would be a great way to meet people.
Goss watched WACappella grow over his four years at college, doubling from about 10 members to more than 20. He said that put some stress on the leaders of the group.
“An a cappella group is not a choir. We were starting to get too big,” Goss said.
The group has become a selling point for some potential students, including Baltimore resident Tiffany Jackson, now a senior at Washington College and a member of WACappella.
Jackson did not make the cut in auditioning for WACappella in her freshman and sophomore years, but members pushed her to keep at it. She became a member her junior year.
“It was really disappointing the first and second time that I didn ‘t get in. But everybody in WACapella kept encouraging me to keep trying out and auditioning,” she said. “Everybody just wants the group to be as strong as it can be.”
Senior Reanna Sherman, a resident of Lewes, Del., is a current president of WACappella. She said the first round of auditions for potential members is blind, focused solely on a performer’s vocal abilities. She said callbacks give members a chance to learn more about the person behind the voice, ensuring they fit in with “this harmonious little family we have.”
“In a lot of groups, you can attribute success to one person ‘s effort. In this one, everyone has to be great for it to be great overall. And once you hit it and you hit it well, you get satisfaction for everyone. You can just be proud of everyone and proud to be a part of this group that was able to do something awesome,” said current member Will Rotsch, a sophomore from Wilmington, Del.
For alum Obella Obbo, a Frederick resident, WACappella was his favorite group activity at Washington College. What made it so special for him was how its membership included people from all different walks of campus life. He said they all spent lots of time together and got along.
“We just had good energy that we shared,” Obbo said.
As its profile rose following those early years, WACappella struck out beyond live performances.
The group produced a pair of music videos for the admissions office in 2014. They traveled to North Carolina to record a four-track EP in 2016.
Obbo played a part in both videos. As a student, he worked part time in the admissions office.
That led to the first WACappella video “Glad You Chose Us,” posted on YouTube in January 2014. He continued working in admissions after graduating that year leading to the second video “Come Join the Family,” posted in November 2014.
Current member Shannon Moran, a senior who hails from Baltimore, said she watched the first WACappella video when making her college decision.
“And I was really torn between two schools and one of them was here. And it sounds really corny but that WACapella video made me want to come here and choose this place, she said.
Way and fellow alum and past president Katie Gordon were involved in recording the first EP.
Gordon said the group was gaining traction through the “Come Join the Family” video. With admissions and the Student Government Association paying more attention to the group, Gordon said they saw an increase in their budget.
“So, we re like, ‘Why not do this, put ourselves and Washington College on the map,’ Gordon said.
Way said 17 WACappella members took a couple of Washington College vans and a car to Durham, N.C., in October 2015 to record the EP.
“And we spent two nights in a hotel in Durham together, recording pretty much all day. It was frustrating sometimes, it was really fun other times, Way said.
On the four-song EP are “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5; “La La Latch” by a cappella group the Pentatonix; “Make You Feel My Love,” a Bob Dylan track popularized by Adele; and “This is Gospel” by Panic! at the Disco.
The current members of WACappella cut a new four-track EP last fall, this time at the campus’ recording studio. The tracks are “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra; “Past Lives” by B a mashup of LP’s “Into the Wild” and “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine; and “Honeybee” by Steam Powered Giraffe. Look for it this spring.
“It’s going to be such a good album to have out in spring,” Jackson said. “It’s positive, happy.”
And positivity and the connection to other members is a big part of what makes WACappella special.
Current member Jeffrey Stoll, a freshman from Alexandria, Va., said there are plenty of times he may not feel like going to class, but he never wants to miss time with his WACappella friends. He said they all appreciate one another, which makes their singing stronger.
“Because when you can’t get along with someone, it’s a lot harder to harmonize, Stoll said. The sense of community from the group just makes it so much better. And I m always excited to come to practice.”
Fellow freshman member Delilah Jones from Bear, Del., recommends prospective students give WACappella a try.
If you do choose to come to Washington College and this is for anybody I would check out WACapella. It s a really encouraging environment. And if you love to sing, we have people here who love to sing with you, Jones said.
And if you don’ t like to sing, it s fun to listen to us, Rotsch added.