Note to Self first Ball State a cappella group to compete in semifinals

<p>Note To Self a cappella group rehearses at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center, preparing for its performance in the&nbsp;International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) semifinal competition in St. Louis on April 2. It's the first time a Ball State group has ever made it this far. <em>DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY</em></p>

Note To Self a cappella group rehearses at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center, preparing for its performance in the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) semifinal competition in St. Louis on April 2. It's the first time a Ball State group has ever made it this far. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY

What will Note to Self be judged on at semifinals?

  • Tone
  • Dynamics
  • Composure
  • Solo performances
  • Choreography
  • Vocal Percussion
  • How much fun they're having


The men of a cappella group Note to Self begin arriving around 8 p.m. on a Thursday night to the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Music Lounge one, two, three members at a time.

As more people trickle in, one sat at the piano positioned in the corner of the room and began to play the tune of Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The five or so members who have arrived begin to sing along.

“Lights will guide you home / And ignite your bones / And I will try to fix you.”

The group has been practicing about five hours a week in preparation for the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) semifinal competition in St. Louis on April 2. It’s the first time a Ball State a cappella group has made it this far.

Though they’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this moment, the reality of it still hasn’t sunk in, said Vince De Re, who acts as head of public relations for the group.

The moment Note to Self found out it won first place at the quarterfinals and would be moving forward can be described as “unreal,” said Edric Mitchell, the group’s music director.

“They started with the countdown, and they said, ‘Third place: Sedoctave. Second place: Ladies’ Choice. First place: Note to Self.’ And at that moment everyone around me was just so excited, like all of the groups were so excited for us and for each other,” Mitchell said. “There was so much energy, I feel like we didn’t even know what to do with all that energy. … I got goosebumps.”

Note to Self will be competing against the top eight a cappella groups from the Midwest, and the winner of semifinals will move on to the final competition in New York City April 30.

At semifinals, the group’s 12-minute set will be judged on tone, dynamics, composure, the soloists’ performances, choreography, vocal percussion and how much fun they are having on stage, De Re said.

“[The judges] are looking for every single reason to place us or to give us a crap score, so it’s a very intense competition,” he said. “Within college a cappella, it’s about as big as it gets.”


The Preparation

De Re said the group has been rehearsing nonstop to perfect its set for the competition.

“We meet five hours a week and we are constantly polishing stuff, making sure that our [choreography] is sharp, that our music is tight and our harmonies are sweet,” De Re said. “So it’s been a lot of repetition, a lot of patience.”

As music director, Mitchell is in charge of helping the group find its sound and put a certain Note to Self "spin" on the songs he arranges.

Mitchell said Note to Self’s direction and defining factor is “a mixture of swag and suave.”

This rehearsal is focused largely on choreography for the group’s rendition of the song “This Love” by Maroon 5.

They start by warming up their vocal chords, which is essential so no one injures his voice while singing. Though it is just a rehearsal, Mitchell and the other members treat it as if it is no different from the real competition.

“Sing as if this warmup is your favorite thing ever,” Mitchell tells them, taking no breaks from perfecting every area they will be judged on.

After warming up, they move on to “This Love” without choreography at first, making sure each member is on the right track and their notes are crisp.

The group stands in a circle while they sing, feeding off each other’s energy and encouraging other members with nods and smiles.

The men of Note to Self are serious throughout rehearsal. With only a short time before semifinals, it’s crunch time.

Though the group rehearses just five hours a week, there is a lot of background work that goes on away from practice not many people realize, said Note to Self coordinator Casey Kitchen.

“Honestly, I feel like a lot of people think we just get together and maybe spend like a half an hour and sing a couple songs together and mash ’em up. But, no,” Kitchen said. “Not even just rehearsal, there’s a lot of things going on in the background with the executive board. ... So many hours and hours are put into arranging music and planning events and deciding in what direction the group should go.”

Tensions can be high when the group is worried about getting the performance right, but putting on a great show is what makes it all worth it — something that rang true for Note to Self at the quarterfinal competition.

“When we got on stage, we dropped everything and had a great show, and afterwards, it was ridiculous and we were all just like jumping up and down and screaming and hugging each other. It was just a wonderful moment,” De Re said. “I would say the moment after you put on a fantastic show and you’re around people who totally agree with you, that’s probably my favorite part about competing.”


‘Pitch Perfect’ Phenomenon 

Around the time the movie “Pitch Perfect” was released in 2012, the “a cappella boom” at Ball State had just begun, said John Kenneth Steele, coordinator of a cappella group Unexpected Resolution.

“The timing couldn’t have been better,” he said.

Note to Self, the longest running a cappella group on campus, was formed in 2011. The movement soon gained traction and three more groups were created, thanks in part to the blockbuster hit.

“We see a lot of people at our callout meetings and our audition weekend who may have sang in high school or at church while they were growing up, but they don't have any formal experience with a cappella, but because of the movies they wanted to give it a shot,” Steele said.

The first question many people ask about a cappella is, “Isn’t it just like ‘Pitch Perfect’?”

In some ways, Steele said, the movie is an accurate picture of what a cappella is really like.

“We spend a lot of late nights together in rehearsal, we hang out on weekends … and your group honestly becomes like a second family,” he said.

The community aspect is also what originally drew De Re to the a cappella scene.

“Like a couple other people in the group, after seeing ‘Pitch Perfect,’ it changed my life, of course, and I knew that with being in a new school, the community here and a cappella scene ... was going to be a brotherhood and just a lot of fun,” he said.

The sisterhood the ladies in “Pitch Perfect” form is very similar to how close the members of an a cappella become throughout their time together.

Payton Gallardo, coordinator of a cappella group Sedoctave and public relations chair of Association of Collegiate A Cappella (ACA), said the intensity of practice portrayed in the movie is accurate to how the groups prepare for their ICCA competition — the same one shown in the movie.

But there are also some stark differences, Gallardo said.

“A lot of the things you see in the movie make a cappella seem like a very competitive area of music when, in reality, it isn't,” she said. “When we go to the ICCA there is competition, but at the end of the day we all get together and do what we love, which is make music.”

Mitchell, Note to Self’s music director, shared this feeling. Though there might be rivalries at other schools, Ball State’s a cappella groups function more as friends than competitors. He also said even though the music directors want to push their ensemble to look and sound good, they aren’t always as strict as the leaders of the groups in the movie.

It may not be 100 percent accurate to real a cappella, but Mitchell said he still enjoys a cappella movies and shows.

“I’m always excited when there’s a movie or TV show about music because there is so much to learn,” he said.


The Community

Though Note to Self is the only Ball State group to make it this far in the ICCA competitions, members from the other a cappella groups on campus couldn’t be happier for them.

“A cappella brings us all together,” said Michaela Upchurch, a member of a cappella group Ladies’ Choice. “We’re not pitted against each other, we just want to support and see each other succeed.”

The ladies won’t be traveling to St. Louis with Note to Self because of scheduling conflicts, but they plan to make cupcakes and serenade them at one of their final rehearsals this week — something the groups do often.

“Actually, Note to Self surprised us the other week by coming into our rehearsal, serenading us and giving us each red roses,” said Olivia Coomer, associate coordinator for Ladies’ Choice. “This was their way of saying they would miss us in St. Louis, and it was so darn sweet.”

The groups also get together often to play wallyball and for monthly movie nights.

Coomer also said they make sure to support fellow a cappella members in other performances they’re a part of, as many are vocal performance and musical theater majors.

ACA, which formed in 2014, is the student-run organizing body for all four of Ball State’s a cappella groups — Note to Self, Ladies’ Choice, Unexpected Resolution and Sedoctave. ACA plans events for the groups to collaborate on and social events open to all members, according to Steele, also the vice president of ACA.

“Because of how new everything was, I wouldn't say that we exactly knew the best way to support one another [before ACA formed],” Steele said. “Ever since we've had ACA, we've definitely become more supportive and active as a community. Having the structure and guidance has made collaboration between the groups a lot easier and more common.”

The closeness of the groups in ACA is something that helps new a cappella members feel welcome within the community.

“As a freshman coming in, I really wasn’t prepared to be opened up into this giant family-like organization,” said Luiza Vitucci, a member of Ladies’ Choice.

It’s not only the Ball State a cappella groups who are close. Ladies’ Choice musical director Andrea Mellum said the rest of the Mid-American Conference a cappella groups, known better as “MACappella,” form a close community as well.

Kitchen also noted the sense of brotherhood is one of his favorite parts of being in the organization.

“Right now I feel like I have a sense of purpose, I’m part of something that’s bigger than myself; that’s a big part of it,” Kitchen said. “The brotherhood you develop, the friendships … The community of people is just so welcoming.”


One Step Closer

Rehearsal winds down as the time nears 9:30 p.m., and the group runs through the song with choreography one last time before they part for the evening.

“Good job, everyone. Great rehearsal tonight,” Kitchen tells the rest of they guys as they break into separate conversations and begin pulling on their jackets.

It’s about 10 p.m. as the last member leaves the Student Center Music Lounge. The chairs are moved back into the place, the piano now silent.

Note to Self is one rehearsal closer to semifinals. One step closer to showing the rest of the Midwest region what their tireless work and passion has created. One step closer to their collective dream of being semifinal champions and taking on New York City. 

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