BYU groups compare college a cappella life with ‘Pitch Perfect’

Members of BYU’s Noteworthy compare the “real” world of a cappella to the a cappella group in “Pitch Perfect.” (Facebook/Jess Johnson)

Taylor Whitlock knew the competition was going to be fierce when she tried out for an opening in Noteworthy.

She was aware of the reputation Noteworthy had on campus and in the a cappella community as a whole. With over a decade of history, national and international titles and even a stint on NBC, Noteworthy has earned a reputation as a premier a cappella group.

“Getting into Noteworthy is an honor for any girl,” Whitlock said. “People really want to be in this group.”

After multiple rounds of auditions, Whitlock was selected from about 100 girls who tried out to fill one of the three available spots. With a turnout as big as that, it is clear that BYU a cappella is alive and thriving.

The a cappella scene has gained a lot of attention in recent years with starring spots in major movies and TV shows like “Pitch Perfect” and “Glee” and in high-profile music groups like Pentatonix. With current pop culture flooded with a cappella, BYU singing groups are loving a cappella’s popularity.

Whitlock, who sings alto in Noteworthy, credits a lot of that success to “Pitch Perfect,” the hit comedy about the college a cappella experience.

“There are 12 to 15 (a cappella) club groups on campus of about 15 guys and girls,” Whitlock said. “It’s gotten a lot more popular with the rise of ‘Pitch Perfect,’ so college a cappella right now is pretty hot.”

Members of Noteworthy practice for the upcoming International Championship of College A Cappella that will be held in Provo on Feb. 13th. (Natalie Stoker)

Despite its success in recent years in its depictions in TV and movies, a cappella isn’t often perfectly represented. The actual nuances of a cappella practice and performance aren’t exactly the same as they appear on-screen. Whitlock says the power struggles and drama played on in “Pitch Perfect” is just one example of something that really isn’t as big of a deal in their group.

“Our group has one director, and he’s a man who doesn’t sing with us,” Whitlock said. “He’s just our director, and it’s really good for us because we don’t have to fight for power between the rest of us.”

Members of BYU a cappella group Duly Noted agree that “Pitch Perfect” has definitely brought a lot of attention to the a cappella world, but some aspects of it are not as easy or even as realistic as the movie makes it out to be.

One particular scene in the movie was especially unrealistic, according to the real a cappella groups. In “Pitch Perfect,” a few rival a cappella groups come together in the bottom of an empty pool and improvise songs seamlessly and in perfect harmony.

David Steele (right), a new member of Duly Noted, practices with the group on BYU campus for the upcoming competition. (Natalie Bothwell)

In real a cappella, this isn’t the case. Members of Duly Noted said improvising a line by yourself is difficult enough, but trying to get 30 people improvising together is absolutely impossible.

“Sometimes you have moments where you’re like, ‘That was a really cool note you just sang with me,'” Caitlin Dudley, an alto in Duly Noted, said. “And then it doesn’t happen again until the next practice. But in the movies, it seems like they can pull out perfect arrangements without even trying. Improvisation like that does not happen in real life.”

Another aspect of the movie some found unrealistic was the lack of practice it showed. While it’s understandable why they wouldn’t spend extended amounts of time going into extreme depth during practices, the real life a cappella singers said this is a huge part of what they do.

Whitlock, from Noteworthy, said she and the other members of her group spend countless hours learning and practicing the music before they’re ready to perform.

“In the movie, they always know their notes right away,” Whitlock said. “They don’t spend hours and hours at home practicing, then coming to rehearsal and messing up.”

However, Whitlock does think that there were a few things they got right in the movie. For example, she said the show rehearsal was pretty accurate.

“When we practice, we do dance in front of the mirror and are working to make it crisp,” Whitlock said. “The performing looks very similar as well. How they move and the outfits they wear are pretty typical of college a cappella.”

Duly Noted practices at BYU for the ICCA competition. (Natlie Bothwell)

But both Whitlock and Duly Noted agreed that the most realistic part of “Pitch Perfect” is the competition that the groups perform in, the International Championship of College A Cappella. This competition is the real-life most prestigious contest for college a cappella groups, and both Duly Noted and Noteworthy are currently preparing for the International Championship of College A Cappella Northwest Quarterfinal.

“It’s a cool opportunity,” Savannah Benson, a first soprano in Duly Noted, said. “The ICCAs haven’t been in Provo for over a decade.”

Duly Noted member David Steele, who is in his first year with the group, said winning isn’t really the most important thing to his group overall.

“It was a little bit daunting to think about because it’s a really big competition,” Steele said. “But at the same time, the way we talk about it in our group is more like we’re going out there to have fun and bond together.”

Noteworthy and Duly Noted will be performing along with BYU a cappella groups Familiar Ring and Beyond Measure at the International Championship of College A Cappella Northwest Quarterfinals on Feb. 13 at The Covey Center for the Arts in Provo.

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