Lehigh a capella group Off The Record performs at the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella on Sat. Jan 28, 2017, at Drexel University. A Capella groups were still able to have some activity during the 2020-2021 school year. (Courtesy of Daniel Amankwatia)

A cappella groups continue to produce music during COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has not prevented Lehigh’s four a cappella groups from practicing, recording and releasing new music.

During a typical year, Off The Record, The Echoes, A Whole Step Up and The Melismatics do on and off campus performances and compete against other collegiate a cappella groups in competitions like the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella, or ICCA.

Since they can no longer perform in person and virtual concerts are logistically challenging, the members of the groups have been focusing on individually recording each of their respective parts in songs they’re working on. This allows them to later edit and create a cohesive piece that sounds as if they were performing together by compiling the different recordings.

Luca Milletti, ’22, member of the co-ed group Off The Record, said they are currently working on songs that should be released next semester. In the past, Off The Record has posted its singles and albums on Spotify, he said.

The group will also be practicing for a virtual version of the ICCA taking place next semester, Milletti said. He said the group will record a four-minute set and send it in, which the competition will then judge.

“I’m pretty sure that’s our main goal for next semester,” Milletti said.  

On top of that, each senior gets to choose a song for a solo performance after the group has finished recording the virtual ICCA video, he said.

Ashley Haber, ’21, member of the all-female group The Echoes, said they have been working on creating an Extended Play, or EP, which is a shorter version of an album that generally has between four and six songs. She said their music director recorded each member individually using recording software and equipment while social distancing. 

“She has all of the recordings of all of us singing individually and she is going to mix and master all of our voices together to create our EP,” Haber said. 

The Echoes already have an EP and a single out, but the new one will be released early next semester, she said. 

Haber said The Echoes will most likely be participating in the virtual ICCAs next semester as well.

“Everybody, obviously, isn’t doing everything live,” she said. “It’s all pre-recorded stuff, so the bar is set extremely high competition wise.”

Brian Lucas, ’22, member of the all-male group A Whole Step Up, said their group has also been working on new recordings that they can put onto streaming services. 

“We’ve basically just been submitting isolated vocals for us, and then having people in our group stitch them together,” Lucas said. 

Some people have been doing the recordings in Zoellner Arts Center to get better acoustics, Lucas said. Next semester, A Whole Step Up will work on streamlining the recording process, he said.

“As a group, we’ve recorded before, but the recording process is very different in person, so I think this was kind of a learning experience for everybody,” Lucas said.

Michelle Vasiliadis, ’21, business manager and member of the co-ed group The Melismatics, said their group will be releasing an EP, featuring six songs, in the beginning of February.

“That has just consisted of a lot of learning our music and then recording ourselves individually and sending that over to our music director, who is editing all of our different tracks, and then we’re sending it over to a Mels alum, who is a producer now as his full-time job, and he’s helping produce the EP with us,” she said. 

She said after getting tested for COVID-19, the members met with their music director one-on-one to record their parts for all the music they learned with professional recording equipment. For members not on campus, some have their own professional recording equipment and are going through the same process as the on-campus members. Others are recording on their iPhones and following a certain protocol to ensure the best sound, Vasiliadis said.

One of the biggest changes for the four groups has been moving practices from in person to Zoom. 

Milletti said on average, the group practices together on Zoom one or two times per week, where their music directors go over the music and any problem sections that arise.

Haber said the members of The Echoes were able to practice together outside and six feet apart when the 10 person maximum gathering rule was in place.

“Once everything happened with the five person rule and COVID cases started to spike, we figured it would be safer to just rehearse over Zoom,” she said. 

Lucas said A Whole Step Up has been critiquing and discussing how to improve the songs that they have recorded once a week.

Vasiliadis said The Melismatics go about rehearsal using sectionals that split up the different voice parts in their group — bass, tener, alto and soprano. She said their music director meets with each group for approximately an hour once a week.

“Everyone is expected to have looked at the music and learned their part from a certain section,” she said. 

Vasiliadis said the members also meet once every two weeks on Monday nights to have meetings on general updates and to hang out to get to a more personal level.

Moving forward, each group said auditions for potential future members has been complicated by changing circumstances and a difficulty in recruiting as Lehigh’s COVID-19 restrictions limit social interactions and the amount of people able to live on campus. Many of the groups, however, are looking at the spring semester to host auditions.

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