One of the most fulfilling parts of the university experience is joining an extracurricular group or taking up a new activity. At McGill, there’s a little something for everyone: joining the campus media, getting involved in a political branch, or busting your ass every week playing rugby. For students who have some musical talent in their blood, joining an a cappella group is the most popular option.
For those who don’t know what a cappella is, it’s a form of musical performance in which people sing without instrumental accompaniment (think Pitch Perfect). McGill has four of these groups — Tonal Ecstasy, Chromatones, Effusion, and Soulstice. Other than their semesterly concerts, McGill’s a cappella groups perform at gigs around Montreal throughout the year. They rehearse a few hours a week, release CDs and albums, have YouTube pages dedicated to their live performances and even book special events. So, without further ado, your official guide to McGill’s a cappella community.
For students who have some musical talent in their blood, joining an a cappella group is the most popular option.
Established in 1998, Tonal Ecstasy is McGill’s oldest a cappella group. Being the first group certainly has its perks; on top of their long and celebrated legacy, Tonal Ecstasy boasts a whole network of alumni who have steadily supported the group in all its iterations over the years. It also means that the group gets to perform songs written and arranged by past members, and as current member Auriane de Buchet says, that’s one of the best parts of the experience. “We love our entire setlist, but our personal favourite is our alumni song, ‘Boondocks’,” she says. “It’s the last one we perform at all our concerts, and we always invite the alumni up on stage.” Just last year, the group celebrated its 20th anniversary at their winter show with over 40 alumni present.
With so many a cappella groups on campus, does the competition ever get a little heated? Never, says Nikoo Sarraf, Tonal Ecstasy’s current VP finance. “The McGill a cappella community is very tight-knit, supportive, and non-competitive.” They have apartment crawls, Café Campus Tuesdays, even the occasional joint rehearsal — and at any given a cappella concert, you’ll always find members from the other three groups cheering on their talented peers. At the end of the day, though, each group is its own little family. “It’s comforting to know that no matter what happens at school and in your personal life,” says VP tech Roger Hsu, “there will always be this group of people that you can have a good time, share experiences, and create new exciting memories with.” It doesn’t get more special than that.
If Tonal Ecstasy is the eldest of the McGill a cappella groups, then Chromatones is the baby. Established in 2012, the group brings a wide range of musical genres to the a cappella game — and a fresh perspective, as they’re comprised entirely of non-music students. “It’s really a testament to how committed everyone is in pursuing this as their passion outside of everything else we do in university,” says Chromatones president Tara Chandran. Being a part of a group like this — and indeed, being close with the other groups as well — is an invaluable part of their time at McGill because it gives them a space to destress and think about something other than academic pressures.
Right now, the group’s favourite song to perform together is “The End of All Things” by Panic! At The Disco, but a close second in their 2000s medley, which includes Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” and “Bye Bye Bye” by NSYNC. How do these fun setlists come together? At the beginning of the semester, all group members decide on a few options and then vote on their favourite 10-15 songs. Then, throughout the summer and fall, a few people get a shot at arranging the a cappella versions of these songs and making them performance-ready — a great opportunity for those trying to learn under the guidance of a supportive team.
For fans of R&B and soul music, Effusion is your go-to. The group is known for its breathy, blended voice quality, a perfect fit for favourite songs like “Oh Happy Day” from Sister Act, “Butterfly” by Rajaton, and even Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around… (Comes Around)”. “These songs are very soulful with their gospel influences and up-beat rhythms,” says Effusion president Emmanuelle Faucher. “We have a wide array of arrangements to fit the likes of anyone in the group or audience.” But that doesn’t mean they’ll perform just any song — members interested in arranging a new tune have to consult with the President and Musical director to make sure their choice fits the “Effusion sound”. It’s a collaborative effort, and one that ultimately pays off.
As member Ben Dringoli says, being in an a cappella group at McGill gives students from different faculties an opportunity to come together in pursuit of their musical passions. It’s also an opportunity to hone their craft. “I have gone as far as seeing a major improvement with my vocal techniques since first joining the group,” Emmanuelle Faucher admits. Of course, as with all of the a cappella groups, you have to audition before joining; but Effusion always encourages their auditionees to check out the other groups as well, because you never know where you’ll be the best fit. That sort of camaraderie is just one of the many reasons why McGill students flock to a cappella groups.
[B]eing in an a cappella group at McGill gives students from different faculties an opportunity to come together in pursuit of their musical passions.
Finally, there’s Soulstice, founded at McGill in 2002. The group has a wide range of musical tastes, often performing songs anywhere from pop to alternative to jazz. Their signature concert song is Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” (fans of Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” will know this one), and as Soulstice president Charlie Hardy says, it’s a very special tune for members of the group. “We don’t teach it using sheet music, but by having old members pass down their parts to new members,” Hardy says. “It creates an evolutionary process by which the arrangement changes and takes on a unique form for every iteration of the group.”
Even though being in an a cappella group requires a certain level of commitment, Soulstice members say the benefits always outweigh that cost. For McGill students who love music but are studying something outside of that realm, a cappella is a great creative outlet — and a wonderful chance to make new friends during your time in university. “Trust and reliance is necessary for great a cappella,” Hardy insists. That’s the kind of spirit that runs through all of the a cappella groups, making them an essential piece of the McGill fabric.