Can You Hear Mi-Mi-Mi Now? A Cappella Auditions Go Virtual

If you think virtual meetings are daunting, try leading an a cappella group over Zoom. That was the challenge facing the presidents and music directors of the P&S Ultrasounds, the P&S Club a cappella singers. For more than 20 years, the coed group has performed everything from the Beatles to Beyonce.

The group is currently led by co-presidents Caroline Puskas and Brett Seeley-Hacker and music directors Emily Honzel and Brandon Vilarello, all second-year students. Along with the rest of the student body, the singers were off campus in the early months of the pandemic but continued meeting for virtual rehearsals. “We tried to keep in touch and check on each other more than anything else. We still had rehearsal via Zoom to maintain some sense of normalcy,” Ms. Puskas says.

When it came to the actual singing, the technology was less than accommodating. “We tried to sing one time, and it didn’t go exceptionally well,” Ms. Puskas says. Voices cut in and out, volume was uneven, and a host of other issues made singing together an exercise in futility. “But above all, we just wanted to be there for each other. That was more important than the music in our eyes.” What was once an a cappella group became something more akin to an impromptu support group.

“We had an organic thing in the spring with our group chat, just sending videos back and forth of little snippets of songs,” Mr. Seeley-Hacker recalls. “There were all kinds of ways to get to know each other and continue to share music with one another.”

“My personal favorite part of the spring was the little ‘love’ songs we all sent each other. That was really cute and heartwarming for me,” Ms. Honzel adds.

The leaders were faced with a unique challenge when fall semester began: How do you recruit and audition new members to an a cappella group without meeting? Would people want to join a choir without the promise of being able to sing together?

The group’s leaders decided to organize virtual auditions. No one knew what to expect in terms of turnout, but the group’s call for singers was answered in a full, resonating timbre. Virtual sign-up sheets quickly filled up with prospects ready to audition from as far as Texas and California. Over two nights of auditions, singers participated in basic warmup and pitch-matching exercises then performed 30 to 60 seconds of a song of their choice.

Each 15-minute audition concluded with a sight-reading exercise and questions posed to the group’s leaders. Chief among those questions: How, or when, will we sing together?

“We are making it work until it’s safe to reunite, knowing that eventually we’ll be able to rehearse and perform in person again,” says Mr. Vilarello.

“Until then, this is just a great group to be a part of and such a supportive network,” says Ms. Puskas. “We’re just excited by the opportunity to have this community, where we’re all tied together by the fact that we love to sing. Whenever we are able to sing in person, we’ll have our group and we’ll be ready to go.”

Danny McAlindon