At first glance, the New York City-based, semi-pro, twelve-member, all-female CAL group, Treble, does not seem that much different than other CAL groups. Its members rehearse once each week, perform at local venues and charity events, are active in the CASA community, and are passionate about contemporary a cappella music. Upon closer inspection, however, one finds a group that is not only built to deliver onstage but for longevity, that readily equates individual member happiness with group success, and that cares as much about the harmony in its music as the harmony among its members. This group of women just may have found the magic formula for creating a lasting post-collegiate a cappella group.
Formed in 1996 by a group of friends from Columbia University, the group prides itself on its tradition of building relationships alongside its repertoire. Its members will agree that this is a big reason Treble is NYC’s longest-running a cappella group.
Keeli Davis, chair of the Outreach Committee, believes that investing in “social capital” goes a long way in keeping the group together and everyone happy. “We go out after every rehearsal to get food and drinks. We all put in a lot of time outside of Treble just to be friends…this is the best thing that’s happened to me since moving to NYC.”
Davis continues, “I think more groups need to focus on group health. Although not every person will be happy with every decision, people need to know that their opinions have been accounted for and heard. Keep members happy. Happy members sound better, plus you won't have to have auditions all the time!”
Whatever these ladies are doing is working. Their longest-standing members have been a part of Treble for seven years, while almost the entire group has been together for over five years. The group has also not had to audition any new member in the past two years even though it has received over two hundred inquiries during that same time period. Also worth noting is the fact that in the last four years, any members that have left the group did so because of relocation or large changes in their lives (having children or changing jobs) and not because of any personality or ideological conflicts.
Outreach Committee member, Nicole Martinez remarks, “Everyone is really invested and cares enough to stay involved through life changes. That makes a big difference in such a transient city.”
Music co-director, Lily Szajnberg also credits the group’s success to the type of women that belong. “Twelve working women just don’t have time for drama,” she asserts. She goes on to say, “This strong, supportive, fun network of women is an amazing thing to have in New York. We are the best of friends and help each other in all areas of life, even getting each other jobs!”
Perhaps the professional backgrounds of its members are what keep Treble running smoothly. The group chooses its leadership at an annual business meeting where all positions are voted on from the business manager right down to the person who buys the birthday cakes. Their song selection process is streamlined by using Google polls. Even their audition process is crafted to use their time efficiently.
Marketing Director, Carrie Brown, explains, “We don’t waste time on people who just aren’t qualified. We use a secret system with a cue that we give the director to say if we want an audition to keep going after the solo.” Meredith Strang, Musical Co-Director acknowledges, “We just don’t take anyone without prior collegiate aca-experience. Having a great audition pool allows us to do that.” Martinez adds, “Knowing exactly what we are looking for during auditions keeps us focused so we don’t waste time being distracted and confused.”
Another thing Treble is conscious of during auditions is how a new member will fit into the pre-existing group culture. The group takes great pains to assure a person is not only a musical fit, but a social one as well. Strang elaborates, “Although our first audition is basic – solo, range test, sight reading, pitch matching – our callbacks are always slightly more social. We have had some jaw-dropping people audition for the group who just did not fit personality-wise. New members need to blend not only musically, but socially.”
Brown attests, “Personality reigns supreme. No one sounds good when they aren’t having fun.”
And although the members of Treble love to have fun, when it’s time for rehearsal, they get down to business. “The day before a rehearsal, the Musical Director sends out an agenda so people know what music to bring, if needed. We have a designated ‘Sergeant-At-Arms’ who will quiet us down during rehearsal and keep us focused if we start chatting too much. It’s really helpful for that person not to be the MD. We also have a ‘Sassy Scrivener’ who takes notes on all music changes and business and she sends them out after,” reveals Davis.
The group’s no-nonsense rehearsal style has allowed Treble to identify and reinforce its musical strengths, while simultaneously compensating for its shortcomings. Strang discloses, “We have a really great bass section which is vital for a female group. We have two ladies who warm down to nice A2’s and a good handful who can hit solid C3’s (B3’s on good days). We work on everyone's low range. I also think we have really nice tuning in the group and are able to sing difficult arrangements without a ton of in-rehearsal work. In addition to a solid bass section and generally strong lower range, we also have several excellent vocal percussionists, one of whom also beatboxes (yes, there is a difference!) In short, we disband assumptions that all-female groups have a ‘tinny,’ light sound - our group motto is sassy and bold, and our sound definitely matches that.”
When asked if she thought it was more difficult to arrange for an all-female group, Szajnberg replied, “There is less of a difference than people would think. We arrange our ladies very low and keep the soprano parts at a minimum, though Meredith does that with co-ed arrangements as well. There certainly are some second octave notes that we can't use but we don't miss those much. Let's be honest, we know we can sing all those high notes but nobody wants to hear them - whether in a co-ed or an all-female group. Leave them for the shower!”
Although the group has had much vocal success, it still has difficulty (like most other groups) with planning performances. “We're all so busy with work that it's really hard to schedule gigs - sometimes we need to turn down paying and/or charity gigs. Even for the gigs we are able to take, we often have to re-work parts as we are usually missing a few members (trying to organize 12 women with full-time jobs, grad school schedules, and a baby is an art form in and of itself.) We end up learning several other parts in our repertoire so that we can pinch hit for any missing members. Sometimes, we just don’t have enough ladies to cover the parts and we have to turn down gigs we would have loved to take!” relates Diana Wise, Treble’s “Sergeant At Arms.”
Even with having to turn down gigs, Treble usually finds itself with a full calendar. The ladies perform all over the metropolitan area, especially in New York City. They have sung everywhere from Lincoln Center to the Guggenheim, as well as at The Ronald McDonald House and in Central Park for “Make Music Day” and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. They also have their favorite local bars such as Canal Room, Joe’s Pub, Crash Mansion, and Parkside Lounge.
“We try to be flexible with choreography and staging so we can perform in a variety of places. Some New York City venues have some notoriously tiny stages, so we tone down the moves when needed,” Davis shares.
Treble has had a lot of memorable performances, but the group consensus is that their favorite was when they traveled to Memphis to perform with fellow CAL group, DeltaCappella. Strang recalls, “They were incredibly gracious hosts and we loved traveling around Memphis as a group. Hello, Graceland! Several of us had traveled to SoJam and SingStrong, but this was the first time we had spent a weekend together as a whole group. It was a fantastic bonding experience for Treble and an exciting performance opportunity to sing for a whole new audience. We loved being able to help with the auditions for Riva and creating great new friendships with the DeltaCappella guys.”
Treble has a busy performance schedule coming up in December with a friends and family concert, gigs at the local JCC, the Hunter College Hillel House, a private non-profit, and handful corporate caroling events and private parties. In January, the group is excited to sing at their very first wedding!
With their varied gig schedule, also comes the need for different styles of “stage costumes” to fit each venue. All of Treble’s members agree that coordinating outfits is more important and trickier than most people think. The group has one member who is dedicated to putting together outfits for their gigs. She keeps in mind the group’s handful of “go to” selections that members have in their closets and scours “look books” and color swatches to come up with perfect themes. They are quick to avoid the “black with flare” look that is associated with collegiate a cappella and want their look to reflect a “unique and professional” style, while still keeping in mind the type of show and venue, as well as everyone’s individual style and body type. The ladies are quick to note that it is a lot of work, but very much worth the effort.
Securing all of those gigs takes a lot of time and energy. Treble has a designated five-person outreach committee responsible for marketing the group through social media, cold calls, and networking in general. They are always seeking new possibilities and are currently attempting to book additional wedding gigs.
With that much singing, someone is bound to take notice (and they have!) Treble had the honor of organizing and hosting the first annual VoCALnation, the first New York City CAL-sponsored a cappella conference in March of 2011. They were also nominated in the category of favorite CAL group for the 2011 ACA Awards. Because all of its members work full-time, however, the women concentrate not on winning awards, but on their vocal prowess, performing as much as they can, and just enjoying what they do.
Treble has been a stronghold of the contemporary a cappella community for a number of years now and its members’ names are well-known among their peers. They suggest always sending a representative to SoJam and other CASA events when possible and attending other groups’ shows to support your local a cappella community. Also, they recommend being active across the various social media platforms to keep your group in the loop. When asked, the ladies were very vocal about their love of the CAL community and the support that they have received thus far.
The a cappella community seems to have a mutual love of Treble – it largely financed their upcoming album which will be released sometime in the spring/summer of 2012. Although great pains were taken to assure the album was executed with technical precision and a professional sound, Treble had a fantastic time recording it. At the end of the day, the group feels that is what is most important. Szajnberg divulges, “We show up every week not because we’re getting paid, not because it’s glamorous, but because it’s just f****** fun.”
And who could argue with that?
About the author:
Jenn Fiduccia, North Carolina’s CASA Ambassador, swears that a cappella music saved her life. Trapped as a political science/pre-law, yuppie-in-the-making at Boston College, she auditioned (on a dare) for the newly-founded BC Dynamics and quickly realized that if she did not pursue a career in music, she would most surely die of heartbreak (Fiduccia also claims a slight flare for the dramatic.) After two colleges and three different majors, Jennifer graduated from New York University as a vocal performance major with a concentration in music business. After college, Ms. Fiduccia spent her time as a professional soloist in the New York metro area singing with a number of vocal and instrumental ensembles, performing in various theatrical productions and appearing on several different recording projects. In addition, she worked for ten years as a Music Minister and Youth Minister in the Catholic Church, where she created and directed two different worship music ensembles. In 2009, Jenn left the great state of New Jersey (*fistpump*) for North Carolina (although she vehemently denies that the move was orchestrated to be closer to the SoJam a cappella festival.) She set up house in Wake Forest with her husband and four children and has since had a hand in founding and directing two different CAL groups in the Raleigh area. When she is not playing referee or chauffer, she takes pleasure in sipping wine on her front porch, going to Zumba class at the gym, and arranging nursery rhyme remixes for the kids.