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Later that month, your heart races as you open the house for your big semester show. It’s a Saturday night, you’ve been through hell week, your set sounds freakin’ tight, you’re in leather pants, even the girl who always wears flannel shirts looks hot, and your new guys have plastered at least 5,000 posters everywhere there wasn’t a living organism underneath (unless you count the trash bins in the dining hall, the contents of which are said to be breeding new species). Man, this hall’s gonna be packed, and your John Mayer song is gonna freakin’ rock.


[cricket… cricket…]

There are maybe 200 people, a good 170 of which are family members and close personal friends.

Unbelievable! There are 11,000 people at this school! How did they not know about our show? Who wouldn’t want to see an ICCA semifinalist and best arrangement runner-up winner and CARA nominee?! Who doesn’t like good a cappella?!! Er… music? Doesn’t anybody care?!?!

Well, no. I mean, not really. At least, not nearly as much as you believe they should or expect them to. And I’ll tell you why.

You’ve fallen victim to a distortion of realty; the perceptual whirlwind responsible for the cult-like rise and status of collegiate a cappella that has affected thousands just like you, and millions of their non-onomatopoeic friends, colleagues and bystanders indirectly.

It’s not that no one cares enough, you poor girl who created a page in the scrapbook of life when she got to sing that Vertical Horizon song in her way lower register because none of the guys sounded decent on it and none of the really good girls tried out. It’s just that you care about certain things way more than you should.

It’s easy to see how the newfound relative stardom that a cappella group membership brings can affect you in big ways. You always knew that you could carry a tune. But as a prerequisite to being in a real live performing group, one that actually takes the stage in front of audiences, that never cut it. That was reserved for stuff like chorus, where you were an insignificant little portion of a greater whole of dozens and noone in the audience was really paying attention anyway. Or a cool band, where you had to either be a kick-ass singer or actually learn an instrument (proficiently, where possible). Someone like you would never be in the spotlight.

That is, until you discovered the entertainment juggernaut that is the Pugsleyton University Pugtones. And now, you’re a star.

Every time you take that stage, you’re transformed. It might not be a sellout at MSG, it might not be throngs of gyrating, adoring members of the opposite sex resulting from an album gone multi-platinum – but it sure as hell is a departure from your ordinary existence. And you treasure it.

Such, or so goes my theory, is the psychological phenomenon behind the meteoric rise of collegiate a cappella, and the occasional obsessives therein.

It’s an all-too-common occurrence that a cappellists fail to realize, or simply forget, the alternate perception of reality they’ve thrust themselves into, and it’s only fun until someone gets hurt.

What hurts? You did two hell weeks back-to-back and only came in third in the ICCA regionals, and damn it, what were those deaf-ass judges thinking giving the best vocal percussionist award to the dude from the state school who drummed on the Linkin Park song? Rusted Root is so much harder to do justice.

What’s fun? That stage, and hopefully kicking some ass on it. That (relatively) adoring, unconditionally loving crowd that screams your moniker like they’d bang you in a collegetown minute just because you pulled off a Chili Peppers song without a guitar a couple seconds ago. There’s only 200 of them, but they make you a temporary, bona fide pretend rock star. Maybe you forgot you never thought you’d even get that far.

What hurts? You gigged at 12 middle schools just so you could drop five figures on the regional superproducer, and BOCA snubbed your entire masterpiece of a cunningly instrument-less album. The CARAs threw one measly nomination at you – and it wasn’t even for the cool arrangement – and you were sure you were grabbing all four.

What’s fun? Being part of a successful team. A unit, with a common goal, where everyone wants something, knows everyone else does, and works their asses off collectively to get there. It’s what a great bunch of guys I know always said makes the beer at the end of the tunnel taste just that much sweeter. Camaraderie. Friends for life. Fraternity.

I think… actually, I know – don’t question me – that the error of the aca-dork’s ways is in deemphasizing that true, original allure of being in a collegiate group, the aspects that never disappoint. It’s the fun s*#t (see above) that really counts, and those other (see above), golden calves sought by a community of ironically elitist obsessives that magnetize more and more of the bored into their ranks each day.

And let’s say you pulled it off. You legitimized the sacrifice of a good 8 points on your GPA and a decent mental state that this whole crazy game led you into, and you made the elite – I mean, it must be the elite, ‘cause everyone you can see on the internet wants to be it. You got the PROPS! And I pose the question: who cares?

Well, I can name like 100 people. But each of them live an average of about 800 miles from you and you’ll likely never meet them outside the hallowed blue halls of an internet chat forum or even hear their voice, outside of that clip on their group’s website of the indisputably whitest rendition of Outkast you never thought possible.

And when it’s all over – 4 years is quick, man – and you realize you’ll never have anything like that stage and that family again, the happier a cappella dork will be the one who cared more about the dozen and change who went through it with him.

Love that limelight – live and work for it above all else – and love that bunch a’ guys/bunch a’ girls/hermaphrodites/random ethnic or religious grouping/consortium of heterogeneous gender. Don’t sweat the rest too hard, and simply live it up. The moment you sense even the slightest tinge of taking yourself too seriously, give yourself a good smack in the jaw. Because really, it’s about making music and relishing the crowd, and about forging unbreakable bonds and riding them to your own personal, albeit localized glory.

Much like the college experience itself in large part, it’s all in fun, and it’s all a big party – one that’s easy to miss. Outside of that…seriously? Who cares?