HomeStarting A Collegiate Group: The Trials and Triumphs!

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My passion for music has always astonished and confused people. Being the person I am, I have never had a problem getting a talented group of musicians together and performing an a cappella rendition of a song to attract a crowd. That was pretty much the story of all four of my high school years.

Those years passed quickly and I soon found myself singing alone for the first time in a long time, which didn’t bother me at first. After being accepted to the University of North Texas, one of the top music schools in the country, I thought finding an a cappella group to quench my musical desires would come easily.

The first month flew by quickly with no musical group, and it seemed as if the world had gone silent, at least the musical one in my head.

Things seemed to change when I realized there was a musical resource five feet away from me, my roommate Trent. He commented on an a cappella group I was listening to and said he liked it and how it was different from anything he had ever heard. I told him about my quest for an a cappella group and how nothing would keep me from it, and pitched an idea to start it.

We got to work right away looking for any talented musicians we could find, mainly by word of mouth. I still had a few phone numbers from people I had met through orientation and freshmen camps that I had convinced well ahead of time about being in an a capella group. After gathering about 12-15 male and female singers we had a meeting about what we all wanted to go into the group, when we would rehearse, and so on. From this, we ran into our first problem: dedicated members.

Having no prior formal experience with a group like this, I was put in charge, probably because I knew more names of both collegiate a cappella groups and professional groups than anyone else in the group. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The group fluctuated from 12, to 15, to 17; we even had close to 20 people at one time. I think our problem was that close to half the group in the beginning were music majors who had obligations to other music endeavors, which is quite challenging and can consume a great portion of your life when you get involved.

About a month later, the group saw some consistency in who showed up to rehearse and I had finally registered us as an official school organization, after sitting through new organization meetings and lots of online paperwork. The UNT Green Tones - which we eventually decided to call ourselves - were founded in late October of 2008. I believed the difficult part was over, that is until reality sent me a serious wake-up call.

Our first few months were by far the most challenging obstacle I had ever faced musically. For starters, I felt like I called and e-mailed every music director at UNT looking for an advisor to help us get to where we needed to be. But it seemed as if everyone’s schedule was too busy or they had numbers of grad students who could help us, which always left me at a dead end. So for the time being, I convinced one of my lab professors to act as our advisor, since the school required every organization to have one.

I thought we were set after that, but another hurdle was planted right at my feet in the form of white paper with musical markings on it and time signatures, and how we desperately lacked it. We tried using music that other groups posted on their websites (thanks Achordants) but it proved to be a little overwhelming for a beginning a cappella group.

After a while we began working on an arrangement of “Bleeding Love” that a member of the group had contributed.  It seemed as if we were making some slight progress for a few rehearsals, but things were still moving at a slow pace. Within weeks, attendance at rehearsals began to fluctuate due to other commitments. The group seemed to experience a depression before we had even made it anywhere.

The first semester had come and gone before we knew it, and we were all back home enjoying Christmas Break. I spent a lot of my time over the break thinking about the group, as I know most of the other members were doing as well. We needed to make some changes and start taking things seriously.

I even tried my hand at arranging, hoping to be able to contribute something to the group when we returned.

The next semester started and I think we all wanted to see and hear something that we were lacking in our first semester. We came back and got right down to business, we couldn’t waste any more time.

We decided on officers and discussed what we needed to do. Being elected president, I had to put even more of myself into the group and make sure everyone knew we needed a change.

A few more members had dropped out, but within a few weeks we gained some more, this time our numbers were between 12 and 15, more reasonable than 20.

We began to write our own arrangements, all in the course of a semester. We could no longer risk spending time learning other groups’ versions, groups who had been active for 10 or more years and knew what their style was; although, we couldn’t resist On The Rock’s version of “Insomniac”, which ended up being arranged for SATB and included in our repertoire.

Things began to pick up and we had even been put on the schedule to sing an original arrangement of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at one of the home basketball games in February, which marked our debut performance. It was quite an experience, one that all of us will never forget.

From there we transitioned into preparing for an actual small concert where we would sing more contemporary pieces for the students on campus. 5 new songs were learned from January to mid-March, some including “Viva La Vida” and “The Scientist”, and showcased them at our school’s café.  By the end of the show, we all knew we had some serious work to do.

The show was filled with wrong pitches, forgotten lyrics, even small arguments over microphone placement. This was nothing like we expected. Speaking personally, I guess I held our group to standards that were too high for our first show, forgetting we had only began a semester earlier.

We spent a little more time thinking during Spring Break, and came back and realized we had to keep pushing forward. As the old saying goes “there is no substitute for experience”, so we continued to rehearse twice a week and booked smaller shows, usually performing for other organizational events.

By our third performance we began to get a little better, although we continued to face problems such as power struggles between the males in the group and which one knew what was best for the entire group. Small things like this inhibited us from performing certain songs to their absolute best on certain occasions. But the women of the group brought us back down to earth and made us realize we needed to work together. They are never afraid to voice their thoughts and concerns, which is what brought the testosterone level down a bit.

We decided that we should end the year with a spring concert, so we learned 5 more songs from the end of March to the end of April. This was by far our best show. We realized that we had been taking everything a little too seriously and we toned it down a bit, pun intended. We interacted with the audience, threw in a few jokes, and even added an impromptu beatbox lesson for the audience to enjoy. We had fun and so did they.

At the end of the year, we had 12 dedicated members and we talked about what we wanted to see in the group for next year and the changes we needed to make. Since then, I have been developing my arranging skills, so far having two new pieces ready for this fall, as well as getting ready for a performance at a summer orientation at the end of July. Along with this, we will begin preparing for fall auditions, taking the appropriate steps to ensure the right additions to the group, hoping to cap off at 16.

I never would have begun to guess that my first year in college would be so hectic, yet exhilarating. It is one of those natural highs that can only come from a cappella music and the people you get to create it with. It seems that all great groups have a chemistry with one another that connects them beyond music, which inadvertently generates great music. This fall, we will try to develop that chemistry.

About the author:
Brian Alexander began to develop his musical talents in high school, dedicating four years to the school's choir. During that time he was involved in the Men's Chorus, Concert Choir, and the Jazz Ensemble, which helped him to gain a spot as a member of the All-Region Choir. Throughout his high school career he took part in both school musicals and community musicals, some including Bye Bye Birdie, 42nd Street, 7 Brides For 7 Brothers, Beauty and the Beast, and The Music Man. After graduating from high school he enrolled in the University of North Texas. Hoping to continue his musical passion, he became a co-founder of the Green Tones, UNT's only contemporary a cappella group where they will be in their 2nd year this Fall.

photo: UNT's Green Tones

Comments

brian-   This is such a great

brian-

 

This is such a great story! I hope to hear more of the development of the group! Keep going! 

Bryan Guffey Singer, Technologist, Dreamer, soon-to-be podcast creator and host!

Thanks. We actually had our

Thanks. We actually had our first performance of the school year today, and I have already begun to notice a drastic change (in a good way) in our sound. Looks to be a very promising year for us.

Brian Alexander
UNT Green Tones
President (2008-2011)
CD-Chair (2011-2012)
Co-Founder

Great Story, Well Written!

Brian,

Hard work builds character!

Keep up the good work!

We are all proud of you!!!!

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