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BU’s a cappella groups make strides toward inclusivity, embrace change during the pandemic

boston university allegrettos
Boston University Allegrettos. A cappella groups at BU have shifted online, but continue to advocate for social justice and work toward making the a cappella community more inclusive. COURTESY OF BOSTON UNIVERSITY ALLEGRETTOS

Boston University’s many a cappella groups have gone through a wealth of changes over the course of the past year. With the tumult that started last spring, these groups took the opportunity to reevaluate their priorities.

College of Engineering senior Sadie Allen is a music director for the all-female identifying group Chordially Yours.

Allen said the last concert the group attended was the “Battle of the Babes” — an all-female a cappella concert that has raised funds for Planned Parenthood and Rosie’s Place, a community center for women experiencing homelessness and who are in need.

The concert directly preceded Spring Recess, she added, after which the University made the decision to continue the semester remotely due to the pandemic.

“It was sad,” Allen said, “because for that year, that basically meant everything was over.”

The group had been preparing for their final showcase when BU went remote. Since they were unable to rehearse together, Chordially Yours shifted gears to prepare for the Fall semester instead.

“There was really nothing else for us to do,” she said, “than look forward.”

College of Arts and Sciences juniors Kaileen Germain and Amanda Geist, co-presidents of the all-female identifying group BU Forté, said they took the pandemic as an opportunity to rebrand.

The group announced their name change, from the BU Sweethearts to BU Forté, Jan. 27.

“I think our name didn’t really reflect who we were and who we are now as a group,” Geist said. “As our group has evolved, we thought our name should evolve as well.”

Geist said the name “Forté” evokes the strength of the group’s voices, as well as the activism they now use their voices for.

The group, Germain said, has held fundraisers and advocated for Black Trans Femmes in the Arts and against anti-Asian violence, among other causes.

“We’re trying to cover as much as we can,” Germain said, “and try to be as conscious as we possibly can.”

Geist noted BU Forté has also turned its eye toward the long-ignored issue of diversity in the a capella community.

“We also are trying to create structural changes in the a cappella community itself,” she said, “to be more inclusive.”

Following conversations about racial diversity in a cappella, Geist said the BU a cappella community pledged to create an inclusivity council to function as a third party to address issues of microagressions and discrimination, as well as to develop a method of holding blind auditions for the next semester.

ENG senior Vivek Cherian is a music director for BU Suno — A South Asian/Western fusion group. He said BU’s a cappella groups decided together to create a “common application” for incoming members looking to apply to more than one group.

Cherian said the application asks for general information — such as name, musical experience, year and pronouns — but the attached video portion, which replaces the traditional in-person audition, was changed to be an MP3 track.

“Last semester, we had auditionees submitting videos,” he said. “This semester we decided to change it to MP3 for it to be a blind audition. That was in support of conversations we were having about inclusivity.”

Apart from all the changes implemented, it was still a particularly difficult year for BU’s a cappella groups.

“Specifically performance groups, we face a unique challenge because we are probably most at risk of spreading COVID because we’re singing,” said CAS senior Ed Kellermann, president of the co-ed BU BosTones.

Kellermann said the number of auditions for the group has seen a “significant drop.” Despite that, he said, those who did audition — and subsequently joined — are some of the most “motivated individuals” he’s seen.

“They’re doing it all in the middle of a pandemic, which is really cool,” he said. “It’s something special.”

CFA School of Music junior Ryan Van Fleet is a music director for the all-gender group The Allegrettos. He said the group has had to become more creative with its rehearsals.

Van Fleet said they will sometimes hold practice on Zoom by splitting up members with different voice sections, such as altos and sopranos, into different breakout rooms.

“That way it’s more time effective,” he said, “rather than everyone meeting on one Zoom meeting, we just go into breakout rooms and that’s how we kind of learn the music.”

The Zoom meetings, Van Fleet said, are also paired with socially distanced rehearsals with masks.

“We have done a few rehearsals in Warren Towers’ parking garage with masks and stuff,” Van Fleet said, “not really ideal but it’s definitely nice to finally be able to somewhat sing together.”

Allen said Chordially Yours has been working on a four-song EP, set to release this summer. Despite this being her last year with the group, she said she is excited for its release and for everyone to be back together again.

“To have something really, really great to have come out of such a hard time for all of us,” she said, “we made something really cool.”


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One Comment

  1. Alessandra Kellermann of BU Parents United

    Bravo! Inclusion and Diversity … goals we all need to strive for … #BUProud