• Elizabeth Cheong

Real-Life Pitch Perfect? An introduction to NUS Resonance


NUS Resonance’s latest concert. Credit: NUS Resonance


Picture this: it's 2012. Glee is destroying TV ratings and everyone's either team Peeta or team Gale. Everywhere you look, the kids on the playground (or the internet) are only singing one song, cup in hand: I got my ticket for the long way round, two bottles of whiskey by the way...


That's right. Pitch Perfect (2012) was a cultural reset, especially for those of us who were introduced to the a cappella genre through the movie. Who needs things like plot or character development when you've got the Riff Off?


If you watched that movie as a kid and wished you could be that cool, I have good news: you can live out your very own Pitch Perfect dreams with NUS' premier Acapella CCA, Resonance! I caught up with Year 2 Environmental Studies student Hope Liang, who agreed to take me through her first year singing with Resonance over dinner at Marina Square.



Hope’s performance at NUS Resonance’s recent concert. Credit: NUS Resonance



Hope and I are both part of the unfortunate batch who entered NUS at the start of COVID, back in 2020. It’s an uphill struggle to make meaningful friendships, as I’m sure most of our batchmates can understand. So I’m glad to hear that Resonance is one place Hope has managed to find that, as she tells me after dinner.


Although it’s pushing 10PM at this point, we migrate to the kid’s playground inexplicably located inside the Marina Square mall to dive deeper into her past year in the club.


Over the next hour, Hope took me through Resonance’s auditions, performances and general skill level, as well as her experience with the community.


Disclaimer: All information presented is accurate as of AY21/22, and the club may make changes in the coming academic year according to the evolving COVID-19 situation.



1. How does Resonance work?


As an a cappella club, Resonance accepts vocalists and vocal percussionists, or beatboxers. After passing the auditions, newcomers join a semester-long training course. For this first semester, training sessions are held weekly, and alternate between lectures and practices.


Lectures


During the lectures, they teach the background of a cappella as a musical genre, as well as types of a cappella groups, providing useful context for the future performers.


“I wasn’t expecting that,” Hope told me. “In my secondary school and JC CCAs, you were always just thrust into singing right away.”


This approach allowed her to ease back into performing a cappella, armed with more context and a broader perspective. Music theory was also covered during these lectures, which may be a bonus for those of you looking to improve your theoretical knowledge.


Practices


“At the first practice session, we were sorted into small groups with the seniors,” Hope said. They were given songs to practise, and at the end of each session, every group showcased a verse and chorus from the song they’d been working on. At the end of the semester, each group performed three songs from their practice sessions for their peers.


“It’s always a bit scary at the start, especially since I was used to singing in a bigger group, but the seniors were really encouraging and helpful.”


The choir CCAs that she’d been in numbered anywhere from ten to fifteen people singing at once. Conversely, Resonance focused in on smaller groups, which was both intimidating and exciting for her: it meant that she couldn’t afford to make mistakes, because she was an integral part of the music.


“You get to take more ownership over the performance, because you’re not just another voice in the crowd.”


Gigs

After you’ve completed the introductory course, Resonance’s structure becomes more flexible.


Gigs for events like National Day, NUS Open House and acapella competitions are publicised through the Telegram chat, and Reso members can poll for the vocal parts they’d like to sing. For example, if you’d like to participate as a tenor in CAC+US, the Cultural Arts Club (CAC)’s yearly arts showcase, you can indicate your interest in singing a tenor part.


The Resonance executive committee will sort you into smaller groups with your counterparts, and from there, your group will determine your practice frequency, location and timing!


“I’ve gotten really close to my performance groups through my concerts and gigs,” Hope said. “Everyone’s very dedicated, everyone chips in and learns their part beforehand.”


“It’s so fun to come together and make music, but we still hang out together outside Reso’, after the concert is over.”

Hope tells me she was very fortunate in getting good performance groups: friends she wanted to spend time with both on- and offstage. There’s no mistaking the fondness in her voice as she reminisces enthusiastically about one of her best memories in Resonance – her CAC+US gig.

“We had a sleepover at one member’s hall, and drank while we HTHTed (had a ’heart-to-heart’ conversation) — it really helped us to get closer.”



A shot of Hope's performance group, practicing for their item. Credit: NUS Resonance



2. How do the auditions work?


If you’re interested in joining Resonance, only one thing stands in your way – the audition. Or rather, auditions, as Hope says that there are two rounds for vocalists (but only one round for percussionists, so if you’re a beatboxer, you’ve got less to worry about!)


Due to the COVID-19 situation, this year’s auditions were held online. Resonance released the audition information on their Instagram about two weeks before the actual audition dates, so check them out at @nusresonance for this year’s audition requirements!


Round 1

The first round of auditions aimed to test a singer’s solo ability, so singers were required to choose a song and come prepared with one verse and one chorus.

During this round, the audition judges test your range as well as your pitch by getting you to sing your lowest and highest notes, and giving you a combination of notes to echo. If you’ve ever taken a piano aural exam, you might be familiar with that last exercise!


Round 2

The second round aims to test their ability to sing a background part, so each auditionee is given a part to sing. This year, singers were given time to practice and record, but Hope tells me that during pre-COVID times, auditionees would form an impromptu group with one person per singing part and perform together.


What’s the skill level required for Resonance?

“Most of the people there have had a little experience singing, but some haven’t been in any kind of group singing CCA.”


With her singing experience stretching from primary school choir all the way to her JC a cappella CCA, Hope seems like the perfect fit for Resonance. But while the auditions may seem daunting, she reassures me that there are plenty of people who join without a background in acapella, or indeed, singing altogether.


“The community’s really focused on learning, so they’ll guide you along the way.”


3. So, should you join Resonance?


At this point, the lights and air-conditioning inside the mall had begun to shut off, a worrying sign that we might not make the last buses home. Walking to the bus stop together as the night drew to a close, I asked Hope how she found the community in Resonance.


Her response was immediate. “My life would be so different without Reso. It’s given me that sense of belonging that I was looking for when I entered uni.”


“My life would be so different without Reso. It’s given me that sense of belonging that I was looking for when I entered uni.”

A full club photo of Resonance. Masks were only removed briefly for this photo. Credit: NUS Resonance



“All of our dinners and suppers before and after practice sessions, goofing around during practices, and hanging out outside Reso after the concert was over… it just helped me feel like I really belong in the community.”


Compiling my notes on the conversation on my bus ride home, I couldn’t help but recall our conversations back in Year 1 about the struggle to find friends during an online semester. I’m so glad Resonance changed that for Hope, and if you're thinking about joining this year, I hope it will do the same for you. My only piece of advice: grab a cup, channel your inner Anna Kendrick, and go for it!



If you’re interested in being a part of this musical community, check NUS Resonance out on Instagram at @nusresonance for more updates on their upcoming auditions!

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