“I Want You Back:” A Capella Returns to Swarthmore

Photograph by Best Chantanapongvanij

On Friday, Nov. 5, a cappella returned to Swarthmore’s campus after a nearly two-year absence. Each of Swarthmore’s four a cappella groups — OffBeat, Grapevine, Mixed Company, and Sixteen Feet — performed in the event.

Every semester, the a cappella performance season starts off with the “bell sing,” a short concert which takes place in the iconic bell-tower. In the weeks following, the groups then have individual concerts in Upper Tarble and finish off the year together with a communal show, “Jambo,” during reading week. Unfortunately, a cappella was put on hold over the past three semesters over COVID concerns. 

This hiatus made the tunes of student voices all the more sweet. OffBeat started the concert off strong with a fun rendition of Miley Cyrus’s “Golden G String,” featuring a solo by Angela Gil ’25, and followed with Hozier’s “Nina Cried Power” showcasing Chase Smith ’22. After their enthusiastic performance, we can all look forward to OffBeat hosting the upcoming semester’s Jambo.

Up next, Grapevine crooned Olivia Rodrigo’s “Jealousy, Jealousy,” soloed by Jiwoo Choi ’25, and The Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You,” featuring Victoria Kussman ’22. Grapevine is historically a women-only group, although that description has since loosened. Charmingly, the members always wear purple articles of clothing to emulate their namesake, and they continued this classic tradition on Friday.

Mixed Company performed “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles, soloed by Bethany Bronkema ’22 and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” showcasing Nyssa Welshans ’25. Mixed Company, one of the oldest a cappella groups at Swarthmore, is considered by many the most technically proficient.

Finally, Sixteen Feet rounded us out with “Starfish and Coffee” by Prince, featuring a solo by Chris Stone ’23. The group, historically male-only, draws its name from the tradition of the eight members singing without shoes on, revealing sixteen bare feet. (These singers also bring us the vocals behind Ninjagrams.) Unfortunately, they remained conspicuously shoe-clad at the bell sing.

After a year without any auditions for prospective members, the groups included an impressive mix of familiar and new faces, with two first years featured in solos. It’s heartening to see that the a cappella traditions will be continued in the upcoming years. Even the arrangements come from a mix of past and current members.

“We have this binder of songs that have been arranged in the past,” Bethany Bronkema ’22 of Mixed Company explained. “And then usually at each concert we try to have two or three arrangements. This semester, Quincy [Ponvert ’23] arranged one of our songs and Rivers [Redclay ’23] arranged one of our songs.”

A large crowd came to support the singers. While the support was great to see, those stuck at the back had a difficult time hearing the music. The auditory difficulties were exacerbated by the behavior of many of the audience members, who entered and exited during songs or talked in the background. For those that don’t know, a reminder: it’s proper etiquette to wait until a song has finished before engaging in disruptive behavior! This is particularly true during an instrument-less concert performed outside and with no mics. To make matters worse, every fifteen minutes, the bells chimed in with an arrogant interruption.

Despite these momentary distractions, the experience was truly magical. The misty, slightly chilly air carried the sweet bell-tower acoustics of fresh voices. The audience, trying their best to hear every note, collectively leaned in and held their breath to listen. Truly a wonderful return to one of Swarthmore’s most beloved traditions.

“We were trying to make sure we were in a spot that everyone could see and hear. It was definitely very exciting that people remembered that the a cappella groups existed,” Bronkema said, smiling.

“It was a lovely event. The performances rocked and it was nice seeing so many people come out to support their friends,” agreed Kai Petkov ’22.

Three of the a cappella groups will have concerts in the upcoming weeks. Mixed Company will be performing Thursday, Nov. 11 7 PM in Upper Tarble; Offbeat will perform Friday Nov. 12 8 PM at the Friends Meeting House; and Grapevine will perform Friday, Nov. 19 8 PM.

Rachel Lapides

Rachel Lapides is a sophomore from New York City studying English and Psychology. She loves plants and is slowly turning her dorm room into a garden.

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