A First-Year Impression of A Cappella at CC

By ZACHA FOX

The Back Row, Colorado College’s only all-male a cappella group, is known throughout the school for their performances during prospective student weekends, orientation, and their bi-annual concerts.  Many current members of the group were enthralled and inspired to join after seeing the group perform, but first-year Reilly Williams had missed all of the shows and was instead drafted into The Back Row by a current member at the time.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Williams, originally from Lincoln, Neb., only “sang when nobody was listening up until freshman year of high school,” when he was recruited for his school’s choir program. “This 6-foot-something man came up to me with this booming voice and said, ‘Join freshman choir,’” Williams explained. “And I said, ‘Yeah, okay I’ll do it! Whatever you want!’” Williams said he “kind of got scared into joining” and ended up singing in organized groups for the rest of high school.

Similarly, Williams got to CC with no intentions of joining an a cappella group, but he “got over it and decided to do something that [he] actually [enjoyed]” after Roo Smith ’20 approached him, asking, “Do you like singing? Join this group!” When asked in his audition to supplement his song with a joke or funny story, he told them how one of his friends from home had reminded him that morning of his request to “shoot me in the head if I ever join an a cappella group.”

Despite his hesitation, Williams loved performing with The Back Row in their winter concert last Friday night. “My overall favorite thing so far was probably being on stage,” he said. “I did a lot of performing in high school. When I walked onto stage right for the show and saw all of the red pulleys on the wall, I got so excited because it felt so familiar.”

Although first-semester first-years aren’t usually allowed to perform solos, several of the new members had featured roles in this show. Williams was able to search through the overstuffed binder of arrangement archives to find one for “Hey Jude,” which he ended up singing on Friday. The excitement from the show has already inspired him to start looking at songs for the group’s next performance. “I was thinking about doing ‘Kiss’ by Prince, in the original key,” Williams said. “I sang it last year; I had a solo for the introduction.”

He’s also toying with his audition song, “Brown Skin Girl” by Leon Bridges, and a combined arrangement of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from “My Fair Lady” and “Sweater Weather” by The Neighborhood. “I like musicals,” he said, “and I would love to sing something from one of their soundtracks. Leon Bridges is also really great. He’s this contemporary artist, and you can tell that his influences harken back to Marvin Gaye.”

Williams wasn’t even aware that there were other a cappella groups to join at CC, but he knew that Back Row was the right fit. “After I left the audition, I knew that if I got accepted I would be happy to be in this group,” he said. When asked what he thinks the all-male aspect lends to the group dynamic, he said that if he were to compare The Back Row to Ellement, CC’s all-female singing group, “Being an all-guy group is less organized. On the other hand, we’re not as competitive as they seem, and it’s nice to go to rehearsal and be relaxed.  One of the challenges is that a group like this really needs members with classical knowledge, and Josh [Zambrano, the group’s president] is the only one who’s literate in that way. He basically runs everything in that department, but I’m thinking of taking some piano lessons soon,” Williams said.

Williams also noted the bonding effect that the winter concert had on the group. “It’s nice to know people, you know, especially people who have similar interests,” he said. “After the concert, we’re buds. We have a great group of dudes and a really fun group chat that gets wily sometimes.”

As a fixture of CC’s musical culture, The Back Row makes themselves visible to the student body. They will give a spring concert and other assorted performances throughout the rest of the school year, in addition to auditions that will be held for new members next semester.

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