The high school’s a cappella program was kickstarted in 2008 by the creation of the group known as Renegade A Cappella. The program as a whole has grown exponentially since then, with the addition of A Cappella Anonymous and Ladies First A Cappella in the fall of 2008, and finally, in 2012, the addition of the fourth and final group: Inchordination A Cappella. Inchordination, more commonly known as Chordz, was formed when a group of seniors approached choral director and now advisor of a cappella, Dr. Kevin McDonald, with the idea of creating a fourth group in order to include even more singers in the a cappella program.
“The truth of the matter is, we didn’t need a fourth a cappella group at that time, because a majority of the needs were already filled with the prior three. But we were listening, and so InChordination was created. They got off to a fairly rocky start, because our program wasn’t quite ready to adopt a fourth group after having three groups for so long. But they were passionate, and they were determined,” said McDonald.
This passion and determination are qualities that run so strongly through the blood of Chordz members that just after that first performance, the group fell into place and improved more and more as time progressed.
“Despite the first three groups having sort of a head start, we hit a real sweet stride about six or seven years ago where there was no indication between our four groups or if one was more advanced than the other, and we’ve functioned there pretty consistently ever since,” said McDonald.
Four well-functioning a cappella groups require a large pool of talented, trained singers coming from the choral department. In order to audition for an a cappella group, students must be members of a choral group here at the high school, which includes Song Sisters, Brooks Brothers, Concert Choir, Keynotes, or Rice Street.
“This is primarily because a cappella was designed to be an extension of the choral program,” said McDonald. “It is through what we do in our choral classes that gives students the skill sets that allow them to be successful when they’re doing things on their own. If they are not part of our core ensembles, they do not get instruction from me on vocal technique, musicianship skills, etc, and it would definitely lower the quality of what a cappella is able to present.”
So, what happened when the COVID-19 pandemic kept eager singers away from in-person rehearsals and concerts? Unfortunately, the choral department dropped from having a total of 300 singers to having a total of 150. So, the a cappella program was tasked with keeping four separate groups afloat with a pool of only half the singers they have in normal years.
“This lack of singers led us to some tough conversations last spring, conversations about possibly cutting an a cappella group. If a cut was necessary, Chordz is the youngest group, and also had the least amount of returning singers for the 2021-2022 school year. So if a group was going to be eliminated, it was going to be Chordz,” said McDonald.
When informed of this impending plan, the 2021-2022 Chordz leaders, Nick Ashraf ’22, Alex Hoskyns ’22, Julia Bandte ’22, and Austin Herlihy ’22, channeled the determination within their Inchordination blood and convinced McDonald and the choral department that there was no reason to cut their group.
“Again, we listened. And, just as they promised, the leaders did a brilliant job creating a very, very solid group. And the performance they did at Acatober this year was nothing short of phenomenal,” said McDonald.
Leadership in a cappella is made up of two different roles: music leaders and business leaders. Ashraf and Hoskyns are the music leaders for Chordz, and they are tasked with arranging songs for the group and making the music cohesive, such as blending and tone.
“I really enjoy arranging for a group, since I get to see my arrangements come to life on a really big stage. Outside of my work, it is mainly up to each individual person to learn my arrangement, which ultimately makes the group successful,” said Hoskyns ’22.
Meanwhile, Bandte and Herlihy, Chordz’ business leaders, plan rehearsal times, help run rehearsals, run the Instagram, take attendance, plan gigs outside of school, and cultivate an enjoyable atmosphere during every rehearsal.
“Being a leader, you get the benefits of being a singer, but also the added benefits—and stress—of being the person tasked with creating a fun atmosphere for everyone. When I was only a singer, I had such a good time because of the people behind the scenes thinking about how they could make rehearsal as fun as possible. So now, as business leader, that’s my job, and it’s so rewarding to watch people enjoy themselves and love being in a cappella, because that’s exactly how I want them to feel,” said Bandte.
Aside from their recognizable determination, members of Chordz do a remarkable job being inclusive and creating a feeling of family. Ashraf, along with every member of Chordz, feels incredibly supported by the community that has been created.
“Obviously, we all sing together and have the best time ever. But it’s even more than that. Sophomore year, I was going to be late for school because I didn’t have a ride, so I just texted in the group chat asking if anybody could drive me, and Christina Wu responded immediately saying she was on her way. Literally anything anybody could ever need, you just drop it in the chat and someone’ll answer,” said Ashraf.
Having this sense of community is part of what makes Chordz’ on stage performance so cohesive and successful. So much of a cappella is rehearsal and planning, but performing is what all the hard work really leads up to.
“My favorite part about being in Chordz has always been performing. It’s a little stressful, but super rewarding getting up on stage and singing in front of hundreds of people. Sometimes it gets competitive between a cappella groups, each one trying to beat the other. At the end of the day, each group is super talented and we all respect each other a lot for what we do,” said Herlihy.
The group’s most recent performance was the annual Acatober concert in October. They are ecstatic to continue performing, which will most formally be at the Step Up concert in the first week of February, followed by Acastock in the first week of March.
“At their most recent concert, Acatober, the group as a whole did a beautiful, beautiful job. And to think that we almost got rid of that group. It’s pretty amazing to see their determination and persistence separate them from other groups, because these other groups haven’t ever had to work as hard to maintain their own livelihood and existence. InChordz brings that to the table and is always working extremely hard to improve,” said McDonald.