Camp A cappella

Where to start?

We drove up to camp at about 12:30. I was extremely nervous on the way there, this being my first real overnight camp experience. I must’ve triple-checked and triple-thought through every thing I brought with me during the 30-minute drive between the campground and Wright State University. After registering, the family walked me up to my dorm room. I got lucky with my room number - room 321. After I got my stuff unpacked, we walked around the Student Union next door for probably an hour, trying to find the Apollo Room, where the final concert would be held. We were finally successful. Our investigation finished, I walked the family back out to the truck, and walked away, watching as they pulled out. I had this really weird feeling of alone-ness.

I wandered back to my room. After discovering the dorms had wifi, I FaceTimed Joel to get my mind off my alone-ness. We must’ve talked for 45 minutes. It was about 2:45 when I left my room. On my way back from the restroom, I noticed a few guys chatting in the lounge in the middle of the floor. I sat down and started chatting with them. We sat around talking until 3:30, which is when orientation began. After following Matt Koehler, the camp administrator, to an outdoor amphitheater, we were introduced to the camp staff, including the small ensemble leaders. They then read off the names in each small ensemble and told us where to go to meet our group. When I arrived, I found two of the guys I had talked with in the lounge were in my group. After we went around the group introducing ourselves, we were told the songs we would be doing - Stole My Heart by One Direction (not a popular announcement among the guys) and California Dreaming by The Mamas and the Papas (much better received). After our short time with these groups, we moved over to the Student Union for dinner (not the normal place, but an acid spill elsewhere on campus had thrown everything off).

During dinner, I sat with kids out of my small group, and a couple others - one of which I had invited over to our table (he was wearing a fedora like myself, so he couldn’t be that weird). Halfway through dinner, I realized how much I already loved the camp.

Icebreakers, which was scheduled next, didn’t work as planned, due to a thunderstorm. So 200+ people were crowded into a lobby that could realistically/comfortably hold 100-125. We were supposed to introduce ourselves to a total of 15 people, stating our name, where we were from, what part we sang, and one other question which changed and didn’t really matter. I only really met 11 people, as I didn’t talk that fast. Really, only one or two of the people I met during that time I actually got to know a little bit.

The next part was large ensemble sectionals. The basses - all 30ish of us - crammed into a single room, overloading the AC. We all sang as we sweated. It was amazing how long that hour felt - longest hour of the entire week. When we finally finished, we went to watch a concert by a group called Forte - also indoors in the same lobby, due to the afore-mentioned acid spill. 200 people in the lobby also didn’t work with the AC, so it was still over-warm. That concert was hard to hear without mics. When we were finally released from that concert, they brought in pizza and we ate and socialized. When I finally got back upstairs, I thought I’d fall asleep easily. Nope. I remember seeing 3 AM pass by.

I woke up the next morning surprisingly not exhausted. Breakfast was good but felt like too much time was allotted for it. After that, I made my way over to Schuster Hall, where large group things happened. Matt Koehler went over the schedule, and, after vocal warmups, we separated into our first aca-majors.

My morning class was Advanced Vocal Percussion (VP). I walked up, only to find Kurt Zimmerman (VP for Street Corner Symphony) had thought the morning class was Beginning VP, meaning his planning was messed up. We started by learning the inward K-snare (which I had already figured out), and ended on breath control.

We went from our aca-major to our first real small ensemble practice. Pretty early on, I heard the moment that it really clicked where I was - when the two soprano parts were sung together. That was the moment of “oh my gosh, it’s actually happening”. And when everybody put their parts together for the first time, I got slight goosebumps. At some point, we separated out into guys and girls to get some of our parts down.

At lunch, the other VP in the group and I were chatting about the beats in the songs as we waited for the line to clear out enough for us to get to the front. As we talked, Rachel Chalhoub, the beatboxer from Element, walked up behind us and started talking with us. Another moment of “this camp is awesome”.

From there, we went to our afternoon aca-major. I choose Live Recording as mine. Tuesday was spent going over the basics, as my instructor didn’t have a chance to set up the studio the night before due to the - say it with me - acid spill.

The afternoon small ensemble was a bit more of the same, going over different parts. I sang second tenor for Stole My Heart, with our other VP doing the drums for that song. It was awesome.

We then moved on to large ensemble. After some talking, we sang for the first time as a large group. I got huge goose bumps from hearing everybody sing together, and choked up for a moment. Oh, my gosh. It was amazing.

Dinner was more of the same as lunch. I chatted with a few guys at the table, but I ate to fill. I wandered back to my room for a short while. At about 20 minutes before our “fun time” was supposed to start, one of my friends popped his head into my room. “We gotta go now. It’s gonna pour.”

We almost made it. Almost. With about 100 feet to go, it did pour. This threw off the fun time, and we instead broke off into small ensembles again. We had about an hour, which we rather needed at that point. At least I was having a hard time staying on pitch.

Our next and final scheduled item of the day was watching Pitch Perfect. While I wasn’t a big fan of the, ahem, no-so-clean sections, hearing all the campers harmonize instead of singing the same thing. Also, hearing some extra information from one of the actors himself was awesome.Wednesday was another awesome day. I still don’t remember much about the meals. Full camp was still fun. While the warmups didn’t sound like much, it was still awesome to hear everybody singing the same thing.

Wednesday was a lot like Tuesday. We did actually record in recording class. The programs used for that were amazing. Also, Wednesday was the day my small group started throwing a Nerf football and a Frisbee around together. Indoors. (The room had padded walls.) By the end of the week, my group became as tight-knit as any that week. I had gained an “aca-family”.

Right before large ensemble on Wednesday, one of the camp leaders announced each group had to perform part of one of their songs. At that point, we didn’t even have a soloist. We had half an hour to figure it out after dinner.

Talent show tryouts happened on Wednesday. I wanted to enter, but I didn’t have an act until about 15 minutes after auditions started. I was waiting in line for dinner, when a guy I was chatting with started doing a vocal trumpet. A moment later, a couple bass singers had a jazz lick going, I had a beat, and we had an a cappella jazz quartet, formed in line for food. The incredulous faces of the kids around us were awesome.

That night, the performance was Forefront barbershop quartet. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as other performances, but it was actually really, really well done.

We then had to perform our songs. Without mics. In an outdoor amphitheater. I was nervous as heck going into the show. There were some really good performances that night (some of which were actually better than the final product). I think my group did very, very well. We had fun, we sang well, and we worked well as a group.

Thursday kept following the same pattern. We played VP knockout in Kurt’s class, where you have a beat and you have to keep it going, one sound per person. I made the top 4, and called myself out after messing up the tempo. We also started California Dreaming on Thursday. I didn’t have a whole lot to do the first day, since we were figuring out the singing parts and this was my VP song. I did work with Mike Viruet, an actor from Pitch Perfect, on the beatbox for that song, which was awesome. We also had our One Direction song choreographed, which was fun, although it was difficult since I was already having a hard time staying on key.

Home Free came to camp on Thursday night. They held a Q&A session for the campers, and most of the questions were a cappella related, nothing ridiculous from the “adoring fangirls” (and fanboys) in the audience. Also, directly after the session, the VPs went to a second Q&A with Adam Rupp, the VP. It was weird hearing him talk, as most of the time during performances, he doesn’t talk.

The talent show that night was really, really well done. Everything from Obama impersonations to guitar playing to beatbox-bass combos to stand-up comedians. After the campers finished their performances, the staff did a few. Christopher Diaz, Kurt Zimmerman, and Shane Coe did an… hmmm. An interpretive dance? Maybe? Chris read a chapter of some book, Kurt had a beat, and Shane danced to the words. My favorite was the last performance of them all. Mike Viruet, Mike Jankowski, and Kurt Zimmerman performed Hallelujah with a guitar, beatbox, and bass singer, and had people sing along.

Friday, we practiced our tails off on small ensemble songs. We just kept running them through again and again, which was awesome, just hearing how much we had accomplished in 4 full days. The classes wrapped up a few things. We auditioned for large ensemble parts, which I didn’t get any of. We just had a ball.

That night at dinner, I was able to sit down and have a great conversation with Kurt and Bri Holland. That conversation alone is why I love the a cappella community. Everybody’s just so open to outsiders, willing to share their craft.

That night was the Home Free concert. I might be in the minority, but, while the concert was fun, I thought all the performances were equally awesome throughout the week.

Friday night was hangout night in the boy’s dorm, floor 3. Everybody brought out their extra food, and we had a snack buffet at 11:30 at night. The guys separated into two groups - those that were doing crazy, caffeine-induced stuff, like jumping over chairs and whacking each other with chair cushions, and those (including me), who just sat around talking and throwing an orange around. On a side note, a small orange feels right when you catch it.

Saturday was weird. Because it was soundcheck and performance day, and due to my schedule, I actually got to sleep in. I ate breakfast without really realizing what I was doing (sleep deprivation and nerves). I got a shower in (my first morning one), and packed my stuff up. I went down to the lobby about 30 minutes early, and chatted with my group - we were the last ones left, since we were the last sound check. We ended up there a couple groups early, so we were able to practice beforehand. Our soundcheck showed a couple problems with mics, but overall it sounded awesome to actually be on mic like that for the first time in my life. We were cut short halfway through California Dreaming.

Soundcheck for large ensemble was a bit nerve-wracking. 200 people on a stage that could realistically fit 100. The entire stage was shaking. We sounded good enough, but I was happy when we got back off stage.

The show then began. My nerves started anew. We were the last high school group to perform, so we got to wait through everybody else before we finally came up. It was really, really fun. It helped that the lights shined right into my eyes, so I couldn’t see the audience. I loved that performance, but it was saddening, too, to realize it was the last time I’d perform with that group.

Large ensemble was, again, nerve-wracking. The lights were swaying. I thought someone was gonna get hurt. However, when we finished our last song, it hit me. Camp was over. Possibly the best week of my life was finished. Who knows when I’d see these teens again? Getting my stuff was also somewhat difficult, because of both the crowd and the emotions.

I walked out of that building a different person than I walked in. That week both confirmed that this was what I wanted to do with my life, and instilled a drive to make it happen. I will return to Camp A cappella as many years as I can. I had such a blast there, and learned so much, that the money I spent was more that earned back. Thank you, Camp A cappella, for an amazing week.

Large ensemble

Large ensemble

With Christopher Diaz

With Christopher Diaz

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