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A cappella course.

Byline: Jack Heffernan The Register-Guard

The growing interest in a cappella singing among middle school and high school students - pushed along by such popular entertainment as the "Pitch Perfect" movies and "Glee" TV show - swept through the University of Oregon campus on Sunday.

Eleven students in grades 6-12 participated in an inaugural "Aca-College" workshop at the UO School of Music and Dance. Members of the university's three a cappella groups - Divisi (women), On the Rocks (men) and Mind the Gap (coed) - taught the basics of a cappella, provided information about college-level singing, practiced group and individual songs, and, at the end of the day, included the students in part of Mind the Gap and Divisi's performance.

Elizabeth Wisely, 13, a soon-to-be eighth-grader at Cal Young Middle School in Eugene, said one of her favorite parts of the all-day workshop was playing a game called "Circle Jam."

The game requires participants to stand in a circle, where they are either given a verse to sing or an instrument sound to make with their mouths. One person starts with their verse or sound, and everyone else in the circle follows in order. By the end, everyone in the circle is a participant in the song.

"The energy of everybody was there, and that was fun," Wisely said.

Madison Kettwig and Ayantu Megerssa, both 20-year-old former members of Divisi, have been planning the Aca-College event for the past month. Organizers publicized the workshop with emails to 80 schools and visits to 10 throughout the state, Kettwig said. The long-range plan is to make the workshop an annual event.

Kettwig said the $60 fee students paid to attend Sunday's workshop will fund some of the costs of creating Divisi's newest album, "Shots Fired," which was released May 30.

"Pitch Perfect 2," the latest movie to celebrate college-level a cappella competition, is based on a 2008 book written by Mickey Rapkin under the same name. In the book, Rapkin chronicles his experiences following three college a cappella groups during the 2006-07 school year.

One of the groups featured in his book: Divisi.

Both the college and younger singers acknowledged that movies and television shows have brought the a cappella genre into the national spotlight.

"It makes people want to be involved because it's something they've seen on TV," Mind the Gap singer Macy Hyland said.

But some a cappella singers said some parts of the movie - especially the cut-throat nature of the competitions - are not realistic.

"The movie was extremely disappointing," Kettwig said. "It's hard to watch something like that. Hollywood had its way in that respect."

Much of what the younger students, many of whom had never been introduced to a cappella firsthand, learned Sunday was likely different than what they had previously seen on the screen.

"It's a fun way to take them from what they've seen through Hollywood to showing them how it really is," Kettwig said. Mikayla Hanson, 17, a soon-to-be-senior who sings in the choir at Beaverton High School, drove almost two hours Sunday morning to attend the workshop. One of the most important things she said she learned was how to "blend the sound" of everyone in the group.

Mikayla said she hopes to start an a cappella group at her high school next school year and is considering attending the UO and auditioning to be a member of Mind the Gap.

Lessons from the workshop are "definitely something I want to take home to my school," Mikayla said. "I want to give it the opportunity to grow in high school."

While a cappella singing groups have become almost common on college campuses, Megerssa said she hopes high school groups will begin to enjoy the same popularity.

"I think it's just going to take initiative," Megerssa said. "Kids and teachers in high school need to take it upon themselves to start these programs."

Follow Jack on Twitter @JackT Heffernan. Email jack.heffernan@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:University Of Oregon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 15, 2015
Words:655
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