A Cappella Groups

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Photo: Jeff Miller.

The newly released Pitch Perfect 2, a musical comedy that follows a collegiate a cappella group’s quest to be the best at an international competition, features a guest performance from five Green Bay Packers.

It could have just as easily cast Wisconsin Badgers.

A cappella — which means “in chapel style” in Italian, but is better known as the musical style of singing without instruments — has been a campus staple since the 1990s. It’s not a uniquely UW phenomenon; collegiate a cappella is thought to date back to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Glee Club in 1873 and Yale University’s Whiffenpoofs in 1909. The MadHatters didn’t stake a claim as the UW’s first established a cappella troupe until 1997.

But between the early 1990s and the 2000s, the two hundred or so collegiate a cappella groups multiplied sixfold, according to Mickey Rapkin’s Pitch Perfect book, on which the hit films of the same name are loosely based. The UW campus saw six ensembles of its own sprout up: the MadHatters (whose alumnus, Andrew Fitzpatrick ’11, made the cast of Pitch Perfect 2); Tangled Up in Blue, an all-women’s group founded in 1998; Redefined, a coed group founded in 2001; Fundamentally Sound, an all-men’s group founded in 2005; Jewop, the aptly named coed Jewish group founded in 2010 (shown here); and Pitches and Notes, another all-women’s group founded in 2010.

The ensembles each contribute a unique flair to the campus’s a cappella subculture and cover a wide range of music, from oldies to today’s top hits. They frequently release albums and perform at benefit concerts, weddings, sporting events, and popular local venues such as the Orpheum Theater and Overture Center for the Arts. Last fall, the groups teamed up for the BadgerThon A Cappella Showcase, which raised more than $3,600 for the American Family Children’s Hospital. Their music has even reached the interior of the White House, as the MadHatters have twice serenaded President Barack Obama’s holiday party guests.

And if regularly sold-out crowds with borderline groupies are any indication, this collegiate craze shouldn’t have any trouble — or dare we say treble? — sticking around campus for years to come.

Published in the Summer 2015 issue

Tags: Campus history, music, Student life

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