Sing Freely

UH Hilo starts its very first a cappella group on campus

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge

Editor’s Note: The author is a member of the a cappella group.

As a group of newly initiated members of HI Notes, UH Hilo’s first on-campus a cappella group, there are many steps needed in the process of becoming a part of something so monumental. There are individual auditions, group auditions, learning the music, and, finally, learning to care about the others in the group. That’s something that makes HI Notes unique. The most encouraging aspect of the group itself is the dedication each member must put into the end result.

As any group of diverse beings might expect, there are going to be struggles of understanding and accepting the reality of the differences amongst a variety of cultures, classes, and religions that make up the whole. One way HI Notes has combated this is through placing a heavy emphasis on team-building and bonding exercises.

A typical week for the a cappella members involves six hours of rehearsal time, not including extra time to go over musical parts or memorize the sheet music. Something that has been brought up from the beginning is the idea of accepting everyone where they are in their vocal journey.

“I feel like the main purpose of this group is really to bring out the talents that people may shy away from,” says Jordan Ancheta, vice president of HI Notes. “There might be some people who are just nervous or scared about their talents because oftentimes people are ridiculed for even learning to sing, and in the early stages it gets really hard, but I believe this group is a very good starting point for beginners, intermediates, and even people who are advanced.”

Despite the fact that the group often spends a large percentage of the regular three-hour rehearsals on learning how to read music and checking in with one another, the members don’t seem to regret it.

“I think a cappella is great for fostering a sense of community and harmony, both literally and figuratively,”

says Denali Kirk, musical director of HI Notes, emphasizing how much he looks forward to practice during a busy week.

Getting to the business of singing and memorizing the required parts of a song can be a big challenge, especially with a very varied group in terms of vocal experience. The first performance is set to be on March 6 at Relay for Life between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Campus Center Plaza. The second performance will be on March 11 between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. and will be a recurring monthly event.

Although the first performance is coming up quickly, the group’s president, Tom Clemen Rafanan, has confidence that they’ll rise to the occasion, despite the fact that many members are beginners. “Getting them to the level of the veterans is always a challenge,” Rafanan says, “but seeing their growth so far, I have no doubts that we’ll be ready by March 6.”

“The life of the party, of course, is Tom,” says Caden Christensen, a member of HI Notes. “He’s the one who started the whole group and it’s his senior project. I think it started as a small idea, but it really grew into this awesome thing where we all share this awesome camaraderie.”

Rafanan got the vision to start this group when he went on exchange to California State University Northridge and joined their a cappella group, called Vocal Percussion Radio (VPR). According to Rafanan, they provided him with a safe environment of friendly people, so he decided to make a space like that at UH Hilo where people can sing freely, without judgment, and instill courage in newcomers to a capella.

“Although Tom’s the face of the club,” continues Christensen, “we are all the different running parts that make it this big thing.” The group started off with some wary roots, but they quickly found themselves in a safe environment with an allowance of free expression.

“I feel like the Performing Arts Department doesn’t get as much acknowledgement as it should here at UH Hilo,” says Rafanan. “UH Hilo excels in natural sciences and astronomy, but no one really mentions performing arts here, and so I thought that starting the a cappella group would be a great way for the department to get visibility.” He points out that a cappella can be more difficult because it is a choir without accompaniment and other typical singing accoutrements.

As a part of the foundation of the first a cappella group at UH Hilo, many members hope that the group will become a long-lasting legacy of a cappella, but that doesn’t come without the challenges of starting it up and focusing on community building.