No Music, No Problem

WCC’s Deaftones sing pop a cappella

By Paul Szaniawski

There is quite a variety of ways to make music at Westminster Choir College (WCC) including a 40-year-old church organ, a state of the art grand piano that recognizes accuracy, more classical instruments than residence hall rooms and a student who makes Police Academy Michael Winslow-like noises with his mouth.

Graduate student Mark Silverburg is a member of Westminster’s only completely student-run organization known as the Deaftones, an a cappella singing group. A cappella is the act of making music without instruments present. Silverburg’s job is to make most of the background music behind his singing mates’ vocals.

“I really wanted to be it,” he said. “I love vocal percussion.”

The rest of the vocal responsibility — use of timed lyrics (imagine a grade school class singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with groups jumping in at different intervals) — falls on the Deaftones’ other 11 members.

The current singing troupe has been together since September. Graduate student Patrick Dillon brought the idea of a pop-singing a cappella group to WCC. At his alma mater, William and Mary University, he was in a similar singing group. Two years ago, he brought the idea with a few of The Deaftones’ current members.

“We’re the first and only pop a cappella group at Westminster,” said sophomore Erina Pearlstein.

That is probably because the group strays far from the classical pedigree Westminster was founded on.

“I think one of the best parts about this is we’re showing everyone that Westminster is more than just opera and classical music,” said junior Ashley DiStefano. “A lot of us just love pop music so much and we don’t get to show that here.”

The Deaftones performs such pop tunes as “Mr. Brightside,” “Addicted,” “We Built This City” and “Beautiful Day.” The group’s favorite song to perform is “Shadowlands” from the Broadway musical The Lion King.

“This is almost an escape for us,” said senior Jessica Tomsko. “We’re surrounded every day by really hard classes, classical music, voice lessons and practicing for our recitals. It’s a stressful environment. So to come here and sing pop music, and for it [to be] okay at Westminster, [is] fun.”

What started out as fun has turned into a successful hobby. The Deaftones competed at a college a cappella singing competition called Varsity Vocals on February 21 at Drexel University. The competition was against five groups including Deep Treble from Rutgers and Sounds of Pleasure from Pittsburgh.

Even though each member has held lead roles in productions and recitals, it was their first taste of an a cappella contest.

“I think one of the most amazing things is that we have all been performing for years and the minute that we got backstage we were all so nervous,” said DiStefano. “I was shaking through the first two songs.”

The Deaftones may have had an unfair advantage. The group doesn’t just go to WCC for the view. Going to a singing performance school may have helped. Their notes grabbed first place.

“We knew we were going to do well, but we really didn’t expect to win,” said junior Amanda Pascale. “We were just thrilled. We were very excited.”

Competitions are judged on many song arrangements, choreography and the head singer’s performance. The group holds auditions for all singing parts for each song.

However, there is one role is designated for the same person everything and needs no audition.
“I guess I’m the vocal percussion guy,” said Silverburg.

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