P.J. Heckman is fairly certain that he only got into the Deaftones because of his looks.
After all, the second-year graduate student at Westminster Choir College (WCC) showed up to auditions for the a cappella choir wearing a tuxedo.
“I auditioned coming straight from a wedding reception in my tuxedo and I sang Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab,’” he said. “I didn’t expect to get in because I was just having fun with it.”
Maybe it was the tux, maybe it was his enthusiasm. Either way, Heckman couldn’t be happier to be a part of the Deaftones, the a cappella choir that has been shaking up the Princeton campus for three years. It’s also a great time to be a Deaftone, considering the ensemble is only a day away from a regional competition, he said.
“I always liked what the Deaftones were about, but I didn’t have the time to do it [as an undergrad],” he said. “Coming back [as a graduate student] gave me that opportunity.”
That’s exactly what the Deaftones aim to do: pique student interest in a cappella music, according to junior Rini Pearlstein, a sacred music major and the choir’s director.
“Our school’s full of people that love to listen to Sondheim and Verdi, and we’re all about pop music and bringing that modern edge to our school,” she said.
Tomorrow night, the group will travel to Drexel University for the International Championship of A Cappella (ICCA) quarterfinals; last year, it won first place and went on to place third in the semifinals. The Deaftones will compete against six other groups in the Mid-Atlantic region.
For the competition, the Deaftones have arranged, rehearsed and choreographed three pop songs: “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin, “Limits of Our Love” by Charlotte Martin and “Makes Me Wonder” by Maroon 5.
“It’s pretty selective,” Pearlstein said. “I went to see the nationals last year, and the girls that won from Bingham Young University were fantastic. The choreography, the uniform, everything.”
Billy Mattison, a junior music education and sacred music major, is a little less nervous than Pearlstein.
“There’s a lot of fine-tuning to go through, but I think overall we feel more prepared,” he said.
However, the road to competition has been a little bumpy, Heckman admitted. The Deaftones have only been rehearsing since late January, and rehearsals don’t always go as smoothly as planned.
“First, people show up a couple minutes late,” he said. “Then we’d sing some and then we’d talk a lot, and then we’d sing again. Then Rini would sit us down and tell us how there’s a competition coming up and finally we would sing and it would sound really good.”
Second-year graduate student Marc Silverberg, a music education major and one of the vocal percussionists, said Heckman’s description is completely accurate.
“Everyone is really good friends and it’s very difficult,” he said. “There’s times where it magically works and there’s time that we’re talking so much that we have to focus.”
Heckman is hoping that the Deaftones’ enthusiasm will carry them through, especially during its closing number, “Makes Me Wonder.”
“[The song is] really solid in terms of the harmonies that are going on, the soloist and the dancing,” he said. “It’s our most showy and all around interesting piece.”
Win or lose tomorrow, Silverberg takes pride in knowing the Deaftones bring something completely unique to WCC.
“There are stylistic attributes and social attributes that you really just can’t find on this conservatory,” he said. “We know how to fine-tune musical things, while most a cappella groups are made of non-music majors.”