by Will Li (’23) | October 11, 2021
What happens when you mix avocados with singing? The answer is Guacapella, Saint Francis’ competitive a cappella ensemble.
The group’s idiosyncratic title is the catchy creation of past leaders, according to president Clarissa Chen (’22). Also dubbed “A Side of Guacapella,” the ensemble sports the avocado as its mascot. Guacapella prides itself on hosting Acaparty!, a virtual congregation where a cappella groups, including ones from Colorado and Michigan, performed live in May.
“[Acaparty!] is a great thing we’ve contributed as a club to our music program,” said Chen. “It was really beautiful to share our gifts.”
Currently, the audition-chosen ensemble of eighteen rehearses twice a week in Saint Francis’ band room, once before and once after school. Rehearsals consist of learning and practicing different parts—such as alto and soprano—of songs in a diverse repertoire that emphasizes pop music but also includes Broadway and Christmas tunes. Unlike other vocal groups, Guacapella’s songs do not include background accompaniments; singers must create instrumentals using their own voices.
The singers are now preparing to perform at Saint Francis’ Open House on October 17, according to new member Chloé den Hartog (’22).
Guacapella is also working to submit audition videos of Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” by October 15 for the International Championship of High School A Cappella—the high school rendition of the competition in the movie Pitch Perfect—and the Best of High School A Cappella competition.
Competing would allow the singers to better display their talents. According to Justine Emerson (’22), a leader of the group, this year would be the first that the team competed. “We want to inspire people to show them that a cappella is really cool. We’re so cool [that] we’ve even got a competition,” added board member Maria Ana (’23).
Last year, the vocalists held online rehearsals and performed virtually for Saint Francis’ Christmas Showcase. To assemble the final product, singers recorded their individual parts and leaders compiled them using Soundtrap, a versatile music creation app, according to Viyan Dabke (’24). Members then recorded themselves lip syncing to their songs on Zoom, said Emerson.
Nevertheless, the past year-and-a-half proved immeasurably difficult. “It was awkward,” said Dabke. “The timing was off with the internet.”
Emerson felt that it was “very hard to engage everyone.” Sometimes, leaders told members to turn on their cameras and sing to ensure that everyone knew their parts for the final recording, she said. “But we didn’t want to be that way,” she added.
The dilemma of COVID-19 safety was especially pertinent as vocalists returned to campus and practiced in the prayer garden. Singing entailed a “much higher” risk than other activities, said Chen. Receiving approval to return took longer for Guacapella than other clubs. Thus, singing in-person and performing at the Cirque du Saint Francis in April was “special” and “magical”, added Chen.
The group now hopes to perform at even more events, including rallies, Music in the Quad, and potentially a liturgy. Chen also hopes to host Acaparty again in 2022.
This year, the team has been gifted with a new moderator, Liturgy Band director Ms. Alexandra Anderson, who has taught voice classes at San Francisco State University and performed with the San Francisco Opera. “I’m so excited for this role because it’s one that utilizes all my different skills,” she said.
Newcomer and beatboxer Carlos Jison (’24) believes he will also spice up the group. As a beatboxer, Jison said that his voice emulates a drum line that solidifies songs’ rhythm and allows Guacapella to perform a wider repertoire.
All the vocalists feel extremely excited for a fruitful year ahead. “I’m really looking forward,” said Hartog. “Let’s get this party started!”