Hitting a High Note

By Aaliyah Weathers

Hitting a High Note

By Aaliyah Weathers
Student a cappella group BisCaydence wins quarterfinals and advances to the next round in the international competition made famous by Pitch Perfect.

Four years ago, when Amanda Davidson and Kent Barnhill joined BisCaydence as freshmen, the a cappella group wasn’t the least bit competitively minded.

“Our motto was shoot for fourth—because even that was an unattainable goal,” Barnhill joked of the group’s attitude toward the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, which announces only first through third place.

Now as seniors on the BisCaydence executive board, Davidson and Barnhill are celebrating the group’s first-place win in the regional quarterfinals of the ICCA competition, which has become a household name thanks to the hit film series Pitch Perfect.

BisCaydence, originally founded in 2011, is one of the four a cappella groups at the University of Miami operating under the Voices of UM umbrella organization. Each group has somewhat of a distinct style that influences its song selection and overall tone. BisCaydence describes its style as pop with a twist, arranging popular music to fit the group’s collective voice.

The group has always strived to have fun and bond through music, but this year the 18 student members began to take themselves and their preparation more seriously. Instead of picking a handful of unrelated songs, they focused on songs they could weave together to convey an emotional arc relating to love, heartbreak, and longing. With two members arranging the music and four handling the choreography, they thought they would have ample time to prepare. Then the group received an email over winter break announcing the quarterfinals had been moved up by a week to January 27.

“We had 22 hours of rehearsal in 11 days,” Barnhill said of the time crunch for the group to learn and choreograph the set. “We were changing things in the parking lot the morning before we were performing.”

“You’re only as good as your weakest link, and everybody rose to the occasion,” said sophomore Christina Martino. And they did, not only as a group but also with individual members winning every special category of the competition: outstanding soloist, arrangement, vocal percussion, and choreography.

BisCaydence members come from disciplines all across the University. About half are in the Frost School of Music, while others have majors ranging from marketing to marine biology. Team building and bonding comes with frequent rehearsals, and members not only develop friendships but also learn how to be a collaborative community of musicians.

“Everything’s run by us,” Davidson said. “We arrange everything, we come up with our own choreography.”

Two music directors are tasked with improving the group’s performance. They slip notes of guidance to members during rehearsals, such as “Keep a cool demeanor if you mess up” and “Don’t switch mics when standing still.”

Barnhill, a music education major, originally joined the group as a hobby to keep his love of music fun and fresh, but now his position as music director falls directly in line with his career aspirations to become a choral director.

“I get to hone my skills while helping others hone their musical skills too, which is kind of what I am in school for,” he said.

Some BisCaydence members came to the University seeking out a cappella because of their prior a cappella or choir involvement in high school. For others, a cappella found them.

“At the end of my freshman year I went to go see BisCaydence in Storer Auditorium,” said senior Will Ahlemeier. “They did a cover of the theme song from Holes, and I got goosebumps all over my body. I was like, I need to be a part of this.” 

Unlike most of the group, music is a relatively new part of Ahlemeier’s life. He taught himself to beatbox in high school as something fun to do with his friends, but now it’s much more than a party trick.

“When I got here, I realized there was a more serious application for [beatboxing], like I could actually hone my skills, make my sounds better, work on my timing and my dynamic movement within my sounds,” said Ahlemeier, who won the ICCA special award for vocal percussion this year.

Still, the ICCAs aren’t the only thing keeping the group busy. They do frequent on campus concerts as well as special performances, such as singing at a Florida Panthers game and a local advance screening of Pitch Perfect 3, a television appearance on NBC 6, and even opening up for Jay Leno when his comedy tour stopped in Fort Lauderdale. In 2017 the group recorded its very first album, Above the Current, with mash-ups from the year’s repertoire.

“We were able to get it up on Spotify, which increased our visibility, and a lot of our new members even said they discovered us on Spotify,” said Barnhill.

This semester BisCaydence is deep in rehearsal for the ICCA semifinals on March 31 in North Carolina. But with the ICCA quarterfinal win and a debut album under their belt, BisCaydence is building a following as they go from underdogs to worthy contenders.