Amplified A Cappella, one of the University of Arizona's a cappella groups, has faced the pandemic with music. Through singing, Amplified shared its message about climate change and racial issues in UpstagedAID, organized by Upstaged Entertainment Group, one of the biggest virtual college a cappella competitions in history.
The competition's voting began on Sept. 21 with 32 of the top-ranked college a cappella groups. Amplified made into the top 16.
With a regional bracket-style set-up, Amplified is still waiting to know if they make it into the top 8.
“I am so glad we have this opportunity,” said Emily Drum, a music director for Amplified, while explaining that it was very disappointing when the competitions stopped back in March because of the pandemic. “It was devastating.”
Amplified is competing for $10,000 to be donated to a social justice charity of their choice. Amplified choose the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Environmental & Climate Justice Program as its charity because it matches with Amplified’s message.
Over the past years, Amplified has stood out from other a cappella groups because of its relevant messages in songs about racial issues and the relationship between the Earth and human beings.
Drum, who was pursuing a sociology major, said she was always thinking about the world and what was happening in it. Through this thought process, Drum blended both her love of music and passion for sociology as a music director.
“To be just singing about nothing and just making, like, fun music … without a greater message just feels ingenuine, it feels irrelevant,” Drum said. “Music is one of the only ways to give people a tangible feeling of hope."
Alaina Wegner, a UA student and second-year Amplified member, mentioned that Amplified always had deep and relevant messages in the songs they sing.
"Music just has so much meaning behind it, and I think Amplified really tries to emphasize that,” Wegner said.
Since there were no in-person a cappella competitions, Drum mentioned Amplified was working to perfect old arrangements and create music for their new album.
“We are still an active group. I am giving them music, we are learning the music, we are singing it,” Drum said.
Currently, Amplified is doing hybrid rehearsals. According to the group, on Thursdays, they get together by Zoom, and on Sundays, they meet in a parking garage taking all COVID-19 precautions, standing six-feet apart with masks on.
According to Wegner, Zoom rehearsals were pretty much a time set where all Amplified members could be together and practice their parts at a fixed time.
While practicing on Zoom, Amplified members individually recorded themselves on their cellphones and sent the audio to Drum to get feedback from her.
“Being able to experience the music together is something I’m really missing out on,” said Ryan Pittner, a UA student and Amplified member, explaining that it was very hard to learn his part alone.
Grateful for having the opportunity of singing in a parking garage, Drum smiled satisfied that all her work is getting results.
“Getting to hear the result in person has been so amazing,” Drum said.
As the musical director, Drum stated that her position was a lot of work but without having that she would be unhappy, because being in Amplified was something that motivated her to keep going.
“Knowing that, like, a group expects things from me, which can be really, really stressful and a lot of pressure all the time, but if I didn’t have that, I think I would just be really depressed,” Drum said.
Drum was also encouraged by the reactions Amplified's music gets from its audience.
“People are responding to our music and message, so it’s really awesome and encouraging,” Drum said.
Early this year, Amplified opened online auditions to recruit new members. Nowadays, Amplified has a variety of experience levels.
According to Drum and Pittner, working toward building a community with new and old members, Amplified created a buddy system called "Ampli-friends," which means new members are partnered with a random, more experienced member to meet over Zoom or in-person if they feel safe and agree.
“[Music] is very community building,” Wegner said.
In college, many students look forward to creating or being part of a community. Amplified offered that sense of community among its members in which they share similar interests.
“[Amplified] has been my favorite part of college,” Wegner said.
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