Coldplay, Pink, Radiohead, The Thief and Zox are not the typical composers for songs sung by an a cappella group. Jeans, untucked dress shirts, plaid skirts and individual styles are not the typical outfits for performers in a concert.
But Ithaca College’s a cappella group Voicestream has never followed the classic conventions of what is expected of a college singing group — and after seven years of reinventing and rebuilding, the 18-member coed group is progressing toward the success it has always wanted to achieve.
For Voicestream, coupling contemporary songs from the ’90s with a casual yet intensely dedicated group has brought the opportunity to tour at other colleges and high schools.
Voicestream will travel Saturday to Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania to sing with its a cappella group. In the past, the group has also traveled to perform and teach workshops at high schools in the Boston area and in Brattleboro, Vt.
The group is also producing its first album in five years called “Acapocalypse,” scheduled to be released in fall 2009. The CD is a mix of songs the group has performed in the past two years.
Senior and Voicestream President Joe Goodliffe said touring helps expose the group to new ideas and allows them to make their sound more innovative.
“We definitely want to keep going and touring because it’s a very different experience getting to listen to other groups and getting to teach people what we do,” he said.
In the future, the group hopes to enter competitions in the area and would like to see one of the songs from its CD on the “Best of College A Cappella” list, Goodliffe said.
Unlike traditional a cappella groups, Voicestream is made up mostly of nonmusic majors, so the group must overcome the hurdle of working with members that may not be able to read music.
Goodliffe said having less experienced members is both an advantage and a disadvantage, as they often bring a new perspective to the music. But, it also may take extra time to learn a piece.
“It allows more freedom for arrangements,” he said. “Rather than focusing on the pure musicality and the music rules, it’s more about doing it all by ear.”
Voicestream sets itself apart as the college’s only coed group. The mix of nine women and eight men in the group brings diversity and a more rounded sound.
Junior Tia Newsome, the group’s social coordinator, said because it has such a variety of members, Voicestream can avoid catering to the classic expectations of a college a cappella group and focus on a more modern feel.
“We want to branch out and show that everyday modern music can be used as great a cappella pieces,” she said.
Newsome said her favorite song the group performs is “High Time I Got Mine” by The Feast. She said it is a song the group has taken from the radio and brought to the a cappella stage.
“That’s our most complex piece,” Newsome said. “It’s the piece where all the different parts have really fun and intricate music.”
Staying loyal to their modern philosophy, the performers dress casually for all of their concerts, inserting each person’s individual fashion sense into the group’s image.
Goodliffe said this difference in Voicestream’s overall look is what makes it stand out and makes the group memorable when it goes on tours.
“We call it ‘dressy rock,’” he said. “It can be anything from jeans, a button-down shirt and tie [for guys], and girls will wear jeans with a skirt and a really cool dressy top.”
Senior Vice President Lou Caligiuri said that combining the individual styles and personalities to create a more relaxed and informal atmosphere is at the roots of the group’s dynamic.
“We are all so different and unique, but at the same time when we all walk into that door, because we are such a cohesive group, all those differences just melt away,” he said.
Junior Garin Bulger saw Voicestream perform in the past and said the casual look and approach to the performance was what grabbed his attention.
“They have more personality than other groups,” Bulger said. “It makes their concerts more lively and entertaining to watch.”
Flying in the face of convention and meeting success along the way, Voicestream will continue to travel and grow in the coming years.
Voicestream’s next performance at Ithaca College will be April 18.