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Pitch Perfect 2, one of the most anticipated non-superhero films of the summer, follows the trials and tribulations of a group of collegiate singers after they win the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. The characters might be fictional, but the competition is real: Last year’s winner, Pitch Slapped (above), a 15-member coed group from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, practiced nine hours a week in the months leading up to the ICCA finals.
Several Pitch Slapped members hail from the D.C. area. In conjunction with the film’s launch last Friday, Arts Desk asked senior alto Erin Cafferky of Springfield, Va., junior bass Matt Sallee of La Plata, Md., and 2014 graduate and baritone Jared Jenkins of Bowie, Md., what it takes to be an a cappella champ.
Arts Desk: Is it exhausting to live and breathe music in school and sing as an extracurricular activity, too?
Jared: [D]uring the audition season and as time goes on, we try to build a family of our own, so when we’re working three-hour rehearsals after school, [group members] take the stress of our day away because we’re with families.
Matt: Singing [that’s assigned for] homework is a lot of technical singing. It’s a lot of learning theory and the ins and outs of music. Everyone in the group is a vocal principal where we do that technical singing, but [a cappella] is a lot more fun. It’s like a bonus.
In the beginning of Pitch Perfect, a cappella is seen as a kind of dorky thing to do. Before you joined a prestigious all-music college, how nerdy was singing at your high school?
Jared: My school was a little different in that respect. We had choir and a cappella options. And there were a lot of people in the choirs, but a cappella wasn’t that popular.
Matt: I went to a very music-heavy public school where music was supported and I’ve also been singing at the church where my dad was the pastor.
In the film, a cappella groups have trouble getting prospective new members to audition. How does it work when singing is an extracurricular activity at a school tailored for vocalists?
Jared: The contemporary a cappella world has gained a lot of popularity, and just in general…the word was out. Whenever Pitch Slapped was having auditions, it was a big thing. And it would take days and days and hours to get through everybody.
Erin: Being in a music school, everyone’s interested in music, but that varies so much. Everyone likes music, but not everyone likes a cappella; that’s still a niche. Everyone has different tastes and interests.
What character would you compare yourself to in the movie?
Erin: I’m trying to think, who would be Fat Amy?
Jared: You can be Fat Amy.
Erin: Thank you. I was hoping. She’s the queen.
Jared: I’ll go with the Anna Kendrick character—I love a cappella more than I thought I would. I was reluctant to join.
Do people improvise onstage at the championship like Becca does in the film?
Jared: It’s 90 percent rehearsed and 10 percent winging it on the choreography. On the singing side, that’s something that we nailed down to the T—the only part that was improvised was the soloists, where they had an idea what we wanted to do. The dancing’s very much rehearsed, but there are also sections where we just groove and want [the singers] to have a good time interacting with each other on stage.
In the movie, they’re singing in a pool and they’re making up arrangements as they go along. I’ve heard that couldn’t happen in real life.
Erin: Not like that at all. Sometimes, you can kind of improvise, if you’re trying to have fun and mess around and see what you come up with, and someone can put something on top of that. But to come up with a fully-formed arrangement with a solo and all the parts on top of that would be impossible.
Jared: In real life, it wouldn’t be that cool.
In the movie, there’s a finals with an announcer and it’s implied that there’s a television audience. There is a reality show about a cappella groups in the works (Sing It On), but the ICCA finals are not televised. Do you think that should change?
Erin: I think so. There’s definitely a lot of energy in the performances and in between. There’s definitely an MC.
Jared: There’s a difference between solo acts and watching group stuff. It’s almost like watching a sports team, and everyone’s rooting for their team. That whole energy is so there…There are so many people from wherever and they’re coming to support their teams.
Erin: It’s very friendly, respectful competition. We want to do our best.
Matt: It was all a very welcoming attitude.
You can hang out your dirty laundry. If you guys were, like, brawling backstage, please feel free to share.
Jared: If we were doing anything backstage, it was, like, jamming to ’90s Britney Spears.
You’re not really an underdog at these competitions. Is it almost unfair for you guys to compete against schools that aren’t top-notch music academies?
Erin: A lot of times, I hear other groups do stuff and I go “wow,” because I would love to sound like that. I never felt like [attending Berklee] gives us too much of an advantage over everyone else. It’s a pretty even playing field.
Matt: It’s about who’s in the groups. There have been other groups in conservatories that haven’t made it out of the quarter finals, so I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the best because you go to one of those schools. The Northeasters from Northeastern University down the street from us has a music department, but they’re not a music conservatory and they won the competition the year before we did.
Jared: Berklee’s definitely great, but there’s always [a heightened] expectation because of the name. But with these types of competitions, it’s definitely a put up or shut up kind of thing. Like, it doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s what happens when you get on that stage. It doesn’t matter what your résumé looks like.
Erin, you met your boyfriend through Pitch Slapped. Does the group have a no dating rule, like in the movie?
Erin: You know, It’s more of like a “don’t let your relationship affect the group” sort of thing. It’s more like, “do it if you’re mature adults” and, you know, understand that you can kind of leave that at the door and understand when you’re in rehearsal, you’re there to work.
If either of you entered a karaoke contest, what do you think your odds of winning are?
Jared: I’m gonna win because I’m gonna play down *NSYNC and do all the moves
Erin: I think so, because I mean, I’ll sing a throwback because everyone loves throwbacks, so I think I can take it.
Jared: Do some Christina Aguilera.
Erin: Right! Have a couple beers and do all the Christina Aguilera. I’m in.
Photos courtesy of Pitch Slapped