All Together Now: How campus a cappella groups are making music and forging communities

Some groups have had to stop altogether. Others are determined to lift their voices some way, somehow.


Members of No Strings Attached practiced in small subgroups to follow COVID-19 protocols. Photo courtesy of Madison Dunn Photography.

Whether you’re a “Pitch Perfect” fan or not, there’s no doubt that a cappella groups have been thrown into the spotlight in recent years. Armed with only their voices, a cappella groups at The University of Alabama have found community and camaraderie in their shared love of singing.

Morgan Coffey, a senior majoring in Spanish, got involved with the UA AcaBellas after seeing their booth at Get On Board Day during her freshman year. Now, she serves as the group’s president.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UA AcaBellas sang the National Anthem at UA sports events and performed in a variety of locations all over Tuscaloosa. While the AcaBellas are not technically an all-female group, they are soprano and alto-based.

“With more people accepting their sexuality and genders, we’ve tried to steer away from saying that we’re all female,” Coffey said. “We like to say instead that we’re an all soprano and alto voice group, so people with higher voice ranges.”

For the AcaBellas, a cappella is about more than just performing and rehearsing. After long hours practicing and organizing their performances, the group has become a tight-knit community of friends.

“We do a lot of stuff outside of the organization,” Coffey said. “In the past, we’ve done Galentine’s Day, where we all kind of get together and eat sweets and drinks. Then, we do Christmas and Secret Santa.”

Coffey further described how they strive to create an environment where everyone feels included and loved.

“If you’re a freshman coming in and you’re not so involved with anything else, then we think it’s good to give them that safe space to feel involved,” Coffey said.

Despite their close-knit community, the AcaBellas have struggled to maintain their normal routine in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some organizations on campus have tried to move to virtual meetings or socially distanced gatherings, the AcaBellas have suspended rehearsals and performances for the time being.

“Myself and the other officers for the AcaBellas have tried to come up with a plan to meet but we just found it was in the best interest of ourselves and public health that we shouldn’t meet,” Coffey said. “We did explore the idea of standing six feet apart and wearing a mask but then we would just be mumbling and it wouldn’t sound good. It just wasn’t probable.”

Like the AcaBellas, UA a cappella group Tune In was a thriving music community before the pandemic. At the end of 2019, they were able to perform at the American Choral Directors Association regional conference and in shows around Tuscaloosa and the University. Since the pandemic, however, Tune In has held virtual rehearsals and auditions.

Sydney Helgeson, a sophomore majoring in business management, became interested in a cappella after attending Tune In’s Fall 2019 concert. She joined the group the following spring and is now serving as the current vice president.

“I think what’s really cool about our group is that it’s a very diverse group of students,” Helgeson said. “We have people from all over the country. I’m from North Dakota. There’s a lot of people from Alabama and some from Maryland, Chicago, and all over the place.”

Diversity in Tune In extends beyond state locations to include college majors.

“We have engineering majors,” Helgeson said. “I’m a business major. I think that that is what makes us cool. We’re a whole bunch of different kinds of students coming together because we all share that similar interest in music.”

Many of the a cappella groups on campus have seemingly evolved into much more than just student-led music groups. While working hard and practicing often is necessary, most of the groups, including Tune In, have found a family away from home.

Helgeson said that although the students in Tune In all come from different backgrounds, they’re able to use music to create something beautiful together.

While the AcaBellas and Tune In have opted to postpone rehearsals or hold them virtually, one a cappella group on campus has turned to unconventional rehearsals to try to make the most of their time and musical efforts.

Tejas Dinesh, a junior majoring in environmental engineering and history, serves as the current president for the co-ed a cappella group No Strings Attached. He decided to try a cappella out in college after watching the hit movie “Pitch Perfect” when he was in high school.

Dinesh said No Strings Attached is a close-knit group from which friendships have sprung up and blossomed, and friendship bonds reinforced with each a cappella rehearsal.

“We always say that we’re kind of like a family,” Dinesh said. “Everyone’s really friendly with one another and we hang out outside of practice. There’s just a really, really great atmosphere and it’s so fun to be around.”

To deal with the pandemic, No Strings Attached had to break their sixteen-person group into three groups of only four or five members to limit their exposure. Despite their best efforts, the group had to cancel their fall 2020 showcase due to a small COVID-19 outbreak among the group. The group has since recovered and are back singing.

Like the AcaBellas and Tune In, No Strings Attached is hoping that things go back to normal soon so that they can continue to do what they love with the communities that they’ve fostered through their music.

“We don’t have any music majors in the group, so it’s really cool to see so many people who are passionate about music pursue it even though it’s not something that they’re going to necessarily do for the rest of their lives,” Dinesh said. “We’re also a co-ed group, so that really lends itself well to us being able to pursue all kinds of music that maybe an all-male or an all-female group couldn’t do.”

Dinesh urges people who are interested in auditioning for any a cappella group on campus to get in touch even if they’re terrified or unsure.

“It’s a really cool experience and I think that it’s one that is unique to the college experience,” Dinesh said.

Dinesh said that after college, the amount of a cappella or choir opportunities drops significantly.

“So I would definitely say to take advantage of this interesting time in your life… because it’s the kind of musical experience that is so unique to college,” Dinesh said.