At a university where a cappella singers actually command status, where they can instantly attract a crowd by belting out just a few lines, where their harmony can lead to a scene in a major Hollywood movie, what are all the talent-deprived, wannabe singers out there to do?
They just might want to check out the Virginia No Tones.
The new group, launched this spring by fourth-years Emma DiNapoli, Annie Crabill, Sam Atkeson and Jeremy Klitzman, is intended for those who crave the a cappella spotlight but can’t carry a tune, or at least not consistently.
Part comedy act, part opportunity to blow off steam for its 27 members, the No Tones meet Monday nights to “rehearse,” which involves spurts of uproarious laughter amid the “shooby-doos.” They choose soloists not by auditions but by who raised his or her hands first.
“Everything at UVA is so darn competitive that it’s nice to finally join a group where the whole point is that it is noncompetitive,” says Kate Colver (Col ’16). “I think that’s why we’re all so comfortable with each other.”
That comfort and fun is exactly what the four co-founders were seeking.
The foursome, whose friendship developed through volunteer work as University Guides, were at a late-night study session when they came up with the idea of the No Tones—what they viewed as a pressure-free activity for their final semester at UVA.
They decided to hold auditions, and they spread the word online. To their surprise, more than 60 students showed up to try out; selections had more to do with assembling a mix of ages and interests than actual singing ability.
“I love music and I love to sing,” says Drew Widner (Com ’15), who made the cut. “I never really considered joining a serious a cappella group—that’s not really my style. This just seemed more like a fun outlet.”
Being a member of the No Tones may not be resumé worthy, but offers validation of a different sort.
“It’s more natural and fun than a strict time commitment to better my future,” Widner says.
Billing itself as “the premier, the first, the only a cappella group for the musically challenged,” the group set out to build a fan base through Facebook and word of mouth.
“It’s supposed to bring a smile to people’s faces,” says Klitzman (Col ’14). “People don’t want to hear nails-on-chalkboard bad, but enjoyably bad.”
At one practice, Klitzman warned the group, “It almost sounded too good!”
The group hasn’t sought to join UVA’s official A Cappella Presidents’ Council. (Regulations stipulating a group must be in existence for five years would preclude their acceptance, anyway.)
“I like being the renegades of the a cappella community,” says DiNapoli (Col ’14), an English and religious studies major.
To Rachel Mink, president of the A Cappella President’s Council, the whole idea of the No Tones is “pretty hilarious.”
“There’s this idea that a cappella is only for these ridiculously talented people, but we all do it because we love it,” Mink (Col ’16) says. “I think the No Tones encompass that feeling, even if they aren’t the best singers, which is cool.”
Renegades or not, all a cappella groups have something in common, and that is they like to have an audience. And so, on a sunny afternoon in April, the No Tones held their first show in the McIntire Amphitheatre at the request of a friend who was raising money there for the Charlottesville Ronald McDonald House.
The No Tones descended to the stage as students sat perched in the arc of concrete rows, eating lunch, or milled about above, walking to and from class.
Standing tall, the singers belted out combinations including a mashup of “Angel” by Shaggy and “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band. The audience of about 60 looked on quizzically at times and laughed often but, in the end, clapped along.
“I thought it was fun to see them having fun,” says Betsy Mello (Col ’17).
Alex Spears agreed—and he knows a thing or two about a cappella. The president of UVA’s famed Hullabahoos—who have appeared in front of national audiences in the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect and the TV sitcom The Office—was among those who watched the No Tones’ first outing.
“I thought they were confident—confidence is key,” says Spears (Col ’16). “Everybody could tell they were having a good time,” he added. “And that’s the most important thing.”