The Importance of Acapella to East’s Stay Tuned


Courtesy of Thomas Zieger (’20)

Stay Tuned poses for a group picture after their performance.

While belting the words to your favorite song may be your form of singing, the East
music department sings a bit differently. Instead of relying on instrumentals, the East acapella group uses harmonizes to fill the void. Acapella has been an East tradition for many years, but the choir groups themselves have undergone some changes.

One of East’s choir instructors, Ms. Heather Lockhart, said, ”When I started teaching here in 2011, there was a male acapella group called ‘Casual Harmony’ and girls really wanted that opportunity to sing acapella more contemporary. So I formed a girl’s group called ‘Key of She’ and I had a guy’s group too. Then I thought why not put them together to do just one or two songs a year.”

While Lockhart assumed this combination of groups would be somewhat temporary, she was quickly shown otherwise.

“They exploded with success,” said Lockhart, “the audience loved it and I figured you gotta give what the audience wants.”

These two groups had to learn many compositions and it seemed as though there was not enough time to cater to each group’s specific needs. The music department came to the consensus that these two groups should remain one, and so they formed Stay Tuned. Since the group formed, they have taken part in many competitions, the most prominent being the International Competition of High School Acapella (ICHSA). The group went to ICHSA for the first time as a finalist in 2017, but reappeared at the competition in 2018. But even before ICHSA, the music group was on a Lifetime reality show called “Pitch Slapped” in 2016.

“I realized through the process how unrealistic reality television is but the whole experience of being on a tv show and working with Deke Sharon [he led the team in the competitions on the show] was awesome,” said Lockhart. “We were so limited in what songs we could perform because they had to be approved by the artist themself.”

Stay Tuned rehearses during lunch breaks and afterschool twice a week. The group works on certain arrangements and builds different musical components. A few of these
components include musical contrast, complexity of arrangements and storytelling. Thomas Zieger (‘20) is a member of the acapella group at East and has been
beatboxing for five years.

Zieger said “When it comes to beatboxing, it’s primary function is to keep everyone on beat, but in my opinion it adds to the storytelling.”

You can be the best solo singer in the world and a terrible acapella singer all because you don’t know how to work with a group,

— Thomas Zeiger ('20)

Zieger said it takes time to find your sound in acapella. He also recommends that beatboxers do not just mimic the sounds of others, but are unique with their voice.

“The best research someone can do to get better with acapella is to go see it live,” said Zieger.

For those interested in joining acapella, Zieger suggests they should join the choral department because it teaches listening skills and how to become part of a group.

“You can be the best solo singer in the world and a terrible acapella singer all because you don’t know how to work with a group,” said Zieger.

At East, there seems to be a pattern of there being more male beatboxers than females. Adding to the pattern, the last five beatboxers at East have all been male.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of inability. I just think we need more women to want to try it,” said Lockhart, “Men and women do have different vocal chords and men can likely produce a wider variety of sounds because of that, however I have had a female beatboxer before that could make unbelievable sounds.”

Lockhart added that this female beatboxer could create subharmonic sounds, in which all of the acapella students in the room wooed at. Subharmonic sounds are essentially certain frequencies that are very hard to achieve naturally. Acapella students shared that more and more females have been beatboxing at their competitions.

Zieger shares that it’s not a matter of voice but a matter of breath control and lip strength. In order to create those percussion sounds, beatboxers use the muscles in their face. This helps them to contract a certain sound and helps with movement of air.

“If you are an alto [lower pitched female], it’s a lot easier to do beatboxing than if you were a high singing voice, or a soprano,” said Zieger.

With Zieger graduating this year, a new beatboxer must emerge for the Stay Tuned group. This goes to show how acapella has had quite a history at East, but it continues to change from year-to-year.