Taking Note of Stay Tuned: East’s A Cappella group shines on stage

April 26, 2023


Lucas Tang ('23)

Stay Tuned accomplishes yet another powerful performance packed with talent at the Winter Concert.

Today, more than ever, music is an intricate tapestry of sound. Songs are layered with countless different harmonies, tones, styles, rhythms, and more. In fact, most of today’s pop songs consist of over 20 distinct audio tracks, from percussion to bass to lead and backing vocals. Now, imagine you were challenged to perform a song, complexities and all, with just one instrument: the human voice. Of course, this is no easy task, but for Stay Tuned, Cherry Hill East’s a cappella group, it is what they do best.

Stay Tuned recently demonstrated their vocal prowess at the Mid-Atlantic quarterfinals of the International Competition for High School A Cappella (ICHSA), a highly prestigious national tournament for high school a cappella groups. To compete at quarterfinals, the group first had to pass the first round of competition, in which they sent in a video audition to judges. At quarterfinals, they then won first place overall, as well as Best Soloist, awarded to Faith Kidd (‘23), and the Best Vocal Percussion, awarded to Everett Garcia (‘24). By earning the top spot at quarterfinals, Stay Tuned became one of two teams from the region to advance to the semifinal round of the ICHSA, which will be held at Neptune High School on March 25th, 2023.

En route to their win, Stay Tuned performed three songs in their ten-minute set: “All for Us”, “River of Tears”, and “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.” Yet the ten minutes of brilliance the judges and audience see on stage is just the tip of the iceberg – the product of hours and hours of practice and preparation.

For officers Asha Maisuria (‘23), Maddie Reddy (‘23), and Carlotta Vingelli (‘23), Stay Tuned’s success is largely attributed to the amount of time, thought, and purpose that goes into every moment of their performance. Take the song selection, for example.

“[When we choose songs], it’s really about what’s the most practical [and] what shows off the group the most. Like what do we feel the most confident in?” said Maisuria.

The process of finding the best collection of songs for competition can be an extensive process, as the group continuously makes changes and refinements to their set list throughout the year to reflect how their collective and individual sound have evolved.

“We start in September, and we sound different. We look different, like the whole vibe of the group is so different when it comes time to compete,” said Vingelli.

This year, the singers also took their song selection a step further by interweaving a storyline throughout their performance as well. Starting from their opening song, “All for Us”, they depict the journey of an individual hitting rock bottom, then being surrounded by sorrow in a “River of Tears”, and finally finding happiness in “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.”

In addition to song selection, the group also pays careful attention to choreography, as well as the dynamics and techniques needed to execute each song, in order to create a powerful performance.

“I find our peak moments where we need a push and pull, where we need to draw [the audience’s] attention to this moment,” said Reddy, who is also the choreographer for the group. Reddy draws from her extensive dance background when designing the choreography, in addition to taking input from other members of the group.

“Another big part of the [choreography] process is putting it all together, seeing what it looks like on other people because as much as I can put it in my head and think that it works, a lot of the time when I put it on my group, it doesn’t work,” she continues.

While the choreography in Stay Tuned’s performances isn’t exactly like that of a dance performance, the group also often utilizes movement to convey a feeling or message to the audience. For example, during a climactic point in “All for Us”, the group gathers in a close formation in a pulsing movement, creating the likeness of a beating heart. Like song selection, each movement is tailored to the group and intended to enhance the performance, but not excessively so.

“Our director Ms. Lockhart talked to us about finding the ‘ten’ moment of our set,” said Reddy. “And that’s a really interesting thing to think about when we’re thinking about picking songs, doing choreography, figuring out our dynamics for our pieces [because] if everything is always a ‘ten’ nothing shines. You need to pick that ‘ten’ moment, and every other ‘ten’ needs to be an eight or nine.”

Furthermore, because of the absence of a backing track in a cappella, the singers must instead rely on their group mates during a performance, building off one another’s harmonies and energy. The singers must make sure to stay in balance without overpowering one another during a performance – in this way, they can create a full, rich sound on stage.

“My favorite part of it is when you listen to acapella music, it doesn’t just sound empty, like it’s just people singing. It sounds so full, like our voices become an instrument,” said Reddy.

Speaking of teamwork, a key aspect of Stay Tuned’s success has been their close bonds with one another. Connected by their shared passion for singing, the group has become a close-knit family with countless memories, from Wawa runs to potluck parties to games of Just Dance.

“[Going into practice], you know that you’re going into an environment where everyone’s working really hard and everyone’s working really passionately, and [where] you can all just bond over your love of music,” said Vingelli.

Such an environment is crucial to singing especially, as this art form truly does require one to open up and embrace vulnerability.

“Stay Tuned’s biggest strength is [their] willingness to take [a] risk and put [themselves] out there,” said Ms. Heather Lockart, the advisor of Stay Tuned. “The entire group is so safe and comfortable with one another because it’s like a family.”

In her years of teaching choir and a cappella, Lockart has found that this courage is a crucial quality needed for a group to thrive. She encourages future students to also take a risk and audition for Stay Tuned.

“Anybody could do it with enough determination and hard work. All you need is a passion for music and singing. If you have that inside of you, come and join us,” said Lockart.

Lockart officially established Stay Tuned in 2012, and since then, the group has enjoyed great success at the ICHSA, as well as other competitions such as A Cappella for Autism. Stay Tuned’s involvement in such competitions is one of its focal points, setting it apart from the other small vocal groups offered at East, such as Belles and Voce.

Though this competition aspect is what drew many of Stay Tuned’s current members to join the group, the act of performing itself has also been quite a fulfilling experience because they’ve been able to inspire others with their passion for singing. Recently, the group performed for prospective East students and their families, one of the liveliest audiences they’ve ever had, at the Eighth Grade Open House.

“I like knowing that the future is bright and [we’re] inspiring a lot of kids because I know that there’s a lot of little people out there that want to be just like us one day,” said Vingelli.

One performance at a time, Stay Tuned is sharing the art of a cappella and a love for music with the community, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire East students for years to come.

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