Walk near the music practice rooms in Presser Hall late one night, and you just might catch the newest sound at Randolph College.
Music is almost always present in the building— students take classes and practice voice, piano, and other instruments in the building throughout the day. But the newest melody coming from the practice rooms is the blending of women’s and men’s voices in four-part harmony—and sometimes more—without any instruments.
The sound is Voices, a new a cappella group on campus.
The College has a long tradition of quality a cappella music. Songshine, an all-female student group, has entertained the community for decades. Voices was a way for students to build on that tradition.
The students bring together a wide range of musical talent. True to the liberal arts tradition, they also have a wide variety of academic interests, ranging from creative writing and mathematics to psychology and education.
Ironically, there are no music majors.
Olivia “O.J.” Johnson ’13, a women’s basketball point guard who sings alto, described how the group is a microcosm of the student body.
“There are creative writers. There are athletes, and there are theatre kids,” Johnson said. “We all have individual voices, and when you put those voices together, it’s a beautiful sound.”
Starting an a cappella group has been a long-time dream of Karl Speer ’12. The son of Randall Speer, a Randolph music professor, Speer grew up listening to a cappella groups. When his father began teaching at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, he learned about Songshine.
“I’ve always been familiar with those types of groups and the material they can do, and the amazing stuff that they can come up with,” Speer said. “I’ve always thought it would be so much fun to participate in something like that.”
When he enrolled in Randolph College, Speer entertained the idea of starting a men’s singing group to complement Songshine. “But the College had only been coed for one year. Guys on campus were still in the minority, and vocal guys were also in the minority.”
Speer teamed up with Sam McGarrity ’13, who had arranged music for his high school a cappella group and wanted to continue.
“We both wanted to have a group where guys could sing in that same College tradition, but we felt very adamant that we wanted Songshine to remain an all female group,” Speer said. “We wanted to retain that tradition.”
After initially planning an all-male group, the students expanded their scope to include women. The auditions allowed the new group to enlist people representing a broad range of musical talents and backgrounds. There are 16 singers in the group, including a few members of the Lynchburg community who do not attend the College.
Busy schedules require the students to rehearse late on weeknights and weekends. The group’s repertoire began with arrangements of popular songs written by Speer, McGarrity, and Claudia Troyer ’14. The music included everything from J. Sean’s “Down” to the classic “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Its first public performance came in the spring when the group opened for a Songshine concert. They performed four songs to solid applause, and Speer saw that his vision had become a reality.
“It was really while we were on the stage that you finally felt like this wasn’t just some people who have gotten together who like to sing,” he said. “That’s when it finally clicked: This is a group. It’s not just a group of people. It’s Voices.
“Sam and I just had an idea. That’s all it was,” Speer added. “Everyone in the group made it a reality.”
His father could not agree more. “There’s something about the fires of a performance that bring not just the group together, but also their understanding of their repertoire,” Randall Speer said. “Their opening performance was everything that I would have hoped for in a first showing. And it’s only going to get better.”
After a summer apart, the group members had their work cut out for them as they prepared for the first performance of the academic year, a special appearance at Lynchburg’s Day in the Park.
Speer, McGarrity, and Troyer worked on new arrangements for the Disney-themed show, held auditions, and made it through a few whirlwind rehearsals before performing the weekend concert. Just a few weeks later, they performed with Songshine for a Family Weekend event and sang the national anthem for the women’s soccer game at the College’s first Homecoming.
Randall Speer leads Chorale and Touch of Harmony, academic course-based singing groups that usually sing with accompaniment. He is glad to see students taking the initiative to enrich the campus music experience.
“It’s only going to strengthen other opportunities,” he said. “I’m excited about the different kinds of musical activity that we have here at Randolph. Each group brings something new, not only to the campus community, but also to the participants.”