A typical concert by Take it SLO, Cal Poly’s a cappella singing group, might feature songs by Coldplay, Kelly Clarkson and Jason Mraz.
“We do a lot of stuff that’s on the radio right now,” said tenor Aaron Lichtner, a member of Take it SLO for three years.
This winter, the 15-member vocal ensemble is adding a few seasonal favorites to its repertoire, including “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “O Holy Night.”
Take it SLO presents its first holiday concert on Wednesday at the Davidson Music Center at Cal Poly. The group performs with other Cal Poly choirs on Dec. 5 before heading to Los Angeles for Universal CityWalk’s Holiday Rockapella concert series.
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“Every year we perform at the Christmas show with the choirs, we learn two songs that are completely new,” Lichtner explained. “We sing them once and then we never sing them again.”
“We thought (this concert) would be a really good opportunity to showcase what we have,” he said.
‘College a cappella’
Created in 2003 by a handful of musically minded students, Take it SLO performs what’s known as “college a cappella” — first popularized by vocal performance groups at Yale, Princeton and Harvard in the early 20th century.
Much like vocal jazz, college a cappella features singers mimicking musical instruments with their voices.
“People are attempting to imitate instruments, as opposed to barbershop, where everyone’s attempting to be a person,” Lichtner explained. Take it SLO even has a resident beat boxer, Joel Steinkraus.
The focus is on modern music, with a wide-ranging repertoire that includes songs by Annie Lennox, Destiny’s Child, Tom Petty and The Jackson 5. Past favorites include Will Smith’s “Men in Black” and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
At Wednesday’s concert, audience members can expect to hear holiday classics mixed with “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt and “Happy Ending” by Mika.
The program includes a classic holiday medley featuring “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman,” and a jazzy medley of traditional Jewish songs such as “I Have a Little Dreidel.”
The audience may even hear Ray Parker Jr.’s funky “Ghostbusters” theme song, which Take it SLO debuted this fall.
“I love rethinking classic songs that everybody loves in new and exciting ways,” said soprano Inness Pryor, a four-year veteran of Take it SLO.
According to Lichtner, songs are selected by vote.
“It really comes down to the people who arrange the music,” said Litchner, one of three arrangers in the group. “If the arranger doesn’t like the song the group picks, it’s really hard to get into the song.”
He looks for elements such as sweeping strings, strong bass and piano parts and a challenging solo that sounds “good and impressive.” “You also want a song that people will enjoy listening to,” he said.
The student-run group rehearses five hours a week and performs with Cal Poly choirs in the fall and winter. Take it SLO’s solo show traditionally takes place in the spring.
According to Lichtner, a senior studying materials engineering, Take it SLO currently has one music major. The rest range from aerospace engineers to liberal arts majors.
“How many outlets do you have for singing when you’re an engineer?” asked Lichtner, who had no choir experience before coming to Cal Poly. “That’s my reason.”
Still, he said, the group experiences high turnover every year due to graduation and other commitments. Auditions are held every fall.
“It’s a little bit scary at the beginning of each year. You don’t know what the chemistry of the group is going to be,” Lichtner said.
This year, about 30 people auditioned for Take it SLO. About half of this year’s Take it SLO line-up is new to the group.
“A cappella’s having a Renaissance right now because of ‘Glee,’ ” Pryor said, referring to the popular Fox show about a high school glee club. “We have a lot more members in our audiences because of ‘Glee.’ ”
As far as the Cal Poly students are concerned, the more a cappella fans, the better.
“We’re just a close-knit group of friends. Most of my friends are from Take it SLO,” Pryor, an English major, said.
“These people are fantastic people. They’re all very talented,” Lichtner said. “We’re very, very close.”