Still singing: Temple a cappella groups release music during pandemic

Singchronize and Pitch, Please share messages of resiliency, empowerment and advocacy in their new albums.

Marissa Hurley (left), a sophomore music education major, and Liz Balasundram, a sophomore health professions major, sing their parts on the EP in Philadelphia on March 14, 2020. | SHANNON FOLEY / COURTESY

A cappella: a word that used to be solely defined by matching outfits, beat-boxing, and Pitch Perfect references, takes on a new meeting as campus groups are planning rehearsals over Zoom, in muted breakout rooms, far from the usual in-person collaboration the singers are used to, and releasing new music despite virtual obstacles.

“Everyone else is muted, so you just kind of sing to yourself which is a little awkward,” said Hannah Koller-Bottone, a freshman architecture major and member of Pitch, Please, Temple’s queer advocacy a cappella group. “But you get through it and then a lot of it is just like teaching yourself.” 

With in person recording and editing sessions almost a distant memory, Singchronize, Temple’s oldest and only all female-identifying a capella group, and Pitch, Please have adapted to Zoom meetings and long-distance producing to release new music in January.

“It was really hard to be separated for so long,” said Gia Fenton, a senior music therapy jazz major and president of Singchronize. “When we did have to like come together on Zoom and figure out, like the EP title and our release date, things like that just got us so excited.” 

Singchronize released their latest collection of tracks “This Is Love” on Jan. 3 and Pitch, Please released their first album “Better Days” on Jan. 14 after months of navigating a remote editing process that led to unforeseen challenges and delays. 

Here’s what the artists had to say about their work.

“This is Love” by Singchronize

“This is Love” represents the evolution of Singchronize’s sounds and dynamics from their previous album, “Singchronize,” in 2016 and explores the topics of friendship and love Fenton said. 

The album features 12 singers that perform songs with pop and R&B influences, said Shannon Foley, a junior music education major and music director of Singchronize.

“A lot of our songs have to do with female empowerment, but not everything,” she said. “We like a big variety of styles and genres.”

Singchronize’s EP consists of songs from the group’s performance at the Varsity Vocals International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, Fenton said. Varsity Vocals hosts three annual a cappella competitions catered to college and high school a cappella groups around the globe, like the ICCA for college students, ICHSA for high school students, and The Open for singers of all ages, according to the Varsity Vocals website.

“It just kind of made sense and it was a great way to fully capture, kind of, the ICCAs,” Fenton said. “It’ll be a great thing for us to look back on and know like, ‘Wow, we performed this live competition and now they’re just out for everyone to hear, which is really cool.”

Singchronize encountered a close call as the group recorded its EP the weekend before Temple students left campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The group continued its production process through the pandemic, Foley said. 

“We got very lucky that we didn’t get kicked off of recording,” she added. “But since then, through COVID, like the rest of the process, of course, has been pandemic life.”

Fenton kept busy and motivated throughout the pandemic by working to prepare and produce Singchronize’s EP, she said.

“It was something to really need to work for in a time where no one wanted to be doing any work whatsoever,” Fenton added. “So it, for me, was just kind of a way to like, stay motivated and keep synchronized in communication with each other.”

Singchronize’s album was on track to be released in the summer or fall of 2020, as the group started fundraising for their EP two years in advance, but once the pandemic hit, the group adapted to the new circumstances and continued to collaborate with their producer, Nicky Brenner, through long-distance communication, Fenton said.

Brenner, who is based in New York City, New York, mixed the EP from September until November and mastered it through mid-December when the EP received its release licenses, Foley said.  

Despite a delayed production process, the members of Singchronize worked hard to create their final product, Foley said. 

“I’ve worked probably harder on this EP than most things in my life, or at least in the past two years,” she said. “The ideas and the themes of love in this EP really reflect like, the love that Singchronize pours into our music and into each other.”  

“Better Days” by Pitch, Please

Pitch, Please’s album highlights the music of LGBTQ artists, like Queen, as a way to advocate to its listeners, said Wesley Rosenberger, a senior tourism and hospitality management major and president of Pitch, Please. 

“We really wanted it to feature a kind of queer messaging and an empowerment and really strike the chord of what we do as a group,” Rosenberger said. 

The album includes songs like “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, a compilation of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” by Dolly Parton and “Tomorrow” by Miner.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in March 2020 and Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown on March 16, the album, which is about perseverance and advocacy, developed a new meaning of determination as the group learned to navigate remote production, said Nikki Moscony, a senior media studies and production major and music director of Pitch, Please, who promoted the album on social media and online. 

“Americans” by Janelle Monáe, particularly stands out as the song promotes a feeling of optimism and perseverance at a time when people need it the most, Rosenberger added.  

“Songs like ‘Americans’ that are really advocacy-based, we wanted to release them now because we felt like they’re really important now as we go through COVID,” Rosenberger said. “Music has been so important to give people hope and give people kind of some sense of normalcy.” 

The album features 16 singers, 11 of which are Temple alumni, Rosenberger wrote in an email to The Temple News.

After graduating, alumni like Josh Carter, a 2019 music composition alumnus and music producer of Pitch, Please, continued to be involved with the album’s production process.

Carter and the executive board of the 2018-19 school year created the title and list of songs, and an artist from Berlin, Germany, designed the cover art prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moscony said.

Despite Pitch, Please recording a majority of their album in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic still presented many obstacles to the group, including Carter having to drive to different soloists’ houses, in June, to re-record many solos due to sound poor sound quality, Rosenberger added. Nevertheless, Pitch, Please persisted and the group was finally able to release their album.

The 2016 election served as a catalyst for “Better Days” at a time when support for the LGBTQ community decreased at the federal level, as the Trump administration implemented a ban preventing most transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, Moscony said. 

In January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order that reversed this Trump administration policy, the Associated Press reported. 

Moscony is looking forward to meeting and collaborating with her fellow singers in person, she said. 

“We have had a lot of successful group bonding, but at the same time, you’re never going to get the same experience as you would being in person and being able to like, really connect with one another in the practice room or in performances, live performances,” Moscony said. “So that’s what it looks like to me is being able to be just reunited with this group that has given so much to me.” 

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