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Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Harmonizing heights: Paly’s growing a cappella culture

Riya Kini
HEARTBEATS PERFORMS— Left to right Victoria Eberle, Annalise Klenow, Riya Kini and Ella Hwang sing “I Say a Little Prayer.” “It’s very laid back and drama free so it’s just nice to be able to make music,” junior Riya Kini said.

Gathered in a circle, members hum and vocalize while others look up lyrics on their phones, harmoniously creating intricate melodies from their voices alone.

A cappella, music that is performed without instruments, is a way students can express themselves through music, but one of the only ways they can do so independently, without an adult mentor. Palo Alto High School’s five a cappella groups include Heartbeats, Heartbreakers, Vikapella, Folk Yes and Froshapella.

Choir teacher Michael Najar has taught at Paly since 2003, before the start of Paly’s a cappella groups. A major reason for Najar’s excitement towards the creation of Paly’s a cappella groups was because he did not have the opportunity to do a cappella in high school and college, due to the lack of popularity of a cappella groups at the time.

Najar said that the start of Paly a cappella was in 2005, when one of his students, Mary Hewlett, approached him with the idea.

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“Mary Hewlett started with these other three young women a group called the Heartbeats … the Heartbeats are the oldest a cappella group here on campus, followed by the Heartbreakers which was going to be their male counterpart,” Najar said.

Eventually, Paly’s a cappella program grew into five separate groups. Although all five groups are student-run, Najar and Brittney Kerby, the other Paly choir teacher, occasionally give coaching or pointers to students. Each group used to have its own definitive style but they now are more mixed.

“There’s more crossover between music. It used to be more separated, but it’s not as much anymore but they all have their own identity,” Najar said.

Junior Riya Kini is a part of Paly’s Heartbeats a cappella group. Kini, who did choir outside of school prior to joining Palychoir her freshman, joined Froshapella, the freshman a cappella group. Her sophomore year she did regular choir and finally tried out for Heartbeats her junior year. Being only a four-person group, Kini appreciates how connected she feels with the Heartbeats a capella group.

“I really like just having a smaller group, because it’s more close-knit and it’s just nice to have that community,” she said. “It’s very laid back and drama free so it’s just nice to be able to make music.”

Heartbeats performs one to two songs per concert. According to Kini practices often occur during lunch or weekends.

“Everyone’s pretty busy throughout the week,” she said. “We normally just meet at someone’s house the weekend before the concert for three or four hours and just learn the song really quick during that time because it’s kind of hard to make progress during only a 30-minute lunch.”

Kini says that the biggest difference from regular choir is that it’s student-run and that they get to choose what songs they want to sing. She said that Heartbeats is not too much of a time commitment. Kini recalls her most memorable expe- rience being when they got to record “All I Want For Christmas Is You” for the winter concert.

“Mr. Najar really liked it,” Kini said. “So he wanted us to record it with professional equipment, we went into the studio and recorded it and it got released.”

Working in a group in itself is a difficult task but when you add a cappella it becomes loads harder. Kini said that a cap-
pella has helped her with her teamwork and accountability.

“When there’s only four people in the group, and you have to hold your own part 100% of the time, there’s kind of this sense of, ‘oh, I can’t let them down,’” Kini said.

“ I really like just having a smaller group, because it’s more close-knit and it’s justs nice to have that community.”

— Riya Kini

Folk Yes
Junior Eesha Samant is a part of Folk Yes. She has been in choir since sixth grade and advanced vocals at Paly since freshman year. She was in Froshapella freshman year, and joined Folk Yes at the beginning of her junior year. The group meets after school or during lunch, but usually not very often unless there is a concert coming up, Samant said. Samant says that she enjoys a cappella because there is much more freedom in comparison to choir.

“We usually like to discuss what we want to do, and we get to choose our soloist and choose what parts we want,” Samant said. “It’s a lot different because it’s self-determined.”

Senior Rori Escudero, a member of the Vikapella a cappella group, has been doing a cappella her whole time at Paly. Having joined Froshapella freshman year before staying two years in Folk Yes and then moving on to Vikapella. Escudero said that her favorite part of a cappella is performing.

“It’s really fun because we get to wear matching outfits,” she said.

Escudero said that a cappella has also taught her important life lessons.

“It’s taught me how to be a better team member. It’s taught me how to be a better leader. How to work with people when we have a bunch of scheduling conflicts,” Escuerdo said. “Working with people’s different strengths and weaknesses. Like, this person can’t sing this part. So I have to adjust the music this way. Or this person is sick. Sometimes we’re gonna move it around. So it’s like learning how to be flexible and be a good teammate.”

Freshman Julia Curtis is a member of Froshapella.

“It’s just freshmen. … It [Froshapella] meets once a week and so we’re all really good friends,” she said. Being a student run group, the students are responsible for their results. “We have to work hard to sound good because there’s no help from anyone else,’’ Curtis said. Although Curtis recognizes the talent of Froshapella, she says that some don’t. “Everyone kind of underestimates the freshmen, we weren’t great but we weren’t bad and we got lots of compliments,” Cur- tis said.

We have to work hard to sound good because there’s no help from anyone else.

— Julia Curtis

Junior Jacob Bau is one of five members of Paly’s all male a cappella group, Heartbreakers. He said that he enjoys singing a cappella with Paly.

“It’s just a unique experience that you can’t really get anywhere else in Paly, I would say to be able to sing with such a small number of people is a lot of fun. Especially when it is a lot of guys because it’s a bit more casual than some of the other a cappella groups,” Bau said.

The Heartbreakers sing mainly in a late 19th century style of music.

“It is a lot of a lot of pop music, like generally but we’re also doing some barbershop stuff,” Bau said.

Bau has a lot of passion for singing and he says that a big part of his day to day time is allotted towards music.

“A lot of my life specifically is dedicated towards music. So I have a little bit less on the school side, but generally what I try to do is think of it as homework,” he said. “I need to make time for it in my week, or else I feel like I’m falling behind like as you would in any other class.”

What's your favorite Paly acapella group?