‘It’s not going to work if you can’t blend’

Founder of campus a cappella group says singers won’t make the cut if they can’t match other voices

The Trillers A Cappella practice in the Robert Sutherland Room in the JDUC.
The Trillers A Cappella practice in the Robert Sutherland Room in the JDUC.
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Beatboxing is a common fixture in modern a cappella groups, says Casey Wilson, president of Trillers A Cappella.

“People should be able to keep time themselves internally, but the beatboxer is more for rounding out the sound as a piece,” Wilson, BFA ’12, said.

Trillers A Cappella is one of Queen’s newest ensembles, founded by Wilson in 2010.

She said the challenge in a cappella is figuring out how instruments can translate into vocal sounds.

“We take — say ‘Somebody to Love’ by Queen ­— and I’d listen to it and pick out the bass and I’d pick out the guitar and I’d pick out the piano and we make each line into something vocal,” she said.

Dating back to the 19th century, the term a cappella translates from Italian to “in the manner of the church.” It’s a reference to the religious tradition of using voices unaccompanied by music.

Wilson said she started the Trillers because she lacked a musical outlet at Queen’s.

“I had nowhere to sing except at church and then by third year, I was just thinking ‘This is not okay. I need somewhere to sing,’” she said. “There are so many people who love to sing out there, why would I not just start a group and bring people in?”

This year, the Trillers have 20 members including a musical director, who doesn’t actually sing.

“She plays the piano for us,” Wilson said. “When we’re learning music, she directs so we can get our timing.”

Trillers A Cappella was a name picked by group consensus.It originates from a musical term that refers to a quavering sound or rapid movement between two adjacent notes. Normally, only sopranos, the highest of the four standard singing voices, will trill.

“We went around and we took suggestions for our new name and we kind of settled on this idea of Trillers,” she said.

There’s no unfriendly competition between the a cappella singing groups on campus, Wilson said.

“The most competition that happens is that there is a little bit of tension every year around auditions time — we really needed basses this year and we were worried that Barred Notes or All the Queen’s Men or Momentum would take all our basses,” she said.

Compared to other a cappella groups on campus, tryouts for the Trillers are fairly laid-back.

“[Other groups are] really competitive and they take fewer people than we do, so I can’t imagine their kind of process,” Wilson said. “They basically run you through an obstacle course vocally, which is really smart of them because then they get some really capable singers.”

To audition for the Trillers, people have to prepare a short piece and then get called back to perform with the group.

“We broke off into sections and we taught them the first few bars of a song so we could see how they … sounded together and how they performed under the pressure of having 20 people watching them,” Wilson said.

The Trillers audition process examines how well each individual can fit into the already existing group, she said.

“You can get someone out at an audition who can belt like a pro and sound like Christina Aguilera, but she can’t blend,” she said.”In a choir setting when everyone’s trying to make the same sounds … it’s not going to work if you can’t blend.”

The Trillers are currently working on pieces from Coldplay, Stevie Wonder and Bonnie Raitt, she said.

“We’re trying to touch on all genres this year and all time frames,” she said. “One of our members is actually working on the James Bond theme song.”

Mark Cuyegkeng, is a new addition to the a cappella group.

“I went to St. Michael’s Choir School so I’ve been singing in choir since I was eight and every year I’ve been here, I’ve been doing something musical,” he said.

Cuyegkeng, Comm ’13, was part of the Queen’s University Chamber Choir in his first year and the Queen’s Choral Ensemble in his second year.

Cuyegkeng said he enjoys being part of the Trillers more than his other musical experiences.

His favourite songs performed by the Trillers include “Such Great Heights” by the Postal Service and “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra, he said.

“I was never in an a cappella group before. It’s a different feel and more energetic and not as stoic,” he said. “It’s kind of liberating to go for three hours a week and jam out.”

Recording of a cappella group -

Fix You by Coldplay (Trillers A Cappella Cover) by Queen's Journal

- Audio by Justin Chin

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