A cappella group gears up after groundbreaking season

Photo courtesy of Ellie Crump

The Ramifications say they didn’t know what they were getting into when they submitted to the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella — they became the first group from VCU to make it to the competition.

“The ICCA’s is the competition that “Pitch Perfect” is based around,” said Ramifications Music Director Matt Malone. “It’s a real deal. It’s kind of the highest level of competition.”

Founded in 2010, the Ramifications — and the rest of VCU — came late to the collegiate a cappella scene compared to other universities’ groups founded in the 1980s and ‘90s. But last season, the group enjoyed its best dynamic yet and their voices “were really blending and working,” Malone said. The success from last year motivated the preparation of a full-length album to be released in the fall and an increased focus on the ICCA’s, which begin in January every year.

“We wanted to see if we could get that status (last year) — and we did,” Malone said.  “Now that we have that status, we’re not resting on it, we want to keep pushing forward.”

A music education major, Malone is one of several group members arranging songs for performance, a process requiring him to rewrite instrumental parts for voice. But it’s important to stay away from instrument-heavy songs, Malone said.

“Trying to figure out how to manipulate 18 people’s voices to make something that is good to listen to, is competitive, is creative and also shows off everybody’s strengths, it takes a long time,” Malone said. “It’s always balancing what voice parts are singing what, what’s going to be lost, what’s important.”

Malone says a cappella music is sometimes “cheesy” — for this reason, the Ramifications stay away from all Taylor Swift arrangements.

“We’ve definitely moved to a much more refined music taste,” Malone said.

But there’s one childhood classic Malone would like to arrange — as of a few days ago — that pushes the definition of “refined”: “a really sexy, yet political, version of ‘Barbie Girl.’”

“It’s such an inappropriate song for the times now,” Malone said. “But it’s such a good song, so framing that right would be incredible.”

Photo by Mikey Maulding

After a little bit of pushing, social media chair Ellie Crump said the group will perform a submission of hers, “Do I Wanna Know?” by the Arctic Monkeys. Inspired by singer Dua Lipa’s stripped-down cover of the song, Crump says she stages music for a cappella when she listens to it.

“I have a picture in my head that I’m trying to push into existence,” Crump said. “I wanted to pick up and be super fast for most of it, but I want for the beginning to strip it down and be just super slow.”

Crump, a biology major with a background in music, is one of a number of group members learning musical arrangement from singers with a knowledge of the practice. That way, the ability won’t disappear once a few members graduate, Crump said.

“We’re at a place right now where we’re exclusively using our arrangements and that’s huge for us,” Crump said. “So getting as many people as possible who are going to remain in the group for several years to a point where they can be doing that is really important for us.”

For Crump, the Ramifications provide an escape from the stress of her major.

“This is really different for me in terms of what I’m doing day-to-day at school,” Crump said. “I’ve always said, I kind of need this to keep me sane.”

The community-esque and joyful nature formed by the Ramifications attracted treasurer Tiger Carrasco to audition for the group, which he did three times before making it in. Most a cappella auditions are competitive — at the group’s most recent auditions, six were accepted out of a pool of slightly more than 100.

“ I really wanted to be in the group because I saw how much fun it was. I liked the music that they were producing and I just wanted to be a part of that,” Carrasco said. “Once I finally made it in, it was a lot better than I was expecting. I am so close with everyone and I really like what we do.”

The Ramifications can be found on Facebook and online at vcuramifications.com.

Photo by Mikey Maulding

Georgia Geen, Managing Editor 

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