College Guide: A Cappella with the SoCal VoCals

Going to school in Los Angeles is, in many ways, like being part of a giant Hollywood film. Out here, the sun is always shining, and you don't go too many days without spotting a celebrity. So when I think back on my recently completed stay at the University of Southern California, I think in cinematic terms. My movie starts with a girl, a classic California blonde. I had just transferred from Syracuse University in blizzard-beaten upstate New York. Shortly after we met, she persuaded me to audition for her a capella group, the SoCal VoCals. I figured anything that would increase my chances with this girl was worth a shot.

At first, my plan went perfectly. I got in and we started getting along better than ever. But then came the inevitable heartbreak—the girl graduated and moved to New York. Gone. Out of my life forever. So there I was, an East Coast boy in L.A. with the California girl of my dreams 3,000 miles away—and that's when the real fun began.

Let's take a moment out of the narrative here to explain what a cappella music is all about. (In my movie, this section might be a voice-over at the top of the film or maybe a scrolling text like at the beginning of "Star Wars.") "A cappella" means "without accompaniment," and it describes any music performed without instruments. In other words, just voices. Anyway, within weeks of being in the VoCals, I knew I had found my niche. The group turned out to be less like a choir and more like a rock band. Their killer harmonies and incredible voices worked best with contemporary tunes and classic rock. They threw huge themed parties, with hundreds of people jammed into the group's Victorian mansion. (That's not a typo; we rehearsed and most of the group lived in a mansion owned by the group's founder.) The VoCals performed from Massachusetts to Alaska. They had a ton of diehard fans who screamed their heads off at every show. Alumni of the VoCals were in movies and on Broadway. And I'll say it again; they offered coed housing in an unbelievable mansion! Getting over the girl was easy when I discovered that girls totally love guys who can sing.

But let's get real. What kind of a movie is all-harmony? Not this one, I assure you. There was plenty of drama. For the SoCal VoCals it came mostly in the form of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), the most prestigious competition for college groups. During my three years in the VoCals, we competed twice. In our first attempt, we were eliminated by the eventual world champion in the semifinals, and placed just below one of our closest rivals. It was a devastating loss. When we came back to competition two years later, we once again had to square off against the top groups that had beaten us in the past. This time, we earned the Hollywood ending. In a competition at Lincoln Center, we were named the 2008 Grand Champions, and I was personally honored as "Outstanding Male Soloist."

What movie is complete without a moral? Here's mine: through this group's tight harmonies, I developed a passion for pursuing excellence. Because we are student-run, I learned how to lead and inspire my colleagues. I found my best friends, sharing my highs and lows. And thanks entirely to this group, I now have the courage to pursue my dreams and continue singing. The SoCal VoCals is more than a club, more than just an a cappella group. They are a family—a family for all members past and present who have ever called themselves a VoCal. And with that, I'll roll the credits.