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The power of a voice: Maya Acutt’s journey with a cappella

After a long school week of homework and track practice, the sound of melodic singing surrounds Maya Acutt (’25) as she channels her passion for music into her weekends spent immersed in a cappella.

Acutt began her musical journey at a young age. At first, she solely focused on instrumental music. Shortly after, she decided to add singing to her musical repertoire.

“When I was 6 years old, my parents put me into piano lessons, like most parents do, and around the same time I started singing to accompany myself while I was playing,” Acutt said. “When I switched music teachers, my new teacher had more of a focus on piano and singing, so I did more solo songs, just singing.”

A few years later, Laura Saggers, her singing teacher, founded Squad Harmonix: a year-round a cappella program for advanced youth singers. Squad Harmonix trains four a cappella groups of varying expertise: Pop Squad, Junior Squad, Senior Squad and Varsity Squad. 

Acutt joined the program at the age of 12 and is now a member of Squad Harmonix’s Varsity Squad, which is considered their highest level. As a member of this group, Acutt is hired and paid to take part in competitions and perform at various events. For the past five years, she has spent most weekends with her fellow squad members.

“This community that I’ve been a part of and these people that I’ve known for so long are like a friend group to me. We have our own inside jokes, and we’ve been through a lot together,” Acutt said. “During our more casual performances, like at the farmers market, we can have fun with each other on stage, since it’s not a competition, and it’s a different energy.”

Through Squad Harmonix, Acutt has traveled to many places for performances. Last spring, Acutt and her squad travelled to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall. Special guest Deke Sharon, who was featured on Total Vocal, invited Squad Harmonix along with several other a cappella groups to perform his arrangements in New York. 

Acutt had never been to Carnegie Hall prior to performing Sharon’s arrangements. She said that while walking onto the stage, she was amazed at its ornate and beautiful interior.

“Looking out into the audience from the stage was really pretty. I never expected that I would be traveling for a cappella, so the whole experience was kind of crazy,” Acutt said. “At this point, I don’t normally get nervous for shows because I’ve done so many, but performing at Carnegie Hall was nerve wracking. It was really fun though because I enjoy performing.”

As an a cappella group, the Varsity Squad works together to create sound using solely vocals. Acutt said she loves the collaborative aspect of being a part of an a cappella group.

“As a group, everyone is counting on you not to go off key, to stay in tempo, to blend and have dynamics,” Acutt said. “Once everyone locks in, singing in harmony with other people is the most beautiful sound in my opinion. I really enjoy being able to hear that.”

Throughout the years she has performed with Squad Harmonix, Acutt said her biggest supporters have been her parents and music teacher.

“I’m really glad that my parents have encouraged me to stay with singing, and my music teacher has been really influential for me, and she’s been in my life for a really long time,” Acutt said. “She’s helped me and pushed me and given me a lot of amazing opportunities including Carnegie Hall, as well as Scotland, this summer, to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.”

As Acutt gained more experience performing with the Varsity Squad, she began teaching younger kids at Squad Harmonix.

“I really enjoy teaching the younger kids because I feel like they’re so much better than I was when I was their age, so it makes me happy that they’re doing so well and that they have similar opportunities [that I’ve had],” Acutt said. “The younger kids recently were able to go to Carnegie Hall to perform this past spring break. It’s such a big achievement, especially because the youngest of them was 7. I’m so proud of them.” 

Acutt has been teaching the younger singers for almost two years. On Saturdays, she teaches from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and attends varsity rehearsals from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

“It’s a huge commitment. Teaching them means helping them learn arrangements, learning their parts, playing out their music on the keyboard and having them sing it back to me ,” Acutt said. “I make sure they memorize their parts, and I help them with sight reading, sight singing and music theory.”

Through her experience working with kids, Acutt said the greatest quality she has gained is patience. 

“I’ve gotten better at understanding younger kids and their mentalities — how to keep them engaged and where they’re coming from,” Acutt said. “I was a younger kid at one point, and I’m closer in age to them than my teachers are to them, so it’s easier for me to connect with them because I understand them better than my own teachers probably do.”

Now that Acutt has spent enough time teaching, she is paid for her work. Since the community service aspect of her work has been removed with it being a paid position, Acutt is looking to find another way of serving the community outside of Squad Harmonix. 

“I reached out to the Alexandria House which is a home for displaced women and children,” Acutt said. “I’m going to be doing a summer program teaching the kids there what I’ve learned and a few songs that they can perform to their families at the end of the program.”

In her future, Acutt said she sees music as more of a hobby rather than a profession. However, she said the responsibility and teamwork she has learned while being in Squad Harmonix as well as teaching kids are skills she will always benefit from.

Being a part of an a cappella group is a huge collaborative process, and it teaches you to be able to work with people and adjust for other people,” Acutt said. “This group is really tight-knit and committed. It’s like a sports team in that everyone is relying on you, and you’re relying on everyone else to be as committed and as good as possible.”

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About the Contributor
Tavi Memoli
Tavi Memoli, Senior Reporter
Tavi Memoli joined The Oracle as a staff reporter in 2022 and is now returning as a senior reporter in 2023. She plays indoor and beach volleyball and is currently in her third year on the varsity team. She loves baking, surfing, and listening to music in her free time.

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