Music, motivation, middle school: Grades 6 through 8 express their love for music through a cappella

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Photo credit: Hannah O'Connor

Soloists Amelia Lewinson and Rose Morris perform middle school a cappella’s arrangement of Stitches at the Winter Concert, which took place in January. The middle school a cappella group is fairly new, but has already managed to impress many of their upper school classmates.

The melodies of Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches” reverberate through the admissions hallway. But something is different: middle school students are not singing with a track but instead creating the beat and background music with their own voices in an a cappella arrangement. Although Archer’s middle school formed The Middle Cs several years ago, a cappella and choir director Hannah O’Connor believes they have “shown a lot of progress” this year.

“The middle school a cappella group, from what I’ve heard, has been around for a couple of years,” O’Connor, who is finishing her first year of teaching at Archer, said. “But I think this is the first year that we’ve been able to get a solid rehearsal schedule under our belt.”

The middle school choir has begun rehearsing in a scheduled time slot, on Mondays after school and Thursdays at lunch. Seventh grader Gemma Wyles tried to get involved in the group last year, but had to quit due to “scheduling conflicts.” Although Wyles in new to a cappella, she is no stranger to singing.

“I’ve always been really passionate about music,” Wyles said. “I have my own band outside of school. I’ve been doing it since maybe second grade. I do think that, throughout literally anything you do in music, [there]’s always the bond [of] being able to experience music together.”

Wyles says she has experienced this “bond” in Archer’s choir and a cappella groups but believes that a cappella provides a stronger one because of its smaller size. Any student who wants to join a cappella must also be a member of the middle school choir.

“Students are getting a lot of their fundamentals through the choir program, and then a cappella is a chance for those girls who really, really love to sing to expand upon those skills,” O’Connor said.

The middle school a cappella group performed their arrangement of “Stitches” for the upper school in the winter and impressed many members of the upper school community.

“Middle school a cappella is so amazingly talented,” junior Courtney Wernick said. “Every time I get to see them perform, I just am in shock. Everyone in upper school just looks at each other [as if to say] ‘How are they this talented?'”

Wyles said that O’Connor picks soloists by voice part and thinks about who is “passionate” about the song. Amelia Lewinson, one of the Shawn Mendes arrangement’s two soloists, said she has always wanted to be in an a cappella group.

“It was really exciting being able to be in a cappella, let alone having a solo,” Lewinson said. “We all knew the song so well, and we all kind of bonded. It was the first song we’d always sing, we’d always have it stuck in our heads.”

O’Connor herself also expressed excitement at seeing the group’s hard work come to fruition and cited their passion for the song.

“It’s really exciting to see the girls be so proud of themselves for how they performed,” O’Connor said. “It’s really good for the upper schoolers to see that level of motivation in middle school because it is inspiring to watch students who are so young be so passionate about what they do. …I walked into the classroom the next day, and the upper schoolers were singing [the middle school’s] arrangement of “Stitches” by ear because they liked it so much. It was cute.”

However, upper school students are not likely to be the last heads that middle school a cappella will turn. On Feb. 29, Archer’s a cappella groups went to a professional studio to record a song for the school’s annual gala. The arrangement was done by freshman Piper Rutman and will feature singers from all grades.

“We’re trying to kind of bridge that gap,” O’Connor said. “Sometimes the upper school and the middle school feel so separate, even though we’re in the same building. We had a rehearsal together yesterday, and we’re just trying to do more things with both groups together.”

The day before recording, Wyles expressed excitement for the experience and said she hopes to connect with the upper school performers.

“It’s going to be my first actual recording experience, and I think a lot of other people’s too. I think it’s going to be a really cool way to represent Archer,” Wyles said. “I think it’s a cool song, and I’m very excited to work with … upper school too. [It’s] going to be a cool thing, and being able to connect with them, and see what it’s like to be in upper school a cappella.”

The upper and middle school performers planned to record at the studio for five hours. After the experience, senior and members of upper school a cappella Willa Frierson described the studio as “wonderful.”

“We were in a bit of a time crunch towards the end, but everyone was in such a positive mood,” junior singer Vivien Tierney said. “It was really cool getting to use professional mics, and [the whole experience] felt really professional and new.”

Although the middle school choir and a cappella are distinct, both Wyles and O’Connor see “more similarities” between the two groups, particularly in their attitudes. Wyles said that the best song to describe the groups would be one of their own arrangements, a five-piece Disney medley.

“It’s really bubbly and fun,” Wyles said. “I think that’s a great way to represent what we do in choir and a cappella.”

O’Connor also identified common themes between the two groups, and within Archer as a whole.

“I’m always impressed by Archer girls,” O’Connor said. “Never have I worked at a place where students are just so eager to learn, and so genuinely hardworking both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.”