Close Encounters
Welcome to the Overtones audition: relax and smile

by Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs


The California Golden Overtones entertain a lunchtime crowd at their weekly Friday concert near Sather Gate.
Peg Skorpinski photo

03 October 2001 | Screaming your brains out on the 50-yard line is not necessarily the best warm-up for a cappella choir. That’s a worry for Micha Suarez, a sophomore who just joined Rally Club, as she waits for the doors of the choral rehearsal hall to open.

“I’ve been having a problem with laryngitis ever since last week,” she says. “Rally Club is quite different from singing.”

Suarez is here in the basement of Chavez Student Center in hopes of earning a spot on The California Golden Overtones. No small ambition. At the end of today’s audition, three at most will be chosen to join the group that came in second overall, first among females, at the last spring’s International Championship for Collegiate A Cappella held at Lincoln Center.

Just past noon, the hopefuls file past a sign reading “Relax and smile,” take seats inside the hall. The Overtones introduce themselves — by name, year, major, singing part: “Danielle Tenner, sophomore, intended psych, bass. Don’t be ashamed to sing like a man, ‘cause it’s cool.”

Everyone laughs — which helps.

For starters, each must perform a solo in front of the a cappella group and all competitors — a “nerve-wracking” proposition, says Suarez, who’s been here, done this, once before.

Those who make the first cut go on to individual appointments, designed to test sight-reading skills, range and tonal memory. For the third round, contestants sing in quartets as the Overtones circulate to hear how well they tune in a group and hold their parts. The next round involves solos again — hard solos from the Overtones’ song list — to see how quickly they can pick up and personalize a song.

For now, the Overtones sort stacks of audition forms, call out names — a source of comic relief in itself. They come from everywhere on the globe — Palhegyi, Sanchez, Huffy, Elzeftawy, Woo — and more than a few get mangled in the process.

One woman has written down two first names — one American, one Chinese. “I’m trying to change to go back to my roots,” she says, then composes herself and begins a rendition of “White Christmas.”

Hesitant or bold, apologetic or saucy, in flip flops, jeans, or flowing skirts, each stands alone, before judges and peers, opens her mouth, and sings: “Son of a Preacher Man.” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”A traditional Indonesia folk song. “The Star Spangled Banner.” “Lass from the Low Country.” “Take Me for What I Am.”

About two dozen make the first cut. After dinner, only eight remain, and by midnight, only six.

Frayed, punchy, they wait in the hallway one last time. Survivors, together, of a day-long voice triathalon. Trying to keep their minds off the pending verdict — with jumping jacks, song, stories about degrading jobs they held in high school, and only occasional reference to the Overtones’ deliberations behind closed doors.

“They’re pondering which one of us should go shoot ourselves.”

“Is this the battle of the basses now?”

“‘Just livin’ in America/At the end of the millennium….’ Let’s all go join the cast of ‘Rent’ and run away together.”

Then the door opens; a member of the Overtones emerges, carrying a piece of paper in her hand.

To meet the newest member of The California Golden Overtones, check out the group at its weekly concert, from 1 to 2 p.m., Fridays at Sather Gate.

“Close Encounters” is an occasional column documenting unofficial moments in campus life.


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