Last Thursday night, my barbershop chorus gathered in a Manhattan church at our usual rehearsal time, each of us dressed in black. Our rehearsal started in its standard fashion: some chit chat, vocal warm-ups, a bit of stretching, and a logistical rundown of the evening. As the clock neared 8 p.m., we lined up towards the back of the room and waited for our guests of honor to arrive.
The door opened and four women — the newest members of our chorus — entered the rehearsal space to thunderous applause. By the looks on their faces, I’m not sure they knew what they were getting into. We greeted them with roses, fresh music binders, and a champagne toast. They were introduced to their mentors and we taught them our official song — half vocal warm up, half rallying cry. The excitement in the room was palpable, as those of us who had been around for a while remembered our first rehearsals with the chorus.
“Yeah, kinda,” she responded.
I was not involved in Greek Life during my undergraduate years. That isn’t to say I didn’t explore the possibility of joining a sorority — the Greek houses at my university all opened their doors for one night during the first week of classes and, as is freshman tradition, I went mostly for the free soft pretzels. None of the houses quite clicked with me, though, and after hearing just how much time and money went into the pledge process, I decided it wasn’t for me.
The one group I was determined to join as a wee college freshman was the campus women’s a cappella group.
This was a few years before Pitch Perfect, but as a music nerd, I didn’t need Anna Kendrick to tell me that a cappella was cool. I showed up to the first audition and belted a Kelly Clarkson song with the utmost confidence of someone who spent her high school nights pouring over pop arrangements from Ivy League choral groups on YouTube. I thought I had it in the bag when the girls brought me in for a callback. I was only slightly devastated when I received a rejection email a few nights later.
I got involved in other things. I sang with the concert choir and Renaissance chamber ensemble (again, nerd). I organized flash mobs on campus, back when that was socially acceptable. I studied abroad. I got involved in theatre — and I managed to maintain a pretty decent GPA. I think I’m still catching up on sleep three years later.
Despite my packed Google Calendar, I always felt like there was something missing. I didn’t quite feel like I belonged to any of these groups. There wasn’t much of a community culture — people were in and out. We’d show up for rehearsal twice a week, sing a few songs, and move on with our lives. I’d often find myself scrolling through my Facebook feed with envy, yearning for the same tight-knit family that my friends found in their sororities and a cappella groups. I wanted the rituals, the road trips to gigs at other schools, the big talent shows, the retreat weekends. Of course, I’m putting these organizations on a pedestal — there are plenty of toxic aspects of sorority culture and even the most wholesome a cappella groups come with their own drama.
But I wanted to immerse myself in an organization and graduate with lifelong friends, as these groups advertised.
A few months after graduation, I moved to New York and started working full-time. I was forced to rebuild my social circle — most of my college friends stayed in Philadelphia, and my high school friends were scattered across the country. I mostly focused on my work that first year and tried to learn how to be a fully-functioning adult. I made a few friends at the office and frequented the bar scene, but I ultimately spent most of my time alone. I felt so isolated despite living in a city of millions. After a few months, I decided it was time to get out of my own head.
New York City is the performing arts capital of the world, so I figured there had to be at least one amateur chorus that would take me on. I scoured the internet, searching for a group that rehearsed around my 50-hour work week (something much easier said than done). Finally, I stumbled upon a women’s a cappella group that sang barbershop harmony and happened to rehearse outside of my work hours. I knew nothing about barbershop at the time, but I figured I’d give them a try.
I decided to attend their open rehearsal for potential new members, and the event mirrored my college’s Greek Life open house in so many ways. But I felt so much more at ease this time around — most members introduced themselves, got to know me a little, and answered any questions I had. I felt genuinely welcomed and excited about the prospect of joining. (Thank God I passed my audition.)
The chorus has become my family in this intimidating city.
We’ve been through a lot together, and I always look forward to our weekly rehearsals, often followed by drinks at a nearby bar. We have traditions in place to bond us together, and we’re all adults with jobs and rent payments and responsibilities. Some of us even have kids. But we all long to connect with people who have similar passions, to build more fun into our lives. Why should those opportunities end when we get our diplomas?