The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 20

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

Josh stumbled off the elevator. He had made it to his floor of the hotel without incident, playing sober all the way from the bar through the lobby. The floor was cleared out, and though he still heard the chatter of other members of The Acapocalypse as he wandered past their doors, he felt confident no one would see him in his current state.

He had disappeared into the bathroom at the bar, and could only assume the group thought he went back to his room. Instead, he crouched over a toilet and puked out all of the night’s beer and disappointment. He proceeded to fall asleep with his head on the toilet seat. When he woke, he wasn’t sure how long he had been there. When he came out, no one he knew was left at the bar.

Josh got to the room he was sharing with Carrie and was relieved to find that he still had his key card in his shirt pocket. He almost had it in the lock when he paused, putting an ear to the door. There was no sound from within, and he reasoned that she must have been upstairs for hours by then, and was probably fast asleep.

Josh’s head throbbed, and he decided he was best off fetching some ice. He didn’t have the bucket, but figured he could just fire out a handful from the dispenser and hold it against his skull. At that moment, nothing in the world sounded more appealing.

He followed the signs to the ice machine, and much to his surprise, found Amanda waiting.

She had on her blue flannel pajama pants and a black spaghetti string top, the likes of which she usually wore to bed. There was no sleep in her at that moment, though, perched on a sill by the glowing light of the Coca Cola vending machine, laptop beside her, her little portable keyboard on her lap. She poised her fingers over a chord of white keys, and listened through her iPod ear buds, hooked into an audio jack. She didn’t seem to notice him until he was right upon her, at which point she almost dropped the keyboard, then almost knocked the computer from her side. Once she had stabilized everything, she pulled the ear buds away from her head. “Jesus, Josh. You scared me.”

“Sorry about that.” He tried very hard not to slur his words, recovering the sober act.

“It’s fine.” She moved her hair from her face and readjusted herself on the sill. “Are you just getting back? You don’t look so good.”

He could only imagine what an understatement that would be. His hair likely askew, his clothes wrinkled, maybe the impression of the toilet seat's rim on one cheek. “It’s been a long night.”

“I get that. How are you feeling?”

“I’ll live.” Josh depressed the lever on the ice machine and a series of cubes fired downward, too fast for him to get a hand underneath. He picked the top cube up from the pile over the grate and ran it over his forehead. “What are you doing up?”

Amanda looked down when she smiled. “Arranging.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Why?”

“We just lost in competition. How can you even think about a cappella?”

Amanda’s fingers danced across a few keys. She was a really good piano player, had taken lessons for years as a kid. He remembered how she would sit in the rehearsal room in high school when she was stressed out and play and play and play. “We didn’t lose.”

“You missed the announcement?”

“We finished in third place, Josh. That’s not losing.”

He wondered if she actually believed what she said—if another person who took the group as seriously as he did could be so level-headed about the whole thing. “What are you arranging?”

“Death Cab for Cutie song.”

“Death Cab? And who’s going to sing the solo on that?”

“I think it could be a really interesting one for Katie.”

“Mix up the genders.”

“It’ll be distinctive.”

Josh felt himself grow warmer, preparing to ask a dozen questions. In the same moment, he caught himself, remembered he was supposed to feel depressed. He wondered if he was just too tired and drunk to focus, or if Amanda had brought him around so quickly, or if it was the idea of the music—the a cappella itself. “I still can’t believe we got third place—that we got eliminated from the competition.”

“Come on, Josh.” Amanda pressed a key on her computer then put one of her ear buds back in. “We’ll keep trying.”

“We will?”

“We will.” She put the second ear bud back in, and played a new chord. “We lost one competition. It’s not the end of the world.”

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 19

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

Josh was not a big drinker. Living at home, going to community college meant he didn’t have a lot of opportunities to engage in that sort of thing, besides which he was always so busy he didn’t know when he would find time for it. But then, with The Acapocalypse out of competition, maybe he would find more time.

The group met up at the hotel bar and grill for a bite after the show. Russ ordered a few pitchers of beer, and no one seemed interested in carding the rest of the group. And so they drank.

“You guys were really amazing,” Carrie said. “And now that you have one competition under your belt, you’ll be even more prepared for next time.”

Josh nodded and took another gulp of beer. Since the show, Carrie had been a source of endless platitudes and reassurance. He knew she meant well, knew he probably shouldn’t be so disappointed at the group’s failure to advance in its first try. But this was all he had thought about for months—at the expense of his grades, his friendships, and, yes, his relationship. He didn’t know what to do if it was all gone.

Andrew, Katie, Russ, Evangeline, and Lucy played a game where they tried to bounce a quarter into each other’s cups to make one another drink. Katie started out using Diet Coke until they all nagged her along enough to get her to drink a beer. They had fun. Maybe it was their way of coping with the disappointment. More likely, they didn’t care. And maybe that was the problem all along—that he tried to take a group of people who had never done a cappella before, and mold them into a competitive group. That he had led a platoon to a war in which they had never felt all that invested.

Amanda had skipped the bar, had gone straight up to her room. Maybe that’s what Josh should have done too. Maybe she was the only other one who took that dream of competing seriously—or at least the only one who understood it.

Josh poured himself another beer.

Carrie rubbed his back. “OK, I think I’m going to turn in early. I’ll see you back at the room.”

Josh waved a hand and drank more. He watched the game go on and hummed the tune to “Listen to the Music” under his breath.

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 18

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

Evangeline’s friend Lucy sidled down the row of seats to reclaim her place next to Carrie on the auditorium. The two of them hadn’t met before that afternoon, when they joined The Acapocalypse at its meeting point at SCC to caravan to the evening’s competition. They were the only two people to go who didn’t belong to the group, and had become de facto friends. Carrie liked Lucy well enough, but despite their small talk, didn’t have a good enough sense of what she would find funny, or what kind of music she liked to make much conversation during breaks from the show.

Lucy had gotten up to brave the bathroom line during intermission. Carrie didn’t want to take chances on missing Josh’s set, so she stayed put for the duration and put her bladder on hold.

“How long before they start again?” Lucy shifted all around in her chair, rearranging the coat, scarf and gloves she had just sat on, propping them against the seatback.

Carrie checked her watch for the hundredth time. “Should be any minute now.” She had spent the past two weeks sending Josh reassuring emails, telling him he was going to be great, that there was no way she would miss the show, and offering to sit in on rehearsals. He never took her up on the offer, just sent her messages to acknowledge he got her messages, and to confirm how busy he was. He didn’t mention the rehearsals, and so the last time she saw The Acapocalypse perform before that night was their end of semester show over a month before.

The house lights flickered. A minute later, they went down altogether, and the emcee came back on stage to introduce The Acapocalypse.

They jogged out onto stage, just the way they had for their end of semester show, and just the way The Grand Standers had for their set. It wasn’t until Carrie saw The Grand Standers that she realized how much Josh and Amanda had derived from them—not just the jog, but dressing in the same all-black look, but trading The Grand State maroon school color in for SCC’s forest green ties and sashes; standing in a similar cluster to what The Grand Standers had used on their opening.

Josh blew his pitch pipe and they began. They opened on “Listen to the Music.” The alternating solos produced a genuinely different effect from anything else on stage that night, and Carrie felt certain it played well to the judges. The audience certain applauded loudly on the song’s finish.

The next song was Bush’s “Glycerine.” Josh had arranged the song over winter break to give the group more depth and more of an emotional core. He talked about how it would appeal to the female audience for the romantic content, and to a male audience for the rock edge to it. He had complained to Carrie about the difficulty of making the arrangement interesting while retaining the original song structure.

Russ had the solo, and his deep voice seemed to approximate Gavin Rossdale’s well. Josh stepped from the group to sing a backing part on the choruses, and Carrie watched him closely. She thought she caught his eye, thought that, just maybe, he was really singing to her.

Carrie thought Josh might be singing to her until the bridge. At that point most of the guys and girls paired off on stage, the guys taking them by the hand and walking all the way around them in a dancing circle. Josh held Amanda’s hand. Carrie crossed her arms tightly around herself until it was time to clap at the end of the song.

The group ended on “Livin’ On A Prayer.” Carrie had been so excited to hear that song after all of the great things Josh said about it before started keeping to himself. She couldn’t really focus on the performance, though.

Two more groups performed, then the judges went off to deliberate while a group from the host school sang a few songs. Then the emcee returned and called the groups up onto the stage. The Acapocalypse resurfaced. Some groups just stood in a cluster, others had all their members hold hands. The Acapocalypse group members linked arms. Just about all of them had their sleeves rolled up by that point, and Carrie was careful to take note of Josh’s bare forearm touching Amanda’s.

Josh won an award for outstanding choreography on “Livin’ On A Prayer.” Carrie couldn’t help but smile again upon seeing the look on his face—that smile of vindication.

The emcee cleared his throat. “As we announced earlier, the top two groups from tonight’s show will advance to the ICCA semifinals. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce tonight’s second runners up.”

Josh relinked arms with Amanda.

“The Shermantown Community College Acapocalypse!”

Carrie clapped loudly, and Lucy even stood up to cheer. To their credit most of the group looked happy as well. That is, except for Josh and Amanda—most of all, Josh. He hung his head as he walked up to the emcee again to claim another certificate; forced a smile and shook the guys hand before shuffling back to the group.

Though the group had placed, though after a half a year together they were recognized as the third best of six groups, Carrie recognized the reality pressing down on Josh’s shoulders. They would not progress in the competition. They were only the best of the groups that didn’t get to continue.

The Grand Standers took home first place. A guy with a mess of black hair and a girl with brown hair that stretched almost as far as her waist came up together to accept their certificate, then stood front and center to sing the harmonizing parts of the solo for their group’s encore.

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 17

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella quarterfinals marked the first time Evangeline had seen an a cappella competition. There was something strange about the experience of it—watching the first three groups perform, all college students all of whom, like The Acopacalypse, had traveled to perform for 12 minutes on that stage.

Evangeline wasn’t much for musical nuance—she preferred to take in the big picture of a performance, and wondered if the judges would ultimately determine results the same way, or if, on an unconscious level, there was any difference at all.

She knew that Josh was all about scores, going so far as to draw a mock scoring sheet on the chalkboard during one of their rehearsals, and email a PDF version to everyone afterward to stress the importance of tuning, and smiling, and enunciating, and so on, and so on, and so on.

The first group to perform, an all-female group in teal tops and black slacks look petrified to be on stage. The Indian girl with the first solo looked like she might burst in tears on the first verse, and they all looked self-conscious when they did their little touch-steps and waves of their hands. Evangeline wondered how the judges would respond to that—if their discomfort was as evident to them as it was to Evangeline, and if it mattered as much as she thought that the group didn’t seem to have any fun at all.

She thought of the fun she had had with her own group—the night she hooked up with Russ, the night she took Amanda out for coffee to lower her guard as the assistant director, and gossip like girlfriends. She thought the a cappella group was one of her more worthwhile pursuits in her years at SCC, and it was a part of why she didn’t mind that she would spend an extra semester at the school to finish up her studies the following fall. Ultimately, she didn’t care all that much how the group did in competition, aside from how happy it would make Josh, Amanda and Katie—maybe Andrew, too. As far as she was concerned, it was just another show.

An all-male group took the stage next, and they looked especially young. They could sing, though—they could sing really well, and Evangeline wondered if they were objectively better than The Acapocalypse. There was something about them she didn’t like. The smiles that seemed waxed onto every member’s face for the duration of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” The cheesy, if unabashed choreography. The show tune sound of the second song. They just seemed utterly fake to her, acting as much as they were singing. Maybe that was the nature of competition, but although Evangeline was all for stage presence, she had little interest in theatrics.

By the last song of the second set, Evangeline noticed Katie had her arms crossed tightly around herself, fingers nails pressing into her own skin. She wanted to say something to her, to try to comfort her somehow. Katie hadn’t spoken to her any more than she had to since the party, though. After a while, Andrew reached out and sort of awkwardly rested a hand on one of her forearms.

The Grand Standers closed the first half of the show. There was something strange about Josh’s relationship with or perception of the group. When he first formed The Acapocalypse he talked a lot about The Grand Standers—how great they were, and lessons their own group could take from them. As competition neared, and particularly after it was announced they would be competing at the same show, Josh stopped mentioning the other group at all. And indeed, when they came on to perform, he whispered something to Amanda, got up and walked out of the auditorium.

Whatever his reasons, Josh missed a hell of a show. The group demonstrated none of the nerves of the first group, and though she felt their personas were as much put on as the second’s, they carried out the act better—looked more natural, found their notes and their positions on stage after each reconfiguration without pause or visible effort. That, and when they all lined up across the front of the stage to sing the final chorus, they produced a bigger sound than Evangeline could ever recall having heard from pure human voices.

Good as they were, Evangeline had a sense she could see the strings to their performance. In The Grand Standers she saw a collection of people who made a cappella their life—for whom it was so much more than pastime and social outlet. They probably beatboxed in the shower, harmonized with songs on the radio, heard the syllables of a guitar riff. It was all well and good for them, and she could see why someone like Josh would be drawn to them. It’s not what a cappella would ever be for her, though.

At intermission, Amanda led the group backstage, where Josh was waiting for them. He didn’t fidget or shake, but there was something upright and rigid about him that belied his confidence. Evangeline smiled—not putting anything on, feeling as loose as she looked. She slugged his arm. “The Grand Standers sucked. We’re going to show them how it’s done.”

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 16

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

All around Josh, eyes drooped, bodies sagged, and voices began to wane. Josh spun around, turning his back to the rest of The Acapocalypse, his hand spewing a whirl of chalk as he scrawled Xs and Os on the chalkboard at the front of the classroom, outlining where each of them would stand. He defied fatigue and restlessness. Boredom was a foreign concept. After all, the group was embroiled in its final rehearsal before competition.

It’s third hour of its final rehearsal before competition.

Josh felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to find Amanda there. “Maybe we oughta skip ahead,” she said, soft and low. “I think we’re losing people.” Josh looked out at the room again, and, indeed, everyone looked tired. Even Katie. Katie, who always paid attention. Katie who had arranged and choreographed the final song of their competition set. Katie, who he was depending on to explain the story of how she came to that song as a way to help them leave rehearsal energized and ready for their biggest stage.

Josh nodded. “OK, we’re going to leave that one alone,” he said to the group. “And we’re going to wrap up. Katie, you have the floor.”

To her credit, once Josh had cued her Katie sprang to her feet, looked like a new woman. “So Josh asked for me to talk with you all about our last song.”

After the explanation, the entire group stood again in formation. Josh counted off, then entered into his vocal cymbal routine. The group started soft before allowing its sound swell, bolstering Russ’s bass sound.

“Music shouldn’t be about singing a song you’ve heard before—about reciting lyrics,” Katie had said. “It should be about telling a story—remembering the emotion—remembering that, for someone listening, its probably the first time they’ve ever heard the story.”

Amanda keyed in.“Tommy used to work on the docks. Union’s been on strike, he’s down on his luck. It’s tough.”

“And when you’re telling that story, it’s because you’re feeling it at that moment. You’re not thinking about blend or tuning. You’re not thinking about anything. You’re feeling.”

That part had worried Josh when Katie first told it to him, but he warmed to it. The members of The Acapocalypse were all good singers, but most of them remained unpolished, they certainly hadn’t mastered the art of harmonizing with one another. And if they wouldn’t be able to do that better than the rest of the groups, maybe they could make up ground by feeling the music. In kind, the crescendo built to the first chorus, on which Evangeline and Katie joined Amanda on the solo.

“And that’s when you start to realize that each individual voice, every divergent understanding of a story, every different perspective is beautiful. And the way they come together—that’s how you shape a whole.”

Josh let rip on a very brief drum solo, paving the way to the second verse.

“And that’s like any person. Think about how you act, or how people see you in different lights—how different of a person you are in the eyes of your mom, compared to your best friend, compared to your ex, compared to your professor. When all of those different types come together, you start to figure out who you really are.”

The group stepped, pivoted, danced. It was all choreographed to the extent that they were all supposed to move, to get from one point to another, But everyone danced his her own dance. They created a cacophony of sound, the image of any party or any city street full of individuals, unconsciously achieving some form of a communal meaning.

And then they all stopped in perfect unison, and all turned to face the chalkboard the way they would turn to face the crowd. For one moment, they returned to a cappella convention, singing as one, one last time, “living on a prayer.”

Josh smiled. They were ready.

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 15

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse

Katie’s father sipped from the champagne flute in one hand, and wrapped his other arm around her waist. It was always funny to her how much more openly affectionate he was in public than behind closed doors. In the private of the house they hardly talked, much less touched. “Now I’ll have you know that my daughter, despite having two years left in high school, is already taking college courses.”

“Is that so?” a round-faced man asked. He wore a maroon blazer and white button up shirt around his round frame. Her father looked more dapper in his blue pin stripes, and as much as Katie disliked it when her parents hosted a party, she like the new black cocktail dress her mother bought for her—long, sophisticated.

“Only community college, of course,” her father went on, “but she did pull a 4.0 for her first semester.”

Which meant she earned an A in the one class she took. Details. Katie caught a hint of Andrew bristling beside her at the comment about community college. She was thankful he remained quiet. Though Andrew was a full-time, matriculated student to SCC, he had explained time and again to anyone who would listen how it was a money-saving strategy and he had every intention of applying to Ivy League schools to finish his undergraduate career. To his credit, Andrew had earned a 4.0 with a full course load.

Katie hadn’t expected that Andrew would be someone who came to her family’s Christmas party. Two years earlier, her mother had started suggesting she bring a date, but she had never had a boyfriend, just friends and crushes. Then she joined The Acapocalypse and met Russ and Andrew. She had visions of meeting Russ in the image, of letting him turn her a little more bad, but also getting him trade in his checkered plaid for some argyle.

Russ ignored her. Andrew didn’t.

Andrew pursued Katie with enough persistence, that there came a point when she felt obliged to give him a chance. It’s not that she really saw a future for them. He came across as sophisticated, but in a very conscious way. He was cute enough, but never really gave her butterflies. He was a suitable placeholder as a boyfriend—someone to accompany her to these sorts of events, and to go to the movies with. Not someone she saw herself getting serious with, though—physically or otherwise.

Oddly enough, Andrew seemed at peace with that situation. Once she agreed to hang out with him, and to hold his hand on occasion he seemed content. He would try to kiss her every now and again, and of those times, every now and again she would let him. But he never pressed the issue, never made her uncomfortable. He was perfectly suitable.

Katie wondered if that’s all she would ever find in a man, and if her own parents ever felt anything more than that sense of convenience and suitability. They never really demonstrated it.

“Dashing through the snow—”

It began.

“On a one horse open sleigh—”

Mr. Blisely, a high school friend of her father’s had a tradition of getting knackered and starting to sing Christmas carols. Katie’s mother reported that, for years, it was an embarrassment, and they did their best to quietly hush him up. But then, one year, someone started to sing along, and before long, the better part of the party sang, or at least lip-synched the words.

Sure enough, a few old men were quick to join Mr. Blisely, then their wives. By first chorus, easily half the party had joined in. Andrew, despite not knowing of the tradition, was all too eager to get involved. Katie smiled, and joined at the start of the second verse.

The party sang without instrumentation. Despite the lack of a formal arrangement, vocal percussion, or choreography, Katie recognized that this, too, was a cappella, and perhaps in its purest form—not carefully tuned, or rehearsed.

They all laughed and cheered as the song ended, and Katie caught herself laughing too. Mr. Blisely didn’t skip a beat, starting “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” next.

This sort of singing felt disorganized, but fun and warm. For a moment, she thought maybe this was what a cappella was supposed to be.

The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 20
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 19
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 18
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 17
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 16
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 15
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 14
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 13
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 12
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 11
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 10
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 9
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 8
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 7
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 6
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 5
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 4
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 3
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 2
The Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse – Part 1