By Nathanael Hawthorne
Four years ago, Youngstown State University students wanted to find a way to use their musical talents without joining a campus chorus. From that desire, the Pella Penguins took form.
The Pella Penguins are a coed a cappella group, but were initially an all-female group until spring 2017.
“When I joined in the fall of 2016 we were an all-female group. In the spring we auditioned men, thus making us coed, which was a big step for us,” Kortney Squibbs, a senior nursing major said.
As former president, Squibbs felt the group was missing something. After conferring with her fellow officers, they thought it was best to audition men for the group.
“Once we got a few men, that low bass sound really added a new dynamic to the group. Adding guys has also made us a more tight-knit group,” Squibbs said.
The group is very close, much like any other student group on campus.
“We’re like a family. Our practices are a lot of fun,” Caitlin Correia, a freshman early childhood education major said. “Our performances are usually pretty energetic and we spend about every day together outside of pella due to making such great friendships.”
The ultimate goal of any collegiate a cappella group is to make it to the International Collegiate Competition of a cappella, the same competition shown in the popular a cappella movie “Pitch Perfect.”
“What you see in the movies is real life and that’s what we’re trying to strive to,” Taylor Phillips, a sophomore early childhood education major and president of the Pella Penguins, said. “Being that we only started four years ago, it kind of has been hard to build ourselves up.”
Making it to the ICCA involves a strict audition process.
“There’s an online application first, then you have to send a video. It’s almost like an ‘American Idol’ kind of style. So, you’ll go through that process online and they’ll select you from online and then you’ll be selected from there and then you’ll actually go on the show,” Phillips said.
The road to the ICCA is a hard one, but Squibbs believes the group will get there.
“Will it be super hard? Yes, but I have no doubt in my mind that we will reach that goal within a few years,” she said.
The Pella Penguins currently have 18 members, which is ideal because the ICCA only allows each group to have 18 members performing at once. The largest the group has been is close to 30 members.
While the ICCA’s are difficult to get into as a new group, the Pella Penguins put on roughly 20 performances annually.
The group has performed at Guinathon, Relay for Life and Federal Frenzy, among many others. They have been approached by Nuance, an all-male a cappella group from the University of Akron, about opening up for one of their recitals which will be the Pella Penguins biggest performance.
The music arrangements the group uses are mostly songs that play on the radio, but with a little twist. Two group members, Max Franco and Alex Kluchar, compose original pieces from popular songs.
The group is also trying to incorporate music for older and younger audiences. For the older audiences the group is looking to perform songs by Billy Joel and Freddie Mercury, while for the younger audiences they are trying to perform a mix of early 2000s songs.
Each performance is backed by many hours of practice and rehearsals. From song selection to practices to performances, each performance has many different roles that need to be executed perfectly. One small break in the performance can throw off an entire set. Even being in a new area can be extremely difficult.
“When you’re somewhere you’ve never been, you don’t know the acoustics of the room. It’s really difficult,” Phillips said.
As with any type of performance, there are bound to be nerves before performances.
“We are usually able to read each other and calm each other down and catch each other’s mistakes and fix them,” Correia said.
“After our performances, there is a lot of adrenaline rushes and just a lot of support going around and a lot of pride in one another. Usually all laughs and smiles looking back at the performance we just had.”
Regardless of these possible hardships, they fight through the adversity and make all of YSU proud.
To be part of the group, they hold tryouts every semester. While the auditions have already passed, everyone can be a supporter of the group.
The Pella Penguins also have a recital scheduled for April 5. They will perform in the Chestnut Room in Kilcawley Center beginning at 6:30 p.m.
They have merchandise available online at http://ysu.ignite.co.com/pellapenguins. The group can also be followed on all platforms of social media. Twitter: pella_penguins, Instagram: ysupellapenguins Facebook: The PellaPenguins.