Monday, October 01, 2012

From the Author of AcaPolitics: How Do I Feel About the Upcoming Pitch Perfect Movie?

The short version is that I loved the film. Hilarious jokes, outrageous characters, quality music. This was a feel good movie that absolutely succeeded in its mission. Like most of the audience at an advanced screening in St. Louis, I felt a little special for being able to see the movie before its full release on October 5th.

But how do I feel about the movie being released in light of my novel, which came out just under a year ago?

A little backstory is in order. I have several friends working to help market the film across the country and attending these test screenings. For weeks, I’ve been getting messages like, “Did you know the Pitch Perfect movie uses the word ‘acapolitics?’ Is that legal?” My response is that of course it’s legal. The idea of me, or anyone else, owning the use of “aca”-anything is laughable.

And then there were text messages like, “You know the Pitch Perfect movie is nothing like his book, right? Actually more like yours.” ‘His book’ referring to Mickey Rapkin’s nonfiction Pitch Perfect, released 2009. A similar sentiment was recently echoed by A Cappella Records’ President Chris Crawford. Crawford posted, “Saw a screening of Pitch Perfect last night. Nothing like the book which is a really good thing.”

I have to admit that I was concerned by the possibility that the Pitch Perfect movie had used elements from AcaPolitics that were not found in Rapkin’s book. I’m also surrounded by law students for most of the day. This can lead to the unhealthy belief that suing is actually a good idea.

Upon seeing the film, however, I’m pretty much relieved. That is, I think Pitch Perfect the film and my novel are substantially different.

This is not to say that there aren’t an awful lot of similarities between AcaPolitics and the Pitch Perfect movie. Off the top of my head: both introduce the main characters at Freshmen Move-In Day; both zero in on the revelry of A Cappella Initiation Night; both feature an all-female group that insists on singing traditional girl pop from the 80s; both focus on the rivalries between acagroups at a single university . . . Even the similarity between "Brighton" and "Barden" universities is a little funny. None of the resemblances I just mentioned are to be found in Mickey Rapkin’s Pitch Perfect, even though the film is supposedly based on this book.

For the most part, though, I think the commonalities stem from the use of classic themes. For instance, the story of AcaPolitics starts with the two romantic interests being separated into rival a cappella groups. This is the same story as Pitch Perfect the film, but not the book. But obviously no one can cry foul here. This is just the ancient tale of star-crossed lovers.

Similarly, I think screenwriter Kay Cannon and I are both drawing heavily from stereotypes from the actual a cappella world. For example, the habit of some singers to add “aca” as a prefix to every other word, with only occasional success. E.g. Acacrush, acadrama, acaflirt, acatypes, acaverse, etc. Although I must confess, Anna Camp’s delivery of “acascuseme?” in the film is priceless.

Of course, a film can do things a novel cannot, in this case, audio-visual performance of songs. For any artistic treatment of collegiate a cappella, actual singing is pretty darn helpful, even if the film’s on-the-fly arranging is a little unrealistic.

By the same token, a novel can do things a film cannot. A novel can explore, in much greater depth, a character's thoughts and feelings. And since we believe, or at least I believe, that great singing comes from a deeper place, this internal inquiry seems relevant as well.

I saw Pitch Perfect at a theater in St. Louis, which is admittedly a place where I know many members of the a cappella community. A few memories stuck out during the screening. First, about two dozen heads turned my direction when John Michael Higgins finally said the word “acapolitics” in the film, and there were even a few cheers. Second, someone approached my non-singing law school friend outside the bathroom and asked if I was the guy who’d written AcaPolitics. Seeing the movie had made him want to check out the original story.

Already “Pitch Perfect” is being compared in the press to cult classic films like “Clueless” and “Bring It On.” Like them or hate them, these movies have obsessive fans. (Those who have read my novel will remember Wilson’s utter devotion to “Mean Girls.”) If the critics are correct and “Pitch Perfect” turns out to be just such a film—if Beca, Bumper, and Fat Amy bring many an obsessed fan into the fold—then this will be a great thing for the a cappella movement. And I will be a happy acawriter, indeed.


AcaPolitics on Amazon; Pitch Perfect soundtrack.
(Amazon has reduced the Kindle version of AcaPolitics to just $2.99 for the month of October!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The first novel in the series about
college a cappella.

"Surprisingly engrossing; intriguing and multifaceted characters ... A fantastic offering from a talented new author ... Readers will find themselves eagerly anticipating the continuation of this story.”
--San Francisco Book Review

Thursday, May 26, 2011


A cappella. By definition, it’s simply the art of human vocal performance, unaccompanied and pure. But when Ben Jensen arrives for his freshman year at Brighton University, he finds himself caught in a chorus of forbidden romances and fierce competition.

As group president of the Harmoniums, Dani is determined to draft the top talent and use a cappella as the springboard to her future singing career. She senses Ben’s potential, and recruits him to audition. Meanwhile, Ben falls head over heels for his new neighbor in the dorms. Caroline Cooper is the girl of Ben’s dreams—she plays Spanish guitar, knows all his favorite indie bands, and loves to sing. There are only two problems: Caroline is still dating her hipster boyfriend from high school, and Dani has her own plans for the young tenor.

After the auditionees have been matched with their new groups, Student Government announces that it will be cutting one of the ensembles from the university budget. What follows is an all-out survival game as the singers attempt to sabotage each other’s plans and establish theirs as the best group on campus. Dani squares off against Taylor, the lovably neurotic president of the rival co-ed group, the Chorderoys. Also joining the fray are the singing fraternity “bros” in the Gobfellas; the “sisters in song” in the Notabelles; the geeky nice guys in the Dinos; and “a cappella with chutzpah!” from La*chaim.

AcaPolitics is a high-stakes and hilarious novel set in a diverse contemporary setting. Written by a young post-a cappella alum and filled with subtle resemblances to modern political issues,  AcaPolitics will entertain mainstream audiences and music buffs alike.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chapter 1: Move-In

The SoCal Vocals, USC

Full book available through Amazon. First three chapters are a free sample. Permission to repost or republish this work is not granted.

A novel about college a cappella
By Stephen Harrison

Taylor Stuart loved his college a cappella group. He wanted desperately for the Chorderoys to be successful.

For this reason, Taylor woke up at 4:45 a.m. on a muggy August Tuesday: Freshmen Move-In Day. He dressed quickly and arrived on campus by 6:15—a full half-hour before participating groups were technically allowed to show up—and was devastated to discover that the Harmoniums had already arrived and claimed the best spot for the Activities Fair. The Harmoniums’ group president, Dani Behlman, was still flirting with the Director of Orientation, explaining just how awful she was at remembering times, and thanking him for letting her set down her things. She acknowledged Taylor’s arrival with a smirk.

Taylor moved quickly to the second-best spot. Although his table was only a few feet from Dani’s, her position was vastly superior because of its location beneath the hospitality tent, right next to a cooler of sodas and ice cream sandwiches. With horror, Taylor imagined the flood of students seeking shade and sugar who would be met by Dani’s perfect sales pitch for the Harmoniums, masked by her ever-so-polite offer to provide directions. “Sheffield dormitory? Let me point that out to you,” she’d say sweetly. The freshmen would be too naïve to know that it was all a façade, mere clever propaganda to paint the Harmoniums as the friendliest group of singers on campus. And once Dani charmed one prospective singer, she’d charm another, again and again, all day long.

With great effort, Taylor forced the dreadful image from his mind and proceeded to set up shop. He opened his gym bag and began pulling out flyers and arranging his group’s a cappella albums at a furious pace. He set his iPod to “Chorderoys’ Greatest Hits” and cranked the volume.

He’d been so careful, so prepared to ensure his group’s success today. He’d ironed his group shirt the night before, laid out all of his clothes. He’d purchased bags of candy for them to use as bait, brewed and iced a giant batch of “singer’s tea.” How, he wondered, had he let her beat him on this most important day?

Olivia arrived shortly after Taylor finished setting up. She sported the Chorderoys’ white and royal blue tee-shirt, a blue mini-skirt, and blue high heels. The Chorderoys’ recruitment coordinator frowned at the second-rate table positioning. “We’ll have to be more aggressive,” said the alto resolutely.

As Dani and her cohort of fellow Harmoniums waited for the wave of college freshmen to arrive, they quietly discussed this year’s strategy: Song selection. Promo gigs. Message-shaping. Group dress. Voice type-targeting. Inter-group alliances.

An hour passed. And then the flood began in earnest. Hoards of parents and students lumbered past carrying boxes, suitcases, flat-screen TVs, and ungodly amounts of toilet paper. The parental mood hovered between agitated and downright cranky; they were wary of the “goodbye” which would follow this ordeal.

Oddly enough, though, moms and dads were relieved by the mere sight of older students at the Activities Fair, as if they’d only just realized that grown-up kids live on apart from home. When not burdened by boxes, parents would meander up and down the lanes of tables, collecting fliers from random extracurricular groups in which their children likely had no interest, and quizzing upperclassmen about the authentic Brighton University experience, often with really embarrassing questions like “How much do kids party around here?” and “What do you mean by ‘super-senior’?”

The Other Guys, U. of Illinois

A cappella fliers were especially popular with parents. (Student-run “choir” seemed more wholesome than the activities which had filled the average Boomer’s college years.) But while charming a singer’s parents helped occasionally, Taylor, Olivia, and Dani all knew students were more valuable targets for their a cappella sales pitches. Only students could be drafted.

By noon, the August air had heated considerably, and even more people were trekking through the activities field on their way to the freshmen dormitories. Even beneath her shady tent, Dani was severely regretting that black was the background color for her group’s tee-shirts, which seemed to be absorbing all of the day’s sunlight. More importantly, though, she felt the contrast between the tee and her skin made her look unfairly pale. Red was by far the shirt’s superior color. Their name was penned in red italics: Harmoniums. She loved how it accented her strawberry blonde hair.

Dani beamed when an astute freshman complimented her “cute” ruby flip-flops. The a cappella president made a point of remembering her name—Nicole—and encouraged her to try out. “Here, take a few extra for your friends,” said Dani, handing her a generous stack of fliers.

Yes, thought Dani, red was her color. As a junior, she still had two more years with her beloved Harmoniums. She decided right then that next season’s group tees should be primarily red with only small black accents. Successful a cappella recruitment meant establishing a public persona, and outfit color was crucial. Black was serious, formal. Red was tart but sweet, like red Skittles and cherry limeades—and upbeat, energetic a cappella. The Harmoniums should emphasize the latter attributes. They should wear more red.

Redefined, U. of Wisconsin

Dani spotted a boy walking in her direction. She was not sure what it was about him that cried out “singer,” much less “freshman.” Was it the cargo shorts and Birkenstock leather sandals? The stylishly shaggy blonde hair? The black framed eyeglasses? The polite smile he wore while declining a flier from the Equestrian Society?

Whatever it was, she went with her instincts. She moved in.

“Have you heard about collegiate a cappella?”

Ben Jensen was beginning to wonder what about his exterior was making him the target of so many different student organizations. Already, he’d been singled out for the rock-climbing club, the debate team, and the pre-dental fraternity. He made a mental note to walk more quickly.

Ben smiled at his newest assailant and shook his head.

“Do you sing?” asked Dani, in her sweetest voice. Something about Ben—the sunburnt cheeks, the geeky glasses, the dimples—made him seem younger than his eighteen years. He was innocent-looking in just the way Dani found endearing.

Ben nodded and mumbled a few words about choir in high school.

“That’s great! Let me tell you about the Harmoniums.” Dani proceeded with her elaborate sales pitch, and thought she was doing an excellent job. In fact, Ben was too distracted to catch most of it. All around him, extra-curricular reps were yelling things like “Free soda if you join our e-mail list!” and “There’ll be pizza at our group info session!” Consequently, he heard only snippets of Dani’s life-changing monologue: “so much fun for people who love music” and “currently producing our fourth album” and “the clear highlight of my college experience.”

“There you are!” Ben’s mother was a petite woman, with small ovular spectacles, little brown eyes, and a somewhat mousey disposition. Addressing Ben and his new friend, she relayed the saga of finding a decent parking spot. As she spoke, she placed an affectionate hand on her son’s shoulder, as if to emphasize that he was still hers, if only till tomorrow morning.

Dani knew when to push for a cappella and when to let maternal instinct have its way. “You should come to the All A Cappella Recruitment Concert next Wednesday,” she said, handing Ben a flier. “Then you’ll see what it’s all about.”

“Okay. And what was your name again?”

“Dani Behlman,” she said, smiling once more. During auditions season, Dani always gave her full name. This helped prospective auditionees look her up on Facebook, and she was rather proud of her internet persona. “My group is the Harmoniums. We’ll be wearing red at the Recruitment Concert. Don’t forget.” Dani beamed. “And good luck with move-in!”

The Amateurs, Washington U. in St. Louis

Ben’s mother nodded and grasped Ben’s arm, leading him gently but firmly towards the car and his belongings.

Just a few feet behind the Harmoniums’ table, Taylor was shaking his head. He hated when Dani made the first impression with potential auditionees. It was hard enough for the co-ed Chorderoys to compete with the two all-male groups, the all-female group, and the Jewish music group, but the rivalry with Dani was by far the worst.

Taylor straightened, suddenly determined to be more aggressive in his a cappella salesmanship. The Harmoniums might be winning so far, but the battle for group promotion was far from over. He grabbed a few quarter-sheet fliers and moved towards the path with most foot traffic—

“Let me do it,” said Olivia, pulling Taylor back. Olivia knotted her royal blue group tee into a single knot at the bottom, revealing a slice of her tanned tummy. She slipped her feet back into her high-heeled mary janes, and held out her hand.

Taylor nodded his approval and relinquished the handouts.

The Chorderoys’ recruitment coordinator planted herself at the edge of the sidewalk. Unlike other student group reps, Olivia did not shout her message. She didn’t have to. Males and females alike changed their entire trajectory to grab her fliers, drawn to the real sex appeal of Olivia’s confidence. Taylor suspected he’d soon be running more copies.

“Should we be doing that?” asked Melanie, with a nod towards Olivia. Dani’s fellow Harmonium had just arrived for her afternoon shift. “I wouldn’t mind,” she said, arching her back and tightening her stomach.

Dani sighed. Although the group president liked having another person with her, she wished Melanie wouldn’t talk so much. The sophomore would be much more useful if she just smiled and nodded, silently observing an expert at work.

“No,” said Dani. If anyone went, it should be the president herself, but the idea of imitating Olivia was wholly unappealing. Since auditioning for the same a cappella groups freshman year, Dani had tried to avoid her rival alto as much as possible.

“It’s not necessary,” explained Dani. “She’s distributing information on the All A Cappella Recruitment Concert. If they come, they’ll see us perform, too. We should save our energy for targeting specific singers. Let the ‘Roys do our mass publicity for us.”

Melanie consented and changed the subject. “Taylor’s looking good this year.”

Dani rolled her eyes.

“What?” cried Melanie. “Just because he’s in the Chorderoys doesn’t mean I can’t look. Objectively, he’s a fine looking man.”

Dani inspected her adversary. His jet black hair was gelled up in its usual careful spiking. Dani loved mocking the Chorderoys’ president for spending so much prep time in front of the mirror, but the hair style did fit well with the sharp angles of his jaw and cheekbones. And there was something appealing about his summer tan, the surfer look of his corduroy (he would choose corduroy) shorts and sandals . . . the bright gleam of his toothy smile . . . the way his pecs filled out his group tee . . .

“He’s attractive, right?”

“He’s . . . he’s clean,” Dani muttered.


“Yes, he’s clean-looking,” Dani recovered quickly. “He obviously puts a great deal of effort into his personal appearance. But no, I’m definitely not attracted to him. How could anyone normal ever be interested in someone so . . . compulsive?”

Taylor had just begun arranging and re-arranging the albums on the Chorderoys’ table. He stretched the tablecloth out so that it was perfectly pressed down and wrinkle-free.

“He is a little high-strung,” admitted Melanie, although she thought the same criticism could apply to someone else in close proximity.

The Amateurs, Washington U. in St. Louis

Dani believed in making her goals explicit, and Taylor’s compulsive episode had just inspired her. She straightened her spine, stared straight at the rival group president, and informed her subordinate, “The Harmoniums will be the best group this year.”

Melanie followed the direction of Dani’s sightline to see Taylor pour more candy into the candy bowl. “But what does it mean to be best?” asked the sophomore, genuinely curious. “Winning WAC? Scoring the highest audition rankings? Recruiting top soloists? Having the best sound? Everyone getting along with . . . social harmony?” Like most acatypes, Melanie was perhaps too fond of the easy musical reference.

The president’s green eyes brightened. “All of the above,” she explained matter-of-factly. Dani beamed. “It takes everything.”

Meanwhile, Taylor noticed Dani’s teeth glinting in the sunlight, which only heightened his anxiety. Two Harmoniums stared at him, speaking in low voices. What were they conspiring about?

Taylor began pulling at his eyebrow hair. His nervous tic was back in full force. After tugging and ruminating for some time, he reached for his cell phone to send a mass text to all Chorderoys. They were adding an additional hour to practice tonight. He’d determined they needed more time to prepare for the crucial All A Cappella Recruitment Concert.

When he finished typing the message, he looked up. Dani was still smiling. Taylor turned and cranked the volume of his group’s album, hoping to drown the siren of those brilliant teeth. He proceeded to organize the CDs on his table into even more perfectly symmetrical stacks.

Taylor could tell the Harmoniums were up to something. Dani was scheming, as always, but this time, he was determined to uncover her plans before she could put them into action. In the meantime, the Chorderoys would just have to be flawless. During recruitment season, they could afford nothing less.

Chapter 2 - Introductions

This chapter was originally published online on November 2, 2009

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chapter 2: Introductions

The Other Guys, U. of Illinois

It was his first college class and Ben Jensen was already distracted. The student behind him had to psst and tap his shoulder before he remembered to “take and pass” from the professor’s stack of syllabi.

Ben had been gazing across the lecture hall at the girl sitting in the fourth row. He had met her before, and while he had not yet caught her name, he remembered the circumstances of their meeting perfectly.

Last week was Freshmen Orientation, that glorious and uncharacteristic time at the beginning of a Brighton University college career when academic and extracurricular stresses have yet to materialize and socializing itself is the goal. Incoming students were trying to form as many friendships as possible, as quickly as possible. The poor Residential Advisers delivered their nightly meetings on the “do’s and don’ts” of college to an increasingly disinterested audience.

Floor meetings were usually scheduled late in the evening in order to curtail heavy drinking and partying. The concern was legitimate, but in practice, the precaution merely delayed, rather than reduced, such recreation. As soon as the RA’s let them go, a whole crop of freshmen made a beeline to the door, already dressed for the night in the required polo with boat shoes, or tube skirt and high heels.

That particular evening, Ben decided to stay behind; by now, he’d learned that fraternity row was just exhausting. Instead, he joined a small gathering of his fellow freshmen who were sitting at the end of the dorm hallway, chatting.

The conversation bounced around—one minute they were discussing television, the next books, before finally settling on politics. Ben noticed how people perked up for this last subject, and thought how stereotypically “Brighton” (in other words, dorky) this would seem to his high school friends. Quentin from down the hall was wide-eyed and emphatic as he shared his profound political insights, all direct from

Eventually Ben’s roommate, Wilson, and some other floormates returned from the frats. Each of them was still in that stage—far too prevalent, sadly—where one exaggerates one’s tipsiness. Together, they were singing a rowdy and terrible rendition of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Uninvited, they plopped down next to the comparatively subdued conversationalists. Mandy, one of the returning revelers, suggested Ben “bust out” his guitar. Ben was initially reluctant, but Wilson was eager to determine whether—by the doctrine of coolness by association—a guitar-playing roomie might prove handy with potential lady friends. He retrieved the instrument from their room and thrust it in Ben’s face.

Ben tuned quickly and was soon strumming along as he played songs which had defined their childhoods, continuing the Disney magic with “A Whole New World” and the theme from Duck Tales. For the most part, they were simple tunes, and he figured out the chords easily as everyone sang.

“Do ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight,’” said Wilson, with a sidelong glance at his new female friend from the frats.

Ben smiled and complied. Although he was enjoying his first sing-a-long with his drunken floormates, it was by no means a magical experience. The overwhelming newness of his first week of college meant nothing seemed outside of his routine, not even spontaneous music.

But just when he’d finished the schmaltzy ballad, a raven-haired girl from down the hall walked up with her Spanish guitar.

“Ooh! Hers is special!” cooed Wilson, trying to be cute.

“It’s classical,” said Ben. Hers was lighter, with a thin rosewood neck. His was standard, a steel-string acoustic. It suddenly felt clunky in his hands.

Caroline smiled a little and sat Indian-style on the floor. Her long hair draped across her shoulders. The group had transitioned to nineties boy bands now, indulging in such masterpieces as “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” and “It’s Gonna Be Me.” Caroline joined in at once, plucking the correct notes without even asking for the key. While the rest of the group droned on, grotesquely flat, botching every lyric, Caroline invented a contrapuntal harmony as accompaniment.

Ben was in awe.

When Wilson and the rest of the party-going contigent noticed that they were no longer the center of attention, they lost interest. One of the girls invited the entire group to watch a movie in her room. This wasn’t Wilson’s most desired result, but it was at least a step in the right direction. The non-instrumentalists cleared out.

Ben hardly noticed them leaving. He and Caroline had long since moved on from playing pop songs, but he couldn’t recall their transition to pure improvisation. All he heard were the high, sweet plucked tones she floated above his steady strumming. His eyes locked onto her fingers, followed them as they moved deftly up the strings. Her green nail polish shimmered in the fluorescent light of the hallway.

She began to sing. Her voice came as a clear soprano, warm and light. It danced on made-up syllables. Dah nah nah . . . Lah nah nah . . . Hmm nah nah . . .

Ben had just joined in—humming softly, so he could focus on her voice—when his partner suddenly decided it was time for the last chord. She strummed it three times, as if to emphasize its finality. She stood. Ben was too startled to really process what she said – something about a community service trip in the morning. He did remember to suggest they do this again. She smiled and walked back down the hallway, holding her guitar gracefully by its neck.

The Greenleafs, Washington U. in St. Louis

He had not seen her again until today, the first day of classes, and he was delighted to discover that she was sitting in his same lecture course, “International and Area Studies 101: Global Voices.” It was a popular class, and the professor used the traditional roll call. Ben waited on his seat’s edge, holding his breath in anticipation.

“Caroline Cooper?”

She raised her hand, and the professor moved on.

Ben hadn’t waited long, obviously—alphabetical order does not conform to our dramatics—but it was enough to hear her name. Caroline, the girl with the Spanish guitar, the girl with the musical ear, the girl from down the hall, the girl who’d smiled when he’d suggested they play again . . .

Ben spent the rest of class thinking hard about what he should say when he approached her at the end of the hour. His task was difficult. He wanted to sound smart, funny, spontaneous, and cool, all at once, which is always a challenge to plan. Furthermore, her name kept echoing in his mind. Caroline . . . Caroline . . . Caroline . . . This, combined with the professor’s background noise, was disrupting his creative process.

On the other side of the classroom, Taylor Stuart was equally preoccupied, though with different concerns. As the professor explained the syllabus, workload, and reading list, Taylor knew that, as the course’s Teaching Assistant, he should be paying close attention. The problem was a cappella. Whenever he tried to listen to the professor, his mind wandered back to his singing group. Recruitment was an extremely busy time for the president of the Chorderoys. There were fliers to put up, dorm performances to schedule, Facebook alerts to post. Moreover, tonight brought the peak of this “seasonal” stress—the pan-a cappella Recruitment Concert. It was the Chorderoys’ only chance to make a strong first impression, and they were in direct competition with the five other groups.

Although graduation each May robbed every group of members, the Chorderoys had lost four of their strongest soloists and group leaders. Taylor needed fresh talent to bolster the future of his group. Throughout the hour, the TA scribbled best-case a cappella draft scenarios in his notebook, engineering his ideal ensemble. They needed a dynamic soloist – preferably an alto— a true tenor, a soprano, a second vocal percussionist . . .

Taylor suddenly looked back and surveyed the class, searching for any familiar faces from Move-In Day, targets for a cappella recruitment. He spotted Caroline.

“Grades will be adjusted up to half a letter grade based on classroom engagement and participation,” continued Professor Gruender. Taylor felt a pang of guilt. He turned and straightened in his seat, trying to be a little more present for his students. If there was one defining trait of the Chorderoys’ president, it wasn’t his generalized anxiety, his tendency to over-plan, or his fastidious attention to detail. It was a mostly private, very sincere sense of duty.

That duty was part of the reason Taylor was TAing for a political science class, although he was actually majoring in Architecture. Last semester, Taylor developed an interest in international issues by taking this class as an elective. When Professor Gruender asked him to TA for the course this year, Taylor felt a certain obligation to keep that interest alive. For him, discussing far-off nations was a bit like researching Deconstructivist Architecture, or singing passionately without instruments. These were indulgences he protected.

When the professor finally dismissed the class, both Taylor and Ben, for entirely different reasons, converged on Caroline Cooper. Taylor arrived first, of course. Faking nonchalance does not win many races.

“Hi there! Didn’t you stop by our table on Move-In Day?”

“Yes, I did. You were in . . .”

“The Chorderoys,” said Taylor, with a gigantic grin. “And you sang in show choir in high school, right? You should definitely come see us at the Recruitment Concert tonight.” With this abrupt lead, Taylor launched right into his group sales pitch—friendly people, tight group, lots of fun, big plans for the year.

When Taylor took a breath, Caroline chimed in. “I’m not entirely sure I’m going to continue competitive singing in college,” she explained. “Part of me wants to focus more on activities outside of campus. Community action, that sort of thing. But I’ll absolutely consider it.”

Caroline paused, and Ben thought he saw her smirking in his direction. (He had been hanging back a few feet, trying to look preoccupied with his smartphone.) “Ben here is a singer, not to mention a fine guitarist.”

As Taylor registered Ben’s face, he remembered that Dani had made first contact with the freshman during Move-In. Was “Global Voices” providing Taylor with an opportunity to counterstrike?

“You sing?”

Ben thought back to his conversation with Dani Behlman. “Well, I sang in choir in high school. It was fun. Not show choir though. My high school didn’t have the glee thing.”

“Collegiate a cappella isn’t glee club,” said Taylor, perhaps too firmly. This was obviously a touchy subject. “But as for your music background, that’s fantastic! An old-fashioned chorister and an instrumentalist! Pleased to meet you, Ben.”

As they shook hands, Professor Gruender called over his TA to answer a question about office hours. Taylor frowned at the interruption, but excused himself quickly. “Gotta run, but I’ll see both of you tonight!” He race-walked to the podium up front.

When Ben was finally alone with the raven-haired girl who lived down the hall, he remembered absolutely nothing of what he had intended to say to her. He improvised. “Show choir, eh? Were you um . . . the show choir diva?”

Caroline angled her head, surprised by the question. “I wouldn’t say diva, but I did love group singing. It’s very addictive.”

Ben nodded. He found it hard to imagine the classical guitarist busting out show tunes. Then again, there was an air of mystery surrounding his classmate. She was coy in the most charming way.

“Of course, I love playing instruments, too,” said Caroline. “I mean, I had fun playing in the hall a few nights ago. We really should do it again some time.”

Ben could not agree more, which was why he was absolutely determined to seem casual. “Yeah, we should,” he said simply.

And they walked back to the dorm together, discussing favorite indie bands.

The Pikers, Washington U. in St. Louis

Ben and Caroline arrived at the Recruitment Concert seconds before it began. They were running late after another guitar improv session in Caroline’s room. (“No! That is not a euphemism,” Ben informed his nosey roommate.) The auditorium lights dimmed just as they found their seats.

A dapper young man walked on stage, wearing a dark green dress shirt, a black tuxedo vest, and a bow tie. It was the uniform of his all-male group, the Dynamics, more commonly known by their nickname, the Dinos. When he spoke, his voice was extra bubbly. He was in his full-blown a cappella mode.

“Welcome to the ACUAC Recruitment Concert! ACUAC is proud to put on this event to showcase all six Brighton U. a cappella groups. With the performances tonight, we kick off the official a cappella recruitment season.

“Each year, a different singing group chairs ACUAC. My name is Greg, I’m with the Brighton U. Dinos, and I have the pleasure of being this year’s ACUAC moderator and your host for the evening.”

This was met with cat-calls, a “Hott-ie!” and a wolf whistle.

Caroline leaned over and whispered in Ben’s ear. “Greg went to high school with me. So much enthusiasm—the kid was a show choir beast!”

Greg smiled at the audience’s reaction, although the color was deepening in his throat and cheeks. “As moderator, it’s my job to introduce all of the groups and give a brief introduction to the auditions process.

But first, a note about Brighton U. a cappella in general. All of the groups you’ll see tonight are entirely student-directed and all of the songs you’ll hear are student-arranged. There’s no supervision whatsoever from university faculty or staff. We do what we want.”

There were more cheers, including a “hear, hear!” The basic thrill of independence never gets old.

"I should also mention that tonight's concert order was chosen randomly, by drawing numbers out of a hat, and not by anyone in particular. So don't read anything into it.”

The Pikers, Washington U. in St. Louis

Greg peered down at his note card. He had asked each group president to write a short introductory blurb. He recognized Dani’s curly handwriting and red gel pen. “This first ensemble is the premier co-ed a cappella group at Brighton University.”

Listening backstage, Taylor cringed. How he loathed when Dani used the word “premier” in her introductions! By definition, it simply meant “first.” With a few semesters’ head start on both the Chorderoys and La*chaim, the Harmoniums were, technically, the first co-ed group on campus. But the word premier implied so much more. As Dani was well aware, premier sounded like it meant best. What gave the Harmoniums the right to advertise themselves as the best co-ed group on campus?

Meanwhile, Greg continued reading the intro, which was chock-full of Dani’s buzzwords. “This spring, they will release their seventh studio album. They look forward to touring high schools and universities across the country. They are thrilled to invite hot new talent to audition for their nationally renowned ensemble . . .”

Greg cleared his throat. She had underlined her favorite adjective once again. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Brighton’s premier co-ed a cappella group, the Harmoniums.”

During the applause, twelve singers walked neatly on stage. The men wore red shirts and black slacks, the ladies assorted red and black dresses. They quickly formed the customary arc of singers.

The Harmoniums’ music director blew the pitch and brought his group in on a choral “ooh.” Silence descended on the audience. Intrigued auditionees and seasoned veterans alike listened carefully, trying to recognize the chords.

The choral introduction faded and the soloist stepped slowly to the microphone at center stage, her strawberry-blonde hair shining red in the spotlight.

The song was “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” originally by Bonnie Raitt. Dani had him immediately. He was transfixed, thoroughly impressed that the assertive girl he’d met by coincidence on Freshmen Move-In Day could sing so tenderly. Her every note came dripping with heartbreak and vulnerability. Part of him wanted to literally reach out and comfort her as she sang of her abandonment. In the chorus, she declared – in her most soulful belt – her determination to pick up her life’s pieces and move on from this one-sided romance. Ben actually felt proud of her.

Most of all, Ben marveled at her extraordinary gift for eye contact. It seemed as if she was looking at him directly, but Ben knew that could not be. Everyone in the audience must feel the same. Still, he thought, only the most phenomenal soloists could seem so inclusive.

In fact, Dani was looking at Ben directly. Not for the whole song, of course, but every few seconds. The rest of the time she singled out and sang to the other males in the audience, fusing her gift for moving an audience with her calculating sense of strategy. As group president, she’d been reminding her members that this was a “man year” for the Harmoniums, meaning they needed to focus their energy on recruiting basses, baritones, and tenors. (Older members would recall that every audition season was a “man year,” according to Miss Behlman.)

Dani pushed the high note of the bridge to the absolute end of the phrase, the kind of singing that’s impressive because of the sheer physical challenge of breath control. Even Caroline, who found Dani’s tone a little forced, felt the effect. She shivered in her seat.

And then Dani grew quiet, once again the dejected lover. She stepped back into the center of the arc. The background singers emulated a sad “piano” lilt. Lu, lu, lu, lu— Lu, lu, lu, lu——

Her last line was barely louder than a whisper. The silence was charged.

And then the cheers were wild. The president of the Harmoniums smiled sweetly, and more than a little victoriously, as she absorbed the praise. I can’t make you love me, she thought to herself. The irony of the lyric was not lost upon her: She did not believe it in the slightest.

Dani was still smiling as she came up from the group bow, and once again, Ben could have sworn she was smiling right at him.

“That was awesome!” said Ben to Caroline.

Caroline nodded. “There’re still five more groups to go,” she reminded him.

As Greg introduced the second group, Ben thought back to the words of the emcee’s introductory speech: All student-directed, all student arrangements. In retrospect, Ben’s high school choir seemed so lame. The only thing impressive about their director, Mr. Bruschearloepeghi, was his easily mispronounced last name. In chorus, he’d pushed the same recycled songs semester after semester—not because they were any good, but because it required less effort than teaching new ones. Half the kids in choir were only taking the class to salvage their GPAs. Most couldn’t hold a tune to save their lives.

Not here, Ben thought, as he watched the Notabelles take the stage in their purple dresses. Singers at Brighton would know their parts. They might not all be as übertalented as Caroline – or have musical tastes which were uncannily similar to Ben’s own – but they would all have passion. No more Bruschearloepeghi; no more musical rehash year after year; no more playing the system. This was college. This was original. This was real.

A cappella was freedom, and Ben was ready to join the cause.

Next: Chapter 3 - Recruitment

This chapter was originally published online on November 13, 2009

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chapter 3: Recruitment

The Greenleafs, Washington U. in St. Louis

During intermission, Greg Hollis came out into the audience to find Caroline. “Well, well, well if it isn’t the infamous C-squared! The Original Care Bear! La Guitarrista! The Koopa Troopa!” His hug was enormous. "Reunited again!” he cried. “Holly and the Coop.”

“Look at you, Mr. Handsome Emcee,” returned Caroline. She turned and introduced her high school choir classmate to Ben.

“Nice to meet you! And looking forward to your Dinos audition!” said Greg, with smiling self-assurance. He turned back to Caroline. “And you’re auditioning for the co-ed and ladies’ groups, aren’t you?”

Caroline glanced at Ben, and said, “Yes, I think so. Everyone so far has been fantastic.”

Ben smiled at the good news.

“By the way, Greg, what exactly is ACUAC?” Caroline asked.

Greg clenched his teeth. “Ooh, probably should’ve mentioned that earlier. Oh well, the details are more for current singers than for the auditionees. ACUAC is the A Cappella United Administration Committee. It’s the governing body for all of the singing groups. Our job is to keep things fair during auditions, so we make rules and monitor each other to make sure those rules are followed.”

“What rules?” asked Ben.

“All kinds. Most of them are pretty intuitive, really.” Greg took a deep breath and rattled off from memory: “There’s the ‘Respect Provision’ and ‘Song-Staking’ and the official policy against dirty rushing. That rule is called ‘Limited Contact.’”

Ben was confused. Wasn’t rushing a word from Greek life, an ordeal for fraternity and sorority pledges? But there wasn’t time to ask—Greg’s mind had leapt elsewhere. The emcee leaned in toward the slim soprano, his tone careful but filled with curiosity. “And how’s Elliot? Are you still—”

“Yes, we’re still together,” replied Caroline. “He’s at Berkeley this year, enjoying the sunshine. He’s designing his own major in music journalism.”

The color drained from Ben’s face. Somehow he’d neglected to consider the possibility that Caroline was already in a relationship. But it made so much sense. Of course, Caroline would be taken.

Lucky for Ben, Greg and Caroline didn’t seem to notice his reaction, and he had a moment to recover from the sudden, overwhelming feeling of defeat.

“Good for him,” said Greg, “Although I do wish he had come to Brighton instead. I’d love to draft him for the Dinos.” Greg glanced around at the mostly refilled seats, excited by the return of his audience. “Looks like I better get things going again. Later kids!”

As Greg bounded back onstage, Caroline shook her head. “So much enthusiasm. All the girls had crushes on him—not that he was interested.”

Ben angled his head. “Oh, so he is gay. I wasn’t sure if he . . .”

“Was gay or incredibly nice?” Caroline grinned. “He’s both.”

When the lights dimmed and Greg returned onstage, he was noticeably more serious than before. He usually enjoyed his moderator/emcee duties—guiding the show, charming the crowd. But Caroline’s former classmate was only human. It wasn’t easy for him to be impartial as he introduced the other men’s singing group.

The Pikers, Washington U. in St. Louis

Greg cleared his throat and read from the scribbled print of the note card in his hand. “The next a cappella group was founded almost two decades ago by a group of guys who said ‘F these instruments – we’re gonna do it all with our mouths.’ They’ve been making sweet, passionate, strictly auditory love ever since.”

His voice was unusually firm and formal. “Please welcome Brighton’s most eligible bachelors, the Gobfellas.”

The group stumbled onstage, fake-panicking as if they had collectively slept too late and were all bolting for the shower. To say the Gobfellas’ “uniforms” were strange would be an understatement. The guy wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt stood beside a pink oxford, a tuxedo vest next to a ratty sleeveless tee. They wore slacks, a Go-Go dress, overalls, a speedo, steel boots, moccasins, tap shoes, no shoes . . .

They were letter jacket jocks, leather jacket rebels, thrift store junkies, and beach bums all at once, but Ben saw the unifying theme. The Gobfellas wore confidence, with none exhibiting more bravado than the “bro” who swaggered to the microphone.

Derek Crawford was tall and broad-shouldered, with a blonde crew cut and a deep bass voice. His cut-off muscle shirt revealed the tattoo on his upper arm—in black Helvetica, the letters GOB. Rumor had it that he quit the football team freshman year to join the Gobfellas, telling his coach he was doing it for the ladies. Brighton athletics were only D-III, but this incident was often cited as clear proof of the (heterosexual) perks of being one of the “’Fellas.”

“First of all, let’s have a big hand for Greg,” announced Derek. “He has the very, ahem, riveting job of being moderator for this fantastic event. He’s doing such an excellent job of it, too.”

The audience chuckled.

Derek addressed the crowd. “You laugh, but it’s a very serious matter. Hollis could have been like: Ladies and Gentlemen, the mother-fu**in Gobfellas are in the hizzouse! But, instead, he was like—” He paused to ready himself, and adopted his most sheepish monotone. “The Gobfellas are next. That is all.”

Backstage, Greg’s face burned with fury and embarrassment. The whole point of the emcee making the group introductions was to prevent exactly this type of grandstanding. Besides, what right did Derek have to pick on anyone in the a cappella community? The Gobfellas hardly ever contributed to ACUAC’s pre-orientation planning.

Taylor, waiting with the Chorderoys backstage, shot him a sympathetic glance.

Meanwhile, Derek wore an enormous grin as he continued to work the crowd. “You laugh, but it’s so hard, guys,” said the Fellas’ president. “Being that moderate isn’t easy. And I just want Greg to know that we in the Fellas recognize what he’s going through.”

“You’re the best, Greg!” said Derek’s accomplice, a short high-tenor who barely came up to the president’s shoulders. He was wearing Sponge Bob pajamas. “Let’s give Greg a hand!” The audience applauded merrily.

“And while we’re at it, let’s clap it up for moderation in general. Most of you are freshmen, so you’re new to this whole college thing, but I’ll tell you a secret.” Derek leaned forward. His smile was devilish. “The key to a successful college experience . . . is moderation.”

No one believed it, which is why they laughed.

The shorter Fella smirked, pulled out a pitch pipe, and blew the starting note. Clutching the sides of his PJ pants, he sang the opening riff in his high, belting voice.

The vocal percussionist laid down a thick, steady beat. A small burst of spit flew through the air with every pulse.

Derek came in on the bass line, his voice husky and ultra-resonant. He rocked back and forth, pounding his fist to his chest.

The baritones joined him on a slightly higher note, pounding their chests with his rhythm. At this point, Ben finally recognized what song the Gobfellas were building—“Let’s Get It Started” by the Black-Eyed Peas.

The second tenors joined in a little higher, followed by the first tenors in their falsettos. They all pounded their chests.

Derek spun in place and clutched the microphone. The muscled soloist beckoned to the audience, inviting them to join the rising energy. As the tempo rushed, the block of men behind him echoed his call.

The PJs-wearing tenor gave himself room, crouched his knees, and executed a sudden back-flip onstage. The crowd cheered. The Fellas pumped their first for the refrain – “Let’s Get It Started!”

Ben barely heard the hidden word being sung by the chorus – the uncensored use of “retarded” instead of “it started.” The freshman was at the edge of his seat, secretly hoping for more acrobatics.

As the song went on, the Fellas began shedding clothes, with little distinction between those who had more or fewer items to offer. Jackets, jeans, socks, a fedora, undershirts, and a giant-sized gag jockstrap all went flying into the audience.

Mr. Go-Go dress danced as if he’d lost all his bones. Tuxedo Man shook his booty for the ladies in the front row. Moccasins attempted “the Worm” onstage, disregarding the detriment to his man parts. Pajamas McSquarepants jumped on Derek’s shoulders, signing “rock on!” to the sky with his pinkie and forefinger.

For the final pose, the ensemble posed as not-so-classy strippers—modeling pale thighs, slapping bottoms, stroking furry chests—while Derek faded out with the bass line.

The audience ate it up, responding with applause and cheers and hysterical laughter. Girls screamed as if they might faint. From his corner backstage, Greg shook his head. The Gobfellas might not be the most musically sophisticated—the audience’s emotional response certainly wasn’t a deep one—but they did know how to entertain. Year after year with the same Black Eyed Peas’ hit, yet they always kept the energy high.

The Fellas bowed—except for Go-Go dress, who curtsied—and scrambled offstage.

As Greg tried to quiet the crowd for the last group introduction, Taylor paced back and forth. When the Chorderoys had drawn the final position in the singing order, the group president had been ecstatic. Every group wanted to be last so they could make a strong final impression. But following the Gobfellas was going to be more difficult than he’d imagined. When Taylor walked onstage with the Chorderoys, he doubted their classic song-with-a-twist would be at all memorable in comparison.

Unlike Dani’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” the audience recognized the tune of the Chorderoys’ number almost immediately. Smiles swept the crowd as they absorbed the familiar “string” bass, the light soprano “chimes,” the feel-good Motown groove. Taylor’s nerves led him to flub a little on the top note of his high tenor entrance, but he forced a smile nonetheless.

Watching from the back of the auditorium, Dani chuckled and shook her head. Her presidential rival had a weakness: He enunciated too much for Motown. She loved listening closely for him to over-pronounce the t’s in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Back when they were on speaking terms, she’d teased him for singing with all the diction of an ESL teacher.

After Dark, Washington U. in St. Louis

But Dani’s amusement subsided when Olivia joined the song. The Chorderoys’ recruitment coordinator sported her tightest white dress and blue stilettos. As she sang, she gently caressed Taylor’s arm.

Dani hated just about everything about Olivia Goldfarb, but she especially resented her when she flirted with Taylor onstage. Dani looked on, disgusted, as Olivia put her hand on Taylor’s chest, and stared up at him with wide, inviting eyes.

Taylor was careful not to publicize details about his personal life, probably because he knew how quickly news traveled in Brighton’s a cappella rumor circuit. But Dani’s powers of observation were astute. She had deduced on her own what she knew Taylor was trying to hide: He and Olivia were sleeping together. By Dani’s estimation, they’d been hooking up for almost a year.

For the line about valleys, Olivia rubbed her hands on her hips and shimmied down suggestively.

Dani, whose knowledge of pop music bordered on encyclopedic, actually gagged. What an insult to all the classy performers who had sung that song! Sweet Tammi Terrell must be rolling in her grave! Diana Ross should sue for defamation! Dani searched the auditorium, but it seemed that no one else was appalled by Olivia’s public display of promiscuity. The Gobfellas’ full-blown striptease must have dulled their sense of decency.

But Dani’s spiteful state was soon interrupted by an unexpected musical development. Suddenly, the Chorderoys were singing gentle doo’s, the revelry of Motown melting away into a heavenly major chord.

Dylan Genesius was a smooth-voiced high tenor with such a youthful appearance that he could have his ID checked for being at the mall past ten on a school night. In conversations, he was reliably sarcastic, but his singing voice was warm and calming. No one in the crowd had ever heard Maroon 5 sung so earnestly. His high notes for “She Will Be Loved” were golden.

Ben shot Caroline a quick, half-subconscious glance before refocusing his attention on the soloist.

The soprano didn’t notice. Caroline would later mark that specific moment as the first time a cappella music gave her chills. This was precisely the kind of innovation she’d missed in high school show choir. Even before the mash-up, she’d love the way the arrangement emulated the instrumentation of the original, how the background alternately echoed and challenged the melody line. She knew two things: She was now definitely trying out for collegiate a cappella, and her new group crush was the Chorderoys.

After this brief interlude, Dylan stepped back and the audience was thrust once more into the sweet buoyancy of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The final chorus stacked all the parts together: Taylor and Olivia’s duet; a Diana Ross-style descant; swelling altos and tenors; a thumping bass; and a reprise of the hopeful anthem, “She Will Be Loved.”

Taylor had been stage-grinning the entire song, but it was only when he heard the roar of applause from the audience that he allowed a natural smile to stretch across his face. He glowed as the Chorderoys absorbed the praise.

After a few moments, Greg returned to the stage. As moderator, it was his responsibility to give the closing speech of the night, and he began by inviting each of the groups up for one last bow. It was an impressive sight as the six groups filed back on, the stage becoming a sea of colored uniforms: red-and-black Harmoniums next to white-and-blue Chorderoys; green-vested Dinos next to black-and-gold La*chaim—the Jewish music a cappella group, silver rhinestone-wearing ladies of the Diamondtones next to the . . . eclectically-dressed Gobfellas.

After Greg finished his announcements, Ben and Caroline remained in their seats to discuss the show. Current a cappella singers, however, did not have the luxury of relaxation. The performers rushed to the outer rim of the auditorium to their various group tables, eager to sell CDs, distribute candy, and, most importantly, sign up auditionees. Other singers served as roaming representatives for their groups, going out into the crowd with clipboards, mingling and filling spots on their audition sign-up sheets.

These “grassroots” recruiters were selected strategically, especially in the co-ed groups. As experts in the recruitment process, both Taylor and Dani had a thorough understanding of the way in which physical attraction could aid them in enlisting new singers. Though their groups were rivals, their strategies were the same: Use attractive and congenial a cappella girls to lure potential male auditionees, who were always harder to come by than female auditionees. Indeed, there was some truth to Dani’s assessment that every recruiting year should be guy-focused. Each fall, at least three girls tried out for every boy, making testosterone a perpetually limited and precious resource in the a cappella world.

Further complicating the matter, co-ed groups also had to compete with the respective allures of the two all-male groups at Brighton. Neither the Harmoniums nor the Chorderoys could offer the same fraternal vibe as the Gobfellas or Dinos, that is, the prospect of hanging out with a fun-loving and rowdy group of dudes (who sang). The solution was to use especially friendly female salespersons to emphasize the perks of being in a co-ed group. (Both presidents, of course, recognized that not every boy would respond to this method, but from a purely statistical perspective, the gay men in the audience usually proved likelier to try out even without coaxing.)

The circumstances gave Dani an advantage over Taylor. The president of the Harmoniums stood in a corner, talking to a group of mostly men about how much she loved singing that solo for her favorite ensemble. She peppered the “group love” messages she was spewing with reminders to sign-up for an audition before it was too late. “Make sure you write your e-mail address legibly so we can reach you!” she said, with a little laugh.

Luckily, Taylor had plenty of support from Olivia. Thus far, the recruitment coordinator had followed Taylor’s instructions perfectly, from her clothing and general appearance to the choreographed flirtation of their duet. Now, however, Olivia relied on her instincts. She slinked through the crowd, clipboard in hand, honing in on potential auditionees. Olivia prided herself on having mastered the acaflirt. When a boy walked past wearing a Bears hat, Olivia exclaimed that she was a huge Bears fan! Suddenly excited, “the target” began to rant about the current team roster, the new management, the stadium. Olivia nodded when it seemed appropriate. She raked her mind – were the Bears a basketball team?— all the while smiling coyly and batting her eyelashes. She hid her ignorance well enough, however, and ultimately convinced the Bears fan, his roommate, and two other guys from his floor to sign up for audition slots.

It was not in Taylor’s nature to stand idly by while others were hard at work. Instead, he instructed Gary, the Chorderoys’ shy bass, to man the group table selling old albums while Taylor grabbed another clipboard and went after targets of his own.

Within seconds, he found himself talking to a petite freshman girl who told him that she had plenty of singing experience but was afraid of signing up. “I’m pre-med,” she explained. “I don’t want to overextend myself.” Taylor hated that word and the annoying way in which Brighton U. students used it. Of course, he knew from experience that a cappella cutting into one’s academic or social life was a legitimate concern. But the Chorderoys needed fresh talent! Despite her reservations, Taylor persuaded her to sign up for an audition time. She could make those pesky time-management decisions later.

Soon Taylor found himself talking to yet another nervous freshman. Her hand trembled as she signed her name. She informed the Chorderoys’ leader that she was afraid of singing in public. Taylor resisted the urge to mouth off that she was without a doubt unique, that he’d never in his life heard of such a phobia, but instead, he smiled politely and urged her to sign up anyway. “What have you got to lose by trying?” he asked. His stage-grin had returned.

In truth, part of Taylor genuinely envied the freshmen, who were merely trying out. In a way, they had much less reason to be nervous. If a freshman auditioned and failed to make one of the groups, this simply meant that they were beaten out by other candidates, usually people they didn’t know and perhaps would never meet. Generally, freshmen were resilient; they responded by joining Student Government, or the debate team, or any other of the multitude of student organizations on campus. There was always something else to consume an awfully high proportion of their time and energy.

For Taylor, however, the stakes were much higher. He couldn’t simply jump ship and join the Anime Appreciation Club if the Chorderoys had a “humbling” audition season; not in his junior year, especially not as group president. And unlike the freshmen, he was very familiar with his competition. Losing now would make Dani’s exceptionally self-assured smile even more unbearable.

And so, Taylor moved determinedly through the crowd, small-talking and goading and acaflirting until, at last, all the time-slots on his clipboard were filled.

Next: Check Out the Book on Amazon

This chapter was originally published online on November 13, 2009
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