Singing for God
Apr 25, 2017 01:18PM
● By Steven Hoffman
In recent years, a cappella music has seen a resurgence. Movies such as “Pitch Perfect,” TV shows “Glee” and “The Sing-Off” have created enthusiasm for this singing style that blends voices in intricate harmonies.
The term a cappella roughly translates to “in the style of the chapel” and refers to singing without instrumentation. Gregorian chants are considered the first form of a cappella singing. Close-harmony groups such as barbershop quartets and the Sweet Adelines have been around since the early 1900s. Everyone is familiar with doo-wop of the 1950s.
The University of Delaware lists nine a cappella clubs among its student organizations. Vision A Cappella is one of those groups, but distinguishes itself in one important way. They are the only Christian a cappella group on campus.
Like the other clubs, they are totally student-run. They perform Christian songs, but they also sing mainstream tunes with a positive message. As Vision president Sam McCluskey put it, “We were founded to be a ministry on campus and show the light and love of Christ. We do this by singing positive songs that are Biblically aligned. Recently, we performed songs by the Beatles, Jason Mraz and Rascal Flatts. Our members are from a variety of denominations, and at all different stages of their walks with Christ.”
Kai Inguito is a junior who has been singing tenor with Vision for two years. He is studying economics with a minor in biology, and hopes to work in the health policy field. Between school and volunteer work at Newark United Methodist Church, he finds the time to put in seven hours a week of practice with the group. And he admits that “Pitch Perfect” piqued his interest in a cappella music.
Inguito started singing in first grade at Holy Angels School, and continued singing throughout high school as a member of the Delaware All State Chorus. He knew he wanted to sing in college, but wanted something different. He looked at the club offerings and found Vision.
“I didn’t honestly know what to expect, but I saw a YouTube video of them singing ‘Never Gonna Let You Down’ and fell in love with their voices and their presence,” he said. Inguito was not specifically looking to join a Christian group. “Sophomore year of college is when I really started to develop in my faith,” he said.
“We don’t just perform in church -- we do a lot campus gigs,” he said. He’s had people approach him to share that Vision’s singing has helped them deal with the stress of everyday life. He likes the idea that he can help others through singing. “Ultimately that is what my faith is founded in -- not necessarily quoting the bible, but bringing light to people,” he said.
Vision’s weekly practice schedule incorporates an hour of Bible study on Thursdays, and an hour of praise and prayers on Sundays. Rachel Kraft, a senior computer science major, is the group’s spiritual adviser. She said the adviser role is really what you make of it. She leads the Bible studies, arranges prayer partners and prays for the group. She also tries to make herself available to her fellow members if they need to talk or just need someone to listen.
“I could talk about Vision forever,” she said. “'Family' is the word we always go to, but that’s what it feels like. We are friends in and outside of the group.”
To her, having a prayer partner deepens her connection to the group. “We encourage prayer partners to meet and get to know each other on a more personal level,” she said. “You learn what makes a person laugh. You learn what they are struggling with, and you can share the things you struggle with in your life.”
Kraft said she benefits from the Bible study. She leads the bible study with a lesson plan in mind, but sometimes a question will pop up and lead to a different discussion or a sharing of ideas. “Other members ask things that you would not think to ask,” she said. “With people of different faiths in the group, you get different perspectives.”
Kraft was in ROTC her first year at Delaware, and was expecting to spend four years in the military after graduation. “I grew up in a military family, so I respect it a lot,” she said, “but then I realized I wanted a different path.” This change in plan gave her the opportunity to join a club like Vision. She said she doesn’t come from a particularly musical family. “No one else in my family likes to sing as much as I do; I sing all the time,” she said, laughing. “My father says it’s very quiet when I’m gone. It’s his way of saying I sing too much!”
For Katie Corbino, the fact that Vision was a Christian group was definitely an incentive for her to join. “I’m very deep within my faith, so I thought Vision was perfect,” she said. “Being part of the group has given me so many friends who have the same values and mindset.”
A freshman at the university, Corbino explained that coming to college can be a time where you feel lost, and you may find yourself in situations where your faith is tested. “This year I have seen my faith change immensely because of Vision,” she said.
Corbino grew up in the Wilmington area, and has a background in chorus and musical theater. Coming to the University of Delaware, she knew she wanted to sing a cappella. “I thought, 'Where can I go to find people who are like me, who are super cool and also super into their faith?'” she said. The group’s Christian focus made Vision very appealing.
When not singing, Corbino is studying elementary education, and also serves as the business manager for Vision. “I make flyers, run the social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and I publicize auditions and our concerts,” she said. “It’s great; I just love it so much. There’s a lot of time commitment to it, but you get out what you put into it, and it's changed my life.”
Vision A Cappella recently performed at a fundraiser for Autism Speaks on campus. They were also invited to sing at Greenhill Presbyterian Church. Though most of their gigs are on campus, the singers enjoy sharing their voices and their message out in the community.
“Church gigs are the best because we sing first, then we all go to the same service,” said Kraft. Coming up in May is the much-anticipated DELAC event that showcases all of the University’s a cappella groups. The proceeds from the event are donated to charity. This year’s theme is “TV Guide,” with each singing group interpreting a different channel. Vision will represent the Weather Channel. The show is a sellout each year and tickets go fast.
Freshman Olivia Forney has been singing with Vision since the fall, and this spring was asked to become the group’s musical director. She is the only music major in the group, which makes her uniquely qualified for the position. “I’m a music major so it’s kind of all I do,” Forney said. “I started singing in elementary school and have never really stopped. I did All County Chorus, All State Choir, and have a background in musical theater.”
She also plays piano and guitar. Though she auditioned for other a cappella groups, she said she felt drawn to the members of Vision.
“They are very cool people. I look forward to going to rehearsals because we’re like family,” she said. Forney explained that music takes up 20 of the 24 hours of her day, so she really likes that she can incorporate her music into her faith. “It’s kind of a cathartic experience for me. They are my friends and I love singing with them,” she said.
As music director, Forney runs the rehearsals, warms everyone up, decides what they will practice, and does a lot of arranging. She also weighs in on music selection, though the group as a whole has say. “Each semester we decide who is going to sing a solo,” she said. The soloist is then responsible for choosing and arranging the song. “They can come to me and say, 'Hey, I need you to arrange for me,'” she explained. “A couple of our members are very good at it, too.”
Inguito recently arranged his first song, a mash-up of three tunes by the Christian rock band Citizens and Saints. “I didn’t think I could do it a year ago, but I really wanted to experiment with my musical talent,” he said.
Forney makes herself available to collaborate with the group, guiding them through the arranging process. “Having a background in music and having knowledge of music theory helps,” she said. “It’s quite a process, but very satisfying and fun for me.”
When people come to auditions, the group is very upfront that Bible study and prayer are a part of their practice schedule. “It’s kind of hard,” Kraft said. “It is a very specific person who is looking for a Christian group and a singing group. But it’s worth the trade-off, getting to have those conversations with people. It can be limiting, but God has always come through.”
Forney said that sometimes there is a stigma about Christianity. “I think it’s hard for some people to grasp that we are a Christian group. They may think, 'I’m not Christian, so I can’t have anything to do with that.' But we are welcoming to everyone. When I found there was a Christian a cappella group on campus, I thought, 'Cool! I’d like to put a little Jesus in my singing!'”
For more information, visit Vision A Cappella on Facebook. You can also follow the group on Instagram and Twitter.