Rhapsody hits a perfect pitch

Music has long been held as a source of joy, so perhaps there’s a reason that MSU’s resident a cappella group takes their name from the Greek word for “ecstatic expression.” The group gave a concert at First Presbyterian Church on Friday, April 15.

A cappella music is vocals performed without instrumental backing. Unaccompanied singing has been around for thousands of years, often in the form of religious song, but it is only recently that it has become popular on a large scale. The musical comedy “Pitch Perfect” depicts an a cappella group who ditches traditional stuffiness for a more modern repertoire. The movie became a sleeper hit, and is now the second highest-grossing musical comedy in history. The group Pentatonix has also risen to prominence in recent years, in part due to their success on NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” The new phenomenon has brought changes, but to the people doing the singing, the job hasn’t changed much. The focus of the style has remained largely unchanged — tight harmonies, powerful melodies and seamless melding. Modern a cappella is marked by a smooth sound, often backed by beatboxing for percussive accents. The modern groups also have a talent for converting pop songs to a cappella arrangements.

Rhapsody’s personal style is variable — the group rotates between smaller arrangements and whole-group songs. At times, an instrument was brought in — a guitar, for instance, during one duet — and at other times, the group would go “true” a cappella. During some songs, the members would perform choreography designed by Rachel Pewitt, a member of the group. They don’t shy away from classics, but they also aren’t afraid of making their own mark, even arranging some pieces themselves.

The concert covered a wide range, running from electronic dance music covers to tender ballads to classic R&B songs. The concert began with a cover of David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium.” From the first notes ringing through the church’s whitewashed interior, the energy only increased. “Titanium” was followed by Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” Percussive help was provided by Joshua Bartkoske and Katherine Watson, who beatboxed and provided backing instrumentals. Next came a cover of the 1964 Animals hit “House of the Rising Sun,” followed Ariana Grande’s “Almost is Never Enough,” Bastille’s “Oblivion” and Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband.” The cover of Shai’s “If I Ever Fall In Love Again” was particularly magnetic — the tight harmonies gave the song a sultry edge, perfect for the dark R&B classic. (It’s worth noting that the song has also been covered, famously, by other a cappella artists — first by Shai, and recently by Pentatonix and Jason Derulo.)

The second half began with a Destiny’s Child/Justin Timberlake mix, followed by a Lana Del Rey mashup. The Del Rey piece was arranged by a Rhapsody member, Keeli Telleen, and again showed a fantastic bit of musicianship as different members wove separate melodies in and out of the dark texture. The mood was lightened by Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Justin Bieber’s deceptively cheerful “Love Yourself,” before a cover of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” gave another bittersweet note to the atmosphere. The concert finished out with two mashups — the first featuring Destiny’s Child (“Say My Name”), the Weeknd (“Can’t Feel My Face”), and Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”), and the second composed of Michael Jackson songs.

Through the performance, the word “rhapsody” was given a good turn — the concert was a joyous ride, filled with energy and style. The group has a natural stage chemistry, and a musicality that shone through the whole performance. As the audience applauded the last notes, sounds of approval exited their throats, personal rhapsodies to the group leaving the stage.

For more information about MSU Rhapsody or to see the group’s upcoming performances, visit facebook.com/rhapsody.msu.