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While the different singing groups in “Pitch Perfect” and “Pitch Perfect 2″ never fail to impress us, both films are not exactly authentic to the real-life a cappella performance’s experiences. Or are they? Well, yes and no, but not necessarily in the way you might think.
To get to the bottom of this idea, MTV News sat down with two members of Empire, an all-female a cappella group based in New York City; Caitlin Nelson, the group’s music director, and Keagan Gros, a recent addition to the team as of a few months ago.
Full disclosure: I’ve also been a member of Empire for about a year now, but both Caitlin and Keagan have performed on the collegiate level at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, also known as the ICCAs, and were happy to share some of their expertise to a discussion of just how accurate “Pitch Perfect 2″ really is.
“A lot of their jumping up and down, their lunges, would only affect the sound in a poor way, so that’s just not realistic for an actual competition,” Keagan added. However, she also noted that a cappella singers DO have to be mindful of how they’re moving, even if they don’t have a strictly choreographed routine. “If you give them nothing, everyone just gets into this a cappella ’bop,’ which if anything gets distracting.”
“Their voices just naturally fit together better than women’s do,” Caitlin added. “It’s just a harmonics thing.”
“Coming into a sound set up that you’ve never been in before and having someone that doesn’t know your sound — the sound is never as good as it would be as if you had somebody who knew your group and knew what people were singing,” she concluded.
And — not to spoil the movie — you also can’t have surprise guests in your set, either. “You have to put [the names of the people in your group] on a roster,” Keagan said. “They have to be in whatever university [you’re from].”
One way to keep yourself from getting nodes? Don’t chant real loudly backstage before a performance like Das Sound Machine does. “They were pretty much yelling and that’s just not realistic,” Keagan said. “You’re not, like, ’Let’s go sing at a competition but before we do, let’s yell!’”
Incoming freshman Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld) aspires to write her own original song for the Barden Bellas — “Flashlight,” which was actually written by Jessie J for the film. But the first time she attempts to premiere it in public, the entire group gets laughed out of a party by the other a cappella groups in attendence. That distaste for original material isn’t true to the real a cappella experience — and frankly, it kind of pissed Caitlin off.
“So many groups aspire to writing original songs, because all we are is a cover band most of the time. But we don’t even get thought of as cover bands or cover groups, We don’t even get to be in that same genre, which is ridiculous, because that’s what we’re doing,” she said, noting the stigma against a cappella groups in popular culture. “Writing original songs is harder. It’s harder than arranging a song that’s already been written. It’s what a lot of groups try to do and fail at.”
The annual a cappella festival Harmony Sweepstakes (known as Harmony Sweeps, for short) even gives out an award for best original song. “It’s looked highly upon to write an original song to competition,” she said. So while it’s true that college-level groups who write their own material admittedly tend to be few and far between, she says — unless your school has a songwriting program, of course — it’s not something that would cause an audience to boo at you.
Of course, “Pitch Perfect 2″ is pretty guilty of over-exaggerating the abilities musicians have in general — Riff-Offs, for example, are not a thing. “Most people really can’t pull pitches out of thin air,” Caitlin said, noting that most groups use pitch pipes to help them. “Don’t assume that your group can sing these notes all of the time.”
You’ll just have to see what song that was when “Pitch Perfect 2″ hits theaters on May 15.
#a cappella#pitch perfect 2