‘Instruments are for suckers’: the story of UMD a capella groups.

by Jennifer Linkins

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Junior special education major Hannah Kaiser, a St. Louis, Missouri native, is thousands of miles away from home while studying at the University of Maryland, but a unique and talented group on campus has given her another family and place to call home.

Kol Sasson is a Jewish a capella group at the university, and Kaiser currently serves as the group’s President. It was first organized in 1997 by Jewish students who wanted an a cappella group to represent their culture.

“It’s really cool because we are such a specific niche, so we are able to perform in maybe communities that we grew up in,” said Kaiser. “I’ve had members tell me that Kol Sasson has strengthened their connection with the Jewish community and has given them their Jewish identity.”

Starting out as a cluster of students with little singing experience, Kol Sasson spent its initial years working out the kinks that came with vocal performance. By now, though, the Jewish group has figured it all out and is much stronger. The inviting, family-orientated aspect of Kol Sasson, however, has remained constant throughout the years and throughout the group’s success.

Recently, Kol Sasson released its sixth album, entitled Key Change, on iTunes. They will also be performing this Friday, October 26 at 8:30pm at the Memorial Chapel for the Maryland Hillel A Cappella Family Weekend.

Among the many culturally-based a cappella groups, Anokha showcases singers with a south Asian influence. After starting in 2001, the ethnic group wanted to enjoy their culture’s music and also spread the genre through the campus community.

“When we started off we didn’t know very much about how a cappella groups are run,” said sophomore psychology major and Anokha member Sara Mahmod. “Recently, we have become more interested in competing in competitions and recording songs.”

The group’s President, junior electrical engineering major Neil Chainani, noted that the term ‘anokha’ in Indian language means ‘unique.’

“We…encompass a number of different languages since India is such a diverse country. India has a very rich musical culture,” he said.

PandemoniUM, another a cappella group on campus, takes a different approach to performances—they just have fun with it. In the spring of 1992, the art of a cappella had gained momentum, and the group was formed due to high interest in the no-instrument approach to music.

Now nearing its 20th anniversary, PandemoniUM is changing every year based on its members’ styles and likes.

President James Reeves, a senior accounting major, said, “The songs we sing…have changed based on what the group needs. We have added a lot of electric songs recently. I also believe that every year we improve as a group.”

Pop is definitely in style for the group right now, but they typically cover almost every musical genre, from electronic and R&B to country (and a lot of Justin Timberlake songs at the moment).

“There are many groups on campus, but what separates us from other coed groups is that I think we take ourselves lightly,” said Reeves. “Our priority is to have fun and spread our love of music.”

The co-ed group Faux Paz, however, has taken on many competitive opportunities in recent years. The group celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and, looking back, has acknowledged the troupe’s unique history.

“There were three members of the UMD Treblemakers who, in the fall of 1992, were not satisfied with being an all-female a cappella group,” said junior journalism major Sarah Sexton, the Faux Paz Business Director.

The three girls, she said, wanted a co-ed a cappella group and, after a series of interesting name changes (like The Looney Toons) and other tweaks, they formed the first co-ed group on campus.

Since then, Faux Pax has adopted the official motto “instruments are for suckers,” and have won numerous a cappella competitions, like the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), and have traveled from New Orleans to Los Angeles performing their contemporary music.

Faux Paz just released their newest studio album Rev and will be showcasing their newest hits at the Big Show Fall 2013 on December 6th in the Stamp Grand Ballroom (times to be announced).


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