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Make A Joyful Noise

student life, a cappella groups, grace fisher

Being in an a cappella group doesn't scream "resume" booster, but the skills one learns are invaluable. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

by Grace Fisher ’15

The mandated goals for most college students are clear: Focus on your academics, build your resumé and have a job after graduating. It’s easy to forget during these four years, though, that it’s also important to do things just because they make you happy.

For many, that’s singing a cappella, whether it is in one of Dickinson’s three coed groups—the Dtones, the Infernos or the Crescendevils—or with the Octals, the all-male group on campus. For me, and for many others since 1998, it’s singing with the Syrens, the all-female a cappella group. Singing and arranging music is not something I will be pursuing professionally after college; I haven’t even taken a music class at Dickinson. But singing, and more specifically, singing with this group of women, is something that I absolutely love, and it is a large part of why my Dickinson experience has been so amazing.

More than an a capella group 

On paper, the women in the Syrens don’t necessarily seem like a group that would mesh. We come from nearly every corner of campus life: We have varsity student-athletes, members of Greek organizations and on-campus workers. We participate in academic clubs, honor societies, religious life, community service, environmental committees, Student Senate, DTG, Mermaid Players and the Liberty Cap Society. Aside from our love of singing, our interests hardly ever match up. Yet every year we share countless inside jokes, agree on common goals and, as Paige Hollenbeck ’12 describes it, “We become more than an a cappella group. We become a support system, teaching all of us the importance of a collaborative team.”

Brooke Taylor ’18 already has found her home away from home within the Syrens. “The Syrens is the best possible club I could have joined my first semester at Dickinson,” she notes. “I’m so lucky to be a part of such a well-rounded group.”

Everyone involved has their fair share of commitments, and yet everyone makes the time to practice for six hours a week, along with the many performances we do on and off campus. Despite the time commitment, Syrens is never stressful; rather, it’s the best place for its members to come together and forget the pressures of college life—to just do something they love with people who love it just as much as they do.

For Melissa Canu ’13, Syrens was “a treat, an escape and a time during which I could satiate my urge to break out in song or hum a rhythm. My roommates were grateful that I found a place to do this outside my apartment.”

Building life skills

While being in an a cappella group doesn’t immediately scream “resume booster,” the skills one learns from being part of this type of team are invaluable. As president, I’ve been responsible for the entire organization of the group. I’ve strengthened my time-management skills and my ability to communicate with members in my group along with the organizations and clubs who want us to perform, and I’ve learned how to delegate effectively.

Hollenbeck, who also served as president of Syrens while double-majoring in biology and geology, is now a biologist/marine mammal observer/divemaster with Dolphin Swim Australia. “Syrens instilled that strength, passion and leadership in me,” she says. “The Syrens made me who I am today.”

Sarah Koch ’14, who served as the group’s music director during her junior and senior years, agrees. “From leading practices for a group of close friends to creating musical arrangements for the songs we would sing and being on the ‘other side of the piano,’ Syrens is where I had a whole new set of responsibilities,” she says. “These were things I had never done before. Since graduating I’ve brought this confidence with me into interviews and the workforce.”

It is these skills that we all acquire that help us reach our biggest goal: each semester’s final concert, which showcases everything we’ve worked on that semester. The Syrens typically learn 10 new songs per semester, covering a wide range of genres, with the arrangements almost always written by either a current member or an alumna. In this concert we get to show the community what we’ve been working so hard on, and as Liz Mauri ’13 puts it, “It helps us gain the confidence to never shy away from the spotlight.”

The concert ends, and we all share mixed feelings of accomplishment, relief and sadness that another semester of singing has reached its end. Then, we enter the spring with an even stronger sense of who we are as a group, or we wipe away tears as we say goodbye to our graduating seniors. The tears never last too long, though: Our alumnae return for our concerts, are in constant contact over social media and meet up with one another whenever possible. We all join the group as an individual who just wants to sing, and we end up finding friendships that stay with us long after we leave our practice rooms in South College.

“I learned from the Syrens that it is possible to find a group of girls who you will love, and who will love you, unconditionally,” says Parisa Kaliush ’14. “I miss my Syrens every day. But I know in my heart, at least, that once a Syren, always a Syren.” 

Read more from the winter 2015 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

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Published January 20, 2015