JHU Vocal Chords

Name: Greco S.

Organization: Vocal Chords

Year: Class of 2013

Hometown: Fullertown, CA

Title: The JHU Vocal Chords: Hopkins Premier Co-ed A Cappella Group


Hi world. I’m Greco and I’m a junior studying chemical and biomolecular engineering. I’m a member of Hopkins Interactive, and you can learn more about my academic experience at Hopkins and ask me questions here (http://www.hopkins-interactive.com/forums/meet-the-class-of-2013/meet-jhu_greco-fullerton-ca/).

Being an engineering student can sometimes be um, inhuman. Numbers and equations dominate textbooks, and logic and reasoning is much preferred to feelings and emotions. I mean, think about it. What kind of human emotion is involved (other than frustration, of course) when working on a separation of variable problem to find a quantitative expression of unsteady-state velocity profile of a fluid on a plate? In fact, you have to be cold and matter-of-fact when tackling these types of problems because emotions usually result in errors. In the work force this could cause loss of thousands and thousands of dollars for your company, and who knows – you might get fired and you’re family is going to starve to death. Ok, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but you know what I mean (or do you? Do you?). Don’t get me wrong – I really love what I study. But I feel like life is much more exciting when you involve adventures that quench your aching need for celebrating your individuality.

For me, the JHU Vocal Chords (http://www.vocalchords.org) is my creative outlet. The Vocal Chords is a co-ed a cappella group formed in September of 1995 by graduate and undergraduate students from several departments on campus. Initially, the group had a membership of seven people interested in barbershop singing and learning school spirit songs written in the 1800’s by glee club alumni.

After a brief taste of barbershop music, the group started singing classic and contemporary pop songs. However, it was in their barbershop roots that the men of the group found their uniforms, which include a pair of “cranberry” red suspenders. They quickly became known as “Your Friendly, Neighborhood A Cappella Group”, and the name stuck. The origins of the Vocal Chords go a little something like that, and it is certainly a testament to the ideals of the group founders that all of these qualities, which were forged nearly a decade ago, are still very alive in the group today (even the suspenders!).

Now the Vocal Chords has grown into one of the finest co-ed a cappella groups on campus, singing a wide variety of genres including pop, indie, classic rock, country, and even electronic! Many things have changed over the years and a lot of great things have happened. I think still one of the coolest things that we did was singing at Imogen Heap’s concert in DC!

Not only did we open her show, we also sang with her one of her songs in her new album (you can watch them on youtube here (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2398D955E981CBC1&feature=plcp) and read more about it here (http://blogs.hopkins-interactive.com/2013/2010/06/vc-does-imogen-heap/))! How crazy is that! This is the kind of stuff that you will NEVER forget. We also do other really awesome gigs like singing the National Anthem at the Orioles game, singing at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and some chill hangouts like singing on the streets of Washington DC. Also, competitions!

In 2011, the Vocal Chords competed in the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCAs) for the first time and earned 3rd place out of ten groups in a South region quarterfinal. No, we didn’t make it to the semifinals, but this confirmed how much we have grown ever since the group was formed. This year (2012) we’re competing again in the quarterfinals, and I think we have a really great shot of going to semifinals! Dude, it’s just like the TV show Glee! Did they go to regionals in their first year? But they certainly made it to the regionals next year!! Haha. Not saying that our life is like a TV show, but I’m just putting my high hopes out there.

Joining an a cappella group in my freshman year is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. It’s a great way to adjust to the new college environment, meet new people, and make new connections. Although Hopkins is considered “small”, it really is still a big school, and it’s really to know that you have something that makes you feel at home and part of a family. it’s also a great stress-relief for me. The practice time is a time where I can forget about everything and just have a blast with the group. So if you enjoy singing, I would definitely suggest joining an a cappella group whether it being our group or some other groups. Yes, it is a pretty big commitment with 7 hour practice per week (separated into two 2-hour and one 3-hour practices), but everyone in our group is doing fine with their academics.

None of the people in our group has ever been on academic probation. Actually a lot of people in our group are excelling in their field of study. Last year we have 4 graduating seniors – a computer science major who’s going to work in Bloomberg as a software engineer in NYC, a public health major who got into Hopkins School of Public Health for master’s degree, Chemical Engineer who got into Northwestern University Medical School with annual grants, and a biomedical engineer who goes to UNC to study drug delivery. We’re very proud of them and they’re all masters of time-management. It’ll be hard at first to figure out how to work around the schedule and stuff, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll get better with time-management. We understand that while a cappella is our artistic passion, it’s not going to be like our career… We always put academics first and try not to do million gigs every year that requires additional practices.

Another thing that sets our group apart from other groups is that we are very open to different genres of music. While other groups tend to stick to one or two genres of music, we cover a variety of different styles from pop, R&B, rock, class rock, to country, alternative, and even electronica! You can even bring in your original songs! That’s why we get larger group of fans with many different tastes of music, and I think that makes our group very special. Also, covering many different types of music means you don’t have to change the way YOU sing to fit into the songs our groups sing. Sometimes it’s really sad to see some people with great voices changing their styles just to fit into their groups “signature” music genre. But for our group, there’s always something you can solo that’s right for your style of singing. I think we also give more solo opportunities to the newbies than any other group.

I was the president of the Vocal Chords Fall semester, and I’ve just been re-elected for next semester as well. To be honest, leading a group, especially a group this small, has been a really difficult task. I guess the most difficult thing is to balance between being an authoritative figure and being a friend. Sometimes I need to make decisions that might hurt someone’s feeling, and if this is inevitable, it’s my job to keep it as minimal as possible. Also, if there’s any drama, I have to step in to resolve issues, which for me is new – I’m more used to avoid any kind of drama than actually getting involved in it. And with academics and everything, sometimes it gets a little crazy. But most of my job is actually really fun and beneficial for my future. I get to be involved in a lot of business decisions that we make – doing fundraisers, building business relationships with new sound technicians and engineers, and also sometimes doing some networking to get awesome gig opportunities. It takes a lot of courage to do stuff like this, and being a president and representing the group definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and really forced me to take more initiatives and to become more extroverted.

Honestly, sometimes I get jealous if another group randomly puts some awesome performance, but when I watch my group performing on youtube, I always get smile on my face, and my day becomes much better. So I guess I really do care about this group and the people. Seriously, I feel very lucky to be here. The Vocal Chords taught me what it feels like to be passionate about something, and during practices, they have their ways of bringing this funny, goofy side of me that I rarely share with any other people – which scares me a little, because sometimes it makes me feel vulnerable, but I feel so comfortable at the same time. I think they’re becoming more and more like um, a family.

To read learn more about our group, check our website here (http://www.vocalchords.org), youtube page here (http://www.youtube.com/jhuvocalchords) and my freshmen blog here (http://blogs.hopkins-interactive.com/2013/author/greco/). You can also follow me on twitter @JHU_Greco!