The soloists of Random Voices were initially skeptical about their Spring Sing song choice.
The all-female a cappella group plans to perform a variation of Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out.” They were concerned the choice would appear too predictable, since it’s a pop song by a female-led group. They were also worried it might not challenge their vocal ranges enough, said third-year human biology and society student Audrey Smith.
Smith, Noga Tour and Leah Woodcox will each take turns soloing throughout the performance, with harmonies and vocal accompaniments from the rest of the group. Having an empowered group of girls fosters an incredibly supportive network, but it also comes with its set of musical challenges, said Tour, a third-year history student.
“Before I even joined a cappella, I heard from friends that all-female groups hardly ever win first place titles because people assume that we don’t have strong vocal balances,” Tour said. “But our group is able to hit low notes and arrange intricate vocal percussions. … It’s nice when we get to prove people wrong.”
Although Random Voices will focus on pop for its Spring Sing show, the group is not afraid to veer from the norm with songs in genres that are usually performed by male artists, said Sam Hersch. A supporter of UCLA a cappella organizations, Hersch became interested in the groups after enrolling in summer music courses on campus a few years ago.
Last year, the group added “Stairway to Heaven” to its traditional performance repertoire, which challenged audiences’ expectations since it was originally recorded by Led Zeppelin and is often performed by male a cappella groups, said Woodcox, a second-year theater student. Challenging themselves with songs traditionally performed by men provides an avenue for continual self-improvement, she said.
“I was worried that ‘Shake It Out’ would be too frivolous, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. The lyrics take precedent over the melody,” she said. “They’re something I think everyone can relate to.”
The song is almost like a conversation, Smith said. She and the other soloists interact with one another throughout the performance, sharing a story of togetherness through eye contact and emotional gestures. Their arrangement of the song is more about community than the original track, she said.
“The lyrics are motivational, but rather than (Florence Welch) convincing herself or the audience that ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn,’ it’s us telling each other that,” Smith said. “It’s about women lifting other women up.”
Fourth-year geology and anthropology student Maddy Biebel, a Random Voices member, had a vision for the performance that inspired the group’s arrangement: meaningfulness and authenticity, she said. Lyrics from the chorus of Maggie Rogers’ “Dog Years” are interspersed throughout the performance of “Shake It Out” to add an original twist and bolster the overarching theme of resilience, she said.
Biebel said the words “We will be alright” from “Dog Years” are repeated to emphasize the piece’s message of strength and perseverance. This theme is especially resonant because the song will be performed by women with a message aimed directly toward other women, she said.
The choreography also contributes to the arrangement’s storytelling ability, Smith said. The piece begins with Woodcox singing alone, but ends with the whole group coming together to represent collective healing. The ensemble forms a tight circle at the closing of the song to signify unity, she said.
“We continuously separate and come back together to show that healing is not a singular process. In the song itself there are multiple moments of doubt and reconsideration, and we want to show that in the choreography,” Tour said. “Those physical oscillations add complexity to the lyrics.”
Drawing from the musical elements of the song, Woodcox said the performance is representative of the broader journey of life, and how female friendships can play an integral role in navigating the world.
“There’s something meditative and beautiful about a group of people standing in a circle singing to each other,” Tour said. “I remember one time we were singing and I closed my eyes and just took it all in.”