Off Kilter struts its jazzy stuff

By Amy Lebowitz

One of two coed a cappella groups at Mac and also the newest ensemble to campus, Off Kilter sets itself apart from other a cappella groups by using “primarily jazz chords; jazz stylings as well,” said Adam Jones ’12, a founding member of the group, which is in its third year. “We also tend to have less of a focus on solos.” The ensemble was founded by “a bunch of kids in concert choir,” Jones said, including himself, who wanted to start a “vocal jazz group as an alternative to other types of a cappella.” “Our first performance was rough,” he said. “We were just so awkward and nerdy, but [now] we’re more comfortable with our awkwardness,” said Bea Rendon ’13, who joined as a first year. “Some of us are delusional and think we’re not awkward and nerdy,” Jones corrected, “but we all are.” Regardless, after many highs and lows as a new ensemble, Off Kilter has developed its own group rhythm. This year, they’ve had no trouble staying productive in rehearsal. It helps, Rendon said, that they often hang out socially, separate from official meetings. “We spend a lot of time outside rehearsal being—” “Unproductive,” Jones said. “Unproductive, exactly,” Rendon said, “and having a great time.” She said that this way, their rehearsal adheres strictly to business because they can catch up on the fun things later. A tight-knit bunch, many members of Off Kilter can still remember all of their performances; they have been together from the very first show to the present and everything in between. Some highlights include performing Bohemian Rhapsody with a puppet-wielding drag queen and donning Christmas sweaters (including a women’s sweater for a football player member) for a rendition of Holiday Road. “We keep getting more people to audition every year,” Jones said. While some who audition are looking specifically for vocal jazz and others are interested broadly in a cappella, Rendon said, Off Kilter has been able to find the types of voices it needs without coming into conflict with the other a cappella groups. The new members “have fit in right away,” Jones said. As a senior leader and founder, seeing the chemistry and progress of the ensemble makes him feel that he’s “not really worried about leaving,” he said. “Each year, we grow and evolve as a group,” Rendon said. Any member can contribute to Off Kilter’s repertoire by selecting songs to arrange. The majority of the music is selected this way, but “the final say is always a group vote,” Rendon said. They perform jazz standards with both classical and modern arrangements as well as pop songs with jazz arrangements. No matter the genre, Off Kilter focuses on tuning, precision, blend and style, “and that carries over to all of our songs,” Rendon said. “We make absolutely sure that jazz comprises the majority of what we arrange.” Unlike the other a cappella groups at Mac, Off Kilter sometimes relies on professional arrangements because jazz music is extremely complicated. From classic jazz songs to pop selections, “we do all of our songs with an eye to the techniques you need to use when singing jazz,” Rendon said. Rehearsal time is sometimes split into sectionals so smaller groups can work on their individual parts. In Off Kilter, this means “bathroom sectionals for the ladies and stairwell sectionals for the men,” Rendon said. “So sorry for everyone who uses the Campus Center bathroom or stairs.” They also work on breaking down the music in other creative ways. Off Kilter members have rehearsed lying on their backs in a circle with heads in the middle. They’ve also tried singing while miming the instruments their voices are emulating. These techniques help to engage with the music more physically, Jones said. Aside from the more humorous times in rehearsal, Off Kilter has experienced real successes. “We’ve had some really musically transcendent moments, and I think it’s incredible to be a part of that,” Jones said. “It’s a really incredible group of people, and we’ve all been through so much together,” Rendon said. “I know I can count on them as friends as well as great musicians I respect.”