For the Love of Music
For the 14 members of The Vocal Suspects a cappella group at UMass Amherst, membership has its rewards outside of standing ovations and the roar of applause at a concert. It teaches time management, organizational, and leadership skills as students balance three-times-a-week rehearsals and more than two dozen annual concerts and competition with academics.
“I feel like Vocal Suspects broadens me as a person. We have so much to deal with. I now understand more things about the world,” says Yiorgos Tsivranidis, a junior pursuing a film studies degree through the Bachelor’s Degree in Individual Concentration and treasurer of the group.
Founded in 1999, The Vocal Suspects is one of 336 Registered Student Organizations designed to enhance learning by providing opportunities for leadership, recreation, connection, and engagement on campus and beyond. The co-ed group is frequently heard at campus events such as open houses for prospective students or at charity events for non-profit organizations. Repertoire changes as members change but what remains constant is the eclectic mix of contemporary and classical songs arranged and choreographed by the group.
For Gus Bowder-Newton, a first-year student majoring in psychology, his commitment to the a cappella group requires him to keep regular study hours. “It forces me to manage my time and it is a wonderful way to de-stress,” he says. Jared Spies, a first-year biochemistry major, says his commitment to The Vocal Suspects motivates him to perform as well in his courses as on the stage. “If I don’t do well in school, I won’t be able to be a part of The Vocal Suspects,” he says.
Besides juggling academic work and extracurricular activities, participation in The Vocal Suspects helps prepare students for the real world of work. “We are a very different group of people. You can hear it in our voices. We are learning how to get along, a valuable skill we can take into the workforce,” notes Emily Xarras, a junior Commonwealth Honors College student majoring in hospitality and tourism management. Alea Moscone, a sophomore public health major, agrees that involvement in a registered student organization has a payback beyond campus. “We are learning how to network and branch out and create connections,” she says.
Then there is the pure joy of bonding with other students and making music, the universal voice that transcends language. “Once I get up on stage I cannot stop smiling. I love it so much,” says Katherine Polanco, a first-year political science major.