A central hub that supports the performing arts at Penn, the Platt House serves as a rehearsal space and a place to relax, socialize and generate innovative ideas for the next big show. More importantly, it provides performing arts students with a “home,” says Laurie McCall, the director of the Platt House.
“It helps to shrink the psychological size of Penn, making it a smaller place where students can be completely comfortable,” says McCall, who, along with associate director Maria Fumai Dietrich, provides advising support and assistance with securing show venues, as well as practice locations.
One reason a cappella is so popular, McCall says, is because it’s a “portable” creative outlet that can be practiced in any space and it offers plenty of variety, bringing together diverse voices in harmony without instrumental accompaniment.
He says the genre has become more popular over the past few years and estimates that nearly 200 students audition for a cappella groups at Penn each year.
“The genre has really grown,” says Anchelowitz. “Given the growing accessibility of professional audio and video equipment and the Penn student body’s passion and drive, future students will continue raising the bar.”
Today Penn’s a cappella groups have a refined sound and actively perform and record their work. They’re invited to sing at the White House and for professional and college sports teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia Phillies.They also tour locally, nationally and internationally; produce videos and market and share their music via iTunes and Spotify.
Known as the genre’s “badboys,” and named for the popular 1940’s Glenn Miller Orchestra release, “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” the Penn Six-5000 formed in 1982. It is an all-male comedy-focused a cappella that sings original parodies and Top 40 hits.
At the end of the decade, tired of the barbershop sounds of yesteryear, a second handful of crooners from the Glee Club, the Pennchants, adopted to a new dress code and added fresh song choices and choreography. In 2001, the Pennchants officially broke free from the Club.
Matt Howard, a senior computer engineering major from Avon, Conn., joined Pennchants during his freshman year and now serves as its music director.
He says while it performs all kinds of music and even reaches back to the days of vinyl with classic rock hits, Pennchants places a heavy emphasis on bands of the late 1990s such as Maroon 5 and Blink 182.
“At Penn, it’s great how all the a cappella groups have their own niches and each makes its own contribution to the performing arts community,” Howard says.
“At colleges across the country, the popularity of a cappella soared in the 1980s and 1990s,” says McCall. “More recently, the TV show Glee, in concert with the Pitch Perfect movies, sparked a renewed interest in the art.”
“It was an opportunity to unite two rich and distinct cultures in a unique performance that celebrates diversity,” Khoja says.
As one of the first Chinese a cappella groups in the United States, PennYo covers Mandarin rock, Cantonese pop, Korean hits and Japanese classics and is now producing its fifth album.
The group has a substantial fan base in China, according to its president, senior Jason Choi, who is a native of Hong Kong and a dual-major focusing on management in entrepreneurship, along with innovation, marketing and operations at the Wharton School.
Choi says, “A cappella groups from both nations have reached out to us, looking to reproduce our sound.”
Breaking out on one’s own is not an unfamiliar concept in the sphere of a cappella and three independent organizations at Penn include DischordA Cappella, Keynotes and Penn EnChord, a Western-Chinese fusion group that welcomes members from nearby colleges and universities.
McCall says what’s exciting about Penn’s a cappella scene is its variety and its longevity, “They all have staying power and they do all the right things so that their sound is excellent.”