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A Weekend of A Capella: Music of Muses and Toons

Two MIT A Capella Groups Present Spring Concerts, Introducing the New While Cherishing the Old

By Devdoot Majumdar

The Muses

54-100, May 4, 2001

The MIT/Wellesley Toons

10-250, May 5, 2001

New Album: ‘Holding Our Own’

Price: $14

Spring has sprung, and so have MIT’s a capella groups.This weekend the Muses and the Toons, two of MIT’s finest, began a two-week run of a capella singing madness.

Next weekend, we can look forward to the debut of the newly formed “Resonance,” and performances by the Cross-Products and the Chorallaries. Nevertheless, in their final MIT performances of the year, both the the ultra-chic Muses and the whimsical Toons sang well and garnered substantial audiences.

The Muses

The single most noticeable feature of the Muses is that they can sing, and boy can they sing. Apparently, they don’t like it to be told that they dress saucily as well, so I won’t mention that.

Clad in elegant black gowns, the Muses entertained in 54-100 for a few hours on Friday night. Following an opening act by the Dartmouth Cords, the group gave the audience an entertaining evening of mainstream music.

Fourteen females who know that an a capella group depends on the quality of each voice, the Muses sang their traditional repertoire with a few new surprises. They opened with a rendition of “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” that was reminiscent of the beginning of My Best Friend’s Wedding -- a dainty Ani Difranco version that suited their entry quite well. With clear delight on their faces, they moved on to a set of mainly pop and female vocalists.

Particularly impressive solos were the renditions of Dido’s “Here with Me” by Toni Ferreira ’04, Jewel’s “Hands” by Anastasia Rodriguez ’04, and Lauryn Hill’s version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Christiana Almodover ’02 (sung in true Vonda Shephard style). Their performances served to supplement the group’s skill with something unique to each of them -- one hell of a powerful voice.

The entire group, alumni included, sang their signature “How High the Moon” with Ella brilliance. Endowed with a great percussion-less harmony, the song soon took on voice percussion and a tightly controlled, fast tempo.

Performing pop novelties from Pink’s “There You Go” to a rendition of the super-fast dance version of Janet Jackson’s “Together Again,” the Muses impressed and delighted the crowd, closing with a semi-unsolicited encore of the “Thong Song.”

Though their vignettes were thoroughly confusing, I’m decidedly against the source code which dictates that all a capella groups ought to have a cute “act.” Certainly, with their voices alone, the Muses sell the show.

MIT/Wellesley Toons

Preceded by Mt. Holyoke “Nice Shoes” -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute “Rensselyrics,” two acts which would sadly make any of the several MIT a capella groups look good, the Toons enthused a more reticent crowd at their Saturday night performance in 10-250.

Whereas the Muses all have presentable voices, the Toons are a more varied group, with some drop-dead enthrallers and others who focus on the other critical elements of a capella.

Spotlighting (as they usually do) the full gamut of the “Disney Afternoon” cartoons, the Toons roused the crowd with their large cadre of Wellesley and MIT students.

The great thing about this group is that they don’t just rip a song off of the radio. For starters, they are far too eclectic for pop music, which can be good or bad, depending on how one looks at it. The songs, however, are intimate and easily recognizable.

The Toons covered everything from classics like “Darkwing Duck” and Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” to the Disney movie mania (themes from Mulan and Pocahontas) genre , and they even provided an interesting take on “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. In essence, everything is fair game, and in concert they handle it well.

Truth be told, a capella in its most dissected state is that casual “da da da da” that the karaoke-freaks among us expose us to incessantly. And whereas several more amateur groups leave you with that karaoke’d-out feeling, the Toons are able to make extremely complicated rhythms. Instead of direct musical translation to a capella, their arrangements are creative and elaborate, invoking much more than “da da da.”

Resident redhead Brooke Bryant ‘03 (Wellesley) closed the evening with her famous rendition of “Angels Would Fall.”

The show was lightened up by a hilarious (cartoony) vignette about George W. Bush’s encounter with the Planeteers and everybody’s favorite hero, Captain Planet.

The CD that accompanied this show is the Toons’ latest, Holding Our Own. Though it is a good CD, like all a capella albums it falls short because the sheer enjoyment of a live performance cannot be delivered. As well, though none of them have shabby voices by any stretch of the imagination, it can be said that some renditions are better left unrecorded entirely.