'Pitch Perfect': The real story about collegiate a cappella

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Image Credit: Peter Iovino

It’s aca-awesome, for sure. But aca-accurate?

Pitch Perfect is finally in wide release this week, and the buzzy collegiate a cappella movie already has quite a few fans. With my colleague Lanford Beard, I checked out the movie last weekend, was completely charmed, and instantly wanted to know anything and everything about collegiate a cappella.

The movie obviously takes some liberties, but here at PopWatch, we were curious to learn how close the Beca (Anna Kendrick) singing experience was to the real thing. So we called up Drew O’Shanick, a third-year student at University of Virginia and member of the a cappella group the Hullabahoos, who actually cameoed in the film (for those that have seen, they’re the group that briefly sang “Final Countdown” as part of a montage). The Hullabahoos were also one of the groups featured in the non-fiction book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, on which the movie is based.

No big plot points are given away in this very scientific (Read: Please don’t take this seriously!) exploration, but a SPOILER ALERT! to those that haven’t yet seen the film and don’t want to know anything.

IN THE MOVIE: Riff Offs are both possible and amazing. After viewing a clip that has already made its way around the Internet, I came away from this movie thinking that riff offs are the main reason one should sing at the college level.
IN REAL LIFE: O’Shanick saw the clip, and agrees it’s amazing, but accurate? Not so much. “Umm…no. I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s just really hard to coordinate and execute that, coming up with songs on the fly or songs you’ve done. That kind of relies on you having a very in-depth catalog of songs you’re ready to pull out, depending on what the topic is. It’s possible, but we don’t really have that competition aspect at UVA, so it’s not something we do here.”

IN THE MOVIE: Kendrick’s group, the Bellas, don’t sing any current music.
IN REAL LIFE: It’s no wonder singing oldies was holding the Bellas back. O’Shanick explained that groups definitely love performing current hits – even if the competition to get that #1 song can be intense. At UVA, where there are several a cappella groups (just like in Pitch Perfect) they have an online system where you must claim songs you want. Once a song has been claimed, no one else can sing it. For O’Shanick’s group, that meant jumping on Maroon 5’s “One More Night” when it was released over the summer. Now that it’s a big hit, they’re the only group that can perform it this semester.

IN THE MOVIE: Nationals is the big a cappella event of the year.
IN REAL LIFE: O’Shanick stressed that this varied by groups. The Hullabahoos don’t compete at all, instead favoring touring and performing, and many groups are similar. “The a cappella you see now, it’s very choreographed [on things like The Sing Off]. There’s a lot of other things to it beside arranging music. We kind of stick to the traditional ‘standing in an arc and singing.’” But there is a Collegiate A Cappella Championship each year (ICCA). For those that dream of pulling a Rachel Berry, there’s hope.

IN THE MOVIE: Getting sick on stage is something that happens – more than once.
IN REAL LIFE: It’s not just Justin Bieber – minutes into the movie, a character gets sick onstage mid-performance, ruining their chances of advancing. Has O’Shanick ever seen something similar? Besides being on set when that scene was actually filmed, he’s never seen or heard of it happening, but said, “I can definitely imagine it happening, with the nerves getting to someone.”

IN THE MOVIE: The groups haven’t met a mash-up they don’t like, and wannabee DJ Beca is providing many of them.
IN REAL LIFE: O’Shanick said that the groups do create their own mash-ups for their a cappella performances, and for the Hullabahoos, that involves the music director (a member that is elected) heading up the operation. “We as a group compose all of our own arrangements,” he said.

PopWatchers: Have you seen Pitch Perfect? What moments were you hoping were the real deal?

Read more:
‘Pitch Perfect': High and higher notes of the little a cappella comedy that could
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