The EMU amphitheater is suspiciously crowded for a late Friday afternoon. The clock strikes a quarter to four, and an enthusiastic vocal crew of students commences in song. As the group gradually raises the tune, they burst into full-blown song and choreographed movement. They’ve captured the attention of the Fishbowl. For some, the performance comes as no surprise, just a weekly routine. For others, it’s a delightful surprise for the eyes and ears of a casual passerby.
The passionate performers are Mind the Gap, the university’s 14-member co-ed a cappella group. While it’s not often that you hear of co-ed a cappella groups, Mind the Gap doesn’t let that distinction be its only defining characteristic.
“Mind the Gap has so much energy and identity. We are all so involved and so passionate,” said Ella Greene, a music education major. “We all feel that we have a chance to shape the group and its future. We prove that there is a place for everyone, you don’t have to fit into a certain mold.”
Oftentimes, a cappella groups are deeply rooted in tradition. Because Mind the Gap is relatively new in comparison to established groups on campus, like Divisi or On the Rocks, they have more leeway in doing things in their own unique and unrestricted manner. “Other groups typically have a lot of tradition to uphold. They have a lot of songs that everybody knows and has to know and they do it the same way they’ve always done them,” Greene said. “So I think it’s exciting to be part of something newer and setting traditions rather than following them.”
“We try really hard to honor everyone in the group and find the song that is perfect for them,” Greene said.
Mind the Gap was first conceptualized in 2007 by Russell Kamp, a transfer student from Southern Oregon University, who had started the first a cappella group on that campus, called Dulcet. When he arrived at UO, Kamp created Mind the Gap in response to his new-found campus, and is now the group’s music director. Mind the Gap was established as a co-ed group as a way to overcome adversity through diversity and to set the group apart from the established a cappella crowd.
Like Kamp, Greene started out performing with Dulcet as she attended school at Southern Oregon University. When she transferred to UO, Mind the Gap was a natural fit. “I think it’s hard to find a group that has an amazing balance between goofing off and being friends but also being there to make good music,” Greene said.
Katalin Plummer was accepted to Mind the Gap this school year as a freshman, a testament to both her skills and the acceptance of the group. “They do really accept you just as one of them and I think that’s a key component, just the feeling of belonging,” Plummer said. “We have a lot of fun together in rehearsal but when we get up on stage it just clicks. That’s the magic.”
“We try to be fun and silly but at the same time be the best musicians we can be,” added Plummer. “That’s the key component of Mind the Gap.” It’s evident in their manner of performance, song selection and presence. If you’ve ever caught a performance, then you’ll understand the sheer joy they get from performing to friends and strangers alike.
Carly Schoonhoven feels similarly. Schoonhoven is a junior, but it’s only her first year as a member of Mind the Gap. Growing up in Eugene, Schoonhoven often attended Eugene’s International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella tournament quarterfinals, hosted annually at the Hult Center. This weekend, Schoonhoven will get the chance to perform at the tournament for the first time. “To be able to actually go and be competing for the first time is going to be really special,” Schoonhoven said.
In high school, Schoonhoven was in choir and she met her best friends in choir. When she went off to college, she felt she was missing out on an experience that is really important to her life. “Mind the Gap brought back that experience for me,” Schoonhoven said.
At the quarterfinals this weekend, Mind the Gap will be facing off against regional competition including UO’s very own Divisi and Southern Oregon University’s Dulcet. Greene has high hopes. “We placed third last year, which we’ve never done before,” she said. “I’ve always felt like we’ve had something to prove.
“I have always felt that mixed groups don’t do as well in competition,” Greene said, in anticipation of the upcoming competition. “Also, with new groups, it takes a lot of time to prove that you’re serious about it, that you’re a real group and are capable of doing something that is both up to the standard but also new and different.”
Kamp voiced a similar sentiment. “Since we’re still a relatively new group, we’re always looking for opportunities to challenge ourselves with tighter, more difficult music and choreography, and that’s what we’re attempting for the competition,” Kamp said.
“The skill set for an a cappella singer must be enormous. Not only are you singing human vocal lines, but you need to be able to switch into the tone of a piano, guitar, or violin in the next set of measures,” Kamp said. “You need to develop those different sounds, and you also need to develop the focus and intuition that it takes to pull them all off in the course of a song.”
Greene, Plummer, Schoonhoven, Kamp and the rest of Mind the Gap have been putting in long hours of rehearsal in light of the approaching tournament day. This weekend their voices and choreography will be especially scrutinized as the comfortable atmosphere of the EMU is traded for center stage at the Hult Center.
But for Mind the Gap, the most important thing is enjoying the moment. They value their own and each other’s musicianship. “It really shows just how much an instrument the human voice is and how versatile it is,” Plummer said. “You can make your voice sound like anything you want it to if you put your mind to it.” And Mind the Gap definitely gets creative with those sounds.
“You don’t really need another instrument, your voice is everything,” Schoonhoven added.