Enter the World of A Cappella

The Daughters of Triton (DOTs) peform at the 2014 ICCA Quarterfinals. Photo credit by Alwin Szeto.
The Daughters of Triton (DOTs) peform at the 2014 ICCA Quarterfinals. Photo credit by Alwin Szeto.


It’s likely that if you were to mention a cappella to college students, “Pitch Perfect” may be entangled with their responses.

That’s a start for tapping into the sonorous world of a cappella, but hearing contemporary mashups of songs by talented, young vocal artists is much closer to home. In fact, it’ll be as close to home as Mandeville Auditorium. With the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella West Quarterfinal approaching this Saturday, Jan. 31, the UCSD Guardian was able to sit down with the qualifying UCSD Daughters of Triton President Mikaela Oen and the host for this tournament, UCSD Tritones President Aleesha Anderson.

Overlooking the setting sun from the Rady School of Management, it was compelling to ask if Oen and Anderson matriculated before “Pitch Perfect” — they did. Although I, myself, might have hopped onto the a cappella bandwagon post-“Pitch Perfect,” Oen and Anderson had been rooted in music long before college.

“For me, I never really sang in high school, but I did piano. When I was in college, I decided to try singing, and it turned out that I got into DOTs and really, really loved it,” Oen said.

Anderson, on the other hand, had been involved in her high school choir and wanted to transition into another singing community when she entered university. Growing indifferent to the less contemporary music of traditional choir, a cappella was her serendipitous combination of more freedom and being able to sing songs she wanted to sing.

From their freshmen year tryouts that brought an air of calm to Oen and only the “good kind of nervous” for Anderson, both are now their respective group’s leaders, which, in Anderson’s case, came as a surprise.

“I never expected to be president. Tritones has been such a big part of my undergraduate time — I don’t know if I’ve spent an equal amount or more time on Tritones or classes,” said Anderson, laughing. “A lot of people graduated, and I felt it was my responsibility to step up and start giving back … because I’ve gotten a lot out of my past three years. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding.”

Oen laughed at the possibility of becoming president as a freshman but was actually determined to make it happen all along.

“Yeah, I knew I really wanted to get ready for the role and contribute the most I can to the group while I’m here … I just feel like I want to give as much as I can to this group while I’m here because four years is really short,” she said.

Of course, commitment doesn’t always come easy, and it was thanks to a few key leaders and mentors who kept Oen and Anderson in a cappella.

“DOTs are such good female role models. We had a really strong president [when I joined] who was really strict but who could also relate to the girls while being gentle. It was a really good balance. I was thinking when I get older, I really want to be like her. She’s such a strong, inspirational leader, and now I’m president,” Oen said.

For Anderson, that sense of support came from former Tritones President Amy Williams.

“When I got into the group, I was the only freshman,” Anderson said. “And you need someone to take you under their wing and say, ‘This is how everything works.’ … [Williams] was the one who brought me into things. And I still talk to her about Tritones and [say] ‘Man, this is happening, what should I do?’”

Gigs and other performances through their years motivated and inspired their singing as well. As a freshman, Anderson’s choir performances didn’t compare to a university-level a cappella.

“[They] brought us to different places all over San Diego, and it was super exciting. I felt like we were professional entertainers.”

Oen found that her freshman year experience of Take Back the Night, an event hosted by UCSD as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, reminded her why she joined music.

“We have a chance to really affect people and give voice to others who might not be able to speak up or who aren’t ready to speak up,” said Oen. “For me, that was one of the most memorable events. As a freshman, I was like ‘Wow.’ It’s not just a cappella. It can be fun but also really moving.”

Through experiences such as these, a cappella has matured more than just the vocals of these brilliant performers. Both developed a sense of consciousness of their own actions, reflecting on the a cappella’s driving force — the group. Oen grew more confident and aware of herself through leadership roles, balancing the roles of keeping her vocalists on task but also “prioritizing the group’s happiness” and always maintaining their motto: “You get what you put into it.”

“Being an officer is just completely different from being a member of the a cappella group,” Anderson added. “But [a cappella] has been a stable part of my life that has been constant for all four years.  You get to form close bonds with [the group] …  and it’s not because you’re getting a grade or making money … it’s because you really like what you’re doing. I’m really grateful to have that sort of thing in my life.”

As Oen and Anderson move onto the next scores of their lives, reminiscing about the impromptu street singing or Snow White-esque breakfast making on retreat, the two are coming to a close on a high note.

“I can’t imagine not having DOTs in my college career,” said Oen.

Anderson added, “I just feel like [Tritones] is a necessary part of my life.”

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