A series of groans fills the Zoom call as Clayton Markham mentions the film “Pitch Perfect” in an interview with The Spectrum.
Markham, a junior environmental studies major and assistant business manager for The Buffalo Chips, UB’s all-male a cappella group, is joined by four of his fellow a capella members on a recent Thursday in April.
To the regular person, “Pitch Perfect” invokes images of the 2012 blockbuster movie starring Anna Kendrick, but for members of The Buffalo Chips, it’s a source of good-natured contention.
After all, their a cappella group cannot be reduced to just a nine-year-old pop culture reference.
The Buffalo Chips formed as an a cappella group 26 years ago under the name “Cadence” after members of the UB Choir wanted a musical activity that “was more fun, and not necessarily as organized or classicalist as choir,” Adam Rakiecki, a junior mechanical engineering major and the group’s PR manager, said.
Two years after its conception, “Cadence” rebranded as The Buffalo Chips, and since then, the group’s hundreds of members have performed at the Katharine Cornell Theater, competed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) and, most recently, released an EP.
Now, in 2021, the 16-member group has been praised by past Buffalo Chips members for “reaching new heights and raising the standard for all future generations of Chips to come,” John Bologna, a junior music theatre major and the group’s music director, said.
Two weeks ago, the group won first place in the 2021 ICCA Central semifinals and earned awards for best arrangement, solo, vocal percussion and videography.
The competition is typically held across various college campuses, with groups preparing a 12-minute set of songs to perform live on stage. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the competition has been modified so groups submit music videos instead.
This was the first time many of the group’s members have worked with such a medium, and while other groups created a single video to submit for the various levels of competition, the Buffalo Chips made individual submissions for both the quarterfinal and the semifinal rounds over the span of just eight weeks.
“The amount of work that goes into something when you care about it is so much,” Bologna said. “You’re ready to drop everything, every ounce of yourself into making it as perfect as it can be.”
The group’s dedication to perfection is evident in each members’ work ethic. Despite the unfamiliar terrain, each member put in hours of work each day, from shooting the actual music videos to recording their parts in Bologna’s bedroom closet, which is yet another constraint brought on by COVID-19.
As a result of this dedication, the quarterfinal and semifinal music videos were born.
While the quarterfinal submission, “As the Romans Do (opb. Theo Katzman), honors the Buffalo Chips’ alumni and history, the semifinal submission, “The Chain (opb. Fleetwood Mac), tells a different story.
“I wanted to take a bit more of a dark and spooky route,” Bologna said. “I really wanted to hone in on that real emotional anger that is behind the words that are being sung.”
The semifinal music video capitalized off this intense atmosphere, as it took inspiration from “The Purge,” with Bologna trying to outrun a group of masked people.
However, the video is more than just a horror-inspired take.
“The Chain” represented Fleetwood Mac’s resilience, despite its members’ various personal and professional difficulties. The Chips’ music video also serves to represent a sort of resilience, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mental health has been an issue for a lot of people during the pandemic,” Markham said. “So, I thought it could potentially be the link to the chain that we needed… Watching the video [Bologna] is struggling with his inner demons and we [the masked people] are his inner demons.”
The heavy material of the music video has only brought greater excitement to the Chips.
“To have such an amazing product in such little time is really energizing for the entire group,” Eric DeVore, a junior media studies major and the group’s newly elected business manager, said.
Following the success of their first two videos, the Chips had initially planned to create a third video to submit for the final round, but due to COVID-19 related complications, they will instead be resubmitting “The Chain” video.. The final stage of the competition will be held on May 8 via YouTube livestream.
Despite this hiccup, the group still plans to create their third music video and release it to complete their set of songs, rather than as part of the competition.
Not only did the Chips enjoy success at the ICCA, but they were able to release an EP titled “Polarized,” available for streaming on all major platforms, after raising around $2,000 in funds through GoFundMe.
The EP features the songs the group had planned to perform at the 2020 ICCA, prior to its cancellation.
“We created the album to immortalize our work and to avenge our loss,” Markham said.
Yet, the group hasn’t only achieved material successes in the past year.
Beyond titles and productions, the group says it’s succeeding in creating community, with members seeing themselves as a tight knit brotherhood.
“I have made friends for life,” Matt Pestinger, a senior civil engineering major and the assistant music director, said. “Some are younger than me, [some are] older than me, from all over the country.”
The Chips’ close nature has been fostered by hours-long practices, living and traveling across the U.S. together, attending football games as a group and learning each other’s passions.
Pestinger, who is set to graduate this semester, teared up when reflecting on his experience with the group.
As the group concludes the spring semester, returning members are already thinking of the future, in particular the fall 2021 semester.
“We’re really gearing up for something big,” DeVore said. “Something super exciting as more of a ‘welcome back.’”
The group remains hopeful to return to in-person performances and maintain the momentum they have built in the last year.
But as always, they are most excited simply to work together and create something they are passionate about.
“That’s really what music is all about,” Bologna said. “It’s coming together with people that you love and making something that you are incredibly proud of.”
CORRECTIONS: This story has been updated to reflect that the ICAA finals will be livestreamed on May 8, not May 14. Also, the Chips were able to release their EP, despite raising roughly $2,000 on GoFundMe.
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