An Exclusive Interview with R20

Sarah Cho



This Thursday at 6:15, the Roaring 20 will be responding to this year’s Inspiration Night theme: Art as Digital Experience. The Roaring 20 is one of three co-ed a cappella groups on campus and has a repertoire that ranges from “Gerswin to Gaga”. I was able to sit down with Caroline Griffin ’17 (President), Deirdre Ely ’17 (Music Director), and Izzy O’Connell ’18 (Business Manager) to hear more about what music means to them and how a cappella for R20 has been shaped by the digital sphere.

What inspires you to sing? Do you have any favorite songs to sing as a group?

Deirdre: I grew up singing around the house. My family is a really musical family! My dad, for example, would go around singing and rhyming things. He calls us the opera family, which I always thought was really funny. [Music has] always just been a very big part of my life; I grew up playing instruments and things like that.

I think the songs that I gravitate most to are the songs that we as a group get to jam out to. So, for example, Under the Bridge is one of my favorite songs to sing. I don’t have to conduct and it’s nice because we really lock in as a group and it’s a very good feeling, musically, to have that– where you don’t really need a lot of direction.

Izzy: I’m similar in that my family always has music playing, from playing air guitar in the kitchen to jamming out with my mom who sings off-tune, loud and proud. Music has kind of grown into a larger and larger part of my life with pretty much every passing year. I played two instruments through middle school, and then adding 1, then 2, then 3, then 4 choirs and an a cappella group through high school. So, music has always been something that I’ve enjoyed and always wanted to pursue.

Yeah, I agree with Deirdre. The jam-out songs are definitely the most fun! The ones where you get clapping and get into it, the whole kind of moving and grooving together. I’m a huge fan of Kiss Him Goodbye, because for the first arch that’s the song that you know how to sing. Being able to perform with the group for the first time is something that I remember every time I sing that song.

Caroline: Very similar answer for what inspires me to sing: I come from a very musical family, but more so instrumentalists. Growing up, I loved singing and musical theatre. I didn’t get necessarily as involved in musical theatre at school, but just in my own time and with my family, which was always something that was really fun. I actually went to a performing arts high school and I studied classical music there and then fell in love with it. I loved being surrounded by people who were really into music–I thought it was a fun way to balance out an academic environment. When I came here I actually didn’t know how music would translate into my Princeton career. I didn’t think it would be a cappella, but I tried out and absolutely loved it and joined. I do music in a different context now— it’s really fun to sing pop music. Probably my favorite song to sing, we don’t sing it enough, is Make Me Lose Control.

I &D: Yaaas (jamming out in their corner)

C: Basically for the same reasons that Izzy and Deirdre said: it’s an absolute jam-out song and its also a song where we sing lyrics more and that’s what makes it fun! We have all these silly moves and just make eye contact with each other and do all these funny things with our hands. There’s literally a part where the beat boxing breaks out and everyone just turns to the side and dances. I won’t ever forget that moment last year when we walked down the Street singing that song; it’s a really fun vibe. And then a second song for a different reason is Hide and Seek. It’s just that it’s a really beautiful song and once in a while we’ll sing it with the lights off and talk about what it really means and its just very emotional song.


So the theme of Inspiration Night this year looks into how digital can affect art objects in a museum. I was wondering how the digital affects your art as an a cappella group?

D: It makes it easier in some ways because it’s easier to write music with digital resources. I arrange songs for the group and it’s great to have access to an app to write all the music instead of by hand, its definitely useful; you can play it out and listen to it.

I: It’s even helpful to have notation software. We have a music historian as a position in our group and we have a whole folder collection of all of our music, all of our repertoire, and having computer generated notes rather than hand written notes makes it far more legible and means that we can pass down our music more accurately. And also, recording! We wouldn’t be able to make CDs without the technology and now our CDs are pretty much exclusively published online, they’re on iTunes; they’re not in hardcopy anymore.


Do you think anything is lost when your performances are digitized versus listening to it in person, like in an arch?

C: For sure. We’ve had an issue with that recently, with people being concerned with what is lost when we do recordings with a professional recording studio that tries to make our voices sound perfect—edits the voices and mixes it in a way that maybe doesn’t sound as natural. We were able to work with our most recent album to really get it to sound like we were in an arch. But there are always still things that we can’t totally fix because it’s nearly impossible to get it to sound like if we were singing in Richardson or in Blair Arch, even in the performance value and interaction.

I: A cappella is a very present art form because, to me, there is a huge difference in going to a concert and listening to a recording. But even some of the biggest artists, listening to one of their recordings especially if they do a lot of electronic music or they do something synthetic, its pretty much what you’re going to get on stage. I was recently at a concert where the artist was mixing live on stage and looping himself over and over and it was a cool experience—but it sounds the same way as it would on a recording. But for a cappella, you don’t have any music you don’t have digitally enhancement like normal performances. We literally use a pitch pipe to get our notes down. It’s a very authentic art sometimes there is difficulty translating it digitally, but its exciting to try to get it to work and play with it.

C: And I think to not only relate it to recording, a lot of the times people struggle when arrangements are brought into the group. An inspiration for bringing a song into the group will always come with initially hearing a recording another group has done professionally. They think: I love that song, I want R20 to sing it, and hear it in an a cappella context. But, it’s about understanding how do you change it, because it is never going to sound exactly the same as it does with the instruments. I think that the biggest challenge that makes people the least successful with translations to a cappella is that they try to make it sound exactly the same as the original and try have voices sound exactly like an instrument or an electronically created sound. It can never happen, so its about taking something like that and figuring out how to translate it to a group of voices and a group of voices at our age and musicianship and ability.

D: So, despite the technological advantages and advancements, there is still a very human element to the creative process in a cappella


Do you have a sneak preview of what to expect Thursday night?

D: Our set list has some of our great classic songs but there are one or two that are more tech focused, such as Hide and Seek. If you listen to the original recording, its completely done through technology. I think the way she did it was she uses her one voice singing and then it gets modulated through different harmonies that you can hear, and we have a really good arrangement of that that manages to extrapolate that into our voices.

C: And, another song that we are doing is Space Man, which has a lot of cool beat boxing and takes what percussion would sound when recorded, with a human voice trying to imitate beats and sounds created by a computer or an instrument. It’s another one of our favorite group songs where we like to jam out—so look out for that!


Check out R20’s performance this Thursday at YOUR museum at 6:15! Also you can find their new album here.