By Kristen Fiore
In the dim light, an eerie “oooh-aah-oooh” breaks the silence, climbing in waves like a thousand sirens. In the music room of Maitland Middle School, it’s only a dozen singers and the Shinedown song, “How Did You Love.”
A rainbow of backpacks and lunch boxes line the wall a few feet behind a line of kids in converse sneakers. The a capella group, comprising seventh- and eighth-graders, practices for its upcoming music video.
In a capella, the voices don’t just form words; they become instruments. A soprano soaring like a violin while a bass vocal cuts an undercurrent of deep notes, driving the sound from below.
At the time of its inception in 2014, there were only a handful of other a capella middle school groups in the United States.
“The kids love it,” said Lori Lovell, Maitland Middle School’s choral director of 14 years. “It started at the heyday when ‘Pitch Perfect’ and ‘The Sing-Off’ and all of that came out. They were dying to try it, and I said, ‘Sure we can try, and we’ll see what happens,’ and it was a success, mostly because they wanted it to be.”
In its first year, the group performed for Delilah, a professional a capella group, and Deke Sharon, a producer for the “Pitch Perfect” movies and the “Sing-Off” shows. Last year, it was invited to perform at the national a capella convention in Memphis. This year, it is producing a music video.
The group reached out to a vocal company, and after the company saw a video of the students singing, it agreed to do the project. The group is currently more than halfway to its fundraising goal to make it happen. The recording for the video started May 3, and the video could be done before the end of the month.
“It will be a great learning experience for them,” Lovell said. “Being in a recording studio and having to record with headphones and listen to a click track and have to tune will be a lot of work.”
The group is recording a song called “How Did You Love.”
“It’s the prime of their development, and middle school’s an awkward age, so to get them to think deeply about how you treat people has led to lots of discussions and hopefully some life lesson moments as well,” Lovell said.
The 14 students in the group all went through an audition process in front of a judges’ panel.
“It’s hard to get in, and when you do get in, you feel great,” said Nika Forouzannia, a seventh-grader. “And then it’s just a really fun experience, because you don’t find something like this in other chorus classes. It’s like a family.”
Like a family, they see a lot of each other, as they all come to practice before school starts every morning.
“They want it, and they make it happen,” Lovell said.
This year, the tone dropped an octave. It was the first year that boys were allowed into the group, which has served as both a reward and a challenge.
“The challenge of having boys in a middle-school group is that their voices are changing,” Lovell said. “Most of what we’ve done this year has been special commissioned arrangements for this particular group. Because what the boys could sing in the fall, now their voices have changed and are different. So our arrangements have had to change and adjust.”
For the students, it’s all worth it. When asked if they plan to continue with the activity, they respond with an immediate and unified, “Yes.”
Most of them will go to Winter Park High School, which also boasts a strong a capella culture, Lovell said.
“They’re not all going to end up being a music major or pursuing a profession in music, but all of them will have music as a part of their life in some way or another, and that’s the biggest joy for me,” Lovell said.
The students’ favorite part of being in the group is the singing and performances, but Lovell said she enjoys the process most — the conversations that she gets to have with the students about how to get better and focus on their goals. She loves to watch the “ah-ha” moments and the growth of each singer.
“There’s definitely mutual love and respect, which makes me want to work really hard for them and makes them want to work really hard for me,” Lovell said.
Behind her, the group sings the chorus, “The one thing you leave behind is how did you love, how did you love?”