Eyes closed, nine women circle around a piano in the depths of the Harris Fine Arts Center, swaying back and forth. Beatboxer Sarah A. Cunha (’16) lays down a jazzy drum beat with her voice, lips moving furiously to mimic a bass drum and high-hat cymbal. Several other voices doo-wah to match the timbre of a brass ensemble. Soprano Jessica McKay Johnson (’16) belts out a soulful, free-flowing “ohhhhhhh.” It’s a harmonious blend with a driving beat that has director Keith M. Evans (BA ’11, MA ’14) bobbing his head and the women shuffling their feet.
Members of BYU’s female a cappella group, BYU Noteworthy, are rehearsing their newest number—Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)”—for the first time. The rapid triplets in the piece are enough to twist anyone’s tongue, and soon a few notes slip in askew. A flurry of confused faces later, the group erupts into giggles, and a “This is hard!” escapes from the circle.
“You guys already have a good step up on it,” Evans reassures the chattering group.
Describing a typical rehearsal, Cunha laughs: “[It’s] organized chaos.”
Now in its 11th year of performing and its second year as an official campus performing group, Noteworthy nabbed first in the 2007 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) and performed on 2009’s season of NBC’s The Sing-Off, and the group is just gathering momentum. In September the singers unleashed their biggest YouTube success to date: “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone),” which has garnered more than 9 million views. “Shocking and awesome,” says Evans, a former member of BYU Vocal Point, back for his second year of directing the group.
Each of their arrangements has its own challenges: “We’re trying to do something that is ridiculous in a way—we make trumpet noises with our voices instead of actually using a trumpet,” says Johnson. Take another Noteworthy YouTube hit, “Star Wars: A Cappella Strikes Back.” In the video, which was nominated for a 2016 Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award, the group re-creates an entire orchestra’s sound with their voices.
But at the core lies a group of women who simply hope to uplift and inspire. “[We want] to reach out to people as representatives of BYU with wholesome and positive entertainment,” says contralto Alyssa M. Aramaki (’17).
Along with two-hour rehearsals three times a week and practice outside of class, the group is often on the road with concerts, firesides, and competitions. “It’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make. It’s a blessing,” says alto Janae T. Klumpp (’18), the resident veteran, now in her third year with the group. “Performing’s great, singing’s great, [and] the girls and Keith—they’re my family.”