Singing to their own beat

Students expand their music skills with an a cappella group


Photo courtesy of Joel Johnston

Using nothing but her vocal cords, senior Campbell Macy shows off her talents with the SNJ Singers, an a cappella group which is an audition-only group. The a cappella group performs about five times a year in a variety of locations, but their most popular concert is their winter holiday concert. “Being in the group means you have a lot of responsibility to learn the music and you also have to be able to dedicate time outside of rehearsal sometimes to be able to do that,” Macy said. “This is part of the reason why it’s an audition only group since Joel, our director, wants to know that the people in the group are going to take their commitment seriously.”

Riley Kramolisch, Staff Reporter

Usually singing and dancing alongside musical instruments, many students express their talents through school choirs and show choirs, but a more popular form of music is grabbing the attention of people all throughout the world: a cappella. 

Although Millard West offers a variety of musical groups, students like seniors Campbell Macy and Nathanel Ray and junior Elsa Covi wanted to get involved outside of school. Joining a program that includes kids from all around the metro area gives them the opportunity to work with other kids who excel in a different type of music like a cappella.A cappella is a performance by singers without instrumental accompaniment. Just the singer’s voice and sometimes the hands and feet are used to perform a piece. 

Locally, a studio called Sharon North Jones Studio of Music (SNJ) helps many singers from around the metropolitan area to improve and expand their singing skills. At SNJ, they have many different activities such as acting in a musical theater program, dancing in a show choir, singing in an a cappella group or even just getting a private lesson. SNJ Singers, which is an audition-only a cappella group, was created by director Joel Johnston, who has worked in the music industry for 37 years and wanted to add dimension to SNJ.

“I wanted to provide talented singers another outlet to sing, especially with singers from other schools,” Johnston said. “I also saw that many schools did not have a group like this that focused on all types of a cappella singing. I love a cappella singing of all styles, and knew there would be talented singers who would love to do this.”

The SNJ Singers perform at a variety of places. Similar to choirs at most high schools they have a fall, winter, spring and final concert. During the holiday season, they go caroling around the town to bring joy and cheer. This year they were only able to go to a retirement village and perform at an assisted living due to COVID-19. In the past they have also performed for the patients at Quality of Life Index Rehabilitation Center. 

Many of the singers in the a cappella group had already been a part of SNJ studios whether it be from singing lessons to a musical theater class. They also found singers by doing a bus tour to schools in the spring, hosting an annual a cappella festival and doing “Bring a Friend” rehearsals. All of these events helped the group transform from just a few singers to many who could truly share their talents with others.

I joined because I really enjoy singing, and I thought it would be fun to be in a group with kids from other schools,” Macy said. “I was also interested in the a cappella aspect of it because I’d previously only sung with accompaniment.”

Macy has been a SNJ student since sixth grade, when she participated in the all girls show choir called Center on Stage. She had experience and knowledge with all of the activities SNJ had to offer and was thrilled when she was able to audition for the a cappella group. Being involved in SNJ Singers, Macy gets to meet new people and build a closer relationship with her fellow singers that also go to Millard West.

“Being in SNJ Singers is super fun and rewarding,” Ray said. “Getting to sing with such talented individuals and Joel really makes being in the group worth it. I joined SNJ Singers my sophomore year of high school. I joined to meet and work with other talented singers across Omaha, and to get to sing challenging and exciting a cappella pieces.”

Many of the singers join the a cappella group with a variety of experience in music. Ray was newer to the SNJ studio than Macy was but was given the same opportunity to join the group.

The SNJ Singers is smaller than most high school vocal groups by having about 40 kids a  year, but they are expanding and showing off their talents. They host their yearly auditions in the spring for the following year. Many of the members of the group will be graduating this year and their roles will be hard to fill, but with the a cappella genre expanding there will be even more opportunities.