By Katie Hanson ’25
With their voices echoing off Pomona College’s Frary steps, the Claremont Shades belt an a cappella rendition of a popular song, awing a silent crowd of students. When the song concludes, the once-quiet audience erupts in applause.
Co-Music Director Remy Rinn ’23 says performing with the group creates a strong feeling of shared accomplishment.
“It’s gratifying to perform,” Rinn says. “It feels good because it feels very collective; we’re in that together. There’s no way to separate yourself from that group.”
Established in 1995, the Claremont Shades are the first all-gender a cappella group of the 7Cs. The group has previously performed at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, the competition on which Pitch Perfect is based, and won prestigious Best of College A Cappella awards. The Shades perform songs from a wide range of genres, from pop to folk to soul. This year, the group is focusing their efforts on local performances and sharing music on campus.
Before the group can take the stage, however, they must engage in a time-consuming process of arranging music, learning individual parts, and rehearsing together. Rinn arranges music for the group, which involves taking a song and translating it to an a cappella format.
“It’s kind of like building a ceramic piece because you start with this big lump of clay, the song,” Rinn says. “You have a lot of material that you could potentially mold. You have to decide what of the original song you want to keep, which aspects you want to add, and what to change.”
The group rehearses three times a week. During practices, members divide into their vocal ranges, while music directors float from group to group to help them fine-tune. Outside of practices, members submit recordings of themselves to a shared Google Drive. While it can take a while for pieces to come together, Co-President Kiana Harnish ’23 says that it’s a magical moment once everything slides into place.
“I think my favorite moments are when you’ve been working really hard on a difficult arrangement, and you get together and it just clicks,” Harnish says. “There’s nothing that is more beautiful to me than different voices coming together.”
The Shades have already performed three times this spring: once each at Scripps and Claremont McKenna Colleges’ respective Family Weekends, and again at a snack concert. Each semester, different groups from the 7Cs hold snack concerts, casually performing two songs on the Frary steps for an intimate group of fellow students.
Now, the group is honing their preparations for the Southern California A Cappella Music Festival (SCAMfest). The Shades are coordinating the performance, organizing logistics with COVID-19 protocols, security, the venue, and more. Each group from the 7Cs will perform two songs with choreographed dance routines. Two groups from the University of California, Los Angeles, one group from the University of California, Davis, and one group from the University of Southern California will also participate.
Even with intensive preparations underway, Helen Gillett ’25, a first-year member of the group, says the Shades are enjoying the process.
“I think it’s really special to have a group that you get to learn music together with consistently,” Gillett says. “I haven’t had that elsewhere.”
With tri-weekly practices, weekly group dinners, and group socializing outside of practice, the tight-knit group has cultivated a strong sense of community. Members often opt to spend more time with each other outside of the six-plus hours of rehearsal each week.
Sulekha Ram-Junnarkar ’24, another first-year member of the group, says her favorite part of the Shades is the community it offers.
“I love being a part of a group and having a built-in community in the group,” Ram-Junnarkar says. “Obviously, we could all be studying during those rehearsal times, but we choose to be there because of our love for music.”