For the first time in 20 years, a University a cappella group is featured on the 2020 Best of College A Cappella album, a juried selection of student-adapted songs chosen by industry professionals. The Brown Derbies’ rendition of “Happier” by Marshmello and Bastille emerged from hundreds of submissions to land on the Varsity Vocals’ list of top 20 collegiate a cappella tracks of the year.
“Receiving this recognition is really rewarding, because we know how much time and effort was put into making this happen,” said Ben Michals ’22, the group’s music director.
“I listened to BOCA albums in high school,” said Amit Chakrabarti ’21, the group’s business manager who arranged “Happier.” “BOCA is the recording Academy (Award) of a cappella.”
The last time a University a cappella group was featured on a BOCA album was in 2000, when the Derbies’ rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy landed in the top 20.
In addition to its BOCA album, Varsity Vocals is known for hosting the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, which Chakrabarti likened to the competition in acclaimed musical comedy “Pitch Perfect.”
After releasing their EP “To Be Determined” in mid-September, the Derbies proceeded to submit all seven tracks of the album, including “Happier,” to various competitions such as Varsity Vocals.
“Our album has a theme this year — it starts with happy songs about young romance,” Chakrabarti said. The album then “evolves into … (the) complications of relationships and eventually separation and breakup. ‘Happier’ is an emotional song, but it also has really cool musical points.”
Michals, who helped arrange “Happier,” said the song works well as an a cappella rendition because vocal percussion and beat-boxing can emphasize the many layers of the song.
“Some songs innately work better for a cappella arranging,” Michals said. “There’s a lot of different factors that go into it. I think ‘Happier’ in particular works very well because of the build (up), which is such an essential part of creating excitement.”
Through an audition process within the group, Michael Saracco ’21 was the elected soloist for the winning piece. The song “is really a collaborative effort and communication between the music director, myself and the other people who are singing in the background of the piece,” Saracco said. “You are sort of all working in tandem to produce this one piece.” As the soloist, Saracco added that he tried to “really convey the emotion of the piece.”
Saracco, Chakrabarti and Michals all agreed that the close-knit community of the Derbies was a factor in the group’s success.
“The friendships that we have outside of rehearsal is actually what lends itself really well to the musical cohesion we have,” Michals added.