For many undergraduates at McGill, graduate students can seem separate from the rest of us, little more than strange entities that touch down to mark papers and run conferences. Choral Comprehensives is a reminder that like any other student, grad students need activities outside of class to stay sane, serving as the first graduate-only a cappella group.
“Most of the groups on campus are quite competitive,” founder Natasha Larivée explained.
“Being in grad school […] everyone’s in a similar stage in life,” added other founder Leora Frimer. “Other a cappella groups are mostly undergraduate focused, which represent a pretty large difference in terms of age and maturity.”
Getting the group started wasn’t an easy process, however, as advertising for the group didn’t come easily.
“We wanted to be a graduate-only student group,” Larivée said, explaining the origins of the group. “We don’t have access to office space and the clubs fair like we would if we were in SSMU.”
Further, it’s easy to imagine that graduate students, considering that they’re older and more established in their fields, would already have pursuits that they were focused on. But for Choral Comprehensives, that turned out not to be the case. Word-of-mouth and graduate communications have created a good deal of excitement for the group, as reflected in their numbers—Choral Comprehensives has approximately 25 members. The group attracted a large number of applicants, which were then pared down at auditions in late September to the current roster. The result is an unusually large a cappella group, one that is still on the hunt for male performers.
Bringing people together is a priority for the group, who are trying to counter feelings of isolation that can pop up in thesis-based graduate schools. The group is committed to working collectively, making decisions as a group about which performances to book. On a social level, members are getting along well and finding connections based on their mutual love for music.
“Two days after the first rehearsal, someone invited [the whole group] to his birthday party,” Frimer said.
Larivée echoed her sentiments adding, “We’re really, really happy where the group is going. The people who self select to be in these groups tend to be similar […] and there’s a bonding experience in that.”
Currently the group is performing arrangements lent to them by an a Cappella group at the University of British Columbia. Their repertoire contains works from a wide background, from James Brown to Justin Bieber. The group is working on adding new elements to the songs, fulfilling the role of an a cappella group by molding individual songs to the strengths and blends of different groups.
The group has a lot of musical talent, but still maintains a relaxed, non-competitive feel. In their first year, the focus of the group is establishing themselves and creating new opportunities for grad students. That said, they still have performances lined up at Thompson House for holiday parties. They’re also committed to charity performances, and will be helping out at the geriatric ward of the Glen Hospital for the purpose of musical therapy.
Overall, Choral Comprehensives is a unique new space for graduate students to help them avoid the alienation of endless hours of research. Establishing a new group is a tough process, but they are well on the way to creating an organization that will provide lasting benefits for grads. Choral Comprehensives has found a tune for multiple graduates to sing along to.