On April 7, the lecture hall in 155 Dwinelle Hall, draped in soft string lights and complete with chalkboard lettering, became the space that would showcase the work of one of Cal’s top all-female a cappella groups, the California Golden Overtones, or the “Tones,” as the members affectionately refer to themselves.
The group’s show, TonesSnaps!, showcased the skill sets and unique styles of each of their 11 members through songs that ranged from pop icons such as Lady Gaga to legends of doo-wop such as the Supremes.
Afterglow, UC Davis’s only all-male a cappella group, opened the show with an old-school vibe. After some goofy back-and-forths between the singers and a few melodious coughs into the microphones, the members blew into the pitch pipe and transported their audience back into age of barbershop quartets. Their catchy sound turned the audience into a sea of bopping heads and dopey grins. In their last piece, “Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby,” the audience mistakenly applauded too early and the guys broke character to smile at each other.
After the opening act, the members gathered on stage and introduced themselves to the audience. They were met with adoring whistles from parents and the screeches of their friends chanting their names. The show began with Joyce Lo performing Børns’ “Past Lives.” What became immediately apparent in this first piece, and that remained consistent through the Tones’ set, was each singer’s’ ability to maintain a very classic a capella style while also being able to perform more experimental, modern music. Although their individual styles are unique and their ranges diverse, they create beautiful blends in vocal sound that is singular to the genre.
In the show’s first act, Ashley Rodriguez’s cover of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” stood out as one of the groups most dynamic pieces. It’s particularly hard to cover such a prolific artist and do their songs justice, but Rodriguez’s control over her range and her ability to transition from a contralto to a soprano was a testament to the level of skill the group possesses.
It was humbling to see UC Berkeley students put on a show of this caliber. To learn music, choreography and maintain the legacy of an organization that is entering its fourth decade is a huge commitment to take on. Nevertheless, the girls do it with grace. Although the spring show wasn’t as high-stake as their competitions, they performed their pieces with the same spirit and sharpness as they would at their bigger contests.
The group executed perfect choreography, performed in uniform navy blazers and were able to maintain perfect pitch, but this didn’t put up the fourth wall that is typically present in stage performances. They took time to interact with their audience and throughout the show, the heart of the group shined through.
The bond the members have with each other is like that of a family, and it creates a uniquely intimate space for their audience. If it wasn’t evident from the behind-the-scenes videos sprinkled between performances, it came through in the way each member sang praise for each of her fellow singers as they walked up to receive the mic. They even plugged the fandom that surrounds one of their vocalists, Candace Kim, which is appropriately named the “Fan-dace.”
They closed their show with the song, “Up The Ladder” by the Supremes, sung by alumna Hoi Ning Liu. Up until this performance, Liu was providing a constant stream of beatboxing in the background of the preceding performances. Her beats had maintained such precise timing that it became easy to forget that the percussion was coming from somebody’s voice. Even after performing ten other songs, Liu gave an incredible vocal performance of the song with belts that left shivers.
For a small group, the California Golden Overtones put on a big show that should remind the campus how alive the arts are in such an academically driven school.
Contact Annalise Kamegawa at [email protected].