The members of Voices of Gold find the ultimate bonding experience and continue to heal from the loss of Lee Thomas.

A person holds open a choir book

“Charismatic,” “family,” “silly,” “fun,” and “organic. “

Those words from members of Voices of Gold, and the last from the director herself, describe the newest music group on campus.

For anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about, last semester the Mount started a new a cappella group called Voices of Gold. A cappella is singing without music or piano accompaniment. According to Hallie Browning (she/her), Voices of Gold began when Karlee Banfield (she/her) and Kelsey DeMange (she/her) came up with the idea of starting a competitive a cappella group and realized they had the connections to make it happen. Once the idea was born, they asked Hallie Browning and Rain Phoenix-Brown (she/her) if they would be interested, and then auditions were arranged for anyone else who wanted to join.

Currently in the group includes Browning majoring in music education, Banfield majoring in art education, Phoenix-Brown majoring in criminology with a focus in criminal justice, Louis Tallarigo (he/him) majoring in liberal arts, Tim Zang (he/him) majoring in computer science, Brinna Otto (she/her) majoring in social work, Marisa Larson (she/her) majoring in music education, and Allie Huston (she/her) majoring in biology with DeMange as their director (also the director of choirs).

I asked a few of the members about their experience in Voices of Gold and they all agreed that they love the comradery and community, musicianship and effort put into the pieces, and the fact that we all get along so well that we are able to get ice cream out of the blue and laugh together.

Before the passing of freshman Lee Thomas, we would joke around as a group during rehearsals, but we were also very focused on learning our pieces because we had very little time to memorize our parts and create choreography for the music before the competition.

Due to this determination, we didn’t truly become a family until the Friday we received the tragic news of our classmate’s death. That day, instead of practicing new choreography during rehearsal, we sat in the recital hall with Sr. Karen Elliott (director of Mission Integration), Mark McCafferty (chair of the Music Department), Thomas’s closest friends, and some other choir students to mourn his death and talk about how we as a University can best honor his life.

After a heartfelt prayer from Elliott, others went their separate ways but Voices of Gold went to get Graeter’s ice cream. We made jokes about coffee and muffins and reminisced about high school experiences and then laughed at all of it. Someone once said that the best way to bond with a group is to laugh with one another. Not only did laughing comfort us as we mourned the loss of a classmate, but we finally came together as a family. We talked more that day than we ever had previously, and grew closer as friends.

At the next rehearsal, we resumed normal activities with the addition of visitors. A typical rehearsal begins with vocal warmups and stretching if we are practicing choreography that week, according to Browning. Then we move into the songs and improve pieces as needed. At the end of rehearsal, we record what we learned that day and send the video to the group to practice in preparation for the next rehearsal. We are all expected to memorize our arrangements (the notes we sing) for each piece and memorize the choreography if that’s what we learned that week.

If you are like me and think you can’t memorize music no matter how hard you try, I’m here to tell you that you can. Before joining a college choir, I would sing songs for fun but never really pay attention to lyrics, so if you asked me to sing a song a cappella, I was completely lost. Now that I have to learn and memorize my music, I can sing a lot of songs from memory a cappella because I practice every day if I can and I want to contribute to the group.

So many people don’t join a music group because they can’t read music or they don’t know half the musical terms used in rehearsal. Here’s the thing…I don’t either! I can read some music because I was in band from sixth to twelfth grade but I still couldn’t tell you what some notes on a staff are, and I’m completely lost whenever my director tells the group that a chord is a fifth away from another chord (huh?).

The beautiful thing is that you don’t need to know all of that going into a music group. Those are things you learn along the way as long as you put in the effort to learn them. There are people to help you too! I sing with plenty of music majors who are always willing to share what they know and help you learn your music.

As DeMange says, “Music is a team effort.” If one person isn’t contributing to the whole group, then the group isn’t as good as it could be.

Each member has a reason for joining Voices of Gold. As there are so many of us, I will  highlight only a couple. Huston joined Voices of Gold because she has been in theater and choir as long as it’s been an option for her and she really enjoys learning and performing music. Tallarigo joined Voices of Gold because he wanted to grow as a person and because, being a junior, he didn’t know how many other opportunities he would get so he thought he would try it out. He explained that Voices of Gold was the only in-person activity he had during Covid so it gave him a chance to get out of his comfort zone.

Our overall goal as a group is to advance in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, or ICCA. This is where college a cappella groups gather to compete. They create a set (a list of songs to perform) and have to perform the set in 10 minutes, and they compete against other colleges in the region. The top two placing groups in quarterfinals move on to semifinals, and then the top two groups from every semifinal go to finals in New York City. If you win finals, you get your name on an award cup called “The Gooding Cup.”

As a group, we are very excited for this opportunity to compete and show off our hard work because those of us who have competed in ICCA know how fun it is, and those who are experiencing this for the first time are excited to experience something new with our friends. Even though we have had very little time to rehearse as a group, which has made us all a little nervous, we are excited to be on this journey together and make every minute count.

As a brand-new group, we are still working things out such as when to meet, how often to meet, and what songs to sing so that everyone gets a fair chance if they want a solo. We all agree that since we formed the group so late in the ICCA season, each rehearsal was a little rushed and we didn’t have as much structure as we would have liked. This was because not every member was free during every rehearsal due to work or other obligations which made solidifying choreography and arrangements challenging. We are doing our best, though, and seeing what works and what doesn’t and taking notes for what to do next semester.

Our current goals as an ensemble are to advance in ICCA and hopefully make it to finals, and more importantly, to have fun and grow as people and as musicians.

You may be thinking to yourself “This sounds fun but I’ve never been in a music group before.” Not to worry! Anyone can join! Whether you read music or not, think you’re a good singer or not, or are a music major or not. We would love to have you! All you need is a passion for music, some free time each week, and the desire to better yourself and make new friends. If you aren’t sure if you’ll like it, give it a try. We don’t judge and there is no obligation to stay in the group.

“A cappella music is really cool because when you practice on your own you hear your part, and a lot of them are very rhythmic because it’s replacing instruments. Once you hear it all come together with all the other parts and all the other singers, it’s really awesome. It’s like you are in Pitch Perfect. It’s awesome,” says Huston.

Tallarigo adds, “If you’re interested in it, just go for it. Sometimes you don’t realize your own limitations. I’ve pushed my own limits both vocally and personally simply by joining this group. So…do it. Enjoy it. Don’t just try  and go through the motions because you’re not going to get what you want out of it.”

If you’re interested in joining us next semester, here is contact information for all Voices of Gold members. Feel free to contact any of us with questions or comments, we would love to hear from you! Also, go to to learn more about ICCA.

Kelsey DeMange:

Hallie Browning:

Brinna Otto (author):

Allie Huston:

Tim Zang:

Louis Tallarigo:

Rain Phoenix-Brown:

Marisa Larson:

Karlee Banfield: