U of T a cappella group talks about origins, style, and what sets them apart

You would be hard pressed to find a student group that bolsters quite as much enthusiasm as the a cappella group TBA does. Since 2003, this group of U of T students have been arranging, competing, and performing unique, innovative takes on classic songs, earning them recognition both on and off campus. We managed to squeeze them all into The Varsity’s office recently to talk about the past, present, and future of TBA, while still making time for a song or two.

The Varsity: The name, what’s the story behind TBA?

Nick Kotoulas: Many years ago, just before I joined the group, when they initially tried to form student status for the group, you obviously had to write a name for your group. So [the original members] just put TBA thinking it was to be announced. They actually rolled with that for a couple years, and when I came in we decided… since our name is actually officially TBA, since it’s in the papers at U of T, we might as well make an acronym for it, so we turned it into one that goes by ‘tunes, beats, awesome.’

TV: Can you talk about the recruitment or audition process with the group?

Dominic Ebona: So we go with an audition process, and we typically take auditions during the first or second week of September. Audition slots are usually filled out by August, so we usually send out a bunch of social media stuff on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. They all get notified and whoever wants to sign up, signs up, and we see them in September.

Lucinda Qu: We fill a select number of slots. Typically members leave with big shoes to fill, so a couple spots each year open up.

DE: Basically we get them to sing a song, they sing a little part of one of our homemade arrangements with us, and then we take it from there.

TV: What is it that separates TBA from other a cappella groups, whether campus-wide or even on a larger scale?
NK:
Having been in the group for quite a while, I’ve seen a lot of different groups from the States, from Canada, and I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen that really separates us from a lot of groups is our level of arranging. I think our arrangements are pretty distinctive [and] complex in rhythm… we really try to challenge ourselves. Also we try to push the boundaries of how we express ourselves, which I don’t see a lot of other a cappella groups really diving into as much.

LQ: It’s hard to say what really sets us apart because the a cappella community, at least in Canada, is relatively small and we’ll hear things from across the border and they’re an entirely different story, but I think it’s really interesting to see how individuals in the group feel empowered to make arrangements and completely change the genres that we’re experimenting with. This year has shown a lot of growth musically with the group, and I think that every arranger who has come forth has brought something very unique to the table as opposed to trying to fit into a niche they thought we were trying to fit into.

TV: What are TBA’s goals and plans for the summer?
DE:
We took a hiatus from the International Championship of Collegiate A cappella (ICCA) this year, but we are planning to go back and show America and the rest of the world that Canada has A-ca-game!

LQ: And perhaps not in the next year because there’s a lot of infrastructure involved with this sort of project, but we would really like to foster more of a sense of community in the Canadian a cappella scene. I think if before the time we graduate in a couple years we were able to set up a kind of undergraduate ICCA type thing… that would be awesome.

NK: And just a member who’s leaving, I’ve been loving working on a number of recordings over the last two years with TBA, and I’ll definitely be working on some recordings with the lovely TBA to get some of our awesome tunes from this year into digital format, which will be really cool.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Dominic Ebona.

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