With a stage presence that's a cross between Gregorian chant and Tina Turner, the Sirens give the term "girl group" new meaning.
Hopkins' only all-female a cappella singing group takes to the stage on Saturday, Nov. 1, with a repertoire that covers everything from the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" to the Spice Girls' "Wannabe." The Sirens is one of eight a cappella groups at Hopkins, all of which have helped make the extracurricular activity among the campus's most popular.
"A cappella is one of the few things the student body supports," says Sirens president Mimi Murray. "We draw bigger crowds than the football team."
"A cappella is fun, so there's a need for more groups," says musical director Violette Renard. "And singing is just a great break from studying."
But at a midweek rehearsal, the group finds it takes work to have fun.
After a vocal warm-up, the Sirens start each rehearsal running through a new song at least 20 times or, as one Siren put it, "until we get sick of it." Then they practice the rest of their repertoire and work on their showmanship on stage--routines that clearly spring from the styles of James Brown or Ray Charles, as much as from the Manhattan Transfer.
"We rehearse about six and a half hours a week and perform twice a month," Murray says. The Sirens spend rehearsal time learning and polishing songs, ranging in style from the big bands to rap. Murray takes attendance and notes how late a singer is to the minute. "Miss more than six hours of rehearsal and you can't sing in the concert," she warns.
She was, perhaps, too polite to add, "There are plenty more where you came from." Forty-five new faces turned up for auditions this semester, looking for places in the 13-woman group.
"A great soloist can have a hard time singing a cappella if she can't blend in," Murray says. "And people get turned down because their voices don't fit into the group."
"We have more in common than most sororities," says Renard. "We have to be able to relate to each other to build up our on-stage chemistry."
With all the a cappella singing groups springing up on the Homewood campus in recent years, the campus performing arts council has become an integral partner in each group's success. The council coordinates scheduling and watches out for any overlapping song choices among the groups. No one, it seems, wants to show up (or be outshone by) another group. Competition is restricted only to scheduling, and most groups choose different songs.
The Sirens, like the other a cappella groups, perform whenever they can, whether for kids from the Hopkins Tutorial Project or on out-of-town gigs at other colleges and universities.
The Sirens are hoping to make it easier for them to be heard. Their first compact disc is about half finished after several trips to the recording studio. For technical reasons, each woman has to sing her part alone in the studio, demanding a higher energy level than when they are singing all together.
The release date for the CD is uncertain, but it will likely be ready for autographing sometime next semester.
The Sirens will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1, in the Schafler Auditorium of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. For more information, call Mimi Murray at 410-662-6223.
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