California Golden Overtones Sing Their Way to the Top

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With glittering eyes and bright smiles, the California Golden Overtones dazzle a crowd of campus passersby at a weekly Friday afternoon performance.

Having recently won the Western Regional Semifinals, these singing sensations have gone further in competition than any previous Overtones group and are the first all-female a cappella group from the western region to ever make it to the national competition.

With such unprecedented achievement under their belts, these nine women are on an emotional high.

Just two years ago, however, senior member Abra Rosenbaum remembers dreading going to rehearsal. Describing negative energy and resentment among members, she recalls often being unhappy.

"The reason why we are doing well this year is that we like each other, and that is something we never had my first year so we could never build," Rosenbaum says. "As the musical manager, I don't think I could have their respect if I didn't have their friendship first."

The women are not only happy to be singing, they are also happy to be singing with one another. Going out to dinner, having sleepovers and backpacking, their friendship extends beyond the rehearsal room.

Some Overtones attribute this season's unparalleled success to the friendship shared by the members.

"I honestly don't think it would've worked out so well if we didn't get along so well behind the scenes," says Brynn Hatton, the group's business manager. "People have told us, 'You look like you're having the most fun of anybody.' We definitely are."

As Hatton sports cargo pants and a bright yellow watch, one member wears a baseball cap over her braided pigtails and another dons jeans and flip-flops. Without their team baseball t-shirts and loud voices, people might not identify these women as a distinct unit.

Ecstatic over their recent victory, the Overtones can barely stand still. Singing ballads to students passing by and dancing with onlookers, the group emits a giddiness that their spectators soon share.

This season the female chorus has gone from being a singing group to a performance group.

"My first year there wasn't emphasis on improving the group-it was on maintaining the status quo," Rosenbaum says. "This year is a lot more entertaining. We added a lot more energy, and we made it more performance-based."

In trying to achieve the high level of performance, the Overtones commit much of their time to accomplishing their goals. During their busiest times of the year, they might spend over 30 hours a week either in rehearsal, at performances, or singing to classmates in front of Sather Gate.

"It drives me insane, but at the same time, it's my sanity," says sophomore member Rose Martin.

She adds that many UC Berkeley students devote most of their time to studying and "only stick one foot into the water."

As a group of mentored children gets up from their front row ground seats, a dozen or so UC Berkeley students make their way through the crowd to take over. Students walking by decide to show up late to their 1 p.m. classes, while others decide to eat lunch on campus that day.

The Overtones say they feel well-received and supported by their peers. Much to their surprise, fans have attended the group's performances and competitions off-campus.

Soraya Verjee, a freshman who sings alto, remembers her excitement at seeing classmates at the Western Semifinal Competition at Stanford University.

"I think we're really amazing, and I think a lot of people would think so too if they knew about us," freshman Lisl Duncan says. "It's something else the student body can be proud of."

Many Overtones admit that the group succeeded this season more than they thought was possible. Last year's squad did what no Overtone group had ever done before-they placed at quarterfinals. Placing third, however, they were not able to advance to the semifinal competition.

Rosenbaum was moved to tears at this year's quarterfinals. Taking first place at the competition enabled the group to proceed to semifinals. But the a cappella group's success did not stop there.

"To be perfectly honest I thought we would win second place," Rosenbaum says of the semifinal competition. "But when they announced second place, we knew."

Squeezing each other's hands tightly, the Overtones burst into shrieks of joy and tears of elation upon hearing that they had won the semifinals.

"It was pure joy because there wasn't anything to prove," Rosenbaum said.

In April, the Overtones will travel to New York where they will compete in the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella.

Fifty women auditioned for just four spots this past fall. Martin, who auditioned last year, admits that such intense competition intimated her to the point where she almost did not compete at all. After hearing other solo pieces, a requisite for the audition, she considered withdrawing from try-outs.

The audition is a twelve hour-long activity, something which first-year member Amy Boyce found very exhausting. She remembers returning home by midnight only to be awakened an hour later by five singing Golden Overtones who came to embrace Boyce as a new member.

In fact, wherever the Overtones go, they end up singing along the way. Martin, also a resident assistant in the UC Berkeley dorms, took a backpacking trip with her residents and a few members of the singing group. She said four of the female singers broke into a full harmony happy birthday for one of the residents.

"We get to be our own instruments," Martin adds.

Although the Overtones hope to fare well at nationals next month, they feel they have already accomplished a lot. On a comment card at a recent competition, one judge identified them as an inspiration to all-female groups everywhere.

"I really feel like we're changing the face of female a cappella," Rosenbaum says.


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