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A Home at Harvard: A Melodic Journey

I never thought that two weeks into my first-year in college, I would be woken up at 6 am to loud banging on my door and seventeen new best friends. Let me explain…

After high school graduation passes and the excitement of gaining admittance into Harvard fades, you realize that with matriculation to Harvard comes automatic access to hundreds of student organizations. The myriad of organizations available at Harvard becomes overwhelming pretty quickly. Walking along the quad green at the activities fair surrounded by overly-enthusiastic smiling faces, aggressively colorful posters, various types of food, loud music, and uncomfortable, awkward freshmen can be…daunting to say the least.

All I knew was that I wanted to sing in college, but I had no idea how to get involved. As I walked along the green with a similar expression as the character in the GIF above, I thought about turning around and heading back to the yard—until I saw the coveted a cappella row. As I heard the sounds of recorded a cappella tracks over large speakers and saw different groups of color-coordinated and bright-eyed upperclassmen, I thought back to the iconic scene in Pitch Perfect.

A little impromptu activities fair serenade.

There was no one with the confidence of ‘Fat Amy’ and the a cappella row did not feature any impromptu serenades by the Barden Treblemakers, but the row seemed appealing nonetheless. As I was bombarded with flyers, sheets, and pens, I recalled the one rule that everyone told me before going to the activities fair: do not sign up for everything. I figured for this occasion, I could break that rule just once…

And suddenly I was auditioning for seven collegiate a cappella groups. Whoops?

After a week-long and relatively sleepless week of sheet music, singing, tea and mingling, I joined The Harvard LowKeys, a gender neutral contemporary group on Harvard’s campus. Not only did I gain a new family, but I also gained dozens of familiar upperclassmen faces and fellow freshmen musicians from participating in the rigorous a cappella audition process!

Students from Lowkeys singing group

Since joining the LowKeys, I’ve gained experiences that I never imagined I could have before. Last year, we went on tour to both New Orleans and New York City, and competed in the International Collegiate Championship of A Cappella (ICCA, aka the real-life Pitch Perfect!) and advanced to the semifinal round and received the opportunity to sing at Boston Symphony Hall, a US Historical Landmark! This year we competed in the ICCA again and were named quarterfinal champions, advancing to the semifinal round where we placed 3rd for the first time! We are also went on our first-ever international tour to China! As a low-income student, the opportunity to have such amazing trips and experiences is one that I am forever grateful for. However, despite the competitions and trips that the LowKeys have embarked on, the most powerful memories I have with the group are the late-night conversations, the emotional bonds we have created, the tears we’ve shed, and the laughs we’ve shared. Real-life collegiate a cappella is definitely less like Pitch Perfect than one may imagine, but if you trade the drama of Pitch Perfect for empowerment, friendship, and endless fun, then you basically have a comprehensive description of what it’s like.

Student group performing on stage
Above: LowKeys performing at ICCA Semifinals 2017 at Boston Symphony Hall

Students from the LowKeys student group
Above: LowKeys in New Orleans on Bourbon Street!

Photos courtesy of the Harvard LowKeys.

So, you may be asking, “Is this just pro-a cappella propaganda?” Perhaps… However, the more important message here is that it’s possible to find your family at Harvard, even if its buried within the confines of the first-year activities fair. Should you choose to come to Harvard, I hope that you can find your family and your passions—the two do not have to be mutually exclusive! When I stepped foot on a cappella row during that sweltering August afternoon, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Singing in college with the LowKeys has given me more than I could ever imagine. Making music is pretty fun, but telling stories through that music and creating unforgettable memories with eighteen of your best friends is life-changing.

About the author

Hey y’all! My name is Cahleb E. Derry and I am a Sophomore living in Winthrop House! I was born and raised in Rockland County, NY, and went to boarding school in Lakeville, Connecticut. I am... View full profile

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