CSU a cappella groups make their voices heard

Graham Shapley

Man smiling
An interview with Colorado State University’s “Bassic” a cappella group’s financial officer, Ryan Fenske, on Friday, Sept. 6. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

As the fall semester comes into full swing, many clubs at Colorado State University are marching to their own beat. Some of these clubs prefer to perform with something of a self-imposed challenge: the only instruments allowed are their voices. 

A cappella is a style of music performance categorized by the absence of traditional musical instruments, opting instead to utilize vocals, beatboxing and any other sounds that can be made with the mouth and lungs.


“I think what separates (a cappella) from instrumental music is that it’s the voice that’s given to you,” said Alex Miller, a musical education major who is working to start up a new group, Mosaic A Cappella. “You’re born with it. Everybody can sing. It’s not just a talent you’re born with; everybody can do it.”

CSU hosts many a cappella groups in all sorts of vocal ranges, from the low tenors and basses all the way up to the higher sopranos and altos. 

I’m more so looking for good people than I am looking for good singers.” -Alex Miller, musical education major

“It’s definitely just so much fun,” said Isabel Heiland, current president of Mainstreet A Cappella. “There is so much more freedom than in a choir, and you can do lots of fun dance moves. I also think it does train your ear almost as well as a professional choir.”

A lot of modern a cappella takes a less traditional route than the more formal choir, which is likely why it has landed such a big role in popular culture and on college campuses alike. 

“In a school choir, you feel more blended into the background of the music,” said Brooke Wunder, vice president of Mainstreet. “With a cappella, it’s more like you and the music.”

The Mountain Horns is a purely tenor and bass group currently headed by Tim Costello, who also acts as president and one of three music directors. In an effort to round out the selection of groups on campus, Costello has helped other groups develop. He encouraged Miller to create Mosaic, which is an alto and soprano based group.

“There’s so much room now,” Miller said. “We have groups everywhere and not even just at CSU but in Fort Collins. The scene for a cappella is growing, and I think that’s been especially present in the last couple of years.”

    • CSU a cappella groups to check out: 
  • Mainstreet A Cappella 
  • The Mountain Horns 
  • Bassic A Cappella 
  • Mosaic A Cappella 

Fort Collins is especially welcoming of the influx of musicians and performers, and for newcomers to the scene, this can provide a positive, uplifting experience. Bassic A Cappella, another group on campus, isn’t afraid to be unconventional when it comes to community outreach — and to their satisfaction, the feedback is largely positive. 

“The City of Fort Collins seems to like a cappella,” said Ryan Fenske, the co-president and financial officer for Bassic A Cappella. “A few different times in the past couple years, we’ve just kind of walked around Old Town. We just kind of sang to random people. They seemed to enjoy that; I really like doing that one.”

As that scene has grown, so too has a need for unity between the groups performing on campus to make sure that any hopeful has as wide a field to go into as possible. 


“We definitely are building this community up,” Heiland said. “We’re trying to make it more of a community even this year. There wasn’t as much casual contact even before last year, so that’s something we’re trying to make stronger. We try to advertise each other’s auditions. If they don’t make it into our group, we just send them right over to the other groups.”

The special part about CSU’s a cappella scene is the lack of hyper-competitiveness. Instead of creating hierarchies, the groups focus on creating a healthy, supportive environment for one another. 

“The groups here at CSU are really collaborative,” Costello said. He described how the groups would often do combined performances with one another. “We really try to practice non-elitism. Every group in their own head wants to be the best group on campus, but at the end of the day, we all go to CSU. It’s not really competitive; it’s more like we’re elevating each other.”

The sound is important to us, but it’s just as important as our camaraderie.”-Tim Costello, president and musical director of The Mountain Horns

While collaboration is key to the community, it doesn’t come without struggles. Fenske said it can be difficult to collaborate with multiple groups at the same time. 

“It works out the best with just two groups,” Fenske said. “We tried to do three when I was a freshman, and it was kind of a cluster with us trying to perform so many different songs.”

Brooke Wunder and Isabel Heiland of Mainstreet A Cappella pose for a photo in Morgan’s Grind. (Graham Shapley | Collegian)

This diversity in terms of options has allowed for more specialized focuses. The Mountain Horns, for example, are aiming at what Costello calls “classic male singing.”

“We’re not going for something that’s groundbreaking or anything that’s too new,” Costello said. “I think it’s hard in some instances to get a bunch of guys together who are comfortable singing and comfortable dancing and showing all this expression. The sound is important to us, but it’s just as important as our camaraderie.”

All of the groups perform a few times a year, trying to build up to a showcase toward the end of a semester, though most groups will do other events around Fort Collins as well.

The a cappella groups at CSU recently went through auditions for new members, and although obviously they wanted talented performers, most were more interested in building a community and providing a space to learn than only taking in the best of the best.

“I’m more so looking for good people than I am looking for good singers,” Miller said. “I think community is a really important part for a cappella, and I keep referring back to that. Anybody can learn voice, so it’s really anybody that’s invested and creating good music with good people.”

The process of choosing new members is difficult, but the CSU a cappella community tries to make it as positive of an experience as possible. 

“We look for the fact that they’re going to be friendly and that you can work with them,” Heiland said. “There are divas out there. Guys and girls can be divas, and we’ve met some of them. Most people here are just wonderful anyway.”

Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham.