The Bostonians: Balancing Tradition and Innovation The Bostonians of Boston College pride themselves on being the University's "first and premier" a cappella group.

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he Bostonians of Boston College haven’t always been one of the University’s leading a cappella groups.

When the group was founded in 1986, it didn’t have any particularly great musical abilities, but one day the members looked back and realized how much they had improved over the years, Rob Sangirardi, president of The Bostonians and CSOM ’20, said. The group was no longer struggling, and they were ready to share their talents with the BC community and beyond. Over time, the group worked together to focus on the quality of their sound, and today they pride themselves on being the University’s “first and premier” a cappella group.

“‘We don’t suck’ has become our rallying cry,” Jamie Kweon, MCAS ’21 and co-music director of The Bostonians, said. “Now we dedicate our time to take the music incredibly seriously, so that we can sound the very best we can.” 

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ne of the main reasons The Bostonians have excelled in recent years is their strong alumni network, which dates back 33 years and is passionate about helping the group continue to grow. The group keeps in close contact with its predecessors, and sometimes alumni even come back to sing with them at performances. The group mentions Tom Leyden, BC ’94, one of its early members, as an important alumnus. Leyden might be known to some as a sportscaster on Fox 25, but to the Bostonians, he is an excellent resource who, in many ways, functions as their alumni coordinator.

“It’s amazing to meet some of the original alumni,” Sangirardi said. “We’re still carrying some of the traditions that they created all these years ago.” 

While a lot of the group’s traditions remain a secret, one of their most memorable ones brings them together in an honest and genuine way. Before each show, the group stands in a circle in order of graduating class and everyone says how they’re feeling prior to the performance. It’s a ritual that can be both funny and heartfelt and gives each person in the group a chance to be heard. The Bostonians pride themselves on being a close-knit family, and this tradition gives freshmen, seniors, and everyone in between to feel important within the group. 

“It’s the most gratifying reflection,” Jake Abrams, co-music director and LSOE ’20, said of the cherished tradition. 

The Bostonians also do three projects throughout the school year: Freshmen, boys, and girls. Each group strings together their own performance, and the rules are pretty lenient—members of each group can use instruments and get help from others—but everyone works hard to make the performance the best it can be. 

“If you listen to an hour and a half of a cappella,” Kweon said. “You’re going to get tired and at some point you’re going to want to hear instruments.”

Another way the group stays connected to its roots is by performing a couple favorite songs at every show. “Love the One You’re With” and “True Colors” are both ingrained in the Bostonians’ identity, and have even become part of their audition process. 

The Bostonians make it a point to choose freshmen that are the best for the group during the audition process. It’s not always a matter of the sheer talent or skill of a candidate, but often has to do with how bad they want to be part of The Bostonians specifically versus just any a cappella group. The group begins reaching out to new students the summer before school starts on Facebook and responds to everyone who shows interest. The activities fair is also a huge draw for potential members and gives students a chance to meet the group in person. 

“It’s a you choose us, we choose you type of situation,” Sangirardi said.

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he auditions span three consecutive days, and one of those sessions takes place on Newton Campus to ensure that all students who are interested get the chance to participate. They compile a list of about 13-20 students for a second round, but callbacks for all a cappella groups happen at the same time—ensuring there is a mutual interest on both sides of the audition. The competitive process pushes students to make up their minds before they even have a choice among groups to join.

“It’s a you choose us, we choose you type of situation,” Sangirardi said. 

The audition process can be grueling for some. Students are expected to perform a cappella basics, like matching pitch and going through scales, but also must sing a song with The Bostonians. The final decision must be unanimous, and the group acknowledges that the deliberation process can sometimes be long and divided. 

“It’s a tough process,” Abrams said. “We ask them a lot of questions and consider personality, confidence, sense of humor…” 

It is important that the group recruits the absolute best freshmen to carry on its legacy. Day-to-day life with The Bostonians is fun, as evidenced by the group’s concrete sense of community, but it can also be stressful at times. The group often spends upwards of six hours a week together. 

“Before our Fall Café, we have ‘hell week,’ which consists of three-hour rehersals for five days straight,” Sangirardi said. 

“It makes it so easy to have a good time,” Abrams said. “People always comment how much fun we have onstage.”

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n addition to multiple shows every semester, The Bostonians travel to other schools, such as Syracuse and Cornell, to perform with a cappella groups there. They also collaborate with The Acoustics and Common Tones fairly often, as well as other BC groups.

It definitely helps that The Bostonians are passionate about what they do. The group is the perfect mix of talented voices and people who really click together.  

“It makes it so easy to have a good time,” Abrams said. “People always comment how much fun we have onstage.”

The songs are tailored to each individual’s talents, ensuring that every soloist has the potential to knock their performance out of the park. There’s an art to maximizing the power of the soloist, and The Bostonians have mastered it. Each song performed incorporates the perfect mix of a strong soloist, alongside a skillful background. 

The Bostonians guarantee each member three solos if they stay with the group for four years. Seniors are able to pick their songs, which is an exciting incentive for staying in the group. It makes for a family building experience, and allows the members of the group to grow and blossom with one another. 

“We’re confident in our talent,” Sangirardi said. “We want for everyone’s voice to be heard and to uplift each member of the group.” 

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his practice was evident in the group’s Halloween Invitational last Friday. The group was decked out in vibrant costumes, and really did appear to be having a great time onstage. After each solo, the performer receives hugs, high fives, and cheers from the rest of the group. One of the most skillfully executed moments of the night was the “Friends” mashup, in which The Bostonians mixed songs by Francis and the Lights and Chance the Rapper. It evoked the idea of a more modern, evolving a cappella sound. 

Some of their favorite previous performances include renditions of “You Will Be Found” off the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack, “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande, “Golden Slumbers” by The Beatles, and “Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton. 

“In the past, we performed a lot of pop and slower ballads,” Abrams said. “Recently we’re doing lesser-known songs as people shift their mindsets toward more indie and folk music.” 

In doing this, the group is able to showcase a better variety of intricacy and detail. They are expanding their horizons by venturing into new genres and developing new skills. Recently, they have begun emulating synthesizers in their performances, which has been both challenging and eye-opening, according to Sangirardi. 

“Thankfully, everyone has been really receptive so far,” Abrams said. “Our members are talented, and they’ll go for it.”

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brams describes the process as “healthy experimenting,” as the group continues to grow and shape its own boundaries. They have also started performing group songs without a soloist. Mixing it up is important for The Bostonians as they push to evolve with the changing styles of modern music.

“Thankfully, everyone has been really receptive so far,” Abrams said. “Our members are talented, and they’ll go for it.” 

A major reason why The Bostonians can pull of these adaptations is the unique mix of vocal talents that make up the group. The group is co-ed, which largely enhances their range. While other a cappella groups on campus are also co-ed, The Bostonians pride themselves on creating all their arrangements in-house. This is a testament to the talent and creativity of the members of the group, and their originality is showcased in the interesting renditions and remixes heard in all their shows. 

The perfect balance of tradition and exploration is what has kept The Bostonians going strong over 30 years after the group’s formation. It’s also what allows the group to come together so well as a family. They always look like they’re having a great time with each other, especially onstage. But with that comes hours of intense commitment. The group is incredibly driven, which allows it to stay at the top of its game while having fun. 

“We just really care about getting it right,” Abrams said.

Featured Images by Aneesa Wermers / For The Heights

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