Straight from print: Catching up with “Dime a Dozen”
AU’s largest a cappella group offers students a chance to perform in a fun environment
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's February 24 special edition.
During a bright and sunny day on the quad last spring, a group of students began to sing a cappella, smiles spread across their faces. Even as they experienced technical difficulties and slip-ups, they laughed and sang with joy, simply enjoying the moment together.
This group was Dime a Dozen, AU’s only co-ed a cappella group. Founded in 2000, the ensemble has since grown into the largest a cappella group on campus. Dime currently has 21 members, 10 of which are men and 11 are women.
Sumita Tellakat, a junior in the School of International Service and the current musical director of Dime, describes it as the most relaxed and laid back a cappella group at AU.
“We’re here to have fun. It isn’t the most serious thing because we all have other stuff going on,” Tellakat said. “We’re all just kind of hanging out and playing music.”
Von Allena, a Dime alum who graduated in 2010, said he found camaraderie among a dedicated group of performers.
“A lot of people perceived members of Dime as being those not accepted by the other a cappella groups,” Allena said. “We felt like we had something to prove, so we worked hard and were consistently trying to arrange new songs.”
Dime members come from a variety of different backgrounds, including those who have had professional vocal training, those who play various instruments and those who have had no training at all.
“Our policy has always been, we don’t care what your background is as long as you can sing and are willing to learn,” said Ben Goldstein, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Niko Dela Cruz, another Dime alum who graduated in 2012, noted that Dime has always been diverse not just in musical background, but in walks of life.
“We had everyone from theater geeks to varsity athletes, from every race, creed, color and religion,” Dela Cruz said. “It was like being in Glee, but without all the drama.”
Dela Cruz said he went to some Dime performances after graduating and found a recurring theme: the ensemble always improves from the year before.
“I would notice that the harmonies would get tighter, the arrangements would get more intricate and the soloists would always blow me away,” Dela Cruz said.
Aurora McClellan, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, served as musical director last fall. She said the song choices change depending on who the musical director is at the time, but in general, Dime tends to perform adult contemporary pop from the late 1990s to the present. Some of their past songs include “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap, which they performed in 2016, and “Madness” by Muse in 2015.
“We like songs that have harmonic depth just because there’s so many of us, so we can support a big sound when we’re on our game,” Goldstein said. “This semester, our group goal is to learn more songs than usual. Things tend to take longer than you’d expect, but Su [Tellakat] is better poised than anyone to really make this happen if people are into it.”
Goldstein, Tellakat and McClellan all agreed that being a co-ed a cappella group has numerous advantages,including having a wider vocal range, being able to perform a larger variety of music and getting different perspectives on songs. Tellakat said they do try to aim for equal male and female representation in the group.
“I think [being a co-ed a cappella group] creates a more diverse community,” Goldstein said. “Inclusivity is so important...It also supports the notion that maybe we don’t need to be worrying about gender at all.”
Dime recently held auditions for new members on Feb. 7. Auditioning for Dime includes a 30-second vocal audition. Afterwards, the individual does pitch matching with the piano and the musical director, as well as a scale to test their vocal range. Lastly, they are asked a simple question such as “What is your favorite holiday?” to get a better sense of each individual’s personality and if they would be a good fit for the group.
Dime rehearses twice a week for two and a half hours. A typical Dime rehearsal involves 20 minutes of vocal warmups, followed by a run through of the latest song they’re working on. As the group performs, Tellakat takes notes on what needs improvement, and then the group breaks off to address those issues.
“The secret life hack is, don’t take it too seriously because you’ll literally drive yourself crazy,” McClellan said.
Outside of rehearsals and performances, members of Dime often get together for brunches, dinners or parties.
“Because we’re so big, it’s hard to find a time for everybody to come together [outside of rehearsal times],” McClellan said. “But we try to get together as much as we can.”
The diversity of Dime’s members is exemplified in the differences between Goldstein, McClellan and Tellakat. Goldstein said he knew nothing about a cappella but participated in jazz band and sang in a rock band in high school. McClellan performed with an a cappella group in middle school, and has had some professional vocal training since then. Tellakat played the viola for the Philadelphia Orchestra and joined an a cappella group in her senior year of high school.
All three agreed that rehearsing and performing with Dime has been a form of stress release for them as well as one of their primary friendship circles.
“College can be so stressful, [singing with Dime] can be a great way to calm down,” Tellakat said. “Whenever I’m feeling down or just need something positive, I can just go sing and I have people who will come sing with me.”