Competition can be as tough on the stage as on the playing field. The Seton-La Salle Trebels compete nationally with an impressive display of vocal prowess, a cappella singing and choreography—and the accolades the group has received suggest that they know a thing or two about how to play the game.
A cappella singing, or singing without accompaniment, is the model for the Trebels. “A traditional show choir is harder to start from nothing because you have to have someone who can accompany you,” says senior and group leader Kailyn Martino, who founded the group when she was a freshman. “But contemporary a cappella groups are sometimes referred to as vocal bands, meaning everything you are doing, you do with your voice. Everyone gets to perform. You don’t need a conductor to stand in front of you. ”
This year, the Trebels won the quarterfinals of Varsity Vocals’ International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA) national competition in Maryland, and later, Martino won for Best Arrangement at the semifinals round in New Jersey. The award was for the Trebels’ full set of performances, beginning with a medley of “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine and “Feel Again” by One Republic, and arrangements of “Come Home” by One Republic and “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley.
“It’s really an award for the whole group,” says Martino about the Best Arrangement award. “The judges don’t get to see our sheet music, so they are judging it entirely on our performance, meaning the whole group demonstrated a lot of musicality. It’s a win for all of us.”
Martino founded the Trebels because singing is an important part of her life, and she wanted another outlet to express her love of music. At the time, her group of friends was inspired by Pentatonix, a two-time Grammy-winning a cappella group from Texas that originally achieved fame after winning the third season of The Sing-Off on NBC.
The Trebels are an official school activity at Seton-La Salle, and at first, they only performed at school variety shows and in a concert at the end of the school year. Since then, they have performed the National Anthem before Pittsburgh Pirates games, and they began competing last year when they attended semifinals of the ICHSA national competition in Michigan last year.
For four years now, Martino has arranged the music that The Trebels use in performances and competitions. Once they’ve chosen a song, she studies the chord progressions in a piano/vocal score, and tailors the performance to the group. “It’s a lot more fun to have an arrangement specific to our group than one that’s exactly like what you hear on the radio.”
Not surprisingly, Martino plans to major invocal performance next year, though she hasn’t yet decided which college she will attend.
Before she goes, though, she wants to make sure the Trebels are in good shape to continue on without her. “Next year’s group leader has been studying under me for a year,” says Martino.
“One really cool thing about the group is that, being entirely student-run, it’s through everyone’s efforts that we’ve gotten so many wonderful opportunities,” says Martino. “Everyone from freshmen to seniors takes time out of their lives to do their part. It’s really awesome to me that something I love so much is so important to all these people and that we can all work on it together.”