Ladies sing way to success
When 2011 alum and jazz vocal major Katie Gillis began her capstone project, she wasn’t expecting her project to end up on the front page of Reddit.
“A paper might not have been the most practical project so I decided to do a concert series and it kind of explored different sounds and one of them was all about the human voice and I thought it would be really cool to put a group together for this concert,” Gillis said.
Her project became the four-member female barbershop quartet GQ, which recently received 7,069 upvotes on the social networking site Reddit.
The group’s start, however, was much more humble when it began in July 2011.
“We met at Towson and we just decided to be a self-sustained, self-sufficient kind of group, we have had unbelievable help from just the music department in general we were all involved with them in some way,” 2013 alum and GQ member Katie MacDonald said. “We owe a lot to the guidance that we had there.”
Gillis had previously worked with MacDonald and other member and 2013 alum Amanda McNutt in some of Towson’s choirs and was familiar with their voices. She invited them to sing in her concert and the trio began working on pieces by well-known trios such as The Andrews Sisters.
“We only started as a cappella stuff…and then Ali introduced us to the barbershop world and we have been doing that in addition since,” MacDonald said.
After the addition of member and 2013 alum Ali Hauger the group’s participation in barbershop quartet work increased through Sweet Adelines International, an organization for female singers across the world.
“The reason why people started to know about us was that we did a cappella competitions, one was called ‘Sing Strong’ and then we won that and then we won Regional Harmony Sweepstakes and then later on we got second in Nationals,” Hauger said.
They first learned about the competitions from former Towson professor Jeremy Ragsdale who posted a link to the Harmony Sweepstakes competition on one of the girl’s Facebook pages.
“We said, ‘Oh OK that sounds neat,’ but I guess we weren’t totally gung-ho about it and then we ended up doing it and winning so it was pretty cool and we were glad we did it,” McNutt said. “He helped us out a lot starting out.”
GQ also had performance experience at local nursing homes and chorus shows at first and then expanded to elementary, high school and camp performances.
“Usually we always do some kind of workshop,” McNutt said. “Especially for elementary they ask questions and we do demonstrations about ‘listen to how high my voice goes, how low my voice goes’ we always try to do some interactive stuff with them as well and its so much fun because the kids get really into it.”
GQ works both locally and long-distance and is also looking to do some international performances in the future.
“We have a gig in the works coming up in Germany and the Towson music department, they have been very helpful with us and very supportive, buying our CD’s and they are trying to help us with this whole trip,” McNutt said.
In June the group recorded their first album called “GQ” which was then released in October 2013. They have already had to order another thousand copies and hope to produce a second volume next summer.
“We got a lot of inquiries about ‘hey are you guys going to put an album out’ and of course we didn’t have a lot of money like most musicians so we decided to do a Kickstarter campaign and it was pretty successful we actually met our goal very quickly,” Gillis said. “We actually went down to a studio in North Carolina that’s a vocal studio which was really cool and it was a great experience…none of us had ever done anything like that.”
Presently, GQ is preparing for the Sweet Adelines Regional competition in the last weekend of April. If they win they will then advance to the National Competition, which will be held in Baltimore this November.
“The international competition this year is in Baltimore so it’s really close and convenient,” Hauger said. “At Sweet Adelines when you win the National Competition they give you a crown and I want one, it’s very sparkly.”
Gillis said that she would love to put more into the group but full-time jobs make scheduling difficult.
“I didn’t work through college so this is what I did and it was awesome to have something that felt very professional to do throughout college and I would probably have read more or do other stuff if I wasn’t in the group but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” McNutt said.
Gillis also attributes much of her success to the Towson music department.
“We all loved our experiences at Towson and obviously the fact that we were able to meet each other and come together was really special for us. I like the community I felt very able to try new things, especially the jazz department at Towson they are very encouraging of trying new things and I was very encouraged as a female vocalist to go for things that I wanted to go for,” Gillis said.
She said that through working closely with the other GQ vocalists, they have been able to accomplish something unique.
“Everyone wants it and everyone is dedicated and wants to move forward and it kind of makes you feel like the sky’s the limit which is great,” Gillis said. “Other than that we are each other’s best friends and I know that sounds so cheesy but from being together so much and from really having to bear our souls with some of this music that we sing we have really gotten to know each other well and we really appreciate each other’s qualities.”