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Arts & Culture

An Aca-Accomplishment

Terp Group’s Virtual Performance Earns First Place in International A Cappella Competition

By Annie Dankelson

Screengrab from Faux Paz performance video

Image courtesy of Faux Paz

Members of Faux Paz, UMD's premier all-gender a cappella group, virtually perform “How Do You Sleep?” by Sam Smith. The video earned them first place in May's International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella.

Even as COVID-19 caused most harmonies to fall silent, a group of talented Terps still found a way to give a pitch-perfect performance.

Faux Paz, the University of Maryland’s premier all-gender a cappella group, took home the top prize in May’s virtual version of the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella—the same contest actress Anna Kendrick made famous on the big screen. The achievement by the nine-member crew, which also nabbed outstanding soloist and choreography awards, was not only its best-ever finish, but was also the first win for a group from the mid-Atlantic.

“It was so hard to feel like we were in an international competition, because when you’re in person, you’re onstage, you see all the other groups,” said Faux Paz President Anna Dziki ’21, who earned the choreography nod. “It was sheer willpower and commitment to each other that made this come together.”

To adhere with COVID guidelines, groups this year created videos from home instead of performing in a theater full of fans. So the entire time Faux Paz spent prepping its winning entry, “How Do You Sleep?” originally performed by Sam Smith, members didn’t see each other in person. 

“Doing anything musical virtually is very hard,” said Sarah Gray ’22, assistant music director and outstanding soloist winner, “because you can’t actually be in sync with other people.”

The process involved mapping out choreography on Google Slides to show how each member’s clip would combine in “Brady Bunch”-style YouTube squares, creating dance demos and holding tutorials over Zoom, and ordering colored lightbulbs on Amazon to achieve the desired orange and blue scenes.

Then everyone filed their individual voice memos and videos and made adjustments based on feedback—“You need to look at the camera for .2 seconds longer,” Dziki might say—so everything flowed when edited together.

“We definitely got lucky, because it’s not every day you find someone who can mix and put audio together as well as Dylan (Nguyen ’23, producer/music director),” said member Daniel Longest ’21. “Then, I knew how to do video editing.”

After perfecting the video through the quarterfinal, semifinal and wild card rounds, members—all vaccinated—watched the livestreamed awards ceremony together in Dziki’s basement and screamed as their victory was announced. Now No. 3 in the A Cappella Archive’s all-time ICCA rankings, Faux Paz is working on its 10th studio album and looking forward to performing in-person again.

“Even though it was really difficult,” said Gray, “we created something really beautiful.”

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