Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Craig Coleman
MONMOUTH — If you’re a musician, you know available space for rehearsal on the Western Oregon University campus can be a rarity on some days.
So you improvise, said Josh Bedlion, who’s gathered with the rest of his a cappella group in a corner of the Werner Center.
The Jamoriquai tune “Virtual Insanity” is first on the set list, and the familiar piano and drum intro are replaced with nonsense words and beat-boxing.
It doesn’t lose anything.
The members of 15 Miles West belt out the song in melodic earnest. Passers-by slow down to listen. Those studying put down their books.
The group moves the vocals-only renditions downstairs. A crowd forms nearby to hear Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Applause follows.
“I love that,” said Aniceto Mundo, a tenor. “It shows that we’re doing something right.”
These impromptu performances have become a welcome occurrence around WOU since 15 Miles West formed three years ago. The 13 singers comprise Western’s only recognized collegiate a cappella group and possibly its first in at least a decade.
15 Miles West has garnered a following on campus and surrounding cities. On Saturday, Jan. 22, they’ll test their mettle at a qualifying event of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) in Eugene.
The group will take on seven other choirs, from schools such as the University of Oregon and Brigham Young University.
“We’re not sure what to expect,” Bedlion said. “But it’s exciting. It’s our first competition.”
For many, a cappella may conjure visions of barbershop quartets and 1950s doo-wop groups. The modern version sees people rearranging popular songs and using voice to emulate instruments.
Its popularity has surged in recent years, partly because of television programs “Glee” and “The Sing-Off.” The latter show, similar to “American Idol,” featured the University of Oregon’s On the Rocks as a finalist.
Bedlion and former WOU student Dylan Jones created WOU A Cappella in 2008, eventually changing the name to 15 Miles West — the distance from the state capitol.
“There are a lot of other schools that have them, and we thought it was something that could diversify WOU and provide some new opportunities,” said Bedlion, who has graduated and now works as an adjunct instructor.
Bedlion and Jones advertised for interest on campus and got enough of a response that they held auditions. The lineup has changed with graduation.
The current group meets regularly and transforms whatever music catches their fancy, from classics to country, to the guitar-heavy tune “Uprising.”
Arranging a song a cappella is simply making it work for voices, said Johnny Herrick, a bass singer and arranger.
“The whole ensemble you would originally hear is turned into voices,” Herrick said. “The drum, the electric guitar, those become voices and I add more harmonies.
“I can make it as elaborate as I want or keep it true to the original recording,” he continued.
Bedlion said members are simply guys who enjoy singing. Most are music majors, though not all. Cole Edgley, a baritone two, is a business major and ROTC cadet.
WOU’s contingent is in its infancy compared to some at next week’s competition, Edgley said. Oregon State University’s Outspoken, for example, was founded in 2002.
“I think as a group, we’re a little collectively nervous,” Edgley said. “We have a lot to prove … we’re green, but we have talent.”
Sing a Song
* 15 Miles West will perform at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella on Jan. 22 at the University of Oregon. For more information, visit www.varsityvocals.com.
The top two groups will advance to a semifinals in Los Angeles on March 26. The ICCA finals will take place at Lincoln Center in New York City in April.