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Rutgers all-male a cappella group hits high note with creative musical numbers

What makes Casual Harmony distinct from other a cappella groups on campus is that it features all male performers, which gives them both a different sound and different dynamic, said Anthony Frabasile, president and business manager of Casual Harmony.

“We believe in sharing brotherhood through music — using our mutual love of performance to bring together Rutgers men of all walks of life to create something great,” Frabasile, a School of Communication and Information and School of Labor and Management Relations senior, said.

The group began in 2003 after it was founded by David Rabizadeh, Frabasile said. He was inspired to create a group that featured all-male singers, after being a member of Orphan Sporks, another prominent a cappella group at the University. 

Casual Harmony performs arrangements of existing music without the accompaniment of instruments or pre-recordings, Frabasile said. All of their music is performed vocally.

“I think the best part about being in an a cappella group is the level of improvement it can help a singer achieve ... while we do work as a unit to perform, our arrangements require perfect blending of voices to emulate a full song," Frabasile said. "This requires you to improve not only the 'tone' of your voice, but also your breath control, listening skills, volume control and vocal range."

Working solely with the human voice changed Frabasile’s entire view on music.

“Best put into words by our musical director, Lee Araneta, ‘The human voice is insanely powerful. It's the only instrument that can get past boundaries like tonal changes without affecting pitch,’" he said.

A cappella teaches people to think outside the box of music and gives a deeper value to vocal performance that otherwise is not realized, Frabasile said. There are things that the human voice can do that traditional instruments cannot.

Casual Harmony performs music from many genres, Frabasile said. Their current repertoire includes renditions of Britney Spears' "Toxic", "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition".

“What's great about a cappella, and is something Casual Harmony strives for with each arrangement, is making the song your own," he said. “We add flair and originality to each piece to better suit our dynamic — as an example, our performance of "Toxic" features a swing-jazz breakdown.”

Frabasile said Casual Harmony will be performing at Rutgers Got Talent, hosted by the Palestine Children's Relief Fund on Oct. 21. Following that is their biggest concert of the fall semester, 4GY, a Halloween-themed concert featuring four of the top a cappella groups on campus, including Casual Harmony, the all-female group Shockwave and two co-ed groups, Deep Treble and Orphan Sporks.

Jake Wasserman, assistant business manager of Casual Harmony and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said Casual Harmony works incredibly hard on creating twists in various music types, and in the process they bond over food, video games, movies and Internet memes. The end result is that their sound gains a cohesive quality because of the emotional connection that flows between them. 

Contributing and engaging in Casual Harmony taught him a multitude of things such as humility, leadership skills and a new avenue toward adventure, he said. 

“(I learned humility) in the sense that it's not always about being the shining soloist which all eyes and ears are casting attention toward, but rather a group effort in which (an) individual plays an important part to creating our signature sound," he said. “I've gained adventure through our road gigs and weekend retreats, and I've gained the gift of music in my life, but most importantly, I've gained 16 brothers.”

When he was a first-year student, Wasserman did not know anything about a cappella groups, but while walking through the involvement fair, Frabasile called him over to a table and asked him if he sings, to which Wasserman said yes and Frabasile complimented the Wasserman’s beard. At that moment, Wasserman said he knew he was about to pursue a group of “charismatic individuals.”

Jonathan Villa, general member of Casual Harmony and a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, has been a part of the group for a few weeks and already considers it great place where singing is more liberating and all group members feel like old friends.

In the past, Villa performed in a capella groups and sang with live bands, and he found that a capella is different because of how freeing it is in comparison to singing for a band.

“With instruments, there's still a block in creative flow because of a physical vessel needed to translate a musical phrase or thought," he said. "Singers get a bad rep from some other musicians, citing that singing is very easy and almost talentless. I believe singing requires a technique and a sense of pitch. Once that happens, a voice has little to no block in the flow of creativity."

Using voice is one of the first things the men of Casual Harmony learn upon gaining membership, Villa said. With the right amount of training, they learn to manipulate their individually produced sound more than an instrument.

“Being in a performative group has its ups and downs, but in the end it's worth it,” Wasserman said. “(It is) perseverance through difficult time signatures and dissonant chords. It's sleepless nights standing on your feet to perfect that blend of voices. It's fighting with each other during competition seasons because you want to win so badly. It's a brotherhood that eats pasta together in the late night hours on a weekly basis. It's the thrill that flows through your blood and fires through your nervous system when the crowd roars after the final note.”

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