While most JMU students go home on holiday break, JMU’s all-female a cappella group Note-oriety remains in Harrisonburg as they prepare to perform songs of the season at the White House on Dec. 16.
The award-winning group, founded upon the ideals of sisterhood and women’s empowerment, will perform traditional holiday music ranging from “Santa Baby” to “Silver Bells” in a two-hour slot for visitors taking tours of the president’s residence in Washington, D.C.
Note-oriety’s Business Manager Dani Rye says she heard about this opportunity on the radio and her mother encouraged her to fill out an online application for Note-oriety. The only requirements were to attach a link to the group’s performances and state why the group should be chosen.
“It was a simple application — it took me, like, 20 minutes,” Rye said. “We found out two months later that they had selected us, and so then began the planning.”
Music Director Bee Dixon says preparing for this honor has been challenging because the group had to find holiday a cappella music and perfect it in such a short time frame. Dixon notes that since they predominantly perform pop music and previously had only one Christmas song in their repertoire, they’ve had to adjust their rehearsals accordingly to accommodate 12 new holiday tunes.
“We rehearse twice a week. Each rehearsal is two hours … but once we were aware of the time, we added another rehearsal for two hours on Sundays,” Dixon said. “In this final stretch … we added an extra hour and then we’re also rehearsing on Friday to just run through everything one final time and just, kind of, bring the big picture together so we can perform our best.”
While all-female a cappella groups often can’t reach the lower range of notes that male groups can traditionally reach, president and bass singer Belle Burden says Note-oriety overcomes this obstacle with a few select bass singers who hit their “own version” of the lower notes. Some Note girls can reach a range of C or low C.
“When we audition, we do test their ranges,” Burden said. “We pick and choose based on what we need as a group and then how low or high they can sing.”
Though performing at the White House is a great honor for the group, Note-oriety has a long list of previous awards from national a cappella organizations and recognitions from various prominent figures in the music industry such as Nicki Minaj, TLC and Kelly Clarkson. Public Relations Director Emma Wagner says they’re waiting to hear of any awards for their newest album, titled “XX” in honor of their 20th anniversary. Their self-titled 2015 album “Note-oriety” was recognized for several prestigious awards by the Recorded A Cappella Review Board.
“I don’t think we’ve ever gotten awards from them before that, because it’s such a high volume of submissions that they have,” Wagner said. “But they gave us album of the year and song of the year for ‘Bang Bang,’ so that was really really cool.”
The White House holiday performance is just one performance for Note-oriety, as it has a busy schedule ahead of it for the remainder of 2018 and the start of 2019. Between holiday music rehearsals, the group has also been preparing a set for its bid in the 2019 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at George Washington University on Jan. 26. It’ll mark Note-oriety’s first appearance in the competition since 2015.
“It takes a lot of dedication to create a set, and that’s the biggest obstacle,” Burden said. “ICCAs will be a big gig for us this year.”
In such a tight-knit group, the Note girls pride themselves on building a sisterhood of women who lift each other up and perform music with empowering, feel-good messages. Wagner says one of the strengths of their group is how close-knit the group is.
“I feel so much love from every single member of this group and it’s just a great feeling,” Wagner said. “I think it comes through in our music how much we love each other and how much we genuinely love and enjoy what we’re doing.”
The Note girls feel they have a duty to be role models for women and young ladies. They preach the importance of self-love and the acceptance of women for the way they are.
“I think it’s not just empowerment of women, but empowering women as they are,” said Dixon. “The beauty that is there and that is natural is what we build up, not conforming to anyone’s standards.”
Contact Amy Needham at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.