Establishing a new identity is never without challenges — especially when the older identity has already made a name and reputation for itself to a mass audience. This is a challenge that Indiana University's a cappella group Another Round faces, but also welcomes as it carries on the legacy birthed by Straight No Chaser in 1996.
Another Round is currently on its spring tour through April. The group will perform at 8 p.m. April 12 C2G Music Hall.
The need to change the name from Straight No Chaser to Another Round began when a video of the original group performing “12 Days of Christmas” in 1998 made its debut on YouTube in 2006.
By 2008, the video had been viewed by several million of people. This significant following prompted Atlantic Records to make a record deal with Straight No Chaser for a five-album contract.
The signing of the record deal effectively created two versions of Straight No Chaser: the original lineup that performed the popular rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” and the current lineup that continues to rehearse and perform in association with Indiana University.
In 2012 the collegiate Straight No Chaser decided to change its name to Another Round to avoid confusion with its older identity that toured under the Straight No Chaser name. This confusion was common among people who were only familiar with the original lineup that performed in the “12 Days of Christmas” video.
While Another Round member Ben Wertz has always loved to sing, he started to apply his talent in his high school's choir before making the leap to joining Another Round.
Wertz is currently a junior who first joined the group as a freshman when the name change took effect. According to Wertz, the name change has enlivened the group's new identity and allowed them more freedom to grow from their former Straight No Chaser moniker.
Another Round has about 30 songs in its repertoire, and the group performs 20 of them per show.
Wertz says the advantage to having additional songs is that the group can change the set list when the members get tired of performing the same songs regularly.
The group takes a democratic approach to choosing songs where Wertz and Musical Director Jonny Trubshaw will discuss songs to include in the repertoire.
The group will then get together to practice the proposed songs, which sometimes will include different genres of music. At that point the members vote on whether to keep rehearsing them for an eventual performance.
While choosing songs can be an easy process, the auditioning process and first rehearsals are arguably more intensive.
“Usually about 50-70 people come out (for auditions),” Wertz said. “You just show up and decide to sing any song you want to, and then we pick about 10 to 15 people for callbacks, which is the next morning. Then we have everybody learn the song 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' and we help them work on blending, and then we decide who's going to be in the group.”
Once the new members are welcomed into the group, they can be overwhelmed by the experience of the first rehearsals.
“The guys are really good about getting you into it right away,” Wertz said. “We were able to learn about three songs a day, roughly, and when it comes to the first rehearsal for all the new guys — even if you end up just mouthing along some of the words, and it happens — but luckily there are enough parts where people can cover up for you.”
Wertz admits to being overwhelmed when he joined the group and started learning the songs.
“We had all this new music to learn and we actually don't use sheet music, so it was just listening along. And I knew I had about a month before we had to put on a show that was an hour and a half. I had never done anything like that before.”
Certain songs also can be a challenge for Another Round, especially ones that involve many solos. One such example includes “The Disney Medley,” which requires a lot of solo parts. Its technical difficulty prompted the group to remove it from the set.
However, a song with a similar structure called “It's Alright” took its place. That song also requires many solo parts that can be difficult to coordinate. Wertz speculates that the group could open its set with “It's Alright.”
Along with the occasional difficulty in perfecting songs for audiences, the members have scholarly obligations they must uphold even while on tour.
“Finding time to coordinate both obligations can be difficult,” Wertz said via email. “Sometimes it can be difficult making a decision about which obligation takes priority. Every once in a while you get caught in a trap trying to get a project done in an out-of-state hotel, but for the most part it is manageable.”
Just as Straight No Chaser has already produced a few albums, Another Round has also recorded its own material for an album called “Two for the Show.” The album was made during the transition from Straight No Chaser to Another Round. When the group goes on tour it brings copies of the album to sell to audiences. More information on “Two for the Show” can be found at www.anotherroundiu.com.
While on tour, Another Round members find ways of entertaining themselves.
“We like to play games on the road, and some really great conversations happen on road trips,” Wertz said. “We are all pretty good friends, so it's not hard to find ways to entertain ourselves when we travel. Snacks are always a must.”
According to Wertz's profile on the Another Round website, his favorite song to perform is “Back Home Again in Indiana.” He is from Indiana, so the song holds sentimental value for him.
“I grew up in Indianapolis, and it's just a reminder that I'm home; my entire family went to IU, both my parents and my older brothers. When I grew up, I knew I was going to come here. It is just a reminder of how much of a privilege it is to be able to come here and also be in such an awesome group, and just to travel around everywhere performing for people who want to hear us.”