Despite her lack of music theory background, Lakshya (Lucky) Bommireddy ’17 has remained the musical director for the Tupelos since the beginning of her sophomore year, and has grown as an arranger and singer throughout the process.
Her music theory experience consisted of some theory lessons and classes she took during her last year of high school and first two years of Wellesley. Her musical experience, on the other hand, is vast and extensive. “I played the double bass in high school and played the viola for a while too.” She has also taken Carnatic music lessons since she was three, joined a children’s choir from second to eighth grade, was involved in a “not so great” a cappella group in high school, and finally started teaching herself jazz after attending a jazz camp, with light guidance from her choir director. Now, she takes jazz vocal lessons at Wellesley.
Why has she been elected into the position for four semesters now? “I’m very particular about the way songs should be sung. If we’re arranging our music, our version should be different from other a capella versions and other covers of the song that exist. And, of course, from the original.”
How does she ensure that the group sounds flawless? What does arranging music entail? “First, I listen to the song,” she describes. “Then I identify the melody and other parts of the song I can sing, and parts that I like. Then, I’ll figure out the other parts of the song based on what I’ve heard so far, and on the theory that I know.” It sounds simple enough, but I have a feeling it requires a lot more skill and talent than Bommireddy paints the process to be. “I use Sibelius,” a well-known music composition software. “Wellesley gives us the program for free!”
I’ve always admired how a cappella groups manage to maintain their cheery disposition, despite singing to a bunch of blank faces in the audiences. As an actor, I can empathize, and thus make it a point to smile back at a cappella groups while they perform. “Those are the people that I tend to look at more, the ones who smile back,” Bommireddy explains, laughing. “When we perform off-campus, the audiences we perform for — usually older people — tend to smile more than Wellesley students do because they’re enjoying the fact that this happy young group of women is singing just for them.”
Bommireddy argues that it’s better for a cappella groups to smile at the audience even if the audience members are not consciously smiling back versus a situation where both sides portray blank faces. “It also helps with overcoming the awkwardness,” she says. In her recent solo, in the Tupelo’s performance of the Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy,” she would close her eyes at times. “Being really into what you’re singing helps, and it makes the audience members feel the song even more, and maybe they’ll smile back.”
As both a solo performer and an ensemble member, Bommireddy talks about the highs of both situations. “I’m 500 times more nervous when I’m singing alone, especially when it’s a song that I’ve written.” In contrast, when she performs with other people, she feels a strong sense of support and solidarity, particularly when she sings jazz. “It’s great singing with a group because accompanists will always follow you along with whatever you’re doing. Then you get to the improv and it’s, like, whew! Because you sing those parts alone. But it’s always fun,” she notes, fondly.
It seems that the close-knit dynamic of the a cappella group is beneficial, as it encourages members to remain dedicated to the organization. “I really like that it’s very much student-run,” she mentions. “The entire experience is very collaborative. I think because of that, it’s a lot more active, as opposed to choir, which tends to be more passive, in my experience.” The small size of the group allows members to form close relationships and build enthusiasm more easily. “At the end of the day, that responsibility is in our hands. Because it’s we’re all friends, we can point that out to each other. It’s a very giving relationship,” she elaborates, “what you give in music, you get in friendship, and vice versa.”
With so much experience under her belt, does she want to arrange music professionally? “Sophie, the other music director, and I entertained the idea of starting an a cappella arranging company. It’s kind of an idea on hold. Maybe if sometime during the semester things calm down a bit, we’ll reevaluate. A music career is a very volatile venture, though. I wish I had the guts to pursue it, but I’m the kind of person who needs security,” she explains. “But also I’m totally satisfied just doing it for myself,” she adds, smiling.
I wonder if movies like “Pitch Perfect,” that feature mostly white casts with stereotyped perceptions of minorities, are damaging to a cappella groups’ reputation. “I hate that movie,” Bommireddy agrees. “I feel like even here, until a couple of years ago, there wasn’t a lot of diversity. And I think that was reflective in the music that we chose to do as well. But I think it’s really good now because we have more students of color and queer students, and all that is very much reflective in the music that we choose now. This is something that people have noticed over the past couple of years – our repertoire has become something different than it’s been in the last couple of years.”
But representation is not strictly what the group considers when they select new members. “It’s a double- sided relationship. At some point, we were more diverse, so we picked more diverse music, which attracted different people to audition. When you choose what groups to audition for, you’re looking at their songs, who they are, and I don’t think that the problem before was that there weren’t enough good people of color auditioning – I think it’s just that they weren’t auditioning, period. I would say that doesn’t happen as much now as it may have before.”
My final burning question is only really validation that I will one day be able to sing, but that future doesn’t look promising, according to Lucky. Can anybody sing? “I don’t thinks so,” Lucky argues. “Yes, I think there are some people who can practice and become better. But just as you can naturally be born a good singer and good dancer, you can just as naturally be born not so good. Like, I’m a horrible dancer,” she adds, laughing. “And no matter how much I tried, I wouldn’t be able to dance well. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If you can’t sing, you can’t sing. It’s not a bad thing.” She pauses. “But I think most people who can’t sing know that they can’t sing.”