A higher sound from Higher Ground


Appalachian State’s first all-male a cappella group posing for a photo after Acappellagedon in the Shaefer Center on November 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of ASU Higher Ground.

Claire Brown

Harmonies bounce off the walls of the Whitewater Cafe in Plemmons Student Union, and listeners’ heads bob while a group of Mountaineers croon “I’m gone to Appalachia in my mind,” their own rendition of lyrics from James Taylor’s “Carolina On My Mind.”

This is one of many songs performed by Appalachian State’s oldest a cappella group, Higher Ground. From baritones to sopranos to beat-boxers, the all-male crew has been a university-sanctioned group since 2000.

The group has 20 members that provide entertainment for Mountaineers and a cappella fans alike. They perform at least once a month, singing songs like Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and mash-ups which combine songs such as Fergie’s “Glamorous” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La” featuring Sam Smith. In 2007, Higher Ground released an album entitled “Wing Night” and in 2013, they released an EP called “Round of Applause.”

Matthias Kramer, a sophomore creative writing major and first year baritone, said a cappella is much less of an art form than it appears, but this group makes it look artistic. Not only do these young men feed off of each other’s energy while performing, they also engage the crowd with their choreography. The crowd has fun because Higher Ground has fun.

Kramer also explains that the group sticks to songs that they believe people will want to hear.

“We kind of sing to get people to enjoy the music and enjoy the sound and to just get hype, so most of what we sing is pop stuff,”  Kramer said.

Elijah Moore, a freshman political science major, attended Higher Ground’s performance in the Whitewater Cafe. “I enjoyed their performance a lot, they brought so much energy to it,” he said.

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The group aims to bring their best to every performance, and won the Crowd Favorite award at Acapellageddon in 2015. It is this chemistry that makes the group able to reach out and excite the crowd because they work together for the common goal of entertaining their audience, Kramer said.

The chemistry among the group comes from their friendships with one another. The men of Higher Ground hang out together outside of their commitments to the group. Often times, they grab dinner before or after practice, or meet up to play basketball, freshman biology major, beat-boxer and baritone Nasyr Bey said.

This friendship extends into the group’s work atmosphere. Their practices are centered around having a good time, and the singing flows naturally from the bonds that are shared within the group.

“We operate a lot like a family,” Kramer said. “We’re a cohesive unit, we love each other. We’re all friends, we all vote. We’re a very democratic group. Everything comes to a vote, from what concerts we do to what songs we sing—it’s all voted.”

Before anything reaches a stage, though, it must be decided which songs the group will work up.

Deciding on the set list is the first step to putting on a show. The vibe the suit-and-tie clad singers bring to any stage they take begins within the group and spreads until the whole audience is excited and mesmerized by the talents they offer, Kramer said.

Higher Ground enjoys performing just as much as audience members enjoy listening.

“Getting on stage is just incredible,” senior communications major and group president Keith Norris said. “You never really get to see that support until you get on stage and you kind of realize that all these people are there to see you and your group and see what you do.”

Norris also took the opportunity to debunk the rumor that on-campus a cappella groups have distaste for one another.

“All of the presidents always come together,” Norris said. “Right now, we get together every other week to talk about stuff. We’re planning out Acapacolypse right now and making sure that’s going to go over smoothly. It’s a very tight-knit community, this year more so than any other year before.”

Norris also said that a possible basketball match between Higher Ground and VoiceMale is in the works, further supporting his statement that there is no animosity within the a cappella community.

See also: Enharmonix, an a cappella group formed at Appalachian State, produces an album

Singing is a way of life for many of the group’s members, Richard “RJ” Bergman, senior hospitality and tourism major and baritone in the group, said. Drinking lemon water and having warm-ups are part of the men’s routine before and after shows. Not only do they go through exercises to keep their individual voices strong, but they practice twice a week and build their group spirit at the end of each practice and beginning of each show.

“We’ll put our hands in after every rehearsal or after a performance,” Bergman, who doubles as the group’s business manager, said. “‘Fist in, thumbs out!’ is what they say, and then we’ll pick a saying and chant that as we leave, kind of like a sports team.”

During practices, the guys try to keep a good balance between work and play, Bey said.

“Usually it’s goofing around, but when we get ready for performances or have to do something, everybody just snaps into action,” Bey said. “It’s just having a good time.”

In addition to their expertise in covering popular songs, the notion of creating original music is not out of the realm of possibilities. While the group does not currently have any originals, the idea has been brought up and still being decided on, but a Higher Ground original is something Appalachian State University students might hear in the future.

But for now, Higher Ground will be sticking to covers and performing for on-campus events like Acapacolypse.

Story by: Claire Brown, A&E Reporter