'Ahhh' cappella All-med-student a cappella group has a musical cure for stress

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Members of Docappella, an a cappella singing group, from left, Jacob Becker, Adam Alter, Elliot Pennington, Ben Kinnear, Matt Fieleke, Clayton Butcher, Daniel Bettis and James Peppers, posed for a picture last month in Columbia, Mo. The first- and second-year medical students at University of Missouri practice and perform for their peers a couple of times a year when their course work lightens up.
JESSICA BECKER
The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The end of another eight-week block comes to a close. Due to lack of sleep and countless hours elbow deep in anatomy, eyes are closing, and energy is low as somber medical students file into the auditorium to prepare for the next round of test taking.

Little do they know, today's lecture isn't going to be like the others. Eight soon-to-be doctors, their classmates, emerge from the crowd, singing a tune to lift spirits before test week.

"It's a fun five-minute stress reliever when we're nearing exams," says second-year medical student Jamie Marquart.

The group started when three medical students -- Ben Kinnear, Matt Fieleke and Elliot Pennington -- wanted an outlet to continue their musical hobby. They each sang at different undergraduate schools but united at the University of Missouri to form Docappella, an a cappella singing group.

The singers soon added a fourth member, James Peppers, and shocked crowds with their talent.

Last year they performed "Afternoon Delight," a song originally done by the Starland Vocal Band, "White Christmas" and "Carol of the Bells."

"It was a big hit, and everyone thought it was really funny," says Pennington about the group's first performance. He is the musical director and chose the group's name to follow the "stupid-funny" tradition of a play on words used by other college a cappella groups such as Dartmouth's group the Dermatones.

"The first time I heard them, I was so surprised," says Marquart. "I had no idea my friends were so talented."

Now, the medical students look forward to their performances.

"I'm a total Docappella groupie," says Adam Stevens, a second-year medical student and fan. "I've been following these guys for almost two years now, and I never miss a show."

Enjoying their success, the original members continued the music into this year.

"We thought it'd be kind of fun to get together and do it again," says Pennington. "At the beginning of this year, we just sent an e-mail out and got four more guys to join."

The group expanded to eight: the founding four and four first-year medical students: Jacob Becker, Adam Alter, Dan Bettis and Clayton Butcher. As their membership expanded, so did their set. The additions included the popular "Brown Eyed Girl," originally by Van Morrison, and a lesser-known but popular a cappella song, "Insomniac," by Billy Pilgrim.

Because the group performs existing arrangements without instrumental assistance, it consists of all guys, calling for only tenor and baritone parts.

Regardless of the song, practice time stays pretty consistent. It takes about three 45-minute sessions to learn a new song and a few more sessions to perfect it. Most of the members have college singing experience, but they try to find simple songs due to time constraints.

Although they all hope to carry on the fun for the rest of this school year, the four second-year students might soon pass the reins to the younger members because of their grueling medical school schedules.

"It's different -- the first two years of med school is very much like college, not really in the hospital that much except for maybe one day a week," Pennington says. "But then the third and fourth year, you are in the hospital all the time."

Even though the older four might not be able to continue, they hope to figure out some way to make it possible for Docappella to live on.

"Hopefully these four first-year students will want to keep it going next year," Fieleke says. "It seems like in each class there will be some people that would enjoy singing and having fun and keeping the tradition going."

Docappella looks to expand its performances by singing in nursing homes and hospitals.

Until then, the public might have to sit through a lecture on anesthesiology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine to catch a glimpse of these singing doctors.

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