Women's A Cappella Group Cadenza Brings a New Voice to St. Thomas

If you’ve ever found yourself studying near James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall on a Sunday night, you already might be familiar with Cadenza, a 12-woman a cappella group of University of St. Thomas undergraduates.

The group, composed of a healthy mix of years and majors, often practices around the piano on the third floor of Anderson Student Center since banding together last semester.

“We’ve probably scared some students off who were studying outside of Woulfe!” Hannah Tilstra, co-founder and president of Cadenza, said of their weekly practice sessions. “But now that we’re an official club we’ll be able to rent a room with the budget we’re getting." (In December they were granted “exclusive” club status by Undergraduate Student Government.)

Tilstra remembered, “Last year at the end of a Summit Singers concert I turned to Natalie (Natalie Gaskins, Cadenza’s other founding member) and said, ‘We need to start a women’s a cappella group!’” Gaskins loved the idea but approached it with caution. She knew that other women at St. Thomas had tried to pull off an all-female group of that kind before and hadn’t been able to. Still, though they might’ve been pessimistic initially, “the idea just kept coming to life” over the summer of 2014.

By the beginning of fall semester, Gaskins and Tilstra knew they had the motivation to get a group off the ground. They sought advice from Chad Berg, who leads the Summit Singers, an all-male a cappella group that formed at St. Thomas three years ago. Berg provided helpful advice on starting an a cappella group and also on the ins and outs of becoming an exclusive club. Soon after, they handed out flyers calling for open auditions in Brady Educational Center auditorium. Thirty-four prospects showed up, from which the pair selected 11 to join.


"I was in an a cappella group in high school, and that was eight members. It was more choral-sounding music. Hannah and I wanted a bigger sound and to have a solid foundation in each voice part (soprano I and II, and alto I and II), so we have three in each voice part with an extra alto. We're looking to add another alto II soon to give us a really full sound," Gaskins said.

The group debuted Nov. 1, singing the national anthem before the crowd gathered at O'Shaugnessy Stadium for the Tommie-Concordia football game. They also performed the anthem again during a Tommie men's basketball game, and a couple selections of their choosing for the Cause Against Cancer event in Anderson Student Center before they were granted club status.

"We sang 'Can't Take My Eyes Off of You' (originally by Frankie Valli) and a Beyonce megamix, which is more our style," Tilstra said. "We're mostly pop but we want to perform from a diverse repertoire so we can cater to everyone's tastes."

Gaskins, who serves as the group's music director, stays current on upcoming releases through music blogs and selects the songs the group performs. "Natalie does a great job with balancing out the musical pieces and the pop pieces that aren't necessarily musical but they're so much fun to listen to and perform," Tilstra said.

For the immediate future, the group will focus on building their audience, so they're mindful of choosing crowd pleasers, with "Settle Down" by Kimbra and tunes by Ed Sheeran and Sara Bareilles on their slate.

The strength of the women's ambitions lies in their namesake. "A cadenza in music is when someone improvises at the end of a piece," Tilstra explained. "Exactly, it's like a big finish that makes a piece better," Gaskins added.

"That's what really defines our group. We want to make a big splash, and we want everyone to know we're here and we're here to stay," Tilstra said.

With just a semester under their belts as a performing group, the pair said they feel poised for a busy, successful spring semester and beyond.

Singing before an audience of 1,000 during their first set of appearances as a club – Dec. 11 and 12, opening for the Summit Singers in OEC auditorium – the women of Cadenza are on their way to making a lasting impression, and, Gaskins hopes, a legacy. "We want Cadenza to continue long after we graduate," she said.

In addition to Gaskins and Tilstra, Cadenza is Quinlan Keller, Madeline Schuster, Allison Baraniak, Brittney Krebsbach, Liz Legatt, Monica Gagne, Kelley Steffens, Brittany Alexander, Isabel Braga-Henebry and Michelle Miller.