Initiation into A Cappella

The informant is a member of an on-campus a cappella group called Reverse Osmosis. In the fall semester, new members are initiated in the Christmas season before the Christmas concert. Without the new member knowing, a “mother” and “father” are selected to parent the chosen member. At a rehearsal preceding the concert, the parents reveal whom they’ve selected as their child through a fabricated story; the new member, however, is unaware that the ritual is taking place or that there is even a tradition of “parenthood” in the group. In the informant’s experience, one girl, who was then dating another member of the group began by saying, “[So-and-so] and I are breaking up because I got drunk and had sex with [a different member of the group.] I got pregnant. But the good news is I finally gave birth to the baby and his name is [the informant].” She and the other selected parent then proceeded by revealing a gift basket that they put together, filled with bibs, bottles, diapers, and alcohol, which they then proceeded to consume.


Many groups in college seem to include a conceit of family, most likely because a nuclear family is the most intimate unit of community in our culture. Therefore in order to follow the tradition of creating a home away from home, this group, along with the many others, has woven the custom into their identity. What’s interesting about this particular ritual is that it takes place as a kind of initiation but only after the new member has spent nearly an entire semester in the group. The informant explained that the timing of the event isn’t related to the potential to kick out new members so much as it is to solidify and strengthen the friendships forged naturally between the old members with the new over the course of the semester. What’s also interesting about the informant’s particular experience was that the fabricated story was marked by one member’s infidelity to another and resulted in a separate union brought together by the informant. Though the infidelity (which, to clarify, was falsified) may be unique to that particular story, in another example, the informant explained, “I might say, ‘Me and Jen were hanging out. And we got really drunk and had sex…'” In both examples, the stories illustrate accidental impregnations resulting from drunken escapades. Of course, these are only two examples of a plethora of initiations (the group was founded in 2001).

In short, the main purpose of this tradition is to help transition new members out of the liminal space of their membership. In order to do so, the group has appealed to a kind of parody of the societally based convention of marriage. More digging is recommended to understand if the main intent of the story is to completely deceive the new member until the reveal or to simply entertain.