In the fall of 2013, Erynn Mcleod spent her first semester at Stony Brook University behind a desk, memorizing facts about phytoplankton and marine mammals. Since then, the current music director of The Pipettes, Stony Brook’s all-female a cappella group, has realized that performing is her calling and that the stage is her home.
Her father, Raymond Mcleod, has been a Broadway talent for many years, starring Evita and a stage production of Jekyll and Hyde to name a few. For the Mcleods, music is and always has been, a major part of family life. “[She’s been] musically inclined since birth.” he says. “The first music she sang wasn’t Barney but show tunes.”
Erynn Mcleod’s up-beat attitude is no surprise. The high-maintenance theatrical world is hardly difficult for someone born into it.
“She was literally born in the trunk,” Raymond Mcleod, said. The family had been touring Houston, Texas for a Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde and the travel merely continued as they flew to Seattle less than two weeks later, staying for an extended period of time.
Raymond Mcleod recalls his daughter’s star-studded toddler years spent in admiration of her father and the other performers in a national production of the Broadway show, Evita. “She would stand mesmerized at the side of the stage watching every night,” Raymond Mcleod said., “She had the whole show memorized at age 2 ½ and would comment to the singers and dancers when they did even the slightest thing differently from night to night.”
Needless to say, when Raymond Mcleod started out as a Marine Biology major, he was utterly confused. “It took me a while to wrap my head around it but, she came to her senses!” he says, with a laugh.
This sentiment is one that Erynn Mcleod certainly agrees with.
“I needed to find some sort of singing outlet because I was suffocating …” she said, “I auditioned for the Pipettes the spring semester of my freshman year. I got in and it was wonderful!”
Afterward, her switch in major did not take very long. “That next fall, I started as a music major [thinking] this is what I love, this is what I need to be doing with my life.”
Though Erynn Mcleod claims that she was never fond of the idea of a sorority, she feels that The Pipettes have definitely turned into something of a sisterhood and that having that sort of bond is great.
As Music Director of the group, however, her job is not without its challenges. Stage performances of any kind take a lot of work to put together. The drastic difference of a cappella to other forms of music, as well as the varying degrees of vocal ability in each member, makes intense planning an absolute necessity.
Erynn Mcleod adds that the songs sung in an a cappella group are more in-line with pop music, as opposed to the classical sound of a choir.
“It’s a much more social experience,” she says. “You need to match the tone of everyone in your group. Finding new songs and genres of music that match everybody’s vocal type so that everybody has opportunities to be a soloist – that’s a challenge.”
However the excitement and exhilaration of being on stage, as well as the joy of performing with friends, is enough to combat any obstacle.
Just two years ago, Erynn Mcleod and her fellow Pipettes boarded a bus to Hofstra. After months of planned choreography, rehearsals and repetition, the women were finally on their way to performing in the quarter finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, or the ICCAs – a world-wide competition made famous in the 2012 film Pitch Perfect.
The group rehearsed over ten hours each week in the months leading up to the performance, fully committing themselves to learning as many songs as possible within that span of time. The process was what Erynn Mcleod often referred to as “boot-camp;” phones were turned off and bellies were left empty. An audition video was submitted and entry into the competition was paid for. Everything looked to be just within reach. The Pipettes, however, did not make it past the quarterfinals.
Erynn Mcleod admits that the loss was a little disappointing. However, despite not getting very far, her sweet smile and cheerful disposition refuses to fade. “That experience was so much fun,” she said. “I was so proud of how much we improved and how close we became while preparing for it that it became so much more important than winning.”
She points to Abbie Cobb as one of her closest friends in the group. The two bonded at a karaoke party toward the end of their first semester, but it was their respective membership in the Pipettes that cemented their two years of friendship.
“We became closer because we saw each other so much during rehearsals and gigs, and started hanging out in each other’s suites.” says Cobb.
Like Erynn Mcleod, Cobb also cites the group’s time competing in the ICCAs as one of her greatest experiences. “We ran our set over and over again, but it never felt like a drag because I was doing it with my friends.” She says, adding that their time spend on stage brought out the best in them as a collective. “I think we performed the best we ever have as a group!”
Cobb adds that, “knowing that all of my friends voices are there supporting my sound makes [performing] so much easier.”
When it comes to singing, Erynn Mcleod says, “It just releases everything. When I sing, I’m present. I feel organic.”
Citing her father as one of her greatest influences, Erynn Mcleod says that music is not only an incredible source of joy, but of comfort as well. “There are certain things that you do in this world where you lose track of time doing them, and I feel that those are the things you should be doing with your life.”
“I think she sees music the way I do,” says Raymond Mcleod. “It’s a way to express how you feel, no matter what you’re feeling at the moment.”