Founded in 1994, No Strings Attached was the first co-ed a cappella group at Illinois. Now, 25 years later, they’re still wowing fans on campus and beyond with their talent and tunes.
What exactly is a cappella?
Jack: A cappella is music that has no instruments, so we make all the sounds with just our mouths. For example, we have a guy who does a beatboxing or vocal percussion, which is where he makes drum sounds with his mouth. He makes the bass, high hat, snare, and all the cymbal sounds. He’s incredible.
How did you get into a cappella?
Delaney: In high school I did show choir. That was my main activity, and it’s singing and dancing. When I was a freshman here, I took a break from any music things, but then I went to [No Strings’] big performance, Acatoberfest. That’s where all of the a cappella groups on campus perform. … After seeing that, I was like, “Okay, I should try out next year.” Then my sophomore year, I went to the auditions and happened to get a callback.
Jack: I also was involved with the arts in high school. I did a cappella, band, theater, musical theater, stuff like that. … I wanted to continue with music when I came to college, and I didn’t want to major in it because that wasn’t what my life had in store for me. So rather than do marching band or anything like that, I wanted to try out for a cappella because I really enjoyed it during high school.
Do most members come in with a cappella experience?
Jack: When we do auditions, we ask people whether or not they had choir experience and if they can read music, which is very important. It’s not important to have a cappella experience; it’s really just knowing how to read music. Having choir experience is really the biggest indicator of success that people will have in a group.
Are most members music majors?
Jack: Oh, not at all. … I think we have majors from most every college on campus. It’s a very diverse group of students. So it’s not just Music Ed or Performance, which is really nice and interesting.
Do you guys specialize in a certain kind of music, or is your selection more diverse?
Delaney: We are the only jazz a cappella group on campus. So that’s our specialty, but we usually do about 50% jazz, and the other 50% would be pop music and things like that.
How much of a time commitment is the group?
Jack: I’d say it’s usually about 7, 8 hours per week, and on busy weeks, it’s like 9 to 10.
How long does it take you guys to prep a song? What all goes into it?
Delaney: Our jazz songs are definitely very difficult. The chords that we sing do not make sense and oftentimes don’t even sound good on purpose. So those are really tough … . [More difficult songs] probably take 3 to 4 weeks to get entirely learned and memorized. But for songs like our Spooky Medley [for Acatoberfest], we learned that in probably 2 rehearsals and now we’re just learning choreography for it. It’s not perfected yet, but we have the bare bones of it within 2 rehearsals, typically.
How often do you perform, and what kinds of performances do you do?
Jack: I was business manager last year, so I helped schedule performances. We take as many gigs as we can. We do a lot of national anthems for Illini sports. We’ve done hockey, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, soccer … pretty much everything but football. We also do private parties. We recently performed for the National Symposium on Liquid Metals, which is a biannual conference.
Delaney: It’s an international conference. The first year was held in Moscow, then in Spain. … Very, very cool places, and this year it happened to be in Urbana-Champaign.
Jack: Now it’s getting into November, December, so we take Christmas parties. Those are always really fun because we wear our funky Christmas gear. We sing some fun songs. We do 2 concerts a year. We host Acatoberfest, and then our spring concert, which is 2 hours of just us singing. … We do winter tour every winter break. It’s the last week of break, and we go from Sunday to Friday to high schools across the northern suburbs. We even went to Indiana last year because that’s where [Delaney’s] from. We go all over, and then we also compete in ICCA [International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella] every year, which is always really fun. I think that about covers everything we do.
Tell us about the successes you’ve had competing.
Delaney: So this past year, we went to ICCA. That’s the only competition we do, and it’s the quarterfinals.
Jack: Yeah, you start at quarterfinals. In the initial application process, you get accepted to that. Not everyone just gets accepted to quarterfinals. … It goes quarterfinals, regionals, nationals. And so we did quarterfinals last year.
Delaney: Yeah. In the past 25 years, there have only been a few records of us placing. But last year, we ended up getting 4th place out of 10 groups, which was incredible.
Do you have any special memories with the group?
Jack: My freshman year some guy from Ohio emailed us and was like, “Hey, I’m proposing to my girlfriend in Chicago next month. I saw your video of you doing ‘Shut Up and Dance.’ That’s one of our favorite songs. Would you guys mind singing that for us as I propose to her?” He paid us to drive to Chicago, and we spent the whole day there. We did our photoshoot there for the year, which was really cool.
We were wearing incognito street clothing around Buckingham Fountain. He [gave us] a full-body selfie so we knew what he looked like, so we were mingling about the fountain waiting for him to get down on his knee. … Then we surrounded them and started singing and it was very cool. It was fun to be part of that couple’s moment. They sent us wedding photos later.
Delaney: On our winter tour, like Jack mentioned, we went to Indiana. I live in Chesterton, which is just an hour outside of Chicago. It’s like a suburb, but the other way. I never thought we would go to Chesterton. I only know one other girl from my high school who goes here on the whole campus. To have 16 of my closest friends come to my hometown was crazy.
We performed at my high school. I live at the Indiana Dunes, so then I drove everyone to my favorite beach. It was 10 degrees out—just freezing and awful. We ice-skated on the lake and the frozen sand. We were only there for 15 minutes. After that, we went to my favorite childhood diner that I’ve been going to my whole life. It was a surreal experience to have everyone in my childhood home. It was really cool to perform for all my old friends, my parents, and [everyone else]. That was probably my favorite.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Jack: I think it’s fun that it’s our 25th anniversary this year. It’s crazy that the group’s been around for 25 years. After my sophomore year we lost 10 members, and there were only 5 of us returning. I was worried that we weren’t going to find good people, and [that it] might be the year the group dies. But here we are, 18 people, carrying on that legacy, hopefully looking forward to the next 25 and then next 50 years. We’re hoping it becomes a further integrated part of the University of Illinois a cappella experience. It’s really great to be able to pass the torch into the 25th year—especially as I’m a senior, leaving on this very high note will be very fun.
With over 1,800 registered student organizations (RSOs) at Illinois, the possibilities are endless. To learn more about No Strings Attached and how you can get involved, check out their website and socials below.