The Held Note

Amplified a cappella ensemble makes Arizona history and savors once-a-life moments together.

Winter 2024
An acapella team performs on stage

Amplified advanced to the 2023 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.

Ian Schiff

Alaina Wegner ’23 remembers the year of masked, parking-garage rehearsals, with the 16 singers in the Amplified a cappella ensemble spread far apart. She was a sophomore during the first full pandemic school year, and however strange they might’ve been, those socially distanced sessions represented a step up from the spring of 2020, when “everything,” she recalls, “shut down” — an abrupt decrescendo, a sustained rest. 

Indeed, if Wegner’s time in Amplified underscored any truth, quiet or loud, it is that life is always changing, never static — but that there are things we can count on, too. 

So it was that the closeknit, mixed-voice group’s two semesters in a parking garage became 10 minutes on a Broadway stage — the final cherished moments of Wegner’s collegiate a cappella career. She was a senior and Amplified’s music director by then. And Amplified was performing work that she’d arranged, including a mashup of two songs: “Everything Has Grown” and “So Will I.” 

“The message that we created,” Wegner says now, “was ‘Everything has grown; everything has changed. Us seniors are moving on — other people are moving on — and in life things are changing. But we'll always be here for each other."

Group of vocalists sings into microphone in acapella performance

Alexa Kershner, Coleman Henry and Saige McMillan

It’s a fitting sentiment for the group. In 2023, Amplified grew and became the first group from the state of Arizona to advance to the finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, held in New York City. But really, the group just loves to sing together, accolades or no. 

“I honestly just love Amplified’s attitude toward everything,” says junior Talia Tardogno, Wegner’s successor as music director. “The fact that we’re not stressed about winning competitions or beating people or putting people down — we just want to lift each other up.” 

Tardogno’s grandfather, Frank Tardogno, sang with The Elegants, a barbershop quartet that recorded a gold record in the 1940s. “He always wanted me to be a singer,” she says. “I started taking lessons at 9,and I loved it.” Sophomore Zach Leitzke, the group’s social media chair, performed in musicals growing up and joked with his folks about attending fictitious Barton University, the school in “Pitch Perfect.” Wegner, who discovered Amplified at the ASUA club fair in her first year, mostly sang in choirs as a kid. She has long thought of herself as a musician, but before college, she’d never arranged tunes — a creative process that, she found, goes far beyond notes on a page. 

“A lot of what I did while directing was working on dynamics, working on phrasing and text emphasis and all the little things that go along with singing,” Wegner says. “Putting notes on a page is just Step 1 of having a song, but everything else is what actually makes it music.” 

Then there’s Caroline Blethen ’23, the group’s president last year. Blethen, a Washington state native, didn’t join Amplified until her junior year, when pandemic guidelines began to loosen. She’d sung in a choir on campus, but it wasn’t quite what she was looking for. She’d heard about a cappella, though, and found herself paired in a general chemistry lab with Wegner, who encouraged her to try out. Auditioning changed things. 

“I had the most wonderful time,” Blethen says. “I was so thankful, thinking, ‘Where has this been all my college experience?’ It was just what I needed.” 

Although the group has never prioritized medals and trophies, it is safe to say that its members won’t forget the NYC trip. They slept on air mattresses in the basement of Tardogno’s New Jersey childhood home. They competed against internet-famous groups that, Blethen says, “a lot of us have followed for a long time.” Lots of family came, as did Amplified members past, who, Wegner says, “helped build that pathway.”

Woman gestures with microphone while singing

Talia Tardogno

Wegner says that she and her groupmates almost can’t believe that the ICCA finals push truly happened, asking each other, “Did we actually do that?” She says it was like a “fever dream”; Blethen uses the word “surreal.” “We never in a million years thought that we would be able to go to New York City,” she says. 

Amplified advanced to the final stages of the competition after winning the Southwest regionals, where another Wildcat group, Noteriety, also shone. And all told, the Wildcat a cappella community, which also includes the groups Enharmonics and Meow or Never, is more collegial than competitive. “So many people have made great friends not only within their group but in other groups as well, because we are all doing such similar things,” Blethen says. “We like to make sure that we support each other, build each other up and celebrate each other’s successes.”

 Today, Blethen’s moved to Seattle for medical school. Wegner is in Tucson, working for the Tucson Girls Chorus and for Varsity Vocals, which puts on ICCAs; she’s also arranging a song for Amplified. And for the ensemble, too, a new year has begun — new faces, new tunes. Everything has grown, as the song says, but Blethen speaks about what will never be erased: the bonds forged. 

She points to a moment in the mashup they took to the Broadway stage: a mid-set sustain that felt like it might reverberate forever. 

“We all are holding out a note for so long — and then, all of a sudden, it’s really quiet. And lately, thinking about that moment, it’s really resonated with me,” Blethen says. “Just because there can be so much happening, so much going on, and then all of a sudden — poof. It’s gone. 

“But at the end of the day, we all did something together that we’re so proud of, and I couldn’t have had a better time with better people. And I’m just so thankful.” 

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