With her backpack in tow and her long brown hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, Michelle Mirabella blends in with the rest of the students as she walks into the English Administration Office in Baker Hall. Vickie Makel, an office manager and special projects coordinator, looks up to see the senior professional writing major, who is joined by several other young women standing at the front desk.
Makel, not sure what's going on, stands up from behind her desk to see if she can assist the visitors in the office. That's not necessary. One of the visitors, Ellene Mobbs, a junior creative writing major, announces that they have a Singing Valentine for Makel.
Mirabella starts counting off, "One, two, three, four!"
On cue, the students start singing "Holding Out for a Hero," without any instruments to accompany them, just Mirabella's vocal percussion. Others in the Pittsburgh campus office congregate in the reception area to hear the Singing Valentine delivered by Counterpoint, the university's only all-female a cappella group, which was founded 10 years ago. Mirabella is the club's vice president. She joined as a freshman. "Being a member has enabled me to grow in ways that I never expected," she says.
Counterpoint, a student club, does much more than perform Singing Valentines. Every year, they host The A CaPittsburgh Project, a fundraising concert to support music programming in the Pittsburgh community; last fall, they raised $3,500 for the Autism Center of Pittsburgh's music therapy program. During the year, Counterpoint also performs with other student-led a cappella groups throughout the region.
Recently, the 13 young women made it to the mid-Atlantic quarterfinals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Freshman Julia Gebhardt, the group's only vocal performance major, won Outstanding Soloist for her performance of Beyonce's "Halo." Elizabeth Li, a freshman information systems major, arranged the music for Gebhardt's winning rendition. Counterpoint— an eclectic mix of various business, humanities, engineering, and science majors—placed fourth overall in the competition. Junior global politics major, Sarah Grey Hall, the club's president, was proud of the recognition, especially considering this was the first year they entered the competition.
As for Makel's singing valentine, Mobbs, the group's music director, belts out the final chorus. Makel has a tear or two in her eyes. "You all are amazing! You make American Idol seem shameful!" she says. Later, Makel learns that the valentine was sent by a Carnegie Mellon police officer who hoped to brighten her day.
—Molly McCurdy (A'10)