Mental Notes' version of a cappella

By Manny Peyvan | October 4, 2001

How could I have braved it through last weekend? After all, I had a five page paper to write for my Shakespeare class on 20 lines from Romeo and Juliet. Fair enough. But have you ever read that story? It's an attack on human decorum. Every scene has at least 50 sexual references. If someone says, "A right fair mark," the footnote reads, "a target or vulva". That's a pretty wide margin of interpretation. Some other great footnotes taken out of context include rooster's testicle, sexual penetration, loose women, untamed virgin, and skirt chaser.

And just when I'm asking myself who could call such things art, I received my News-Letter assignment. You see, one trip over to the Mental Notes Web site, http://jhunix.hcf.jhu.edu/mental, allows anyone to listen to vocal renditions of such hits as The Divinyls' "I Touch Myself."

"Whoa. This is better than porn," said my dorm neighbor. Well, it's better than Romeo and Juliet (and more tasteful).

What the Mental Notes do is art. Comprised of sixteen Hopkins students, they are a co-ed a cappella group with choice material and a choice sense of humor.

"Fun, zaniness, music: three words that have been on my mind very often," exclaimed freshman alto and group newbie, Arielle Goren. The group has covered everything from Styx's "Mr. Roboto," to the Weird Al Yankovich gem, "I Just Shot a Mime."

When asked what separates the Mental Notes from other on-campus vocal groups, senior Musical Director John Stoneham said, "We tend to incorporate a lot of humor. We do funny songs, funny skits and parodies. We also pride ourselves on a lot of technical work. We take on tough songs and take chances on the way certain songs might sound." Anyone who listens to the Notes' rendition of The Offspring's Self Esteem will realize exactly how difficult the work is. Rehearsals occur three times a week, six hours total, with an occasional one hour sectional.

Some would hardly call it work though. "It's really a lot of fun. I feel like everyone in the group is a friend of mine. I spend a lot of time together with them, and I've only been with the group for three weeks," said Goren.

Stoneham agrees. "I really enjoy the chance to work with fifteen other really talented people. We put something together that really entertains both us and the audience."

The group was founded in October of 1994 with a clear purpose: to unite a group of people who derive fun from singing. "We sing because we enjoy it, because we've always enjoyed it," said Stoneham. "The first obligation is to ourselves."

The group performs in numerous on and off campus events. You may have seen them during the orientation showcase, The O-Show. There's a lot more where that came from.

The group's next gig is during parent's weekend, Nov. 4. Soon after, on Nov. 23, the group is slated for a concert in Bloomberg. It is a walk, but they promise it's worth it. The group is also coordinating off-campus tours. Check the web site and attend more concerts for tour information.

But what is the biggest piece of Mental Notes news? The juiciest morsel? It has to be the release of a CD. As of yet untitled and under development, the CD still promises to be a hit.

"Some groups record material every semester or so for a CD; we do it all at once," said Stoneham. "We have a lot of material to choose from. It will contain a lot of the really popular, albeit good, songs of the past two or three years."

The CD is a follow-up to 1999's Verticality, the group's first offering. The CD features hits like Pearl Jam's "Black" and "Like a Prayer," by Madonna. Currently on sale for $5, contact Stoneham at homunculus@bigfoot.com to purchase one.

I've only been on campus for three weeks now, and I hear a lot talk about the lack of social development at Hopkins. Yet, the more I look, the more groups I find like the Mental Notes - a group brought together by their common interests, who produce something worthwhile. I sure as hell would rather spend time with them on a Thursday night than Bill Shakespeare and his phallic tendencies.

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