The Music Beat: There’s Nothing Holding the Hullabahoos Back

May 31, 2024 By Alice Berry, Alice Berry,

They’ve been fictionalized in “The Office” and performed in the hit movie “Pitch Perfect,” in addition to playing international gigs and hitting the “Good Morning America” stage.

But when the Hullabahoos were founded in 1987 at the University of Virginia, it was because Halsted Sullivan hadn’t made it into the Virginia Gentlemen, UVA’s oldest a cappella group.

Since Sullivan and his co-founder Mark Lyons’ day, there’s been an explosion of a cappella groups forming on Grounds – including one for those who can’t carry a tune. The Hullabahoos are just one example of the growth in popularity for these instrument-less groups.

The group’s most recent president, rising fourth-year student Nick Chu, admitted he had no idea who the Hullabahoos were when he arrived on Grounds, despite their appearances in pop culture. But he was an a cappella devotee: He sang a cappella in high school, and his father was in an a cappella group at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Chu auditioned for a handful of a cappella groups during his first week at UVA but chose the Hullabahoos because its members seemed to be friends.

“Since literally my first week at UVA, I’ve had them as my best friends in the world,” Chu said.

Tarun Sivanandan joined the group in his second year after watching a Hullabahoos performance. He had enjoyed singing in his high school choir but was unfamiliar with the a cappella scene at UVA.

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“Just how the audience was getting so into it was something that I never really experienced when I was performing, or at any other venue,” Sivanandan, who was the group’s business manager during the last academic year, said.

The Hullabahoos have taken Chu, Sivanandan and company around the world, singing and beatboxing in Valencia, Spain, up and down the East Coast and even at an impromptu gig on a cruise the Hullabahoos took during their spring break.

This spring, the Hullabahoos put out a new album, called “Washed Up,” a reference to their week at sea (the cover art is a photo taken on the cruise) and a joke on their fourth-year members.

“This is kind of a play on that, whereas normally being washed up is at the end of your prime before you retire in sports, I would say this is the fourth-years at the peak of their time in the group,” Chu said.

A behind the scenes photo of the videographer shooting the Hullabahoos’ music video
For their robes, each Hullabahoo chooses a patterned fabric that is meaningful to them. The robes were part of founder Halsted Sullivan’s effort to distinguish the group from the bow-tied Virginia Gentlemen. (Photo by Julia Weaver, University Communications)

The new album includes covers of hits like “They Don’t Know About Us” by One Direction and Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.”

“It was a pretty democratic process,” Chu said of how the group selected songs for the album. “We all sit together during rehearsal and put together a list of our favorite songs and talked them through.”

Once they chose their songs, they booked time with James Gammon – a 2004 graduate who produced music for “Pitch Perfect” and the Grammy-winning group Pentatonix– at his recording studio in Charlottesville. Gammon himself was a member of another a cappella group on Grounds, the Academical Village People.

After two days of recording, plus time to factor in the Hullabahoos’ feedback, the group had an album – right on time for their anniversary weekend concert at The Jefferson Theater in downtown Charlottesville.

“Seeing that this transcends just your college experience was so special,” Sivanandan said.

Chu estimated that about 150 alumni were among the crowd of hundreds that filled the theater. It was the highlight of his time as a Hullabahoo so far.

“It was a really daunting thing to be staring down during the second semester,” Chu said. But then the theater filled, and alumni got onstage to perform some songs of their own.

“It was the most incredible experience of my time at UVA,” Chu said.

Chu and Sivanandan will be taking a step back from the executive board of the Hullabahoos, but they won’t be hanging up their colorful performance robes just yet. The two will continue to perform in what the group calls the “Hullabasound.”

“We have this funny, goofy, chaotic energy to us,” Sivanandan said. “It’s really a joy to spread that.”

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications