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The Buffalo Chips -- UB's Award-winning A Cappella Group -- Returns to Its 'Olympics'

By Adrian Finch

Release Date: April 11, 2011

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The Buffalo Chips, UB's all-male a cappella group, will compete at Lincoln Center on April 16.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Chips have done it again.

The University at Buffalo's all-male a cappella group is set to compete for the second consecutive year in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in New York City, Saturday, April 16.

The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella is exactly what it sounds like. It's the creme de la creme of competitions for America's most-accomplished a cappella groups. Think of it as the a cappella Olympics.

The Chips, a group that before last year few knew much about, have tirelessly performed, sung, beat-boxed and practiced since January to defeat the competition and claim their spot on the legendary Alice Tully Hall stage in Lincoln Center.

The Chips were among 600 groups to apply for the competition in November 2010. After having been accepted as competitors, they took the title as mid-Atlantic finalists and came in first out of 40 groups.

Video and images of the Chips in concert are available on the group's website, http://www.thebuffalochips.com.

On Feb. 26, they competed in the quarterfinal championship at Penn State against eight other groups. They won best soloist, best percussion, and best arrangement and took first place.

They moved on to the semifinals at Rutgers University on March 26 and were announced semifinal champions. The top groups from five other regions in the country, and a group from Cambridge, UK, will compete against the Chips for the title of International Champion.

Although they've already won two rounds, the Chips have some fierce competition this year. With groups like Berklee College of Music's Pitch Slapped, who gained their fame on season two of "The Sing-off," the Chips are up against the highest caliber of musicians, says Mike Jankowski, a Chip's alumnus and their sound technician.

"They are the underdogs," Jankowski says. "Other schools have legacies or are music schools and TV stars.

Unlike their rivals from other universities, the Chips have no faculty participation and build their winning group from an audition pool of only 20-30 UB students (unlike some schools that may have an audition pool of up to 400 students.)

Working with few resources and overcoming adversity is something that Jankowski says the Chips pride themselves on, and something that motivates them to work hard and push for success.

"It goes back to the city itself," Jankowski says. "A lot of the Chips are from Buffalo, so that underdog mentality is in their heads. They want to prove that they're the best.

Ironically enough, not one of the 13-member a cappella group is a music major; they major in disciplines as diverse as geography, communications and psychology.

"We took nothing, and made it into something great," Jankowski says.

The size of the UB campus makes it challenging for the Chips to gain notoriety, Jankowski says. The Chips have to establish their niche at UB and the Buffalo community by singing on the UB Stampede buses, serenading waitresses at restaurants and coffee shops, singing to a Student Union full of students passing by for lunch, and in Alumni Arena's atrium.

Their efforts are worth it. They draw a crowd wherever they go, encouraging others to audition to be a part of their ever-evolving creation, and inspiring other students to feed their passions.

"One of the best moments I had was when I had a chance to go to Springville (a small, rural school district about 45 minutes from Buffalo)," Jankowski says. "We sang for the entire middle school, and when we walked in, it was like we were rock stars. It was the loudest crowd we ever had with 1,000 kids screaming at the top of their lungs. I've met a lot of those kids that are graduating now or just getting into a music program, and the reason they want to do it is because they heard the Chips when they were younger."

The group's closely-knit ties and sense of brotherhood allows for the natural chemistry that takes place on stage whenever they perform. The voices seem to effortlessly fit together; and when they move, they move as if the Chips are attached at the hips.

"I call the Chips my brothers," Jankowski says. "The group is 16 years old and we have almost 70 alumni who are extremely involved and extremely active. Our oldest alumnus is 47, so we have people raising families and still participating in the group."

Matt Gibb, the Chip's business manager and a UB senior with a major in geography, is a first-time International Competition competitor.

"I'm nervous, but also excited. We've been working hard, and we're going to continue working hard with our rehearsals this week and next week," Gibb says. "Getting there and being in New York City for the finals will be an interesting feeling because there were only five guys in the group who performed last year, so a lot of us are new to the experience, and Lincoln Center is a really big venue.

Gibb says the group practices at least seven hours a week, and between rehearsals performs for different events. They plan to bring their rendition of Bruno Mars' popular hit, "Grenade," Coldplay's "Lovers in Japan" and the Script's "Breakeven" to New York City.

Although the group made it to the International Competition last year and didn't win, it wasn't a lost experience. Gibb says the Chips know what to expect this year and they're ready for it.

The Chips lost five of their talented seniors last year and with a new group and a new perspective on the competition, Gibb says all that's left is to practice, rehearse and perform.

"When it comes down to it, we just all love singing and making music together," Gibb says.

The Chips will be performing in concert in UB's Slee Hall on Friday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m., possibly as International A Cappella Champions.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.