A Chat with a Chessman

By Skylar Zachian | | Contributing Writer

I recently sat down with Ryan Squires, newly elected president of F&M’s only all-male acapella group, The Chessmen, to discuss all things acapella. Within seconds of speaking to Ryan, his passion for the arts was extremely apparent. Ryan is a sophomore intending to major in theatre with a possible minor in either Film and Media Studies or Creative Writing. He spends his time outside of the classroom acting in campus productions, as a DJ on WFNM Radio, and singing with the college chorus (and of course, the Chessmen). 

Ryan has loved music as far back as he can remember. He has been in “some sort of a chorus or choir” since middle school, and was considered the “musical theater guy” in high school. He began taking voice lessons in high school and continues with them currently. He is quite literally always singing, as now between the college chorus and Chessmen, he has at least an hour of vocal rehearsal on every day other than Saturday.

When I asked Ryan why he chose to join the Chessmen, he replied, “From the first time that I saw the Chessmen perform, I knew I wanted to be a member of that group. They just have such fun on stage, and they are such a great group of guys.” Although Ryan was a virtual student last year and was unable to perform with the group, he still cherished being able to experience rehearsals through Zoom and form bonds with other members. He noted, “out of everything that I joined last year, Chessmen was the most rewarding.” Coming from a small high school where the performing arts community was overwhelmingly female, Ryan had not met many guys who shared his interest in singing before coming to F&M, and he was excited to find this in the Chessmen. 

The group generally rehearses for 6 hours a week, which is usually split into increments of three times a week, for two hours each rehearsal. Ryan explained, “it sounds intimidating but when you’re there it doesn’t feel like 6 hours.” He went on to say that “it’s a great work/fun balance.” He looks forward to every rehearsal because he knows it is going to be “a great time with a great group of people and they are also intent on sounding good.”

So far this semester, the Chessmen have had three official performances: The Performing Arts Showcase at the start of the semester, the Roschel College House Open Mic, and the True Blue Weekend Concert. They have also had smaller performances interspersed throughout the semester. Their final concert of the semester will be on Saturday, Dec 11 in Roschel Performing Arts Center at 7pm.

Generally, the Chessmen sing 4 part arrangements with a soloist and a beatboxer. In terms of some of the specific songs they sing, Ryan explains that “Still” is the Chessmen’s “theme” song. They sing this song every year, and it is sung as a way to introduce new members to the concept of part singing. In addition to singing this iconic song at concerts, singing “Still” is also part of the audition process. Recently, the Chessman have been performing “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, for which Ryan is the soloist. He admits that he may be a bit biased, but this is his favorite Chessmen song at the moment. Ryan notes that when the Chessmen perform, there is “such an infectious energy on stage. You can tell that every single person in the audience is enjoying themselves as much as we are.”

The Chessmen are currently working on “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers and are collaborating with the K-Pop dance group Choomies! Choomies is choreographing a dance for them and this performance will take place at the December 11 concert.

The Chessmen go beyond performing at concerts, and around Valentine’s Day, fundraise through personally serenading F&M students. Ryan articulates the way in which these serenades function by stating that “people can contact us and buy a song from us and we will sing to a person of their choice a selection of a couple different songs that we perform exclusively for that season. It’s exciting because this will be our first serenade season in 2 years!”

As president, Ryan wants to organize many more small events where they can “get in front of as many different people as possible to try to grow and expand their audience.” In addition to expanding their fanbase, Ryan also hopes to expand the number of people in the group itself. The Chessmen currently has “a great 11 guys at the moment,” and with more members, the group could “get their sound to be even bigger and even sharper.” Ryan pointed out that there are no freshmen in the group, and he hopes that freshmen will audition for the second semester so that there can be representation from each class year. Additionally, Ryan would like to work on collaborations with other acapella groups to grow F&M’s singing community “not just within the groups, but between them.” He would also be excited to collaborate with other performing arts groups on campus. 

Come see the Chessmen in concert on Saturday, Dec 11 at 7pm in Roschel Performing Arts Center, order your friends serenades around Valentine’s Day, and don’t hesitate to audition for the Chessmen for second semester if you have any interest in singing acapella with a talented, energetic group of guys!

First year Skylar Zachian is a Contributing Writer. Her email is szachian@fandm.edu.

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