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July 8, 2019

Somewhere there’s music

Sal Cosmedy ’20

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My first few days at Mount Holyoke must have looked a lot like a movie about a nervous teen who moves away from home. I was timid, shy and trying desperately to meet the people I would call my friends.

That’s when I found and auditioned for the Victory Eights, Mount Holyoke’s oldest a cappella group, which was founded in 1942 by Abigail Halsey Van Allen ’44. (After she attended a Williams College concert given by the Williams quartet and the Bennington College double quartet, she kept thinking, “Why don’t we have a group like this at Mount Holyoke?” So she started one.) 

During the audition, I sang Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” (a cappella, of course), sang scales to show off my range and participated in a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with current members. 

Except then I missed the callback. It was my first full weekend at college, and I had to be away for a family emergency. But that was no problem for the V8s. They met me the next Monday evening for a special callback, and as soon as it was done, they ran down the hallway cheering as they prepared to sing me into the group. During this “sing-in” tradition to welcome a newly admitted singer, the V8s sing “How High the Moon” and bestow a rose and a can of V8 juice.

At left, first-year student Sal Cosmedy receives a rose during the “sing-in” tradition. At right, Cosmedy (first row) and other members of the V8s, fall 2016.
At left, first-year student Sal Cosmedy receives a rose during the “sing-in” tradition. At right, Cosmedy (first row) and other members of the V8s, fall 2016.

Early days

From the moment I started in the V8s, the members made sure I was part of the family. We opened our Sunday evening rehearsals with a round of “roses and thorns,” where each person shares a highlight and a lowlight from their week. During late rehearsals, we played games to keep our energy up. Sometimes we sang songs entirely with “meows.” And we always finished evening rehearsals with family dinners. 

One memorable night, we all walked to the dark and echoey space of Abbey Memorial Chapel to sing our “blendy” songs — the ones that are slower with lots of beautiful and dissonant harmonies. Even early in my college journey, I knew that I had found people to rely on. My first semester ended with a V8 performance that was aptly themed “Family Jam.”

Abbey Memorial ChapelAbbey Memorial Chapel


The next semester, our family of eight grew to 11 as we brought in a new member and two juniors came back from abroad. The fall of my sophomore year, we grew to 13 — just in time to host the V8s 75th anniversary. We organized an on-campus reunion with V8s from different decades, as far back as the 1960s, that included group performances and lots of time to sing together and swap stories. 

Most recently, over Reunion 2019 I met an alum from the class of 1959 who had been in the group. We talked about songs that the group continues to sing 60 years later, how our traditions have changed and how she joined another singing group recently because she missed the community of the V8s. Everywhere I turn, I find V8s past and present who look out for each other the way that families do.

Celebrating the 75th reunion of the V8s, fall 2017
Celebrating the 75th reunion of the V8s, fall 2017

Growing, teaching

Every semester we bring in new people, ranging from first-year students in their first weekend at Mount Holyoke to seniors who have been waiting to gain the courage to audition. No matter the changes our group encounters — members go abroad or take time off, directors change, the upright piano in our practice room gets switched out for a grand piano that we must squeeze around — we adapt, we grow and we keep moving forward.

Piano on campus

As I transitioned to an upperclassman, I figured I would be teaching the new members about what it meant to be in the group. But they surprised me. In serving as co-director of the V8s the spring semester of my junior year, I learned that being a good leader means realizing the vision of everyone in the group, not just my own expectations. The new members have taught me flexibility, communication and kindness. I am pushed to be better with every semester I spend in this group.

Posing as a group before Acafella 2019
Posing as a group before Acafella 2019

Looking back, forward 

It would be impossible to express all the traditions and experiences I’ve had with the V8s during my three years at Mount Holyoke. But I can pinpoint the singular feeling that unites all my experiences with the group. Whether we are rehearsing until 11 pm, traveling two hours to sing at an alum event or disagreeing about which songs to introduce in any given semester, I know that at the end of the day, we’ve got each other’s backs.

As I head into my senior year, I’m looking forward to the third year of rooming with Simon Dutton ’20, who I came into the group with during my first year and co-directed with during my junior spring. And to late-night mozzarella sticks after Sunday rehearsals, and arranging and singing a senior song for my last final jam. More than anything else, though, I’m looking forward to bringing new members into this incredible tradition and discovering all that they will teach me, too.

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Sal Cosmedy ’20 is an environmental studies major from Westchester, New York, who has been in the V8s for three years and on the board for one. When they’re not singing, Cosmedy can be found riding on the western riding team and hiking around the Pioneer Valley.