From Soprano to Bass, Meet Portola’s Student-Directed A Cappella Group: the Portobellas


Mia Jong

Students in the Portobellas a cappella group hold practices every Friday during office hours and are currently practicing “Waiting for the World to Change” by John Mayer. Before each rehearsal, the group members warm up their voices with singing exercises in a semicircle. Instead of a conductor, the group snaps fingers to keep time, according to junior Nithila Francis.

Velvety tones and warm harmonies fill the room, intertwining to create colorfully complex melodies. The music swells and tumbles, leaving a crescendo of shimmering notes lingering in the air. 

These vocal arrangements are not of a traditional school choir — these are the voices of an entirely student-directed a cappella group, the Portobellas. 

From peppy pop songs to jolly Christmas jingles, the Portobellas have returned to the stage for a second year. Led by juniors Kate Abalos and Nithila Francis and senior Shefali Sinha, the group is excited to explore new sounds and spotlight Portola High’s unique talents, according to Francis.

“The beauty of an a cappella group is that it’s smaller than a choir, and it’s pretty versatile,” Francis said. “There are a lot of great aspects of choir too, but a cappella just relies on people’s voices rather than any other accompaniment, so everything needs to be recreated vocally.”

The parts include the sopranos, mezzos, altos, tenors and basses, with each student being assigned to a part tailored to their vocal range. The group strives for vocal diversity, looking for people from different musical backgrounds and skill levels, according to Francis.

Together, they schedule rehearsals, organize practice locations and find sheet music — all in preparation for the concerts Portola High hosts throughout the school year. In the future, they have plans to broaden their repertoire and perform at community events outside of concerts, according to Francis.

The Portobellas plan and coordinate performances with choir teacher and club adviser Adrian Rangel-Sanchez. Rangel said he decided to help jumpstart the group due to his experience in high school a cappella. 

“When I was in high school, I started and directed my own a cappella group, and that was what inspired me to become a choir director,” Rangel said. “When I did that, I decided to major in music in college and pursue directing. So I’ve always wanted to have that same experience for students here.”

Auditions for the Portobellas occurred in late August, and results came out on September 7, according to the Portobellas’ instagram account, @phsportobellas. This process has brought an influx of new faces, including freshman Jaskiran Singh. 

For Singh, the Portobellas offer a unique way to learn new arrangements and get involved with the school community. 

“I’m looking forward to learning cool songs with different arrangements; it sounds super cool when you’re singing with everyone a cappella,” Singh said. “To hear everything blend in around you, it sounds really beautiful.”

The Portobellas are just getting into the swing of things for this school year. They are currently practicing for their first performance of the year, which will take place on October 6, according to Rangel.

Through their club, the Portobellas hope to inspire other students to pursue their passions and interests in any way, no matter how small, according to Francis. 

“It’s important for people to do what they like to do and explore it outside of just what courses they’re taking in school,” Francis said. “It not only helps you explore that thing more, but it also helps you find other people who enjoy it too.”