When Boston College a cappella group Common Tones posted a TikTok of them singing an a cappella arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” in a stairwell one December morning on a whim, the last thing programming director Annabel Lee expected was for the video to go viral.
“That was kind of just, like, out of the blue,” Lee, MCAS ’25, said. “We were like, super tired on a Sunday morning and we were like, ‘Oh, let’s sing “Carol of the Bells,”’ and it just so happened to go viral.”
The video, which has amassed 73.8 million views and 12.6 million likes on TikTok, drew increasing attention to the group as the official Grammys’ TikTok page commented on the video.
“Can you do a mashup of the songs nominated for Song Of The Year at the GRAMMYs?” the comment reads.
“I think we just kind of ran with it,” Rachel Prendergast, CSON ’24, said. “Just because we were like, ‘Of course we have to respond to that. That’s so cool.’ And then when BC reached out, we were like, ‘Of course we have to do it.’”
Common Tones worked with professional video, audio, and lighting organized by BC after University Communications reached out to them asking if they would be interested in creating a video for the requested mashup.
This meant the group would have to make and learn a vocal arrangement of the eight nominees for Song of the Year in just a few weeks. Jacob Walker, MCAS ’25, is one of the group’s three arrangers. He said the time crunch was difficult to work with, but the final product was worth it.
“We never really have done that before,” Walker said. “We made our own album last year, student-made, so it took us, like, the whole semester just to record, then mix. So having them record us in one day, and that was it, and then they got it out in less than a week.”
The process of arranging, learning, and then memorizing music typically takes months. Walker explained the three arrangers worked over Winter Break to make the nearly eight-minute long mashup, and then the rest of the group had to learn it in just a week once they returned to campus. Natalie Bartell, MCAS ’27, said the process of learning the music was a little stressful, but paid off.
“I have no idea how they did it,” Bartell said. “If somebody asked me to do that I would’ve cried, and they did an amazing job. And it was difficult, we had some longer rehearsals, and some ‘Do it on your own time, figure it out.’ But it went smooth, I think it went as smooth as it could’ve possibly gone, and I think it’s because everybody was really interested in doing it.”
The project was sparked by a TikTok comment, but according to the members of Common Tones, it was a labor of love. Prendergast explained Common Tones is a service-based a cappella group, so its performances are not only technically skilled but also have deep emotional meaning for the group.
“It provides, like, a different kind of joy and support to people than, like, helping people medically or emotionally supporting them,” Prendergast said. “Literally just going and singing and, like, interacting with people and talking to them … it’s so special.”
The group puts on live performances at BC, but other BC students don’t typically see the service Common Tones does outside of campus. They travel to perform for groups at places such as Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter, and Veronica B. Smith Senior Center, which offers a number of programs that are open to the elderly community. These opportunities build community within the group and the people they perform for, said Christopher Cheek, Common Tones member and MCAS ’25.
“People who live normal lives, unless they’re going to see, like, a concert, don’t really get presented with a lot of opportunities,” Cheek said. “They have to seek out live music. So just to be able to come into a place and provide, like, pretty good live music that’s entertaining and interactive is super important.”
Although the Grammys mashup video was sparked by a social media trend, the group is not planning to become influencers anytime soon. Lee admitted that although it was a fun and creative experience, it didn’t necessarily represent the core values of the group.
“Tones is super special,” Lee said. “I think it does manifest itself in how our group works, in that we’re not that competitive. We’re just singing to have fun and to build community, and you can really feel it when we’re singing together. It’s like a lot of love that’s circulating within the group.”
Prendergast also saw the mashup as an opportunity to have fun and create something that typically wouldn’t have been possible for the group because of the time and production level involved, but emphasized that the most valuable part of the experience was that Common Tones did it together.
“I’m definitely happy that we’re getting, like, a little bit more visibility, and people are kind of knowing our group a little bit more now,” she said. “Because I feel like it stands for some really good things, and that’s why I’m in it.”
Walker said the video, although not a typical representation of the group’s projects, was a great opportunity for Common Tones to share their values outside of singing technically complex music. The process, from start to finish, bonded the already tight-knit group even further.
“It was just so exciting because Tones is my found family on campus,” Walker said. “So being able to create this giant thing that we can share with people, we’re able to share that music and love with people now, through the video.”
Listen to Elizabeth Dodman and Kathy Lu’s interview with members of the Common Tones here: