A semester of songs and stories

From a cappella performances to a class on humor writing, senior Melissa Oberstaedt shares some of her favorite moments from the fall semester.


This October, Washington University reinstated the beloved Parent and Family Weekend Voices and Sounds a cappella performances. Waiting backstage at the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall, Mosaic Whispers, the oldest co-ed a cappella group at WashU, came out to applause, the lights shining brightly on the group’s blue and black outfits. In a stacked manner, the performers lined up facing the auditorium and dropped their heads. A beat of silence fell before exploding into song, Whispers jerking their heads up as they began their arrangement of the *NSYNC song “It’s Gonna Be Me" as adapted by Lawrence. For Melissa Oberstaedt, a soprano 1 in Mosaic Whispers, a cappella has been part of her WashU experience since the very beginning.

Oberstaedt is a senior this year, majoring in anthropology on the global health and environment track with a minor in writing. “I think culture is so interesting and how it’s different everywhere,” she said. “So many things here we would assume are normal, when we look at the world, there’s so many different ways that it can be.” Also passionate about health and happiness, Oberstaedt wanted to look at health systems worldwide and how they address and design society.

One of her favorite courses this year is “Humor Writing,” taught by Heather McPherson, senior lecturer in English. Humor writing stretches a person’s creativity and helps people think outside of the box, Obserstaedt says. Even though it’s at 8:30 a.m., everyone, including McPherson, uplifts the early morning grogginess with witty remarks.

“You just come in and it’s fun,” Oberstaedt said. “One time, in class, we played a game where we took everyday objects and thought of alternative uses.” For example, she used a hairbrush and imagined it as a corn maze for small insects. Whenever she does these kinds of imaginative exercises or writes humor, it lightens her mood and helps her take an open-minded approach to all sorts of problems.

Alongside her academic career, music and performance has been an important of Oberstaedt’s WashU experience.

She still remembers how she first caught a glimpse of the a cappella scene on campus before she was a student at WashU. “I actually saw Whispers on my campus visit. We have a big concert every spring and it just happened to be when I was here. And then I got into the group and I was like, ‘Hey, I saw you last year!’”

Senior Melissa Oberstaedt (front row, third from left) poses in Forest Park with fellow members of the a cappella group Whispers Mosaic. 

At the beginning of each fall semester, the a cappella community is in full swing. Holding auditions and callbacks during Labor Day weekend, groups welcome their new members. Since her first year, Oberstaedt has been part of Whispers, traveling to competitions and performances across the country with the group. Quickly cut short by the pandemic, Whispers is starting to vamp up again and prepare for competitions and concerts.

One of her favorite memories from last spring was Whispers’ Spring Concert Splash and seeing the crowd of alumni at the front. “Every single time you can totally fail and they go crazy every time.” Oberstaedt recalled. Later that night, the alumni and current members of Whispers held a party where Oberstaedt was able to meet them and hear stories of when they were in Whispers 30 years ago. And the next day, the whole group had brunch, singing songs from previous years.

And with another spring semester just around the corner, Oberstaedt is beginning to reflect on her limited time here at WashU. “Honestly, I’m sad to graduate. I just feel like there’s so much I haven’t done.” Oberstaedt commented. For her, there was not enough time for her to do everything, from taking courses in other departments in Arts & Sciences to trying out different clubs. As she heads into her final semester, now more than ever she appreciates the people and collaborative community she’s found in Whispers, in her courses, and throughout her WashU experience.