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Singing for the Queen and voice acting on ‘Dora:’ Two performers’ journeys to Footnotes a cappella

Two people sit on a couch wearing green sweatshirts that say “Footnotes.”

Koda Gursoy ’26 (left) and Rupert Peacock ’24 (right). Photo courtesy of Aaron Brezezinski ’24.

As the tallest and shortest guys, respectively, in the Princeton Footnotes, Rupert Peacock ’24 and Koda Gursoy ’26 might not have much in common at first glance. But what brings the two singers together is their unconventional childhood performance careers.

Both Peacock and Gursoy have had their voices shared millions of times around the world, one as a member of a royally-founded choir and the other as the voice of a world-renowned cartoon monkey. The Daily Princetonian spoke with both musicians to understand how their stories now intersect through campus a cappella.


An ‘out-of-body experience:‘ Singing for King’s College Choir 

Peacock, now majoring in music, was seven years old when he joined the King’s College Choir in Cambridge, U.K. The choir was founded by King Henry VI in 1441 and has gained high prestige over many centuries by providing daily chapel services in the English choral tradition. The most famous service is called “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” performed on Christmas Eve.

After one round of auditions singing “Where is Love?” from the musical “Oliver!” he earned a spot in King’s College School, an independent day school for boys aged seven to 18 that was affiliated with the university, King’s College. He was one of 16 treble choristers in one of the most well-known chapel choirs in the world.

Twice in a row, while in sixth and seventh grade, Peacock landed the solo in the choir’s carol “Once in Royal David’s City,” which was broadcast live on the radio to 60 million listeners on Christmas Eve.

Both times, Peacock found out he was singing the solo 10 seconds before the radio went live. 

“The director just points at you,” he explained. “[Singing this solo] was the only out-of-body experience I’ve ever had. I remember sort of having a pep talk with myself, also at the same time completely collapsing with nerves, but still sort of making it through.”


During his seven years with the chapel choir, Peacock met the late Queen of England after several services, and was personally thanked by Stephen Hawking after a solo performance.

From age seven to 13, Peacock studied at King’s College School. For the first two years, Peacock did not sing in the choir, instead focusing on daily one-on-one sight-reading training, interval training, and ear training. 

After officially joining the chapel choir in fifth grade, Peacock had to stay on campus for chapel services every weekend, as well as during Easter and Christmas. The intense schedule involved one-hour daily morning rehearsals and six chapel services, totaling 25 or more hours per week. 

“You go home on Christmas day itself after the service,” Peacock said. “We sang so much that there were repertoire pieces, pieces that so many of the boys knew that to rehearse it, all you have to do is sing it through once.”

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Living away from home, a 1.5-hour drive from the school in Cambridge, he said his favorite part of the experience was going on three tours a year with the King’s College Choir: during Christmas, Easter, and the summer, traveling all around the world from Australia to Asia and Europe.

“We packed out and sang in a completely full Sydney Opera House,” Peacock said. 

At the same time, he acknowledged the “sacrifice of a normal childhood” in this commitment.  

“Between eight and 18, I’ve been away from home,” he noted. “You miss out on true relaxation because you’re kind of unwinding but fundamentally, it’s still at school.”

Although initially homesick, Peacock said he loved boarding school and described it as “a sleepover with [his] friends all the time.” 

Peacock said that when his voice broke at 13, he was both excited and sentimental to leave the choir, adding that he learned a lot of music skills during his time with the program. Puberty marked the end of his treble career, as he was unable to hit the high notes after his voice deepened.

“I had chapel choir six times a week for three years,” Peacock said. “As I was counting down the services I had left, suddenly I realized I’m not going to spend as much time in this place.”  

“With the number of hours I spent sight-reading every single day, I also do feel like I got a special leg up. With the life lessons and skills gained, they continue to be very useful as a music major now,” he remembered.

Peacock said coming to Princeton was “an alignment of unlikely events.” His school counselor told him that Princeton was academically out of reach, he took the ACT in an internet café, and he submitted his application half an hour late because of an internet outage. Despite the setbacks, he was admitted to his first-choice university.

“If I’d gone to Durham, which was my second choice after Princeton, I would have been singing in a cathedral every day,” Peacock said. “It would have been just repeating my childhood ritual all the time, and that would leave not a whole lot of time for other extracurriculars.”

He credited Gabriel Crouch, Director of the Princeton University Glee Club, as his main reason for coming to Princeton. The two first met when Peacock, 12 at the time, performed with King’s College Choir at the University Chapel. 

“[Crouch] said, if you come to Princeton, you can sing. You can play rugby, you can do choir, you’ll have more time on your hands to do stuff,” Peacock said. “I wanted to find a place that would let me do both, with the bonus of liberal arts being an amazing opportunity to study loads of stuff.”

“As soon as I pressed the button that said I’ll go, I haven’t looked back since,” he added.

In addition to his singing endeavors in Footnotes, Glee Club, Decem, and the Aquinas Institute, Peacock is the captain of the men’s rugby team.

“I’ve seen [Peacock] take on the impossible job of fully immersing himself in both his athletics and in his music,” Crouch said. “With leadership roles and succeeding in doing both, that’s pretty remarkable.”

At Princeton, Peacock is the music director of Footnotes, leading two-hour-long rehearsals four times a week.

Gursoy, a new member, said that in his opinion “with no disrespect to other extremely talented music directors … [Peacock] is the best one on Princeton’s campus.”

“[Peacock] is someone I admire so much in a musical sense,” Gursoy continued. “He’s technical when it comes to singing as well as when it comes to putting together a group of singers. His advice is always very valuable and I can trust it a lot.”

Michael Salama ’24, a five-year Footnotes member, also emphasized Peacock’s musical talent, leadership, and passion. 

“He learns songs in about 10 seconds, which takes me maybe 10 minutes,” Salama said. “He’s one of the lowest basses, but he sings tenor, which is the highest part of our group.” 

“To him, music is more than just notes and rhythms. He lives and breathes it. Everybody [in Footnotes] respects him not just as a musician, but as a leader,” he added.

Similar to King’s College Choir, the group goes on tour in the fall and spring breaks. Peacock recalled his favorite memory during his freshman year tour in London and Cambridge when he “took all 14 members home” to his house one night. 

Reflecting on his time singing at King’s College Choir, Peacock said it “was not his final destination.”

“I wanted it to be a stepping stone towards a much bigger musical portfolio,” he explained. “I don’t want to stop singing until I’ve sung literally every genre.”

Besides a cappella, Peacock composed a “slightly rock, country” extended play (EP) in 2020 called “Makeshift,” and looks forward to experimenting with opera next spring.

Reflecting on his time singing as a child, he said, “It would be easy for me to say that’s the best it’s gonna be, but instead I want to flip the narrative and make sure that King’s set me up to go and do way bigger things afterward.”

‘Infusing yourself‘ into a character that’s not you: Voice acting as Boots the Monkey in ‘Dora the Explorer’

Koda Gursoy ’26 also began his performance career on the global stage. At age seven, he was voice cast for the role of Boots in the Nickelodeon animated television show “Dora the Explorer.”

“I don’t know if I quite understood how big of a deal it would be for the rest of my life,” Gursoy said. “This is not something that I expected to happen.”

Gursoy got into voice acting in 2011 through a mutual childhood friend’s referral to an agent and started auditioning in New York City shortly after. Boots, which was his second series role concurrent with voicing Tommy in “Tickety Toc,” had a “very secretive” process.

“Most of the time, your agent will send you an email or call you saying there’s an audition this time, and then you just kind of have to be there,” Gursoy said. “In this case, I didn’t know that I was auditioning to be Boots until I got the job.”

The audition process was divided into three stages: a test reading of portions of the script, a 10-minute callback with the casting director at the Nickelodeon headquarters, and a scratch test — which entails recording a full episode — before signing an official contract. 

What began for Gursoy was a six-year voice acting career. The large time commitment first involved traveling to New York City three times a week for auditions. Then, extensive recording sessions led to homeschooling from his third to eighth grade for a more flexible recording schedule. 

Gursoy said his most technically challenging voiceover role was a mumbling character in the spinoff show, “Dora and Friends.”

“It’s really hard to artificially make a convincing mumble,” Gursoy said. “For that episode, I went into the studio three or maybe even four times.”

While Gursoy cited the importance of clear diction as the biggest lesson he took away from voice acting, he said his favorite aspect of his career was the constant excitement of working with different actors and directors in the industry. 

“My favorite thing about voice acting was recording all the series. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have fun recording a series. With all of the different studios, voice directors, and characters, everything felt different. I never got bored of it.”

The Boots voice actor grew up in a musical family with songwriters, opera singers, and instrumentalists on his mom’s side, which inspired him to start singing. 

“Since I was little, I was very much surrounded by music,” he said. “Singing for ‘Dora’ was one of the things that got me more into it as a pursuit.” 

In eighth grade, after a voice change, like Peacock, he shifted gears. 

Gursoy decided to attend a regular high school and put his voice acting on hold, which he said was the “best starting point” for his singing and composing career. 

Gursoy credited his mom — who was “basically like his manager” — as his biggest source of support throughout his voice acting journey, as well as his voice manager Holly Gregory.

“Holly Gregory was the voice director for ‘Dora’ and the substitute voice director for ‘Tickety Toc,’ which was the first show I did,” Gursoy explained. “She’s been extremely supportive of me and a big character in my voiceover arc. I learned a lot about how to change my voice in line with someone’s vision.”

Through developing voice flexibility, Gursoy said he was able to transfer his skills to a cappella, capable of shaping his style and tone to what his music director wants.

Besides attending acting school and taking voice lessons, Gursoy taught himself the guitar at age nine. 

“I started being able to accompany myself and actually perform,” he said. “That was when it really took off. I’ve been singing since then.”

Compared to voice acting, Gursoy said he expressed more of his personal self in singing.

“The fun thing [about] voice acting is that you’re playing a character that’s not you, and you’re infusing yourself into it,” he said. “On the other hand, singing is directly an expression of who you are and your emotions. And that’s very unique in an abstract artistic sense.”

When composing, Gursoy takes inspiration from his personal experience and alternative and indie artists like Damien Rice and Hozier. He described his writing process as “always a back and forth.” 

“All of my songs are always influenced by what’s going on in my life, how I’m feeling and so on,” Gursoy said. “Everything happens kind of at the same time. It’s always a process when every piece fits together simultaneously.”

While Gursoy saw his voice acting career as a “backburner” to his identity, he said that music was “one of the biggest things” in his life. 

“[Voice acting] affected who I am in a pretty formative way, but I don’t think of it as something that’s extremely integral to my character now,” Gursoy shared. “Writing music and performing music allowed me to process and express my own emotions.”

“I also care a lot about how my music impacts other people. It makes me very happy when the songs I write and perform are something that others can connect to,” he added.

This year, he joined the a cappella group Footnotes after meeting Salama at a Coffee Club open mic night. Salama describes Gursoy as “an exceptional soloist,” and Peacock said Gursoy was “the whole package.”

“[Gursoy] has a very unique quality to his voice,” Salama said. “We even have a name for this [voice effect]: more Koda, take away some Koda. We either want him to blend in or stand out more [as a singer].” After Salama persuaded him to join Footnotes, Gursoy said he “immediately fell in love” with the group.

“I want to become a better musician and have the opportunity to perform in ways that impact people,” Gursoy said. “A cappella is also just music as a way of connecting with other people and making lifelong friends.”

Gursoy landed his first solo with Footnotes in November, performing “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. 

At an open mic night last year, Gursoy was hired by Anna Johns ’25 and Suhani Balachandran ’25, the events directors at Princeton Coffee Club. Balachandran described him as “prompt and respectful” and “always a great person to work with.”

A few months later, Gursoy was asked by email to perform at Coffee Club’s end-of-semester concert, being the only soloist in a lineup of a cappella groups, with four hours notice. 

Jack Zhang ’26, who was at Gursoy’s performance, said he “took everyone by surprise.”

“The lineup was just him and then three different a cappella groups, so everyone thought it was super funny,” Zhang said. “But the moment he sang, everyone was like, yep, he’s his own thing.”

According to Zhang, Gursoy wrote, recorded, and edited three songs on his EP, “Know Me,” in one week over spring break this year.

“[Gursoy is] very technical and writes songs in such a short turnaround,” Zhang said. “He’s a super talented musician.”

As a weekly solo performer, Gursoy performs on Mondays from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Coffee Club, singing an hour-long set. 

“I love it,” he said. “I am able to experiment with new songs in new ways. It’s low pressure but a cool avenue to develop as a solo performer.”

To students interested in singing for the first time, Gursoy said, “It always feels like you’re jumping into something that’s totally unknown, but that’s a good thing. I encourage everyone to try that.”

Chloe Lau is a contributing Features writer for the ‘Prince.’

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