Sahaana Sridhar, representing All-American Awaaz

Interviews

While a number of a cappella fans will flock to New York for the ICHSA and ICCA Finals this weekend, Saturday night is also the time for All-American Awaaz, a national Desi a cappella competition, organized by The Association of South Asian A Cappella to feature the winners of five regional competitions and two wild card champions. You can learn more about the event here.

Key organizer Sahaana Sridhar was kind enough to participate in an interview with The A Cappella Blog.

The A Cappella Blog: For a cappella fans who might be less familiar with Desi a cappella, can you give us a sense of what it is? How is it similar to other styles of contemporary a cappella, and what makes it distinctive? What should those who attend All-American Awaaz expect? 

Sahaana Sridhar: "Someone Like You?" "Sun Raha Hai?" Or both? These are the kinds of choices that young artists in the ever-growing field of South Asian-inspired A cappella face. How do you faithfully portray the character of a culture's music, mix it with another, and yet retain their respective integrities? And above all this, how do you also establish and highlight your group's individual identity? In this genre, just like the varied musical styles from which they draw inspiration, groups have innovated a diverse array of ways to tell their own stories.The music engendered by this genre is not only a combination of its parent forms but has evolved into a culture of its own. A lot of the trends that are seen in contemporary a cappella today are also mirrored in the Desi a cappella arrangements. It's about how best a group can present their South Asian influences in a way that is appreciated by a diverse audience!

The A Cappella Blog: What went into organizing All-American Awaaz? How did the competition come together? What challenges did you face, and what have been some of the rewards of facilitating this event?

Sahaana Sridhar: It all started with a group of alumni from the circuit who wanted to continue being involved in the circuit! All of us are ardent a cappella fans and we drew our inspiration from the ICCA competitions. There are already 5 established South Asian competitions around the country. We presented them with the idea of joining forces and they were all on board. It has taken us 22 board members a year and a half to put this event together and we are very excited to see the amount of support this effort has garnered. In terms of challenges, the main one has been getting enough traction with sponsors since this is our first year. After a few big names like Sennheiser and B4U (a Bollywood music TV channel) got on board, this really came through. Also, New York is obviously an amazing city but trying to plan an event on this scale with a tight budget has made us quite...creative. Overall, this experience has been really rewarding, particularly in those moments where we do feel like we have brought together the Desi a cappella circuit by people getting excited about our event or seeing groups push themselves harder all season to make it to our competition. We are very excited for the growth of our organization and competition as well as the circuit at large! 

The A Cappella Blog: It seems Desi a cappella has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years. What do you think lies ahead for the sub-genre in terms of future events or trends you are seeing in groups?

Sahaana Sridhar: It's really heartening to see the amount of growth this genre has had in the last decade, especially exponentially over the past couple years. Similar to the way the contemporary a cappella has evolved, we've seen similar changes take place within our genre, from song selection, experienced vocal percussionists, heighten intricacies in backgrounds and just overall vocal ability. The future of this genre lies in global recognition, understanding and appreciation. We want to expand our effort not only internationally, but expand the opportunities for learning from other teams, musicians and industry specialists outside of the typical school year format. You'll see workshops, events, seminars, meet-ups and as well as competition support popping up over the next couple years as we continue to expand. 

The A Cappella Blog: How did your experience with Dhamakapella inform your work in launching The Association of South Asian A Cappella and All-American Awaaz?

Sahaana Sridhar: Over my 4 years in Dhamakapella, I had the opportunity to travel and compete at many different competitions - both those for only South Asian groups and otherwise. It was always our goal to be able to perform on a national stage such as the ICCAs, but due to the marked difference between the SA a cappella genre and the trends in contemporary a cappella, we always felt that we would have to significantly modify our arrangements to compete at that level. My goal in creating the Association of South Asian A Cappella was to give the Desi a cappella teams a space where they can share, observe, and participate in the multitude of ways people are experimenting with South Asian music. By creating a national stage for these groups to aspire to, my hope is that they work towards propelling the genre forward. 

The A Cappella Blog:Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of The A Cappella Blog?

Sahaana Sridhar: Thanks so much for checking out our story and we really hope some of you will be able to make it to the event! We are so thrilled to bring together the best talents in collegiate Desi a cappella and facilitate the pushing of boundaries for the genre as a whole. We have been blown away by how teams choose to interpret both Western music and traditional Indian classical pieces in their arrangements. Harmonies and flashes of Indian scale-based ragas intertwine to show us that, at the end of the day, music is music and it has such power to traverse cultural boundaries and resonate with something universal within us all. 

RANGE Volume 1

CD Reviews

If I were to apply just one adjective to Volume 1, a debut album from new New York City-based a cappella group RANGE, it would smooth. While it’s not technically a seamless compilation, each track feels polished and slides into the next effortlessly in a way that creates an easy listening experience; moreover, at just twenty-three minutes, it’s easy to consume the full recording as one big piece, which demonstrated good judgment and restraint on the part of the group.

Range Volume 1 Final Cover

Opening with “Morning in America,” originally by Jon Bellion, was an excellent choice both as an attention-grabbing first song selection, and for helping to establish the group’s cool, urban identity from the get-go. It’s not unusual to hear mixed groups sound like they’re alternating between being a female group and a male group between tracks, and I particularly appreciated this one for giving all of the vocal parts an opportunity to shine at different points in the song, thus also making the track an effective introduction to the full group. Nice full sound, and particularly good use of dynamics to build an epic feel here. My only (minor) complaint for this track is that by the end the repetitions began to wear a little thin, and I’d suggest the track might have been even more effective had the group made some cuts to bring it from the longest track on the album at four and a half minutes, down to three-to-four minutes.

The group did nicely on relatively straightforward covers of Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” and Major Lazer’s “Cold Water,” each of which were technically on point and featured nice production work by group members in partnership with The Vocal Company.

Delta Rae’s “All Good People” marked a particular high point for the album—a soulful, emotional message song that nicely switched up the tone of the album for a moment. While I imagine some listeners might have wanted a slightly rawer take on the song, I actually appreciated the aesthetic choice for the group to stick closer to its smoother, more polished sound, such that the track slid in organically with the rest of the album.

Rangeedit2 Low 1

I thought RANGE was at its absolute best on its mashups. Early in the album we get “Wild Things,” originally by Alessia Cara, mixed with Misterwives’ “Reflections.” While I’d heard both original songs, I’m not overly familiar with them, and I was struck that on my first listen I didn’t even recognize that I was hearing a mashup, and had to go back looking for it in re-listenings. That’s a nice testament to how fluid the transition between songs, which first occurs on the second verse, was that this did not sound like a Frankenstein monster of songs coming together like mashups sometimes can, but rather like two songs that were meant to be woven together.

Speaking of well executed mashups, though, the combination of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King and Sara Bareilles’s “Chasing The Sun” proved particularly dynamic, interesting, and artful. In this case, I knew the songs at hand much better, and was a bit skeptical of the choice to combine them, but I’ll be darned if it didn’t work. And it worked both a sonic level, letting each song influence and reinvent the other--they wove together very early on and kept going—and thematically given each song has its own unique story tell about life and how those who come before us might impact how we live today, and what we might do with our futures. It’s a beautiful piece, made all the stronger for the smoothest transition of all with the song feeding directly into the "Outro" track at the end, which nicely incorporates pieces of all of the songs from the album. It’s a closing track that doesn’t necessarily work on a stand-alone basis, but speaks to RANGE’s careful thought about presenting an overall album that works as a whole, wrapping up with a short, deeply satisfying grand finale.

RANGE has garnered attention previously for videos covering and mashing together tracks from Hamilton as well as a medley covering the evolution of Kelly Clarkson. Volume 1 suggests the group has depth and may well be a recording powerhouse for years to come.

You can learn more about RANGE, including information on where to find their album at their website.

The Towson Trills

Interviews

One of the fun parts of most years at ICCA Finals is that for every familiar face—a group that makes Finals time and again—there will be a group making its Finals debut. This year, those fresh faces include The Towson Trills.

As long time readers may know, I was based out of Baltimore for almost seven years, which is more than half of the ACB’s existence. Over that time, I got to see a number of groups performing out of Baltimore area schools, and I was surprised to hear of a group out of Towson University, just outside the city, making it all the way to Finals when I’d never heard of them before.

The reason I hadn’t heard of them became clear quickly enough—they’ve only been around for a year and a half. The current group consists of soprano Katie Sacha, altos Abby Reinhold and Harmony Reichert, tenor William Damanka Jr., Bariton Brian Lim, bass Leroy Hyson, and vocal percussionist Aaron Bayne. Bayne was kind enough to reach out to the ACB to share part of their story and partake in an interview with us.

Some fast facts about The Towson Trills. Along the way to Finals this year, they finished second in their quarterfinal at Johns Hopkins University before winning the Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at the Playhouse on Rodney Square, while picking up Outstanding Arrangement and Vocal Percussion honors. According to Bayne, the group is tied for the smallest group to make it to ICCA Finals, and is the smallest group to compete in the last round of the tournament since 2004. They’re the first group to represent Towson University at Finals, and there’s reason to believe this won’t be last we hear of them, given six out of seven of the group members don’t graduate until 2019. Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Bayne noted none of the Trills’ arranements are written down, but rater all group arranged in a process facilited by music director Hyson.

The A Cappella Blog: Your group is also unique for having just seven members. Is the small size of the group by design? How did the group come together?

The Towson Trills (via Aaron Bayne): The Towson Trills came together in a sort of freak accident in the Fall of 2015. We moved into Towson's campus on a Saturday, and by the first Tuesday of the school week we were having rehearsals. Our alto, Harmony Reichert, and our soprano, Katie Sacha went to high school together and wanted to do music in college. Our bass, Leroy Hyson met myself (Aaron, Vocal Percussion) and our second alto at an open mic night that weekend. Our 6th member, Griffin Delisle, who was our lead tenor at the time, was the roommate of Leroy. From only the first weekend of school, the Towson Trills was born as a 6 member, all freshman, acapella group. We started rehearsing and realized that we sounded good with only 6 people, and thinking that 6 was a normal group size, we moved forward. Our first notable moment that made us stay as a small group was winning the Towson University Homecoming Talent Show- Only 2 months after becoming a group. Since then we practiced and did small gigs around Towson to boost our name in the community. This was until our lead tenor, Griffin, had to unfortunately leave the group in February of 2016, due to scheduling conflicts. This forced us have our first ever audition. We auditioned and picked up two amazing vocalists, Brian our baritone, and William our tenor. After these auditions we became the 7 member group that is on our way to finals, and we haven't looked back.

The A Cappella Blog: Your group has accomplished the unusual and impressive feat of making it to Finals in your first year of ICCA competition (not to mention, less than two years after the group started). How did you accomplish this goal?

The Towson Trills: Honestly, we are still in shock about making it to finals. We are the first group from our college to ever place in the ICCA competition, let alone advance all the way to finals. We originally decided to do the ICCA competition to help get our name out into the acapella community and to have fun. As a new group, we originally didn't even have the money to pay the entry fee so we used a GoFundMe to raise the funds. We went into quarterfinals with the mindset of having fun, and making the people who donated to get us there proud. We have seen how the ICCA competition changes attitudes of groups and we really didn't want that to happen. We came in not even expecting to place at quarterfinal and just wanted to give it all we've got. If you put on the best performance that you can, make the audience feel something, and have fun, then you will have a successful show. We did just that and ended up advancing to finals.

The A Cappella Blog: What has your group learned along this first year competing in ICCA?

The Towson Trills: More than we can even fathom ourselves. The ICCA competition is something that unified us under one mutual goal and allowed us to grow closer as a group and as a family. All of the members in the Trills have many other extra curricular activities, and use acapella as a way to escape and get lost in the music. We have learned that even the underdogs, from an unknown school in the acapella community, can succeed if we put in the hard work. Also as a new group, we used the ICCA to help find our sound. Our blend, balance, tone, and much more was solidified during the competition season. It forced us to think, communicate, grow, and sing as 7 individuals with one goal. I can say with absolute certainty that this competition changed the Towson Trills for the better. It created life long bonds that I am very excited to take into the future. We are ready to change the world of college acapella and owe it all to the ICCA.

The A Cappella Blog: How is your group preparing for Finals?

The Towson Trills: We are working very hard to make sure our set takes the audience members on a journey, and at each stop they feel something.

We are also tweaking all of our vocals to ensure every part of our songs have meaning, and are performed with accuracy. In addition to all of our finals prep, we are getting a workshop from Joshua Singer, Faux Paz Alumni, to take our set to the next level.

The A Cappella Blog:  Without spoiling too much, can you give us a little preview of your Finals set? What can audience members expect from The Trills?

The Towson Trills: Audience members can expect from the Trills:

-Sharp, meaningful choreo

-Serious Drums and Percussion

Our set can be encapsulated in three words: Sinister, Somber, 'Splosion.

 The A Cappella Blog: Is there anything else you'd like to share with ACB readers?

The Towson Trills: Thanks for taking the time to read about us! We hope you enjoy our Finals set! We will pour every ounce of our beings into this set and are glad to share this journey with you. Thank you to the Mid-Atlantic Region for making us their current champions and for betting on the underdogs.

We are trying to record an EP of our set!! Check out our GoFundMe on our social media pages!

You can follow The Towson Trills on social media using the links below:

https://www.facebook.com/towsontrills/

https://www.instagram.com/towsontrills/

https://twitter.com/TowsonTrills

Mad Hatter

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present UCD Lark performing “Mad Hatter.”

A Cappella Only Festival

Newsline

The A Cappella Blog is a proud supporters of this aca-event coming to San Diego this fall!

Official Flyer A Cappella Only Festival 2017

Let’s Bring Back The Sing-Off

Open Letters

Dear NBC,

This again?

Yes, this again.

Before Pitch Perfect or Sing It On, there was The Sing-Off, that quirky little reality series that could. It started as a four-episode holiday special and grew until it got a full fall run on season three, before receding to a single episode in its fifth and final run to date.

TV’s driven by dollars and cents, and particularly so at the major network level. NBC can’t, and shouldn’t be in the business of catering to a niche audience. But with a third film in the Pitch Perfect franchise on the way, with Sing It On gathering steam on not only Pop TV, but via Netflix, might there be more than meets the eye to a property like The Sing-Off?

We live in an age of the spectacle. When now, more than ever, people without professional training film themselves doing things with the potential for their content to go viral. A cappella is a form tailor fit to this era, for the sheer spectacle of everyday people doing amazing, innovative, often beautiful things with only the human body at their disposal. A cappella works on YouTube. It can work on network TV, too, with the opportunity to spotlight a variety of groups (as the show has done in the past!) and for fans to relive the greatest moments on NBC.com or YouTube (even with a revenue-generating ad or two buffering each performance).

And what of ratings? The Sing-Off may never have been and may never be a ratings monster for NBC, but it has had a tendency to over-perform, consistently drawing over eight million viewers per episode in its peak second season, and even pulling five million for its not-particularly-well-publicized, single-episode fifth iteration. No, the numbers did not work out so well for season three, when the show had to contend with regular network programming and the eleven episodes tested the average viewer's attention span, and I’m not asking for another half-season run. But a five-ish episode miniseries? The show has proven itself to thrive in this format.

Also, if you’re going to get hung up on the relative failure of the third season, which only averaged only about four-and-a-half million viewers, let’s not forget the long term effects of that season. The winners? A little ensemble known as Pentatonix that has transcended the genre, winning multiple Grammy awards, garnering well over a billion YouTube views (with over ten million subscribers). NBC is a part of that story. Wouldn’t you like to be part of another?

I won’t deny my personal stake in The Sing-Off. I found it wildly entertaining, and, full disclosure, it widened the audience for my blog. But I think there are a lot of other aca-fans out there, ready to tune into this show, and perhaps more importantly than that, millions more who aren’t into a cappella yet, whom you can be responsible for bringing on board as you bring them into watching your network.

So give it some thought. K?

Sincerely,

Mike

Next Page
Sahaana Sridhar, representing All-American Awaaz
RANGE Volume 1
The Towson Trills
Mad Hatter
A Cappella Only Festival
Let’s Bring Back The Sing-Off
Seanote Transitions
Deke Sharon on Total Vocal
Any Way You Want It
Song Choice
Clean Sound
Ghost
Hearing the Story Behind a Song
The Lion, the Beast, the Beat
Intro Videos
All I Ask
Campus Booking Agents
Wild Transitions Between Songs
Use Somebody
Let’s Archive, People
Buying a Group's CD After the Show
Hold Up
The Pentagrom App
California University of Pennyslvania Isolated Incident
It Is Well With My Soul
SUNY Potsdam Stay Tuned
Central Connecticut State University Divisi
University of Kansas Genuine Imitation
Salisbury University Squawkappella
University of Florida Tone Def