Event Reviews

Ireland’s A Cappella Competition

Event Reviews

This post was written by Leanne Fitzgerald, Mezzo Soprano with Ardú Vocal Ensemble, hosts of Ireland’s A Cappella Competition 2016.

A cappella music is one of the fastest growing forms of music performance in the world and this August the first A Cappella Competition was held in Dublin, Ireland.

Ireland’s A Cappella Competition is the brainchild of Ardú Vocal Ensemble, a mixed a cappella group of six singers from across Ireland and the UK. Since 2014, Ardú have pioneered the genre of a cappella music in Ireland with performances across the island and even represented Ireland abroad at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, London International A Cappella Choir Competition and the London A Cappella Festival 2016.

On Wednesday, 24 August, seven Irish ensembles competed for the winning title of Ireland’s A Cappella Competition which included a customized trophy along with a free recording session at Windmill Lane Recording Studios, recorded and produced by Dublin Studio Hub.

Opening the competition with an uplifting performance were Beating Time, a ladies barbershop chorus based in County Wicklow who specialize in close harmony four­-part a cappella singing.

Following them were The Ramparts Chamber Choir, a new, young men’s barbershop group, directed by Ruaidhrí Ó Dálaigh, who won the hearts of the audience (and the audience prize) with their rendition of John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold.”

The youngest contestants on the night by a long ­shot were The Decibelles. This promising four­piece female ensemble from Dublin gave a very charming and emotive performance of the Mumford and Sons tune “Timshel.”

The Kelly Family Vocal Ensemble is made up of Frank, Rebecca, Orlaith, Emily and John Kelly, to create a unique blend of voices because of their family relationship which has been honed since the young people were children. They entertained the audience on the night with one of the best known songs in the a cappella repertoire, “The Java Jive.”

Female a cappella group Síonra sang their own very fluid arrangement of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and stunned the judges with a particularly beautiful performance of “August” by Michael McGlynn.

The Apple Blossoms are a bright and bubbly girl trio and finished the competition to rapturous applause. They performed an impressive medley, arranged by the ensemble themselves to include snippets from Fleur East’s “Sax” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” to ultimately win the competition, in addition to earning joint Best Performance honors with The Ramparts Chamber Choir.

Other highlights from the night were a guest performance by adjudicators The Key Notes and an impromptu a cappella workshop by Ardú which culminated in a mass performance of Lorde’s “Royals” with all competing ensembles and the entire audience!

Ireland has a multitude of talented singers along with brilliant composers and arrangers. The audience for modern a cappella is primed, ready and waiting and events like Ireland’s A Cappella Competition could be the beginnings of a national platform for modern a cappella singing in the future.

ICCA Finals 2016

Event Reviews

On Saturday, April 30, The Beacon Theatre in New York City played host to the 2016 ICCA Finals. Before the review, a quick summary of the show.

The Competitors:
The ICCA United Kingdom Champions, The Imperial College London Techtonics
The ICCA Midwest Champions, Washington University of St. Louis Mosaic Whispers
The ICCA Wild Card Champions, Florida State University All-Night Yahtzee
The ICCA Northwest Champions, University of Oregon Divisi
The ICCA Mid-Atlantic Champions, University of Maryland Faux Paz
The ICCA Southwest Champions, Chapman University SoundCheck
The ICCA South Champions, University of Central Florida Voicebox
The ICCA Northeast Champions, The Boston University BosTones
The ICCA Great Lakes Champions, The Oakland University Gold Vibrations
The ICCA Central Champions, The Carnegie Mellon University Originals

Guest Groups: 
Centerville High School Forte
Port Washington High School Limited Edition
Cypress Lake High School The A Cappella Group

Emcees: Courtney Jensen and Cooper Kitching

Judges:
Bill Hare
Ed Boyer
Edward Chung
India Carney
Julia Hoffman

Varsity Vocals Executive Producer Amanda Newman opened the night and introduced emcees Courtney Jensen and Cooper Kitching whose infectious energy, sense of humor, and musical chops went a long way toward adding connective tissue to the evening’s performances and keeping a lengthy night of a cappella fun and engaging.

The Techtonics opened the show. They started with just four members at the front of the stage, before the rest of the guys marched on from opposite sides behind them for a power choral lead into Queen’s “Bicycle Race.” You can’t knock the mechanics here—impeccable—and I certainly admired the creative ambition as the guys not only performed this song straight through but willfully took detours based on the lyrics, perhaps most prominently breaking to riff on the Star Wars theme upon the Star Wars lyric. The performance was chock full of very crisp and elaborate choreography and it all culminated in the guys assuming carefully planned roles, hunched, leaning and stretching to form the shape of a bicycle for the soloist to sit astride and peddle on on the finish. I can certainly understand the drive to assemble a song like this—throwing everything you’ve got at the crowd from the word go, and the guys certainly pulled it off nicely, but for my tastes the tangents felt as though they were going a bit far, and arrived more of a “kitchen sink,” do anything you can think of performance than a cohesive one, and I thought they may have been better served to have gone a bit simpler, despite a wildly entertaining opening number.

The Techtonics continued with Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down.” Really nice stripped down, elegant sound behind a masterful solo on this one, and I was pretty awed when they doubled upon the solo—two guys who gelled immediately and emoted fantastically on their parts. This was such a lovely contrast to the opener, and I’ll concede that the superficially simple aspects of it may have come across all the more subtle and reserved in juxtaposition to “Bicycle Race.” Beautiful transition as the group fell out and the leads sang unaccompanied to cap one of the most emotionally gripping and all-around impressive performances of the night.

To close out the set, The Techtonics delivered a high octane, and largely straight forward take on “I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles. There is a particular charm to hearing British men cover The Beatles, and the showmanship was off the charts for this number. Just when I feared that the performance might be a little too true to its source material to justify itself at a competition on this level in 2016, the guys worked their way into a slowed down groove on the song—capitalizing on the sexual energy inherent in it and reinterpreting it in a more modern style that was really excellent to finish up the set quite nicely, and immediately establish a high bar for the night’s competition.

Next up, we heard from Mosaic Whispers. The co-ed crew led off with Santana’s Smooth,” featuring a vocal percussion lead in. The group worked in some compelling variation on the tempo throughout the song. They made an interesting little tangent riffing off of the “on the radio” lyric, inserting the sound of static en route to a weather report, forecasting that it would be hot. This was a nice touch for such a sensual first song, which led into a sample of Justin Timberlake’s “Senorita.” While the choreography was a little excessive on this one for my tastes, the overall mood that the group created was on point, projecting an aura of confidence and a slick identity to make their debut on the Finals stage.

The group continued with “Elastic Heart” by Sia. This was a technically clean performance and I appreciated some of the creative choices here, leaving the excellent soloist room to operate unaccompanied at key moments before the group sound worked its way back in, and nailing the heart-beat percussion the song calls here. My main knock here has less to do with anything the group did wrong on stage than song selection—this is a song that has become very played in competitive a cappella and I wasn’t sure the group did quite enough to differentiate its presentation here to justify the played song choice.

Mosaic Whispers continued with Sohn’s “Tremors.” The staccato backing sound here was really on point, though I’d argue that the vocals were a little too loud on this one, verging on shout-y. To be fair, at Finals, I’d much rather a group go for the jugular than play it conservatively, so I appreciated the energy and confidence of this performance, but I probably would have advocated for them to have scaled back a bit on this one.

The set concluded with Marc Ronsons’s “Uptown Funk.” While some of my criticism about song choice certainly bleeds over to this, probably the most covered song in all of collegiate a cappella these past two years. That said, there’s a reason this song has grown so popular, and part of it is it being such an infectious, showy number, and the group did take full advantage of those factors with a star female soloist and very fun take on the choreography. The group worked in a fun variation on the lyrics, turning “Jackson, Mississippi” to “St. Louis, Missouri”—a nice way of representing their identity, in particular on a national stage. The song bled into Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” for a fun ending that nicely created a party atmosphere to close the group’s performance.

All-Night Yahtzee was up next. I was excited to hear what this group would bring to the stage after several years out of the Finals picture, and after going under the Sing It On microscope for the 2014-2015 school year, and particularly establishing their philosophy on that show of wanting to bring high energy, in-your-face music the whole set long—a novel approach that I was interested to hear  play out on stage, and to see how the concept might have evolved since last year. They opened with Shawn Mendes’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Terrific energy, particularly from the soloists, and a killer electric sound in the backing vocals here with choreo to match. As a statement opener to immediately draw attention to this group, I don’t expect that ANY could have done much better than this.

The set carried on with “Say (All I Need)” by OneRepublic. The sound was clean again, and I found myself particularly wowed by the <i>haunting</i> echo and electric guitar solo effects that the group worked in, really bringing this ballad to life and making it their own. The group transitioned into JoJo’s “Say Love.” It was the intensity that really sold this one, elevating it from forgettable ballad to a truly intense performance that kept up the momentum leading into ANY’s closer.

Last up, “Levels” by Nick Jonas. Nice showmanship all around here, and the vocal percussion in particular was <i>on fire</i> for this song. This performance gave way to “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child. While I could see this coming across as a non-sequitur in terms of song style and era, I actually really appreciate the extreme that ANY pushed its set to at this moment. “Bootylicious”—particularly when performed in the year 2016—is wildly over the top. Sexualized. Full of bravado. In short, it’s the musical equivalent of ANY’s identity as a group, in the best possible way, and a totally fitting topper to this explosive set.

Divisi was next on stage. The group that Pitch Perfect’s Barden Bellas were essentially patterned off of. The franchise that, by many accounts, got robbed of a championship in 2005, and was making just its second appearance on the Finals stage since that time. True to form, the group was the only all-female ensemble to compete at Finals this year. They opened up with Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” I love their interpretation of this song, taking a loud, fast song and reimagining it as a slowed down, sensual jam with jazzy overtones. While the tempo picked up in the late stages, it remained a classy, slick performance that established a unique identity of this year’s incarnation of this group.

The group followed up with “Manhattan” by Sara Bareilles. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this group perform at every stage of this tournament from quarterfinals to semifinals to ICCA Finals, and watching the group arrange bodies in the shape of the Manhattan skyline and key in on this song very much felt like an ascension—the moment this song was destined for as the group reached its pinnacle. Once again, the emotion was rich and the mechanics were sterling. My lone knock on this performance was that the tripling up to compound the solo—which, if memory serves was new to this round of competition—while well executed, pared away some of the sense of emotional intimacy of this song that is, itself, about being alone. It’s a relatively minor quibble, but was the piece of this particular performance that didn’t quite measure up to my previous encounters with this set.

Divisi wrapped up with Jetta’s “Start A Riot.” This is the song, more than any other in Divisi’s set, that I had the feeling I’d seen grow and develop in a positive direction across each layer of the tournament. The first time, the closer felt a little small on a set that had been pretty subdued up to that point, the second time it rightly came across as their biggest number, and in New York I felt it arrived as precisely the barnburner it needed to be tie up this set on a conclusive note and demonstrate the full range of what this year’s Divisi is capable. It was powerful closer that, for me, vaulted this group toward the top of the night’s competitors up to that point.

Faux Paz was up next. This was a group that I had the opportunity to see develop over the course of my six-plus years in Maryland, progressing from the type of group that threatened to place at quarterfinals, to semifinal mainstays, to knocking on the door of ICCA Finals. 2016 marked their second consecutive trip all the way to Finals and I was eager to hear what they’d have in store this year. I’d previously described their vibe as “horror a cappella,” for their dark, almost sinister aural aesthetic, paired a stage presentation that leans toward powerful, sudden movement to match it (or the occasional zombie lurch). I felt this description very much held up for Faux Paz this year, starting with a largely creepy take on Panic! At the Disco’s “Emperor’s New Clothes.” This song thrived on charismatic solo work and a haunting undercurrent of the “finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers” lyrics in the background. This was an arresting, off beat start to the set.

Next up, “Where R U Now” by Skrillex and Diplo. It’s difficult to call the transition between these songs truly seamless, but I appreciated the gesture toward that with the VP carrying on between songs, over the applause to carry the group straight into this next song. The rhythm section really started to shine here, with an ominous hum killer drums. The overarching sound was so distinctive at this point in the set, really setting Faux Paz apart from any of the groups we had heard up to this point—not just great but representing a unique, dark aesthetic.

Faux Paz moved on to “Mad World” by Tears for Fears. They started this one with the group in a circle and humming, their soloist at the center. The circle dispersed, the group spanned the stage, and the perc keyed in again in an excellent moment of great visuals really complementing a great sonic moment. I had mixed feelings on this song choice. On one hand, it doesn’t feel like as a fresh of a selection as you’d expect from a group that had, up to this point, really sounded on the cutting edge, making bold choices like few other groups. On the other hand, the fundamentally creepy sound of this song fit the group’s identity perfectly. Very good solo, very good sound all around again.

The set came to a close Florence and the Machine’s “The Dog Days Are Over.” I liked the slowed down tempo the group espoused for the first verse of this song—a bridge between Faux Paz’s sound throughout the set (and particularly “Mad World”), and initially eschewing the optimism the original represents. To use a somewhat belabored metaphor, the opening verse of this one was like a car struggling to make headway through highway traffic. The chorus was when the soloist, passed cleared past the point of the accident that had slowed down the movement of cars and hit the open road, flooring the accelerator and go-go-going. I’m not so much describing the tempo as the point at which this soloist was able to open up and really show off her pipes—a perfect combination of power, volume, and control for quite arguably the very best solo in a night full of great ones. It felt as though the unbridled optimism of this song finally forced its way through, to lend the overarching Faux Paz set a sense of trajectory and forward motion, culminating in this epic feel-good performance. ICCA Finals always feature truly tremendous sets, but out of them, there tend to be one or two that transcend to a whole other level, and deliver the kind of iconic performances that year will be remembered for. For me, Faux Paz, and particularly their closer, represented that first transcendent moment of the 2016 Finals.

SoundCheck was up next, a co-ed group dressed in red and black. I may be showing my age, but from the opening instrumentation, I could have sworn the group was singing Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” but, no—once again—I’d placed myself in the wrong era, and instead we were getting Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries.” The group constructed some interesting formations, including lining the back of the stage before stepping forward into a triangle with the soloist at the point closest to the audience. The group wove in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” which, on one hand I liked for its tonal similarities as songs ostensibly about proving oneself in the face of rivals—a fitting enough theme for the competition setting—but that I wasn’t sure were connected enough to quite jive for me. Nice rap on the Kendrick Lamar part here to help drive the intensity a little further on a good, high energy opener.

Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” was up next. Well executed soft, high harmony on the start here. Good, clean solo work for this song, including a very nice falsetto. Structurally, this was a nice contrast to the group’s opener for showing a really different side of the group and casting a spotlight on their musical chops over pyrotechnics, though this song felt a little long to me, and I thought they probably could have afforded to clip a verse to keep things moving.

Last up, Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man.” Nice attitude and power from the final soloist here, which I’d argue was exactly what this set needed to make a statement and a lasting impression in wrapping up. While this was a perfectly sound number, and the right song selection, I never felt as though it quite hit that next gear to elevate it to barnburner status. Mind you, SoundCheck is clearly very, very good, but at this level of competition, I’d love to have heard them take a bigger chance here for a bit more distinctive closing number to round out their strong set.

Voicebox was the first group out after intermission. I’ve said it before, and alluded to it multiple times within this very review, but one of the key elements I look for in a Finals set is not just very good sound but choices distinctive to that group’s identity, strengths, and the story they’re choosing to tell us. As such, I really liked the choice to lead off with “Come Little Children” from Hocus Pocus--a song pick unlike anything else we’d hurt in the competition thus far, and that quickly established a sense of magic and drawing the listeners into the story of this set. The group transitioned into a bit of “Lightning” by Little Mix, featuring a nice moment of three soloists converging on the “electricity” lyric, at which point the group whirred to create a nice sense of kinetic energy. Cool chanting sound on the finish of this strange and appealing opener.

The group continued with Panic! At the Disco’s “This Is Gospel” Nice soft opening on this one, which turned out to foreshadow the performance to follow, including the brilliant choice to <i>not</i> explode on the “if you love me let me go” lyric, but rather render a soft, broken interpretation of it, which is arguably truer to the spirit of the lyrics, and nicely drew in the audience only to offer an artful surprise, in addition to building tension so that when the group <i>did</i> explode on that lyric late in the song, it felt like a payoff to the song leading up to that point. Nice execution on the slowed down heartbeat percussion at the end of the song.

To close out the set, Voicebox continued the Panic! At the Disco theme with “Victorious.” While it’s a little on the nose, I can appreciate this song selection as, if nothing else, a psych up song for a group en route to Finals. Very good solo work here, and in particular a terrific moment as the group turned to the crowd for a big sound before falling out to let the soloist operate unaccompanied. This was a strong creative finish for a solid set.

The BosTones were up next—a co-ed group out of the powerhouse Northeast region that I don’t believe I’d encountered in person before. They opened with Beyonce’s “Déjà Vu.” After a choral opening, the soloist took a confident stroll from the side of the stage to front and center and proceeded to deliver a very good power solo with a nicely dynamic visual presentation behind her that focused on movement across the stage over static choreo, which was great for keeping the audience visually engaged with the performance.

Next up, "I Miss You" by Adele. Excellent power solo work on this one and the group did a nice job of executing within a tight cluster in the early going before sprawling into an arc on the first chorus and later forming a circle around her, shrewdly having the people in front of her kneel down so as to not block the audience’s sightlines—the kind of detail that might seem obvious, but that plenty of groups overlook in plotting their staging. Nice fall out moment on the finish for the soloist to get the last word alone.

The group continued with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill. Again, the group formed a circle, and everyone kneeled around the lead, before standing, only for her to walk out from the middle to the front of the stage. Nice echoing effect from the background as this one built into an emotionally intense, gripping performance.

The BosTones wrapped up on “If I Go” by Ella Eyre. The soloist started out unaccompanied here before the VP keyed in, and the group launched into motion as the background vocals entered. Really excellent vocal percussion work on this one to drive the beat and I appreciated the use of sways and reaching motions from the group, in a tight bundle at center stage, to consistently accent what was going on musically. Nice big sound on the finish as the group lined the front of the stage, then fell out for the soloist to get the final word and strong finisher to a strong set.

The Gold Vibrations were the penultimate group. Another co-ed group, wearing black and gold. They opened with “Expensive” by Tori Kelly. Nice, bold opening here with a female lead who really commanded the stage early on. I liked the ways in which the group tended to foreground the women in the group early on with the guys clearly in a backing role—totally appropriate for the song choice, all the way up to a well-executed rap interlude.

The group used its positioning at the end of “Expensive” to transition directly into Tove Lo’s “Talking Body.” I really liked the slowed down, stripped down, creative take on this song, particularly in contrast to the preceding number, and allowed for some really nice harmonic moments as a female lead joined the original male soloist, and particularly on the choruses.

Once again, The Gold Vibrations took advantage of the staging from their preceding song to set up the next number, this time “Cracked” by Pentatonix. In an art form still dominated by covers, there’s something particularly refreshing about hearing an ICCA Finalist group cover another a cappella group’s original, and perform it at this exceptional level. Killer bass sound and tremendous VP work here. Dark, slick transition into “Chains” by Nick Jonas. This one really hit on the next level as “Cracked” and “Chains” mashed together. There was a fierce repetition of the “fire” lyric with opposing groups of guys on either side of the stage and women from the group clustered in the middle. The solos opened wide toward the end to create an excellent dramatic presentation to close this set.

Finally, we arrived at the last competing group for the evening, The Originals. I’d encountered this group quite a few years back (a photo of them from around 2008 actually featured prominently in some early ACB promotional materials) and I was excited to see what the group was up to since that time. I remembered them as wearing white shirts and jeans—a group that reveled in being dorky. It was immediately apparent that this version of the group had evolved, clad in black blazers over black button ups and jeans and immediately establishing a slick, almost robotic sound on “Levels” by Nick Jonas. When you’re singing a Nick Jonas song, it’s easy to take it to a cheesy place, and I appreciated the choice to keep this one serious—first emphasizing the electronic qualities of the sound through both instrumentation and movements, then playing it straight as a cool, sexy song, with a strong lead on it.

They continued with a slowed down, haunting interlude of “Ring Around The Rosey” before returning to that electronic, almost industrial sound that had marked the intro to “Levels,” and then keying into a slowed down, creepy take on “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears, that  I read as wildly divergent from the feel-good 1980s jam, but rather a song that felt reimagined as a meditation on a dark, dystopian exploration of world domination by a malevolent force, featuring some wonderfully eerie body manipulation on the part of the soloist, leaning backward, standing at the center of sagging group members’ bodies, and finally winding up seated on a throne made of other group members’ bodies. Songs this aggressively reinvented are a huge gamble, and I felt that this one paid off in truly magnificent fashion for The Originals—possibly the single most memorable song of the evening.

The Originals closed with “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato. If we’re going to follow a narrative arc of this set, I’d interpret the first song as occurring in the world we know—perhaps hedging toward a dystopia or apocalypse, but still ostensibly familiar; the second song showed the new regime in power; and after this vibe of humanity’s collapse, here we arrived at a profoundly personal, emotionally rich, soulful closing number, that represented the everyman still making do within this changed world. The performance spotlighted a truly spectacular and sensitive solo. While there were still hints of the more industrial sound and more robotic movement in the background, this all served to underscore the lead’s vulnerability on this touching, off-beat closer. Truly remarkable stuff, and an unforgettable performance.

During this time, I made my picks for the night, and boy, was it challenging! There was the irresistible heat of Mosaic Whispers, the infectious energy of SoundCheck, the attitude and thoughtful transitions of The Gold Vibrations, and the distinctive personality of Voicebox to take into consideration—each of these groups were engaging, entertaining, easily worthy of a spot at Finals, and easily worth considering for placement.

When pressed to make my pick for third place, I narrowed things down to a choice few. The BosTones’ polish and imagination made them an attractive pick for sure. The boundless energy and unyielding vision of creating a party on stage made All-Night Yahtzee serious contenders. The Techtonics were world-class entertainers, and their take on “Lay Me Down,” in particular, was simply stunning. Divisi awed me with their patience, raw emotion, and the sense of emotional build in their set that arrived at an explosive finish. In the end, I had Divisi just edging out The Techtonics for third.

When it came to picking a winner, I had two groups in close contention. Faux Paz demonstrated a truly unique sound this year, rooted in a sensational bass sound and vocal percussionist, besides featuring a truly star-making solo on “Dog Days Are Over,” made all the better with the slowed down, reimagined backing sound. And then there were The Originals, who wove an unparalleled narrative arc, threatened to set the theatre on fire with their brilliant interpretation of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” and then went <i>so</i> raw and intense on their unconventional closer, “Stone Cold.” These were the two sets that I felt like we’d all still be talking about for years to come, and so the two sets I felt had to be ranked number one and number two for the night. In the end, I went with The Originals—a group that’s mechanics were tight, that looked sensational, and that assembled not only the most memorable narrative of the 2016 ICCA tournament, but one of the top few, truly elite narratives I’ve ever experienced across twelve minutes of a cappella.

In the end, the judges had Faux Paz at number three, The Originals at number two, and The Techtonics winning the night. While I didn’t agree, I can certainly respect that the judges’ technical knowledge and ear each tend to supersede my own. I was heartened to see the final scores roll out after the show and observe that The Techtonics had only won by a margin of twelve points, not to mention that Faux Paz was only twenty points further behind. For fuller context there, The Techtonics had one their semifinal by forty-five points; The Originals won theirs by seventy, and Faux Paz bested the top runners up in the Mid-Atlantic by thirty-nine. Long story short, like last year, Finals was quite close.

And while I hadn’t crowned The Techtonics the winners myself, I won’t deny that they’re a worthy addition to the list of world champions, and it was a particularly satisfying end to this competition season to see how genuinely excited these guys were to win the UK’s first ICCA Championship, and to see the guys engage in a wonderfully raucous encore performance of Labrinth’s “Earthquake.”

That's a wrap for our coverage of the 2016 ICHSA and ICCA seasons. We'd like to offer our congratulations and thanks to all of the competing groups, and to all of the Varsity Vocals production staff, including Amanda Newman, David Rabizadeh, Andrea Poole, Sara Yood, and so many others. Kudos, too, to Liquid 5th for the expert sound work at this year's Finals shows.

Mike Chin’s Picks for the Night:

Overall Placement:
1. The Originals
2. Faux Paz
3. Divisi

Outstanding Soloist:
1. Faux Paz for “Dog Days Are Over” and The Originals for “Stone Cold”
3. Divisi for “Start A Riot” 

Outstanding Arrangement:
1. The Techtonics for “Lay Me Down”
2. Voicebox for “This Is Gospel”
3. Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. The Techtonics
2. The Originals
3. Divisi

Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. Faux Paz for the full set
2. The Originals for the full set
3. All-Night Yahtzee for the full set

The Official ICCA Results

Overall Placement:
1. The Techtonics
2. The Originals
3. Faux Paz

Outstanding Soloist: Faux Paz for “Dog Days Are Over” and The Originals for “Stone Cold”

Outstanding Arrangement: Voicebox for the full set

Outstanding Choreography: The Originals for the full set

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: The Originals for the full set

Event Review: ICHSA Finals 2016

Event Reviews

On Friday, April 29, Town Hall in New York City played host to the 2016 ICHSA Finals. Before the review, a quick summary of the show.

The Competitors:
The ICHSA Midwest Champions, Centerville High School Forte
The ICHSA Southeast Champions, The Cypress Lake Center for the Arts A Cappella Group
ICHSA Wild Card Champions DeKalb high School Enharmonic Fusion
The ICHSA West Champions, Cheyenne Mountain High School Crimson
The ICHSA Northeast Champions, The Masters School Dobbs 16
The ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Champions, The Northern Highlands Regional High School Highlands Voices
The ICHSA Northwest Champions, West Albany High School Rhythmix
The ICHSA South Champions, White Station High School Key of She
ICHSA Wild Card Champions, Port Washington High School Limited Edition
The ICHSA Southwest Champions, MacAurthur High School PFC

Guest Group: VXN

Emcees: Courtney Jensen and Cooper Kitching

Judges:
Bill Hare
Ed Boyer
India Carney
Julia Hoffman
Sean Patrick Riley

After VXN opened the night with a slick performance, ICHSA Director Andrea Poole made her announcements, and emcees Cooper Kitching and Courtney Jensen warmed up the crowd. This was the entertaining transcontinental duo’s return to Finals weekend after presiding over the ICCA Finals last year, and I particularly appreciate that each of them has the extra credibility of having competed as ICCA Finalists, besides working behind the scenes with Varsity Vocals in recent years.

Forte was the first competing group. Forte has, in large part, established its name on recorded a cappella excellence, including multiple celebrated albums that have consisted entirely of original music. That’s not to diminish the group’s live performance credentials, though. They’ve opened for the Sing-Off tour. And no, this was not their first visit to ICHSA Finals—a consistent contender and top runner up when they’ve competed over the last five years. For the 2016 Finals, the co-ed crew took the stage in black and purple threads and kicked off their set with “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked" by Cage The Elephant. First and foremost, this performance featured scintillating solo work—not just a vocally adept lead, or one that demonstrated good stage presence, but a charismatic, <i>performed</i> solo that was irresistible to the audience—almost to the point that you could easily miss the big, full sound behind him. But make no mistake about it, Forte was firing on all cylinders for this performance, boasting intricate and exceptionally well-executed backing vocals, not to mention a strong visual show. As I tend to write at this time of year, groups legitimately hoping to win a championship need to look at their sets as having ten minutes to make their case they are the greatest high school a cappella group singing in the world today. This was a tremendous opener that clicked all around to immediately establish Forte as contenders.

The set continued with JoJo’s "Say Love," a nice, emotionally resonant contrast to the first song, sold with great sincerity from the not only the soloist, but the rest of the group—paying attention to the little things and always emoting on stage.  The backing sound swelled toward the end of the second verse, and this was where Forte really had the chance to shine—growing louder, evoking feelings, but keeping their mechanics pristine throughout. The best groups take you on the type of emotional ride that allows you to forget you’re watching a staged performance, and that’s exactly the confluence of creative plotting and what I’m sure was <i>hours upon hours</i> drilling this music in the rehearsal room that we saw here, to allow for such challenging, clean vocals to come across as afterthoughts to the more theatrical elements of the big finish. In the final stages of the song, parts fell away to pave the road for a six-woman union at the end.

Forte closed with "Barton Hollow" by The Civil Wars. This is a song that’s been covered pretty exhaustively in a cappella circles these past few years, and so regular readers will probably foresee that I’d be hesitant about bringing it to this level of competition. The corollary to that hesitation is that if you can make an over-exposed song truly your own—recreating it based around your own vision and strengths, it has the potential to let a group a shine not in spite of, but because the audience can compare it to less unique interpretations. The members of Forte fetched stools from off stage and staggered themselves across the performance space before beginning on a slowed down, deconstructed riff on the “if I die before I wake” lyrics, before powering their way into the first verse. The group gave me goosebumps at that moment, and just kept going, including showing their patience in slowing way, way down on the first chorus, and introducing an artful scream-like sound in the background to further push the drama of the piece, and further make it their own. The song finished with the duel soloists facing off for a wonderfully intense moment. Competitive a cappella sets—at any level, let alone high school—don’t get much more impressive than this. Forte had set the bar sky high to open the show.

Next up, The A Cappella Group (TAG). Like Forte, this group is no stranger to the world’s stage, having appeared at ICHSA Finals before and earned accolades for their own recording efforts. One of the pieces to TAG’s identity that has continued throughout the years is the sheer size of the group—I don’t think I’ve ever seen them perform with fewer than twenty bodies on stage, which opens up tremendous possibilities when it comes to complex staging, not to mention delivering a big sound. It’s also a testament to this group’s preparation that they can corral that many voices and people to deliver a cohesive performance. For this show, the group took the stage in black and white garb, and opened with a mashup of Karmin’s “I Want It All” and “How Deep Is Your Love by Calvin Harris & Disciples. Really tremendous female lead on this one, and I appreciated how seamlessly the group wove these songs together. The choreography was on point to communicate the sensation of a full-blown musical theater production, and I really enjoyed the way the group broke down the sound in the final movements.

TAG continued with Rihanna’s "Stay." Good, soft opening here, and great patience and control from the soloist. This was the first point in the set when I felt like the number of voices on stage could be a detriment as the backing harmonies were lovely but a bit overwhelming, and twenty-plus people singing pianissimo on a stage like this can still come across as a power vocal and threaten to overtake the lead—I’d love to have heard a similar take with about half the backing vocals left out to achieve a bit more intimacy and give TAG more room to build to moments later in the song. I did like the staging choice to keep this one largely stationary with the group in a double-arc to focus on the music. Very nice creative choices in the end game with an incremental addition of voices after a fall out moment before everyone was in again on the chorus, and a deft un-mic’ed breakdown, riffing on the word “stay.”

TAG closed its set with an original—a song written by alum Gabrielle Macafee called “Burn It Down.” We could have an entirely separate conversation about original music in a cappella and the value of bringing it to competition—I’ll briefly address that I think it’s a tremendous choice when a group has solid original music it can use, allowing them to ensure they’ll deliver a performance unlike any other that night (literally, no one will duplicate the song choice) and allowing a group to tap into its identity and strengths in ways that are difficult to replicate when you’re covering someone else’s music. The soloist on this one demonstrated excellent power and charisma, and the staging was dynamic and well-conceived, featuring a moment when the group lined the back of the stage then moved forward in a staggered formation to form a triangle with the soloist at the point closest to the audience. The group looked cohesive there and communicated a sense of standing behind that lead vocal. In the final stages of the song, the group went for a well-earned clap-along to close out the set in crowd-friendly fashion.

Enharmonic Fusion was up next, another group returning to the ICHSA Finals stage and that came across all the more prepared, polished, and altogether ready based on that institutional memory. They opened their set with "She Came to Give It To You" by Usher with sample of “Motown Philly” and other throwbacks as the set went on. This was an entertaining, high energy opener, though I would suggest that the faster transitions late in the song risked teetering out of thematic control and the group may have been better served to have pared down a bit there rather than expanding so aggressively.

The group transitioned fluidly into "One Love" by Marianas Trench. Terrific, mature solo sound on this one. I really liked the visual presentation as well, which included a segment of one group member reaching for another, only for that group member to slip away right before he or she was touched—a memorable visual that seemed to communicate a sense of people just missing or losing one another. The group fell out nicely at end for a soft finish on the solo to round out a solid middle song.

Enharmonic Fusion closed with Sia’s “Alive.” After another slick, seamless transition the group entered into its most dramatically intense performance. Really nice visual presentation on the “I’m still breathing” lyric with the group members sagging and then bobbing up and down, expanding and contracting. The solo work for this one was really excellent—well restrained early on to give it plenty of room to develop over the course of the song until the male and female leads delivered on their phenomenal chemistry all but belting as the sound really opened up in the late stages. This was a terrific off-beat closer that left a powerful last impression on the audience. Enharmonic Fusion demonstrated really impressive range and was quite arguably at its very best on this most emotional and, frankly, loudest of their songs.

Crimson hit the stage next—a group of six young women in red and black. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a variety of incarnations of this group over the year, including my very first two ICHSA Finals experiences in 2007 and 2008 (and on a recurring basis since then), back when the high school and college finals were rolled into the same night. Crimson is a group that, despite not winning the ICHSA Championship since 2005 or appearing on The Sing-Off, has more quietly built remarkable longevity as a top-tier high school group, and I was really pleased to get the chance to hear them again this year. They opened with “Confident” by Demi Lovato, a good song choice in part because it allowed them to head off some of what the audience might have been thinking about the first all-female group to the stage, and the smallest unit we would see all night—that they might be overwhelmed in the face of all of the squads with at least twice as many members. No—as the song title suggested—this group came across as confident. I was particularly impressed with their control of dynamics as they really varied their sound including some shrewdly placed fall out moments to go small before exploding later on.

Crimson continued with “Get Here (If You Can)” by Oleta Adams. One of the keys to succeeding at the upper levels of a cappella competition is making choices that fit a group’s individual identity. While this group could not hope to generate the flurry of motion or sheer volume of much larger groups, their limited number of group members and ability to harmonize afforded them much more potential to create an intimate, heartfelt performance and, for me, that’s exactly what this song accomplished, compelling the audience to lean in a little closer and listen while they told a quieter, emotionally earnest story.

The group wrapped up with "Locked Out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars, which was a showcase for a high-attitude solo and opportunity for the young women to cut loose and dance at the front of the stage. Another nice use of fall-outs here as the group faded out for the soloist and rhythm section to operate independently, before coming back in a staccato fashion that really built the electricity en route to a big finish. Really good song selection from Crimson here, and another in an increasingly long legacy of strong showings for them at Finals.

The Dobbs 16 were up next. another group that has made it to the Finals stage a number of times, though a larger one with—as you might guess—sixteen members, all clad in black and red baseball tees. The opened with “The High Road” by Broken Bells. The group demonstrated a really good, full sound here and excellent vocal percussion. Strong solo work, too, to start the set with an all-around polished number.

Next, Ellie Goulding’s "Hanging On." This one was an excellent platform to show off a deft, and emotionally rich solo. I was particularly impressed with not only the vocal quality there, but the complex imagery the group established with the soloist apart from the group, pulling them in, pushing them out, being pulled in and sliding, creating a real sense of dramatic tension and striking at the heart of this song about trying to pull away from a destructive situation, and the sense that it was not an even tug of war, but one individual working with and against a much more substantial force. Nice middle song.

The Dobbs 16 closed with Coldplay’s "Princess of China." Another solid showing for the group, with particularly strong staging including a few moments of the group clustering and then spreading the stage in explosive fashion that really commanded the audience’s attention and enhanced what was going on musically. My only subtle knock here is that the sound seemed to suggest the group was selling this song as dark, brooding, and intense, and, indeed, most of the group members seemed to reflect that in their facial expressions and bodies, but there were a few group members who openly smiled and bobbed in a fashion directly at odds with that tone.  To be fair, I completely understand the rush of making it to Finals and of performing a set this well on the Finals stage, but it is little details like that that can <i>break the dream</i> so to speak, reminding the audience it’s a performance and that the pieces aren’t all pointing in quite the same direction at that moment. This minor criticism aside, this was a good, big closer that helped ensure audience members would remember The Dobbs 16.

And then, it was time for Highlands Voices, returning for their sixth consecutive ICHSA Finals appearance (including a tournament win in 2014). It’s a pretty remarkable feat given that six years is enough time for a high school to, necessarily, have a total and complete overhaul of its roster. The group also underwent a challenging experience with the Pitch Slapped TV show (well documented in other platforms for those who are not familiar), and was open about entering a “rebuilding year” after some significant turnover coming out of last year. In any event, arriving back at finals is a testament to the skill and care of their faculty leader Tom Paster, and all the more so the hard work of the current crop of students. On to the set itself, Highlands Voices led off with Bea Miller’s "Fire N Gold." The soloist had a really nice command of the stage, projecting her personality over the performance. Moreover, it was clear throughout this song that the group was actually having fun. While that dynamic isn’t appropriate for every song or context, on a song like this, I’d argue that it makes the presentation more entertaining and easy for the audience to connect with—there wasn’t a sense of nerves or militant precision, but rather an overwhelming sense that the group was, intrinsically, enjoying the experience of making music as a group of friends. Frankly, that’s the heart of what scholastic a cappella should be, and it was fun to watch.

Highland Voices continued with Bea Miller’s “Paper Doll--a stark shift to a soft, tender sound. Whereas the first song was a chance for this group to highlight itself as performers, this song gave them an opportunity to emote, and they really sold their facials while delivering a fundamentally sound aural performance.

Last up, Bea Miller’s "We’re Taking Over." While covering just one artist over the course of a set runs the risk of feeling one-note and not showing a range of what a group can do, I felt as though these selections lent a sense of continuity to the full set and fit the group’s pop-oriented sound, not to mention that the individual song picks did afford the group an opportunity to run the emotional gamut and create a consistently engaging stretch of music. This closer was particularly well-chosen as an epic message song, and one that lent itself brilliantly to this group’s sincere demeanor. I was particularly impressed with the creative choice on singing the “this is for the ones who took their lives” when the group took an informal beat of silence, in tribute, before carrying on. In the hands of a lesser group, or placed in a lesser moment, that could sound like pandering. In the case of Highlands Voices, it felt like an honest tribute and an organically emotional moment. This all paved the way to a very big sound on the finish and a fun clap-along moment with the audience to seal the deal on a set that was quite competitive for placement at the Finals level.

Rhythmix opened things up after intermission. I had the pleasure of catching this group at their semifinal in the Northwest, and was pleased to get to hear them again in New York. One of the pieces that most stood out to me was their approach to the contemporary a cappella style—largely going choral, and doing so impeccably, rather than going straight to soloists in the style that most groups use at this point. It helps the group stand out and compels the audience to hear the mechanics of the larger group as opposed to the soloist overshadowing them. The group opened with a mashup of Imagine Dragons’ “Roots” and Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Very sharp choreography and, again, the choice to take this one choral, and inflecting it with a jazzy style really helped the group deliver a divergent sound from the rest of the night’s competitors.

Rhythmix carried on with Kelly Clarkson’s "Dark Side." They opened this one chorally, too, before transitioning to a single soloist—a move that really helped that lead stand out when she came to the fore. A part of what I appreciated about this handling of this song is the way in which everyone singing the lyrics at points and the many points at which the group physically clustered on stage mirrored the content of the song—a communal sense that <i>everybody</i> has a dark side that struck through to the core of the lyrics

Panic! At the Disco's "This Is Gospel!" Similar to the preceding song, everyone was on the lyrics early on before the soloist popped out. She got a couple of really nice visual moments, first walking forth out of the pack and to the front of the stage, and later stepping literally upward, onto the bent knees of two group members to rise above them—a good way of differentiating and escalating these big moments in the song. In the end, this was an entertaining number, particularly well-chosen to finish the set for its inherently epic sound and the group delivering nicely on that promise by cutting a little looser and going all out at the finish.

Key of She was up next, making their debut at ICHSA Finals after making waves as first runners up at the National A Cappella Convention competition last month. They were one of only two all-female groups, and led off with our first dose of Taylor Swift for the evening--"Shake It Off." I really enjoyed the slowed down groove on this song before the vocal percussionist keyed in to push the tempo on the first chorus. All in all, this was a fun opener—high energy and engaging, not to mention that these women selected a song uniquely suited to them. Competition at this level is all about picking songs that play to a group’s strengths and personalities and this was very good opener for those purposes, and particularly to lure in the audience with a current radio hit before going less mainstream.

Key of She made a seamless transition to “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown. Terrific all around sound on this one, and I particularly appreciated that the group was so unapologetically strong and raw on this one, really punching their sound. Above all else, though, this piece was a showcase for its strong soloist who steered the ship on this power number with power and conviction—easily one of the best leads of the night. By the time a group makes it to Finals, its incumbent on them to deliver a performance that is not only technically on point but that will be memorable to judges and the crowd by the end of a very long night of a cappella. Taking chances is key to thriving at that level and this song—which also continued a theme of empowered women—nailed that dynamic.

Last up, Naughty Boy’s “Runnin’ (Lose It All).” This one carried on with the power vocals, and the group did an excellent job of rotating between soloists to create some pretty electric transitions, not to mention highlighting the depth of talented vocalists at their disposal. And then there was the end of the set. Regular readers will know that I’ve called out groups in the past who look uncertain of themselves—bowing in a disorganized fashion or awkwardly waving to the crowd because they clearly haven’t thought about how they’re exiting the stage which is< part of the group’s presentation of their set. I loved the choice for this group to not pause, not bow, but rather march in powerful fashion out of sight, leaving the last image that the audience had as one of defiance and strength—a perfectly fitting ending to an excellent set.

The penultimate competing group and, like so many others on this night one with both a tradition of excellence at ICHSA Finals and a long list of other accolades. I’m talking about Limited Edition. On what may seem like a frivolous note, let me start by addressing the fact that the group looked fantastic—polished in a relatively formal, mostly blue outfits, dominated by a powder blue color. Particularly at the high school level, there’s a tendency to see groups dress completely uniformly and, particularly when dressing up, for them to look uncomfortable in clothes that are a little too big or too small. Again, this is a complete aside from the music, but this group looked professional from the get-go which invited the audience to take them seriously before they sang a note. Fortunately, when they started singing, the act only grew better, starting with “Passion Flower” by Jon Gomm. They started with an ominous deep hum, standing in a circle within a circle, before emitting a powerful harmonizing note over that hum. This opening was unique and grabbing—compelling everyone in the crowd to pay close attention before the group spread the stage into an arc. They gave way to a truly superb soloist who demonstrated terrific vocal control and poise on stage, backed by a recurring killer bass sound and sensational visuals from the group. This was a simply arresting opening number that really drew in an audience that’s attention easily could have begun to waver at this late stage of the evening.

The group continued with “Human” by Christina Perri. Really nice vulnerability from the group, and particularly the soloist here, and a real polish to the sound and the visual presentation yet again. I particularly appreciated the way in which the group let down its guard a bit and grew more intense in the late stages of this song for a big finish.

Limited Edition closed with “Hurricane by Misterwives. The group managed a killer seamless transition into this one, as the surrounding members dropped down and the final soloist emerged for yet another star-making performance out of this group. The transitions between verses here were exceptionally smooth and the group built so well to a monster finish, seeming to really sing for all they were worth and create an epic moment at that point. In a night full of really exceptional high school performances, Limited Edition shone for their all-around polish and command of the stage.

PFC closed out the competition. This group won the ICHSA Championship in 2011 and returned to Finals in 2012. It was great to see today’s incarnation of the group make another go of it in New York. I particularly appreciated the way this group kicked off, running onto stage and launching directly into Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” The sheer immediacy of that intro immediately commanded the audience’s attention and set a tone that this group would be fast-paced and unpredictable. True to form, after executing the early stages of the song in excellent fashion, they slowed things way down for the spoken word bit of the song as two group members waltzed at center stage, before speeding back up into the chanting bridge before the final chorus. This was a really fun, engaging opener.

The group continued with “Run, Run, Run” by Celeste Buckingham. This was a well-selected spotlight song for its soloist who proved particularly adept at breath control and precision on what was a very challenging part from a rhythmic perspective. Nice build in the background, which started out subtle and quiet before settling into a groove. I particularly appreciated the contrast between these first two songs, each extremely impressive in very different ways.

PFC shut it down with “Let It Be” by The Beatles. They started with a haunting, chilling intro, which the soloist sang over with a really pristine vocal quality. The VP entered the mix and the tempo picked up after the first verse, and I was really impressed with how effectively the group channeled so much emotion into this off-beat closer—less a barn-burner than an almost-spiritual experience. Toward the finish we got a big exhale and a final unaccompanied “let it be” from the soloist for a powerful finish to a consistently surprisingly, and strikingly well-executed set.

While the judges faced the unenviable task of picking a winner and award recipients, professional group VXN entertained the crowd. Their set included a particularly impressive take on “Natalie” by Bruno Mars that featured some extraordinary seamless transitions between soloists, “Chains,” “Settle Down,” and “I’m With You.” I love hearing professional groups perform at shows like this, both because they tend to deliver a different character from high school groups that helps differentiate the listening experience for the audience, and because they tend to give high school groups a set of role models to look up to—not only for their quality of sound, but for having continued to make a cappella part of their lives beyond the scholastic setting. VXN made a stellar showing to cap an extraordinary night of a cappella.

While VXN performed, I made my picks for the night. There were, naturally, no real weak points in the slate of competitors. I really appreciated Rhythmix’s unique style that focused on the group sound, Crimson’s ability to command the stage and play to its strengths with such a small group, and The Dobbs 16’s fullness of sound and strong soloists.

I felt that the race for third place was particularly tight. While all of the aforementioned groups were certainly in the mix, I had narrowed my field to a choice few. Enharmonic Fusion for their sheer emotional intensity, particularly on “Alive,” Highlands Voices for their sincerity and commitment to delivering an engaging performance, and PFC for their range and particularly pronounced personalities of their leads. In the end, though, I kept coming back to the group that, out of this cluster felt the most well-defined in terms of personality and most ready to <i>attack</i> the stage at this level of competition—the inimitable Key of She.

I had Limited Edition placed squarely in second place. In a lesser year, a group performing with this level of polish and precision would have a cakewalk to a championship, delivering one unforgettable, grabbing performance after another with three extraordinary soloists.

But then there was Forte. Always a bridesmaid never a bride after a number of appearances at Finals. This was the year when I felt everything really came together for this group with scintillating leads, unbridled emotion, and that positively unforgettable new take on “Barton Hollow” to cap their set in truly unique fashion. In an increasingly competitive world of high school a cappella, 2016 will go down as the year when Forte stepped out from the pack to deliver a clean and captivating performance like no other group, truly arriving as champions of the world.

Lo and behold, the judges and I were on point for placement this evening, and largely in agreement on superlatives as well. It was joy to see Forte and their fans look <i>so</i> excited for their well-deserved accomplishment and close out the night with one last song.

That’s a wrap for the ICHSA Finals. Check back in the next few days for my thoughts on the ICCA Finals!

​Mike Chin’s Picks for the Night

Overall Placement:
1. Forte
2. Limited Edition
3. Key of She

Outstanding Soloist:
1. Forte for “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”
2. Enharmonic Fusion for “Alive”
3. Limited Edition for “Passion Flower”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. Forte for the full set
2. Key of She for the full set
3. Rhythmix for the full set

Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. Forte for the full set
2. Limited Edition for the full set
3. The A Cappella Group for the full set

Outstanding Arrangement:
1. Forte for “Barton Hollow”
2. Enharmonic Fusion for “One Love”
3. Crimson for “Confident”

The Official ICHSA Results

Overall Placement:
1. Forte
2. Limited Edition
3. Key of She

Outstanding Soloist: Enharmonic Fusion for “Alive” and Limited Edition for “Passion Flower”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Forte for the full set

Outstanding Choreography: Forte for the full set

Outstanding Arrangement: Crimson for “Confident”

ICCA Northwest Semifinal at George Fox University

Event Reviews

On Saturday, March 19, Bauman Auditorium at George Fox University played host to the 2016 ICCA Northwest Semifinal. You can check out over two hundred photos from the show on The A Cappella Blog Facebook page. Before the review, here’s a quick summary of the event.

The Competing Groups:
The UC Davis Spokes
Central Washington University Nada Cantata
University of Utah Infrared
University of Washington Furmata A Cappella
Oregon State University Outspoken
Brigham Young University Beyond Measure
University of Oregon Divisi
The UC Santa Cruz Hightones

Emcee: Courtney Jensen

Host Group: George Fox University Quakers and Notes

The ever-effervescent Courtney Jensen opened the evening with the standard announcements.

The first competing group was The Spokes. The All-female crew took the stage in all black with neon pink accents and opened with Ariana Grande’s ”Focus.” Nice, sassy attitude on the opener, and a good low end on this one. Really good breakdown bit as the group fell out and shrank down for one, and then another group member to join in again before the group launched in again on the whole. Well-executed choreo here though, it was a little excessive for my tastes and risked undercutting the bravado the group otherwise projected.

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The set continued with Marian Hill’s “One Time.” Nice attitude again. I liked the identity the group was cultivating—a slick, confident, urban sound, though I was starting to grow a little concerned that this second song had a little too similar over-arching song to the one before it, which ran the risk of losing the audience’s attention. The soloists demonstrated good personality on stage and, the background instrumentation was solid. Nice reiteration of “one time” in the syllables, and some good little dynamic variation on the bridge.

The Spokes closed with Beyonce’s “Diva.” Really good vocals from the soloist though—on a nitpicky note—I noticed her break character to crack up more than once. I can totally appreciate that that’s the natural upshot of performing a song like this, but it also breaks the illusion of the performance, reminding the crowd it is a performance, and that is one of those small details that separate a very good from a truly great set. Good sound all around on this number and it was a nice way to tie up the set from a thematic perspective—escalating to a bit bigger sound and a bit more sass, while sticking with the style the group had established prior to that point. Nice jazzed up slow down bit to close a good set.

Next up, Nada Cantata, a mixed group clad in black and maroon. They kicked off their set with Britney Spears’s "Circus." Fun perc break down, culminating in the guy inserting “surfboard,” before a seamless transition to Beyonce’s ”Drunk In Love.” Really nice stage presence from the second soloist and good, measured quality to that vocal. The group lined up across stage with arms moving down like the hands on an analog clock, before splitting and leaving space for the soloist to walk from the back up through the line. The vocals got a little shout-y on the finish, but putting that aside it was a good, strong opener.

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Next up, “All The Things You Are.” The group started this one chorally, in an arc. I can appreciate the impulse to do a song like this to show off musical chops and this one was very well rendered with a really nice balance, but that went on a little long before upping the tempo, and going jazzy as the group split into clusters of three. In the one, this one felt a little show tune-ish for my tastes, without quite stunning enough harmonies to justify the song selection and execution for the context of an ICCA semifinal.

The set continued with Estelle’s "American Boy."  Cheesy bit of putting on sunglasses on the next verse. I appreciated the impulse to mix up the presentation as the song went on to keep it interesting and the group sold it well. I really liked the choice to insert another brief VP showcase—the vocal percussion was one of the most unique and pronounced talents the group brought ot the stage and it was wise to call attention to it.

Nada Cantata closed with "Hold My Hand" by Jess Glynne.  Good opening, and the group mixed things up, switching to a second soloist. The song skewed a little sharp on the whole. I liked the choice to go for a clap-along with the crowd in the late stages of this song, bolstering the sense that this was an epic closer. Nice soft, subtle, staccato build behind the soloist as she really shined to deliver a memorable closer and the strongest leg of a good set.

Infrared took the stage next in black cloaks over their black and red duds. Suitably epic explosion of sound to follow on the lead in to Taylor Swift’s "Bad Blood" They really went for it on the rap here--not the greatest rap I’ve heard, mind you, but I have to give to a group like this for one hundred percent emotionally investing, in its opener and attacking the stage. Nice interaction between the leads here. The sound was a little shout-y and sharp, but stage presence alone made it immediately memorable and entertaining in a way few songs had been up to that point. Again, let’s talk identity—from the sparkly tops on the women, to the explosion of sound from the group, to the choice to lead off with the most visceral of T-Swift songs, the group was making a statement from the start. My one small criticism on the visual presentation, in fact, came on the finish, when the soloists exchanged a quick smile. While I’ll take “breaking character” after the song is done over mid-song any day, every moment the group spends on stage is still part of the performance, and I’d loved to have seen them maintain their façade rather than conceding it was an act in these “breaks” between numbers.

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They followed up with “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. It seemed like tempo got a little head of soloist here. Nice crescendo into the first chorus. Good facials from the group, selling the intensity of this number. Nice moment as the soloists doubled up, singing at one another with tremendous intensity. I particularly liked the choice for two guys to take on a song that’s ostensibly about two men in love and their loss. Interesting visual with the guys on opposite ends of the stage and the group bobbing in a cluster between them. I like this from the perspective of telling the story of things coming in between them, but wish there were something a little more interesting or coherent going on in that cluster to facilitate telling that story of sadness and separation.

Nice pop of sound, exploding into party mode for the closer, Marc Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk.” Fun attitude here, before a transition to Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” I really dug the way the group built this one to withhold the chorus of “Bad”—switching back to “Uptown Funk”--for an extra minute before exploding into the payoff.  Fun bit on the “Julio, get the stretch” line, with the guys inching forward like they were in that car. Really fun closer here to do something original and wildly entertaining with song choices that might not have seemed like the most original on paper. Nice power closer.

Furmata A Cappella took the stage next, a co-ed group in black duds. They opened with Alessia Cara’s “Here.” Fantastic attitude and breath control from this soloist for an opening that commanded attention from the get-go. Then there was the male soloist, transitioning to Justin Bieber’s “Roller Coaster.” Nice interaction between the two, and a really slick sound all around here. Compelling visual presentation—a lot of movement on stage, it all felt intentional but not contrived. Nice opener all around. Cool fall out into a swirling sound from the VP guy before the group exploded into the closing motions of the song.

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Nice transition from the group’s staggered position on stage into “Alive” by Sia. The mic was cutting out on the soloist in the early moments here, but very much to her credit, the soloist kept her composure nicely. Terrific solo work to follow, backed by really good variation of dynamics in the background. This was such a story and grew enormous midway through. Killer interaction between the soloist and a second lead as the song grew. As I took in this performance, my only concern was that this song got so big, it would be difficult for the group to follow itself for its closing number.

Furmata had a sterling transition to Nick Jonas’s "Chains." It turned out the group had a secret weapon, with a new soloist walking out from backstage at this point. It was a great dramatic moment, if a bit of a gambit to sacrifice his voice earlier on; of course, he was also performing in some sort of leg brace, so maybe this is an issue of physical limitations. The group transitioned to a mash up, with a slowed down groove on Kanye West’s “Power.” Terrific attitude on the build to this transition, particularly from the rap lead. Just a really fun way to wrap this one up. I particularly appreciated that the group sold this performance as deathly serious and kept a slow, melodic sound beneath it. The group lined up at the front of the stage in the late stages before finishing with just two voices for a sensational finish to a stellar set.

Outspoken closed out the first half of the show. Great reaction from the guys’ supporters in the audience. Really nice, full sound on the opening to Journey’s "Separate Ways." The staging was really artful for this song, with a lot of movement, none of it wasted, all engaging, contributing to the build. Good first solo, and nice build to the second lead taking over with a different vocal quality. This one felt a little long, but nonetheless featured good dynamic variation and visuals to keep it vibrant. Nice intensity on the interaction between the soloists on the “if he ever hurts you” line, and tremendous sincerity throughout—definitely the right call over playing this song for laughs, which is too often the temptation for a song like this. Great start to the set.

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Nice, smooth transition to The Lone Bellow’s “You Never Need Nobody.” Really good emotional vigor on this solo and subdued sound from the guys to give this song plenty of room to grow as it went on. Nice soft, broken sound as one of the guys in the background echoed the soloist on the second chorus. Nice push of the tempo on the bridge. Again, this song felt a little long, but I was torn between the sensation of wanting the guys to clip it and appreciating their patience in letting the music enjoy a slow, steady build. Great emotional intensity, particularly from the lead.

Tiny sample of of “Airplanes” en route to Outspoken’s closer, Paramore’s "Brick By Boring Brick." Good solo here and especially good choreography on this one—so much motion, executed so precisely.  Good, big sound from the guys here for a really nice closing number to leave things on an authentically upbeat note. The guys demonstrated excellent sincerity and power in this outing, an even stronger and more polished performance than what they brought to the stage at quarterfinals. Terrific money note on the finish to close a very good set that immediately put the group in a dead heat with Furmata A Cappella for top performers of the night up to that point.

Very cool off-beat opening for Beyond Measure, kicking things off post inter-mission with just a few members on stage and leading things off with some body perc as the rest of the group filed in on Shawn Mendes’s “Stitches.” Really nice, full sound from the group. Killer transition on the “needle and a thread” interlude to another soloist and revisitation on the body perc theme. While I think the group would have benefited from a song with a bit more punch to lead off, or to have clipped this song a little, it was nonetheless a good opener.

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Choral opening on Christina Perri’s “Only Human” before the transition to a positively sensational female lead.  Really nice tone and terrific control on this lead, who was just perfectly suited to bring this song to life. Good, warm harmony work here and a really polished visual presentation with the group crisply reconfiguring. Great emotion, as this set really clicked into its next gear on this exceptional song.

Beyond Measure wrapped up with Owl City’s “Verge.” Another tremendous solo here, and I have to praise the heck out of this group for their excellent execution of some really complex choreo on this song while maintaining such a full sound. It was a polished performance top to bottom, featuring a sensational VP interlude. In the latter stages of this set, the group really clicked into professional grade and may have just elbowed their way ahead of Outspoken and Furmata A Cappella from the first half.

Divisi was the penultimate competing group. The ladies wore black and white with bright red ties. Lovely jazzy take on Jet’s "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." It was the kind of sultry, slow opening that demands the audience lean in a little closer to listen up, and the sound came across as a nudge cleaner here than it had at quarterfinals. Terrific, off-beat creative choice. Some really good punch on the transition to the upbeat section of the song. This one clicked nicely, and best of all it was like no other opener this night. Terrific solo work. I might have clipped the slow jazzy outro here, though it did provide a fluid visual transition to the staging for their next song.

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Next up, Sarah Bareilles’s "Manhattan." the group formed the approximate shape of the Manhattan skyline with their bodies on the intro as the lead maneuvered her way past and around them. This was such a visually compelling piece as the group went on to form an arc with the soloist standing to the side rather than the conventional spot in the middle, which further emphasized her lonesomeness in the narrative of the song. Just beautiful storytelling there. Tremendous control on the solo, impeccable intonation. Lovely double up on solo en route to the bridge. Great emotional earnestness all around for a stellar ballad.

Divisi wrapped up with “Start A Riot” by Jetta. Great sound here, including tremendous heartbeat perc on the heartbeat lyric, and revisited throughout, pulsing with energy. I loved it when the soloist opened up in late in the song sounding more raw and power-driven than at quarterfinals—nice adjustment there for the group on the whole to turn up the volume and really pay off all of the subtlety and care of the set leading up to this point. Terrific explosion of sound in the end game. This was an excellent end to a decisively Finals-caliber set.

The Hightones closed out the competition. This was another all-female group, in sharp black and green attire. They started out with Kimbra’s "Settle Down." Nice soft sound in the early going, giving plenty of room for a soft steady build. They transitioned to a second soloist. Polished song here,  but a little subdued for an opener at this level of competition. I liked the little sample of Beyonce’s “Mine” in the background late in the song. Nice explosion across stage late. They wrapped up the song with a slow outro, which they probably ought to have clipped to keep the set moving.

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Next up, Delta Rae’s "Bottom of the River." Good intensity and power here, especially on the solo. Nice use of the stomp throughout as a driving force, though it seemed to slip just a little out of synch at certain points. While this was a solid rendering of a very good song, in terms of song selection, I struggle to see this one, even performed at the highest level, cracking Finals level in 2016—it’s just been so widely covered and interpreted in the last few years. Little bit of Alison Krauss’s “Down To The River To Pray” buried in the background—and I liked that recurring device of just hinting at other songs, which I hoped was building toward something later in the set.

The Hightones wrapped up with Laura Mvula’s “She.” Nice sincerity on this solo. Interesting bit of soloist weaving between rows of group members, touching shoulders, only for each group member to turn away from her, ultimately clumping apart from her, to leave her alone. Really nice perc pick up and increased tempo toward the end, making the energy spike late into the unaccompanied finish. I didn’t notice a hidden sample on this one, or the other samples coming back which was a bit of a let down from a continuity stand point, but that’s minor complaint for a solid closer.

As the judges deliberated, Quakers and Notes entertained the crowd with a fun set that included “Shut Up and Dance,” “Just Dance,” “Staying Alive,” a fun version of “Watch Me (Whip Nae Nae),” “The Cupid Shuffle,” epic original “Hold On,” “Feel It,” with a spoken word interjection of “Lose Yourself,” “You Have More Friends Than You Know,” “Africa,” and “September.” While this group isn’t entirely polished (and could hardly be expected to be after first coming together just this past fall, their showmanship was on point and the group’s leader, in particular, demonstrated a terrific sense of humor and delivery to make for really entertaining deliberation period.

While the judges deliberated, I made my picks for the evening. In the end, I felt there were four groups in contention. Outspoken continued to polish their set and featured emotionally rich solo work. Furmata Nowhere demonstrated terrific heart and intensity on their off-beat set. Beyond Measure’s final two songs were quite arguably the most polished performances of the night, though their first two weren’t quite as well-conceived. And then there’s Divisi. While I did feel that this show wound up a tight race, I also felt as though Divisi delivered a combination of professional performance, star soloists, shrewd staging, and interesting story structure to set them a nudge ahead of the pack, and the region’s champions.

As it turned out, the judges agreed and Divisi took first place. It was a very good semifinal, and terrific to both see the Divisi franchise return to the Finals once again, and to see a number of new faces knocking on the door.

That’s a wrap for my regional coverage of the 2016 ICCAs. I’m looking forwarding to heading to New York next month to cover ICHSA and ICCA Finals.

Mike Chin's Picks for the Night

Overall Placement:
1. Divisi
2. Beyond Measure
3. TIE: Outspoken and Furmata A Cappella

Outstanding Soloist:
1. Beyond Measure for “Human”
2. Furmata A Cappella for middle song
3. Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

Outstanding Arrangement:
1. Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”
2. Beyond Measure for "Human"
3. Infrared for “Uptown Funk”/”Bad

Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. Beyond Measure for the full set
2. Nada Cantata for the full set

Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. Divisi for the full set
2. Beyond Measure for the full set
3. Infrared for the full set

Official ICCA Results

Overall Placement:
1. Divisi
2. Outspoken 
3. Beyond Measure

Outstanding Soloist: Divisi for “Manhattan”

Outstanding Arrangement: Beyond Measure for “Human”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Beyond Masure

Outstanding Choreography: Nada Cantata

ICCA Northwest Quarterfinal at Rolling Hills Community Church

Event Reviews

On Saturday, January 30, Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, Oregon hosted an ICCA Northwest Quarterfinal. Before the review, here’s a quick summary of the show.

Competing Groups:
George Fox University Quakers and Notes
University of Oregon Mind the Gap
University of Oregon Divisi
Central Washington University Fermata Nowhere
South Oregon University Dulcet
Oregon State University Outspoken
Oregon State University Power Chord
Linn-Benton Community College Blue Light Special
The Portland State University Green Note
The Linn-Benton Community College Sirens

Emcee: Courtney Jensen

Guest Group: Wilsonville High School Soul’d Out

Courtney Jensen opened the evening with the standard announcements, delivered with killer personality.

George Fox University Quakers and Notes was the first group out. The co-ed group took the stage in a hodge-podge of bright colors and big ol’ signs representing their school and group name. They launched into a Disney medley “Eye to Eye” from A Goofy Movie, which gave way to ”Be our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. The transitions were fast and furious, with songs to follow including Aladdin’s “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me,” a jazzy take on The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl,” “So This Is Love” from Cinderella, ”For The First Time In Forever” from Frozen, and ”You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan. This medley was fun and I liked the continuity of hooking back to one central protagonist from a visual perspective, but when a group wedges in so many songs it begins to come across as a bit scatter-brained—not giving any individual selection enough time to really gather momentum or tell a story, and perhaps more importantly making it harder for the group to really ground itself and maintain its sound while worrying about all of those transitions. Also, I was a bit baffled at the inclusion of Haddaway’s ”What Is Love” but maybe that’s a Disney reference I missed.

A Review 11

Coming out of the medley, the central player looked distraught, dismissed as a “beast,” in the final sample of the title song from Beauty and the Beast  and next soloist singing to him. They moved into "You Have More Friends Than You Know" from Glee. Nice choral handling of this version with some really lovely harmonies.

From there, the Disney medley was back on with selections including “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” from Mulan with a ton of theatrics and “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. They incorporated a funny bit of dragging a collapsed group member to the back of the pack for this song, before she reemerged to complete the, well, circle of life. I really appreciated the tongue in cheek, unironic optimism here. This wasn’t a knockout set, but it did looks as though the group enjoyed itself and was sincere in its performance, which can make all the difference between a fun performance and one that grows uncomfortable for the audience. While I have my knocks, particularly in regards to set structure, this set was easy to consume and an enjoyable start to the night.

University of Oregon Mind the Gap was out next. The returning quarterfinal champs wore all black on stage and opened with a dark, slowed down reimagining of Beyonce’s "Crazy In Love." Very slick vocals on this lead and the backing sound was not only technically smooth, but sold with tremendous attitude both visually and aurally.

A Review 12

Next up, ”I Didn’t Plan It” from Sara Bareilles’s Waitress musical. Really nice rhythm section here, and a good transition into the song with the soloist planted at the center of a circle on stage. The solo really took off when the sound got bigger on this one. This was really well staged, with the group spanning the performance space. Nice choice to go choral on the bridge and really mix it up.

Nicely executed seamless transition to Kelly Clarkson’s "Dark Side" Phenomenal solo work for this one and excellent dynamic work to grow this one from a soft emotional piece to an explosion of emotional intensity. Really nice backing solo parts in the end game to open this one wide. Continued strong choreo work here, keeping the stage dynamic, keeping it interesting to watch without ever growing overly literal or distracting. Nice soft outro with the heartbeat VP as an anchor.

Mind the Gap closed with Years & Years’ “King.” The movement got a little clunky on a tightly clustered pyramid that they tried to step and bob in, but when the group went freer flowing, it was fun to watch. Strong sound, all around and a well-executed synchronized stomp on the finish. This group really demonstrated a lot of professional polish on the whole. I think they might have been a bit better served with a more traditional three-song structure, but I appreciate the ambition and thought that their power vocals in particular made them an instant, early contender to win the night.

University of Oregon Divisi was next out of the chute. The all-female powerhouse with a legacy of awesome took the stage in black and white with bright red ties. The women opened on a slowed down, jazzy interpretation of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet, that saw a very talented soloist weave her way around her stationary group mates. They picked up the tempo coming out of the first chorus and launched into motion, but retained the jazz style. Cool, fresh take on this song. Nice dynamic build as this one grew fuller and bigger. My only knock on this opener was that the outro was slow and grew a little plodding in a way that seemed to beg for a big climax, but there was no such pay off to follow.

A Review 13

The women froze, forming a Manhattan skyline with their bodies en route to Sara Bareilles’s ”Manhatttan.” Nice, understated instrumentation beneath a lovely solo. I loved the quiet, sincere, faithful take on this one. Really lovely unison on the bridge with pristine high harmonies on that final verse. Nicely planned transition with the group all in a line and the soloist filling a gap to hand off the mic to the last soloist.

Given the set up to this point, I was waiting on a really big closer. Divisi delivered “Start A Riot” by Jetta. Nice solo work on this one I appreciated the palpable energy from the group, though I actually thought they might have reeled back the sound a little to pack more punch into the bigger moments. Nice explosion on the end, as the soloist emerged from a tight cluster to tattack the front of the stage and the group to spanned the space behind her. Particularly impressive intonation on the big unison on the finish. While I think there’s room for some small changes to take this set to the next level, I was, just the same, inclined to lump Divisi in with their sibling group, Mind the Gap, as another likely top finisher for the evening.

Next up, Central Washington University Fermata Nowhere. They opened with Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself” before transitioning into Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” and then Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” Not altogether unlike the Quakers and Oats set, this opener was another medley that felt as though it was moving too fast for its own good and too fast to appreciate the energy of any individual song (though I did appreciate the enthusiasm of the group itself. I was grasping for a sense of build or narrative, but this one came across a bit more like random snippets of songs thrown together. I can understand the choice to open on a piece like this to get butterflies out and center the group moving forward, but follow up would be key.

A Review 14

The set continued with Little Big Town’s "Girl Crush." Good, earnest performance on this solo. Really nice harmony on the chorus, and I was into the subtle instrumentation here, a good contrast to preceding medley. My only real knock on this middle song  connects with my colleague J.D. Frizzell’s recent commentary on breaking the a cappella arc—finding other more engaging and interesting formations to stage a performance. There’s plenty of utility to the arc, and it certainly has its place for campus shows and on songs the group is still mastering the sound of, before they ironing out visuals. By the tie a group brings a song to competition, though, I do hope for the visual presentation to be a bit more engaging, though. Not necessarily choreographed (I feel too many groups have taken to over-choreographing ballads) but perhaps having group members staggered throughout stage in a more interesting formation.

Next up, "Promises" by Ryn Weaver. In terms of sheer membership, this was a smaller group, and they produced smaller sound. Given the number of bodies on stage, may have been a good idea to step a little closer to the area mics to let the speakers do some of the work for them. In the end game, the group began an electric transition to “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine.

“Shake It out” had a nicely subdued start here and very nice solo work before the VP chimed in and the tempo picked up. Nice motion on this one as the group finally challenged the front of the stage

Dulcet closed with OneRepublic’s "Love Runs Out." I liked that they cut a little looser here, particularly on the rap from the VP guy. Nice moment of snapping into the background for the soloist to stand alone up front on the finish. Good finish with the group lining the front of the stage to close out their set. All in all, Fermata Nowhere demonstrated good potential. The opening medley diminished the set a bit for me for a lack of direction. While this choice and the use of shorter, clipped songs does keep a set moving and no one song feels over-long, it can also have the reverse effect of making a set feel awfully long for sheer number of pieces performed (five distinct pieces, eight songs represented). I’m all for breaking from the traditional three-song set, but do feel it’s important groups plan carefully in order to do so, because there is a reason why three songs is the standard.

On the interlude, we got a mass audience beatbox bit, courtesy of Courtney. This is why she’s my favorite.

South Oregon University Dulcet was up next. The co-ed crew wore black and red. They led off with Lorde’s "Royals." Nice attitude all around this one and a good solo for the part. Good VP here. The choreo was a little over the top, particularly on an opener and a little on the nose for my tastes, but well executed, nonetheless. Clean finish to the song.

A Review 15

They followed up with "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera. Fine staging with the group staggered around the stage as the soloist emerged from the pack to the front of the stage. Really nice solo work here. The background was nicely subdued before grooving in on the second verse—nice differentiation to keep this one engaging.  I think the group could have afforded to keep the movement simpler here as it got a little distracting to me—movement on stage should be all about enhancing the sound, and an authentically emotional number, full-on choreo often undercuts the sincerity of the song.  

"Uptown Funk" up next. Nice attitude and here’s where the group earned the dance breakout it had been building toward all around. I’ll argue that this visual presentation could have popped more had there not been so much dancing leading up to it. Still, this was the right type of song choice for a closer. Really fun breakdown section with just the sopranos and beatboxer before the sound spread to the whole group with a nice underlay of “girls hit your hallelujah” beneath the repeated "uptown funk you up," leading to a nice bit of acrobatics and groups of three breaking it down in the middle of the stage with their best dance moves. In a vacuum, this was an entertaining set, and particularly good final song. I do have to harp once more about song selection, though, as I did feel that using three songs that have become so played out in a cappella limited the group’s potential to put on a fresh-feeling performance.

Oregon State University Outspoken finished off the first half of the show. Nice full sound on the opening to Journey’s “Separate Ways” The key to making a song like this work in the competition setting is selling it with the utmost sincerity , at least in the early-going, and the guys nailed that. The second verse saw a gentle switch in formation and change of soloist, before the group doubled up on the solo on the chorus. Nice reeling back on the volume to help make the bigger moments of the song really pop, not to mention demonstrating the guys’ ability to vary their dynamics. All told, this was a really good off beat opener. It’s a gambit to go with an oldie on the first song, but the guys were prepared to breathe new life into it for a solid showing.

A Review 16

Smooth transition into “You Never Need Nobody” by The Lone Bellow. Really nice emotion on the lead here, and smooth sound from the backing vocals. The perc well delivered. My main knock on this performance was that, after a couple minutes, it began to feel a little stagnant. The impulse to add a  backing solo on the second chorus was good, but the guys could have used a little more spice at that point.  Really great intensity before a brilliant fallout moment leading into the finish. I thought this song really would have benefited from having a verse cut to keep it moving, and ensure that the excellent solo work got the spotlight without losing the audience’s attention, and to cut to the strong finish sooner.

The guys introduced a sample of B.O.B.’s “Airplanes” on the transition before keying in on Paramore’s ”Brick By Boring Brick” Really nice intensity all around on this one, though I thought the group could have afforded some bigger movement than a fist pump at its biggest moment. This is where visuals need to match up with the sound to really complement and enhance it—in this moment, I felt the anticlimactic visuals actually undercut the sound. Full-on, complicated choreo may be outside this group’s wheel house, but this where sheet movement on stage—spreading out or marching forward for example—can create the illusion of something more epic happening. Nitpicking aside, this was a fine closer for a solid set, and I was particularly impressed to see the way in which the group had refined its competition chops since the previous year.

After intermission, Oregon State University Power Chord led off the second half. Killer bass sound on the opening to Justin Timberlake’s "What Goes Around comes Around" Nice stage presence from the group, and nice little salute to Timblerake’s roots with a bye-bye-bye motion on the goodbye lyric. Gesticulation like that can easily go over the top, but I felt the group hit just the right sweet spot of making the joke but not belaboring it. The choreography was a little overdone for me on this one—it’s a fine line and I understand the desire to wow the crowd early on, but I’d suggest that the group start simpler and more purely focused on the music, then ramp up the movement late in the set.

A Review 17

Power Chord followed with "Falling Slowly" from Once. Good soft start from the group and smooth male solo on the first bit before a female soloist joined him. Really nice emotion all around on this one. I felt the group would have been better served to have gone simpler on the sound, in particular keeping the beatbox out (or at least saving it for the very end. The choreography felt really out of place on this one. Very nice call as the group grew still and sang chorally en route to falling out for the soloists to operate unaccompanied leading into the wall of sound on the end game. This song really came together in its final stages for a very good finish.

The group started its closing number with “For Your Love” before transitioning full-tilt to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” Nice energy and a very well-suited solo for this one. This was a good point for the group to cut loose on its dancing instincts, and to put its tremendous energy on display—it all added up to, by far, my favorite leg of the Power Chord set.

Linn-Benton Community College Blue Light Special was up next. The guys wore blue dress shirts, white bow ties and suspenders, and black slacks. They opened with some really nice attitude on Marc Ronson’s "Uptown Funk." Really terrific charisma on this solo and great willingness to go all in on the movement in the background. The guys introduced “Blue Light Special” into the syllables in the background—a fun, subtle addition. I have and will continue to give groups a hard for song selections like this, because we’ve heard this song so much in a cappella last year and this year. Just the same, if a group is to use “Uptown Funk,” this is exactly the way it ought to be used—to clearly communicate this group’s raucous and crowd-friendly identity. This performance, and particularly placing it as an opener, made an immediate statement, and made it Blue Light Special instantly memorable amidst a crowd of ten competing groups.  

A Review 18

Really interesting choice to switch to Imogen Heap’s "Hide and Seek." I very much get this as a choice to showcase what the group can do musically in juxtaposition to a showstopper, but, despite some bright point, the blend was often uneven and parts were a little sharp. To be honest, I don’t know that it might not have been in the group’s best interest to keep the energy up and showcase what they’re best at rather than wedging in a song outside their sweet spot—especially when it’s a song that so, so many groups have given a very similar treatment over the last nine years. Surprisingly on point with the falsetto in the end game to end this song on a high note (pun intended).

Sassy walk to the front en route to The Weather Girls’ "It’s Raining Men." This was exactly the type of barn-burning comedy number that this group <i>nails</i> in a way so few groups can. Three-part lead here and stellar choreo in the back. Ton of fun and a nice place to showcase some high-pitched vocals on the lead (though they were still edging a little sharp. Late in the song, the guys started a a kick line. Why not? This was precisely the platform for kitchen-sink choreo. While Blue Light Special isn’t quite at the point where they’re contending for placement at an ICCA quarterfinal, I do appreciate that they have one of the best defined collective personalities in their region. If they can continue playing to their strong suits, polish their mechanics, and freshen up their song selections, I do feel this may be a group to watch in the next few years.

The Portland State University Green Note was up next. Nice green and black look for this co-ed group. They opened with The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two.” Nice country-tinged solo on this one. Clean sound from the group. The choreo was perfectly reasonable from a planning perspective but a little stiff on the execution. Ambitious choreography is like singing ambitiously high notes. It’s awesome if you can pull it off. If you can’t, it sticks out as a negative. (Note: The Green Note wasn’t that bad on movement—I’m belaboring the point more so because I think there are a lot of groups out there that could stand to hear it.)  Good fall out moment into a bold, loud march that looked fantastic, and the intensity really clicked from aural and visual perspectives in that moment.

A Review 19

Jason Walker’s “Echo” was next. Another solid solo and I appreciated the choice to keep the visuals simpler on this one. Really nice swell of sound on the crescendo as the rhythm section drove the action. This one built really nicely to its moments of intensity before settling back down to a soft finish and a nice visual close with the soloist receding behind the circle of group members before another group member subtly took her place.

The Green Note wrapped up with “Emperor’s New Clothes” by Panic! At the Disco. There was a little a little bit of an old school jazzy sound embedded in the background for this one that I thought both sounded great and set apart this performance. Cool visual moment on the climax with the group in two lines before the soloist split between to explode into the final chorus. Nice clean finish with the group encircling the soloist, then collapsing around him. From a purely musical stand point, I felt that The Green Note was in contention to place in this competition; with continued refinement on (which may include just reeling back) the visuals, I feel this is a group that could easily be advancing to semifinals in the not-too-distant future.

Last up, The Linn-Benton Community College Sirens. Glittery violet tops over black slacks for this all-female group. They opened with Sia’s "Elastic Heart." Cool unaccompanied solo on the start. Very good VP here and wonderful intensity from the group to sell every second of this one both aurally and visually at every instant. Solid, off beat opener.

A Review 20

They continued the set with “My Heart With You” by The Rescues.  Choral handling here. This one was a little over choreographed, which made it feel more melodramatically staged than purely heartfelt, as I felt it should have landed. Nonetheless, the song was cleanly executed, featuring a nice control of the dynamics

The Sirens closed things down with Tori Kelly’s “Nobody Love.” Nice power solo and good energy from the group on the choreo, which was a better fit here. Good choice for a closer—a big, show-stopping number with opportunities for big dance moves. Nice doubling up on the lead, before falling out for a choral take on the close. This was a good closer to a compelling set from this up-and-coming group.

While the judges deliberated, Wilsonville high School Soul’d Out entertained the crowd. Their set included “Just Keep Breathing,” “I Want You Back,” “ET,” “Drag Me Down,” “What Goes Around Comes Around,” “Get It Right,” and a mashup called “Bye Bye One More Time,” featuring work from Britney Spears and N’Sync that had my partner asking me how old the performers would have been when these songs were popular—you know, when I was in high school. I crunched the numbers, and the answers range from in utero to toddler. Moving on. I’m always impressed with the group’s showmanship and polish. They came across as charming and laid back, and thus a terrific diversion while the crowd awaited the results of the night’s competition.

As Soul’d Out performed, I made my picks for the night. It was a good, diverse, night of a cappella, I was able to narrow things down to four groups I felt were in close contention for the top spots. I had The Green Note as a hard and fast number four—right on the cusp of breaking through to the next level. Then there were the top three, who I felt were very, very clear, though the order in which to rank them was anything but clear. Mind the Gap delivered a star-making solo, solid all-around sound, tremendous vocal percussion, and the visual presentation that I found the most simultaneously dynamic and unobtrusive this evening. Outspoken delivered a clean sound and exceptional solo work. Divisi brought solid mechanics, an authenticity of emotion, and an off-beat spin on their opener that made their set immediately memorable and worth of recognition, despite not quite ever kicking into the third gear I was waiting on. To be honest, I shuffled my rankings multiple times with each of these groups rotating through each of the top three spots, before finally settling on Divisi as my winners for the evening.

In the end, the judges agreed with me for the winner, though it was tough to see Mind The Gap end up going home empty handed. Divisi closed out the night with their encore, an entertaining rendition of “Killing Me Softly.”

Thanks for reading. I’m tentatively planning to have the ICCA Northwest Semifinal covered (pending confirmation of location). Until then, I hope you’ll keeping checking in for our regular content, posted multiple times each week.

Official ICCA Results

Overall Placement:
1. Divisi
2. Outspoken
3. The Green Note

Outstanding Soloist: Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

Outstanding Choreography: Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

Outstanding Arrangement: Blue Light Special for “It’s Raining Men”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Power Chord for “What Goes Around”

Mike Chin’s Picks for the Night

Overall Placement:
1. Divisi
2. Outspoken
3. Mind The Gap

Outstanding Soloist:
1. Mind The Gap for “Dark Side”
2. Outspoken for “You Never Need Nobody”
3. Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. Mind the Gap for the full set
2. Divisi for the full set
3. Blue Light Special for the full set

Outstanding Arrangement:
1. Divisi for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”
2. Mind The Gap for “Crazy in Love”
3. The Sirens for “Elastic Heart”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. Power Chord for the full set
2. Mind The Gap for the full set

ICHSA Northwest Semifinal at Rolling Hills Community Church

Event Reviews

On Friday, January 29, Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, Oregon played host to an ICHSA Semifinal. Before the review, a quick summary of the show:

The Competing Groups
Oregon Children's Choir Some Cool Guys
Lincoln High School Vivace 
South Albany High School Rebelation! 
The Athenian High School hOWLers 
West Albany High School Rhythmix 
Corvallis High School Spartacappella 
Oregon Children’s Choir Synergy 
Wilsonville High School Soul’d Out 
Bend High School Dynamics 
The Sherwood High School Mixolydians

Emcee: Courtney Jensen

Guest Performers: University of Oregon Mind The Gap

We have a full set of photos from the show available now on our Facebook page.

Courtney Jensen opened the evening with the standard announcements and her standard brand of charisma and awesome sauce.

The first competing group was Oregon Children’s Choir Some Cool Guys. The guys looked sharp, dressed in all black with purple ties. Nice beatbox lead in on this one before the guys led off with pulsing energy for their first song. Nice bob into motion on the chorus with some nice spoken word secondary solo work. The guys wove in a moment of intensity on a clap-hand drive bit, and some fun little insertions of guys coming out of the pack to work to play hype man and rile the crowd. All in all, this was a strong choice for an opener that could have used a smidge more confidence, but nonetheless felt quite good as a get-the-butterflies-out statement song and I appreciated that the guys tackled the stage with so much energy.

A Review 1

The group followed up with Jason Mraz’s "I Won’t Give Up." It’s a beautiful song and the guys—particularly the soloist sang it beautifully. Nice warm blend from the group, and some really fine harmonizing on a two, and then three-part lead. My only real knock on this middle song comes to song selection itself—while “I Won’t Give Up” is, itself, a great song for an a cappella group, in the year 2016it has been so extensively covered in competition settings that it’s at least two year’s past its aca-expiration date and demands some full-fledged reinvention to justify bringing it to competition.

The guys wrapped up with Taylor Swift’s "Bad Blood." I appreciate the choice to go full-tilt into a song originally by an all-female artist—not the innovative choice it once was but still unexpected, and the song itself is a contemporary, recognizable finisher to get the crowd into the performance. Good intensity again, which is the right call for the identity this group established and I liked that his song gave a lot of different soloists an opportunities to shine on both the Swift part and the Kendrick Lamar rap.

Lincoln High School Vivace was out next, a co-ed group that took the stage all in black. Impressive that they’re a student-run high school group—a real rarity for a high school crew, and particularly one that would go on to perform at this level. They opened with Ariana Grande’s "Honeymoon Avenue." Really nice stage presence on the part of this soloist and a nice, smooth sound from the group on the whole. I liked the staging here, all oriented toward repositioning bodies on stage as opposed to literal interpretations or hand drives. Solid, mellow opener.



A Review 2

Vivace continued with Michael Jackson’s "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)" Very cool, distinctive tone on this lead vocal. Interesting composition in the background, mixing up the style and letting the rhythm drive the backing sound.

They closed with Sara Bareilles’s ”Islands.” Interesting staging, starting out in triads with breathy syllables that mirrored the sound of the original song. Very professional, smooth solo for this song. Nice differentiation on the second verse, as the bass weighed in and the group worked its way into a steady groove. Very nice visual and aural work on the group falling out as they crouched down and encircled the soloist for her to sing unaccompanied on the outro. This was a nice, off-beat way to finish the set.

South Albany High School Rebelation! was up next. Bold bright red jacket over black tees and jeans look. They opened on Bon Jovi’s <b>”You Give Love A Bad Name.”</b> The group demonstrated high energy with particularly good charisma on the part of the soloist who worked each side of the stage nicely as the group whirled in motion on each transition. Interesting choice to go choral on the second verse—I liked the impulse to mix up the sound but I’m not sure that this was the right song for that effect.

A Review 3

Next up, Sara Bareilles’s "Gonna Get Over You" The soloist did a good job of selling her part visually, asserting herself with different group members over the course of the first verse. I liked the backup part on the second chorus, with a portion of the group doubling up on the lyrics. Lots of good visual work here, particularly on the bridge with the group splitting in two for the soloist to work her way through the middle.

Fun transition into Styx’s "Mr. Roboto" with a robotic “powering down” before the group sagged, then split into two clusters to do the robot behind the soloist. Fun count off transition from there to “Safety Dance.” Really fun selection of songs here, and I particularly liked that the group looked at home in the staging doing the signature dances of each song. When a group can make the performance fun, they have the best chance of making it fun for the audience as well. Impressive cartwheel move on the transition into Rick Astley’s ”Never Gonna Give You Up,” leading up to fun clap breakdown on the finish, wrapping up the set with tremendous energy and a sense of light-heartedness.

The Athenian High School hOWLers were up next, clad in black and white. They opened their set with Bon Iver’s "Woods." Really lovely blend here. While I wish they could have pulled it off without the conducting on stage, the sound was well worth that gambit—some of the most pristine harmonies of the night. Nice little break out soprano part here, too.

A Review 4

Simply beautiful seamless transition into "House of Gold" by Twenty One Pilots before the beatbox joined in. Electric transition there. Really nice solo work, and great confidence all around from the group for this middle song.

They wrapped with "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Son. Good, steady sound here. Awesome bit of stomp percussion worked into the first chorus. Good staging work again with the group finding nice, subtle ways of rearranging itself on every available transition. I would have been interested in hearing a more original song choice to cap this strong set, but just the same, it was a fine, energized finish for The hOWLers, a technically sound group that really performed its set at a high level.

 West Albany High School Rhythmix hit the stage next. Nice blue and yellow dudes for this co-ed crew. They kicked off with Imagine Dragons’ "Roots." Nice jazzy sound and bass groove here on the choral opening. The soloist demonstrated great charisma and was the first lead of the night to break the fourth wall and step off the main stage to the steps below to engage the audience.

A Review 5

The group employed another choral opening on Kelly Clarkson’s "Dark Side." The soloist emerged on the lyric, “will you stay even if it hurts?” Nice poise on her part and purity of sound. I really liked the staging as the group re-clustered with members looking out in different directions to the crowd on the second chorus. Really good staging with the soloist caught in the middle as the groups moved to separate sides and she was left alone to sing unaccompanied.

Rhythmix shut it down with Panic! At the Disco’s "This Is Gospel." Another choral intro. If I were to change one thing for this group, that’d be it—as much as I appreciated their technical precision and recognize how the choral bit lent a sense of uniformity, it grew predictable and I didn’t feel it afforded soloists as much of an opportunity to establish themselves in the early going. Really nice personality on all of the solo work here  once it got going, and more solid staging. I thought the group could have afforded to have gone a little bigger on sound to milk this one for all it was worth. Just the same, it was an excellent closer.

Corvallis High School Spartacappella were up next, clad in black and blue, with white suspenders for the gentlemen. They opened with The Civil Wars’ "Barton Hollow." Really nice sound on this one, with those high harmonies really off-setting the low end perfectly, and a nice silky smooth solo work on this one from both the male and female leads. Good staging at the end with the group staggering in time with the music as the soloists converged, back to back at the front of the stage.

A Review 6

Really nice chanting follow up on an incredibly serious take on Bonnie Tyler’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Cool effect with the group still and spread around stage while one of the soloists wove between them and a kick drum sound added an extra sense of gravity. They grooved into a sample of Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love." It felt a little strange not to have the third song here—I may have cut the Meatloaf and trimmed the Total Eclipse <i>a little</i> to squeeze in another little something.

Oregon Children’s Choir Synergy led off the second half, starting with Janet Jackson’s "Girls (Who Runs The World)." It’s funny that they started at back of stage and I consciously thought they looked too timid for their own good, before a perfect surprise march to the front of the stage, chanting, full-throttle, full-power. Awesome attitude and strength on this one to assemble a really bold starting number. Follow up would be key, though, because this one had the energy of a closing number.

A Review 7

Synergy continued the set with James Bay’s “Let It Go.” This was a nice contrast to their opener--still a good confident sound and particularly good when the perc keyed in. Really nice mix of different lead vocals on this one—smooth transitions, distinctive sounds and personalities and a steady, soft backing sound. Lovely un-mic’ed four-part harmony toward the end before the group keyed in again and built to a clap-along segment.

The group huddled at the back of the stage before they spread into <i>dance</i>-y motion into Joy Williams’ “Woman (Oh Mama).” Tremendous power sound here. <i>Scintillating</i> solo. Interesting that I might have flipped the set for song order, but with this killer lead to put a bow on the set, I don’t blame them for leaving this one as a last impression. Awesome syllable work. Such a distinctive sound on this one, really sculpting an identity. As far as I was concerned, this set, and particularly this closer set a new bar for the evening.

Next up, Wilsonville High School Soul’d Out. Killer opening with just three members on stage, the others waiting to the side before they launched onto stage for One Direction’s “Drag Me Down.” Really nice stage presence and confidence. Cool moment as the leads stepped off stage to break the fourth wall.

A Review 8

Slick seamless transition with hints of the preceding song en route to Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Really nice staging again, particularly from the soloist’s showmanship at the fore.  Nice dynamic variation here, really spiking the sound at key moments. Well-planned reconfigurations in the background. Cool mashing up of the two songs on the finish to lend some much appreciated continuity to the set.

Soul’d Out made another seamless transition into “Get It Right.” Really nice, vulnerable solo work here, with the lead standing at center stage, in contrast to the more-in-your-face showmanship of the performances before it.

Bend High School Dynamics hit the stage next in black and silver formal wear and launched straight into instrumental work from Star Wars, complete with a well-placed Wookie sound effect before transitioning to a choral take on Stevie Wonder’s "Signed, Sealed Delivered." The Star Wars bit was entertaining and topical, but given that it didn’t meaningfully connect to the rest of the set, the group may have been better off leaving it out of a competition set. Just the same, on to Stevie, they delivered some nice little riffs off of it, mixing up the tempo and letting parts fall in and out. Very clean. From a visual perspective, there wasn’t much choreo to speak of, per se, but I liked it better for that—how natural the group looked, and the extent to which they looked as though were sincerely having fun.

A Review 9

Dynamics followed up with “Green Garden” by Laura Mvula. Constant clap on this one from the whole group. I liked the idea and get how it mirrored the original track, but thought they really could have afforded to scale back to half or less of the group clapping to keep the effect better controlled and prevent it from overwhelming the song. Really slick, soulful solo on this song and nice motion again as the group kept reconfiguring. Fun bit from the soloist on the “I’ll go wherever you’ll go” lyric, as she proceeded to lead the group in a circle around the stage, clapping along. Really fun interpretation.

Dynamics wrapped up with “Dreams” by Beck. They started with the group sagged and one member wandering through to rouse them as the soloist performed up front. Again, this one was more entertaining for the degree to which the group was clearly having fun on stage. The bulk of them fell into sleeping positions as one of the guys explained that it was a gag related to the name of the song. The lead VPer remained unconscious up front before he was individually roused for a fun little moment. Cool stop motion movement in the end game. This was a super entertaining, fun to watch set.

Last up, we heard from The Sherwood High School Mixolydians, one last co-ed group, in black and purple. Nice full sound on the lead-in to “Love Like You” by Eric Hutchinson. Terrific energy and confidence from this group. They went for clap along early here—I’d usually wait until the closer—but they had a large contingent of fans up front who bit on it to make it work.

A Review 10

A choral opening gave way to two group members singing from either side of the stage on Vienna Teng’s “The Hymn of Acxiom.” Good mechanics on this one and I really liked  the sharp contrast to the first song, as this number afforded more of a showcase for the group’s polished technical skill after more of a showmanship-oriented number. The whole group came together for a lovely, warm finish.

The group knelt and rose one-by-one on the intro to "Feeling Good." Nice build to a big crescendo on the end of the first verse, before a female lead stepped forward for AWOLNATION’s "Sail." Great sound here, particularly on the lead—sensational attitude. I don’t suspect I ever would have thought to mash these particular two songs together, but I’ll be darned if the results weren’t electric. Positively haunting fall out finish. What a fresh, surprising, thoroughly entertaining set to finish out the competiion!

As the judges deliberated, University of Oregon Mind The Gap entertained the crowd with a stellar set including “Higher Love,” “Where Have You Been” “Crazy In Love,” “Rather Be”  “Here’s Where I Stand,” “A Little Party,” and “Sweater Weather” I really love the dynamic of a rock solid college group performing in this spot, rounding out the night with a polished, mature sound and offering a taste of what some of these high schoolers have to look forward to in their futures.

While Mind The Gap worked their magic, I made my picks for the night. It was a tough show to call between Vivace’s stellar solo work and song selection, Soul’d Out’s polish (particularly on those transitions!), The Mixolydians diversity of sound and stupendous closer, Spartacappella’s off-beat takes on classics, and The hOWLers’ purity of sound and winning personalities, and Rhythmix’s stellar mechanics and glowing stage presence. In the end, though, the act I best remembered and found most startlingly clear in identity was Synergy. The young women delivered a bold, smart, super-powered story of a set that sounded terrific and had something to say. I went on and on about this last year when Vocal Rush took home first at this very show, but when terrific artists can use their gifts to in turn use their craft to put forth a worthwhile statement into the world, it has the potential to transcend music into message. In so many walks of life, women have a tendency to be overlooked, dismissed, or treated as lesser than their male counterparts. Synergy put forth one of those special performances that not only compelled the audience to take them seriously, but arrived as unforgettable.

As it turned out, Rhythmix picked up the victory. I can certainly understand this pick, but was quite surprised to see Synergy not place. In any event, the crew from Sherwood High wrapped up the night with their rendition of “Carol of the Bells.”

Check back later this week for my review of the ICCA quarterfinal from the next night in Tualatin!

Official ICHSA Results

Overall Placement:
1. Rhythmix
2. Soul’d Out
3. The Mixolydians

Outstanding Soloist: Vivace for “Islands” and Synergy for “Woman (Oh Mama)

Outstanding Choreography: Synergy

Outstanding Arrangement: Vivace and The Mixolydians

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Soul’d Out and Some Cool Guys

Mike Chin's Picks for the Night

Overall Placement:
1. Synergy
2. The Mixolydians
3. Tie: Rhythmix and Soul’d Out

Outstanding Soloist:
1. Synergy for “Woman (Oh Mama)”
2. Vivace for “Islands”
3. Soul’d Out for “Get It Right”

Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. Soul’d Out
2. Synergy
3. Dynamics

Outstanding Arrangement:
1. The Mixolydians for “Feeling Good”/”Sail”
2. Spartacappella for “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. Soul’d Out
2. The hOWLers
3. Some Cool Guys

Next Page
Ireland’s A Cappella Competition
ICCA Finals 2016
Event Review: ICHSA Finals 2016
ICCA Northwest Semifinal at George Fox University
ICCA Northwest Quarterfinal at Rolling Hills Community Church
ICHSA Northwest Semifinal at Rolling Hills Community Church
The 2015 ICCA Finals
The 2015 ICHSA Finals
ICCA Northeast Semifinal at Symphony Hall
ICCA Northeast Quarterfinal at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ICCA West Quarterfinal at Rolling Hills Church
ICHSA Northwest Semifinal at Rolling Hills Church
The 2014 ICCA Finals
The 2014 ICHSA Finals
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Rutgers University
ICCA South Semifinal at Vanderbilt University
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Syracuse University
ICCA South Quarterfinal at Johns Hopkins University
SingStrong DC Aca-Idol 2014
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Penn State University
ICCA South Quarterfinal at University of Tennessee Knoxville
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Rutgers University
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Drexel University
The ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Northern Highlands Regional High School
A Cappella Showdown 2013 at the Turning Stone Resort
ACappellaFest Showcase 2013
The 2013 ICCA Finals
The 2013 ICHSA Finals
VoiceFest 2013 in Wooster, OH
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Rutgers University