Event Reviews

VoiceFest 2013 in Wooster, OH

Event Reviews

On Saturday, April 13, Wooster Jam at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster, OH, played host to VoiceFest. The event featured eight competing groups. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:

The Competitors:
Ohio State University Buck That!
University of Akron Rhythm & ‘Roos
Ohio Wesleyan University Pitch Black
Baldwin-Wallace University Mr. Sun’s Echo
College of Wooster Round of Monkeys
The Kent State University Kent Clarks
The Oberlin College Obertones
Case Western Reserve University Dhamakapella

Note: I served as one of the judges for this event, and so did not take nearly as comprehensive review-oriented notes as I ordinarily would, so this write-up is a bit abbreviated.

The show took place in the unconventional setting of The Coliseum, a cattle barn best known for hosting the Wayne County Fair Best of Bovine competition. Wooster Jam Director James Levin introduced the show. Ben Heavenrich shared emcee duties with Levin throughout the afternoon. The competition structure was set up as follows: eight groups performed for six to eight minutes. The judges picked four top groups to proceed to round two. The four groups performed for another six to eight minutes, after which the judges picked the top two who went on to perform for up to six minutes in the final round.

Last year’s Voicefest winners, Buck That! opened the show. The all-male group sang Kimbra’s Good Intent” and ”Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. First class professionalism and visual presentation from the guys. Mostly clean sound, though the (very good) VP could overwhelm the overall group sound a bit. The guys were very earnest in their delivery of “Survivor,” rather than falling victim to the temptation to play an originally female song for laughs. This choice served the song well. The performance spotlighted an excellent soloist.

Next up were Rhythm & ‘Roos They started their set with “Madness” by Muse. Really cool distortion effect working in concert with the VP. Strong, classical sounding solo. The group transitioned seamlessly into a medley, highlighted by “Everybody Talks” by Neon Trees and “Trouble” by Taylor Swift. I liked that the medley gave the co-ed group room to highlight different personalities and dynamics within the group, and liked the way they handled most of the transitions. I would have liked to have seen more choreography based in actually moving their whole bodies, as opposed to the more cutesy hand jive stuff. That said, the facials were mostly good, particularly when group members interacted with one another.

Pitch Black sang next, the lone all-female group in the competition. They opened well with a ton of intensity on Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River”, which sounded really good, highlighted by a strong solo, but the movement on it was a little unpolished. The group turned next to “I Will Survive” which was fun, but not quite powerful enough to really make an impact, and the group clipped the song pretty short, which didn’t really give it room to build organically. The group closed with a slowed down take on ”Titanium” by David Guetta and Sia, which was well-conceived (particularly for thhe recurring trio of leads) but would have benefited from a bit more careful tuning and choreography.

Next up was Mr. Sun’s Echo which treated the audience to a really fun (and funny) medley of movie themes, all lyric-ed to tell us about different characters from Star Wars. The piece showed great personality and humor but the tuning was hit-or-miss and it’s always a challenge for groups to succeed in both wow-ing the judges and pleasing the audience when they choose the comedy route. The group followed with ”In the Still of the Night” which featured really strong soloists, but felt a little too even keel aurally and visually. The group swayed and snapped throughout the song, and might have benefited from gradually introducing different visual elements, for example, starting still, then swaying, then snapping to lend the piece a greater sense of build and direction.

The home group, Round of Monkeys was up next. They opened with “Hey Hey We’re the Monkeys,” which was fun and underscored the group’s good nature and sincerity, in addition to their fine sense of dynamics. They moved on to ”Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon which employed rotating soloists. The transitions between leads often muddied the group’s tuning, but it did allow for a pretty sublime moment as different past leads took on the echo of “I’m ready now” before a new lead exploded into the end game of the song. The group closed with “King of Spain” by Moxy Fruvous, which was a lot of fun and highlighted a really charismatic soloist who interacted with the audience nicely.

The Kent Clarks started their set with The Script’s “Hall of Fame.” Sensational energy and confidence from this group and some really excellent transitions with different leads and the vocal percussionist interacting toward the front of the stage. The set also included The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” and Bruno Mars’s “Runaway Baby”. Lots of really well-planned choreography, particularly considering the large number of group members. Excellent personality from each of the leads.

Next up, The Obertones, who started with a Ladysmith Black Mambazo song and embedded a sample of Paul Simon’s “Homeless” within it. It’s particularly challenging for a group to connect with an audience when they’re not singing in English and it’s a real testament to the emotion, intensity, and purity of sound of this group that they made this piece work so well. They followed up with Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Deceptively complex arrangement for this really fun little ditty that shored up the group’s place as an audience favorite.

Dhamakapella closed out the first round. In their signature style, the group mashed up American pop hits with Indian music, first featuring Linkin Park’s “P5hng Me A*way,” then Beyonce’s ”Halo.” Very cohesive, professional sound and staging from the group. The solos on the opener would have been better served to have used the microphones as their sound got a little lost; the soloists for “Halo” were well-served to take advantage of the mic-ing. Really polished, distinctive set.

Dhamakapella, Buck That!, The Obertones, and The Kent Clarks advanced to round two.

Dhamakapella led off round two with their own spin on a classic Indian song. Truly exceptional moment as two of the women engaged a high-speed conversation of sorts, then started singing over one another for a really cool, unique sound. The group was at its best when it highlighted what was distinctive about their cultural sound and moment of this song clicked perfectly. The performance was really strong, though it felt as though it started to run a little long in between the more powerful segments of the piece.

Buck That! Sang next with their mashup of “Too Close” and “Cry Me a River.” This was a really slick combination of the songs both aurally and visually. Complex arrangement. Cool moment as a trio took the lead. If anything, Buck That! felt as though it was gathering steam between rounds.

The Obertones were up next. They sang Rusted Root’s “Send Me On Way.” They continued resumed their full, clean sound from round one. Thought the song choice felt a little un-ambitious, the execution was nearly flawless. The guys continued with a supremely inventive take on Katy Perry’s “Firework.” This mellow version of the song was really original and highlighted some pretty spectacular variation in the dynamics, tempo and vocal style. Exceptional falsetto bit from a gentleman in the group who appeared to be of Asian descent.

The Kent Clarksperformed next with a set featuring Jessie J’s “Domino” and Rihanna’s ”We Found Love.” Again, the group’s power and sureness were its greatest strengths, but the sound got a little uneven and almost abrasive at times, particularly as the soloists attacked their leads and didn’t quite mesh with one another. There’s a fine line between fierce in a good way and sounding a bit too harsh and I think the group erred a little on the latter side this time around. Just the same the choreography was quite sharp and the arrangements were solid.

By unanimous decision of the judges, The Obertones and Buck That! advanced to round three.

The Obertones led off the final round with a medley of Backstreet Boys song that felt a little dated, but that the guys nonetheless sold with amped up vocals and great facials. Most impressively, the group maintained good tuning despite the shifting soloist duties. It was a good start to the final round, though the group felt a little flatter than they had in their first two sets. They followed up with Jonsi’s ”Sticks and Stones,” a nice contrast to the song before it with another solid lead.

Buck That! closed the competition with Florence and the Machine’s ”Breath of Life.” Great intensity on this one as, contrary to their competition from Oberlin, the group just seemed to get stronger as the competition drew on. Very clear vocals, and a great visual moment as the two halves of the group turned inward to face one another, standing at an angle and sang heatedly at one another. Excellent closer.

Over the years, I’ve written about how difficult the decisions must be for judges as they pick between two or three elite groups in a given show. In this case, the judges were in agreement—we felt Buck That! won the final round, but that the bigger picture of The Obertones’ portfolio f performances throughout the afternoon was, cumulatively, the best of the competition. So, which group should we place first? We double checked the rulebook to confirm that the competition organizers had not clearly established whether each round was to be taken individually in the determination of which groups advanced or which group won. After a good bit of back and forth we started to talk about crowning co-champions and ultimately agreed that was the best representation of what had happened that afternoon. The $2,500 first prize and $500 second place prize were combined and cut in half to award each group a prize of $1,500. The Obertones sang their encore first, Justin Timberlake’s ”My Love.” Boy band fever must have been catching because Buck That! closed the show with their encore, N’Sync’s ”It’s Gonna Be Me.” Fun end to a really enjoyable afternoon. Congrats to all of the performers and thank you to the Wooster Jam organizers for letting me be a part of the event again.

ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Rutgers University

Event Reviews

On Saturday, March 30, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, played host to the 2013 ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal. The event featured eight competing groups. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:

The Competitors:
University of Delaware Vocal Point
Penn State University Statesmen
Rider University ‘Til Further Notes
The College of New Jersey Trentones
University of Rochester After Hours
Cornell University Chordials
Fordham University Ramblers
Rochester Institute of Technology Eight Beat Measure

Host Group: Rutgers University Casual Harmony

Photos of the event are available now on our Facebook page.

The first competing group of the night was Vocal Point from the University of Delaware. The men took stage wearing black pants, blue shirts, and black ties while the women wore sparkling black dresses. Classy. The group began its set with “If We Ever Meet Again” by Timbaland and Katy Perry. I liked this song selection because it’s upbeat and recognizable without being overplayed in a cappella, which let the audience get into it. The soloist and backing vocals were very good, but the choreography is what stood out the most to me—group members would reach out toward the audience at times, disband, come back together, split up into groups of guys and girls, and interweave between one another. I particularly liked the close to this song, where members ended in multiple lines with their backs facing the audience, which set them up for a perfect transition into their second song, “City” by Sara Bareilles. Again, the group incorporated a lot of choreography into the song, possibly more than necessary for a slower song, but nonetheless it was executed very well. The soloist sang with a great deal of emotion, which is almost a requirement of this song. At times she would weave through the rest of the group members, as if she were singing a solo to each person. This, coupled with the full backing vocals, made for a powerful second song. Vocal Point concluded its set with Carrie Underwood’s “Good Girl.” The soloist for this song had some attitude, taking control of the song and singing as if she was the only one in the room. However, she had the support of even more interesting choreography, which consisted of vertical line formations and clapping, crouching and rotating, leaning, bending, girls grabbing guys’ ties, head nodding, and a plethora of other moves. Very good start to the night.

Next to take stage were the PSU Statesmen. I have seen this group perform a few times before (both under their previous and current moniker), and I was confident they would put on a good performance for the audience. They started with a small sampling of Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” right into an interesting mashup of Kansas’s “Carry On Wayward Son” and Swedish House Mafia’s “Don't You Worry Child.” I’m a pretty big proponent of mashups in a cappella and I’m especially fascinated when groups perform these pieces with songs that are literally decades upon decades apart from one another—I think it keeps all of the music relevant. The set began with great harmonies during the beginning parts of the Kansas piece, hitting high notes with perfection. The group used a combination of soldier stances, and robot-like arm movements up until they transitioned into “Don’t You Worry Child,” when all of the members except one formed a group on one side of the stage, leaving the remaining member on the other side to sing the solo. The group shortly returned to “Carry On Wayward Son” and began doing a box step until they concluded the song in a small group formation in the middle of the stage, seamlessly going into its second song, “Come Wake Me Up” by Rascal Flatts. The soloist was right on key, at times hitting incredibly high notes with very good control. The choreography was also good—members reached out toward the soloist and formed a “V” with the soloist at the point, putting him in the spotlight. Much like the transition from the first to the second song, there was break between the second and third song as the Statesmen went into “Our Prayer” by The Beach Boys. The backing vocals, VP, and soloist were all very good here, but I particularly enjoyed that the group mashed up this last song with “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons and came full circle by interweaving “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Not Over You.” Great performance.

Next up was ‘Til Further Notes from Rider University. The men took the stage wearing black pants, pink shirts, and black ties, while the women wore black skirts. I liked the consistent look a lot. The group formed two horizontal lines on stage, men facing the audience women facing the men and started their set with “Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford and Sons. The backing vocals were loud and powerful, as was the soloist. Collectively, they filled the air inside Nicholas Music Center beautifully. The VP was strong as well, and that, with dynamic choreography, made it a good way to start the group’s set. The group sang “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5 for their second song. This is a popular selection amongst a cappella groups, and I thought the group did a very good job pulling it off. Members began dancing on stage and having fun. Before any lyrics were sung, the group made a type of drone sound then switched soloists to a woman who sang a much slower, jazz-infused rendition of the song. For their final song, the group chose “Daylight” by Maroon 5. This happens to be one of my favorite songs, so I was looking forward to hearing an a cappella version of it. Several members sang various lines of the song and, at times, it sounded a little pitchy. It wasn’t a bad performance by any means, but I would have rather they stuck with one soloist rather than introducing many disparate voices. All in all, this was a good performance by the Rider University group.

The last group to perform before intermission was The College of New Jersey Trentones. The group’s first selection was another mashup of “Some Nights” by fun. and “Cecilia” by Simon and Grafunkel. Members started the set in three lines, standing upright with their hands behind their backs and then continued to branch out into a semicircle as the song progressed. I really liked the soloist—he had a really good sound that fit the song really well. In addition, both the VP and backing vocals were solid. The group transitioned seamlessly from “Some Nights” into “Cecilia” and acted out a man witnessing a woman with another man and trying to steal her from him as well as acting out a tug-of-war match. Really good combination of sound and choreo. The Trentones’ next song was “Skyfall” by Adele. They started with all of the group members forming “S”s on stage with their arms. This transitioned into slow movements of leaning, dancing with one another, and crouching. The soloist was clear and vibrant and not muffled by any of the backing vocals, which enhanced the performance. I tend to prefer a slow song such as this in the middle of the set because it lets a group showcase its range while still giving the members the ability to leave the audience engaged with an up-beat final song. And for their last selection, the Trentones chose “Bottom of the River” by Delta Rae. They began this piece in the same two-group formation with which they had finished their second song. The soloist appeared in the middle of the groups and was shoved to the front by another group member. All the while, every other member began stomping in place, which turned into stomping and clapping, which turned into stomping, clapping, and smacking the ground, which turned into stomping, clapping, smacking the ground, and hitting their thighs. There were a lot of sounds and movements going on at the same time, and it just seemed to work for the group—everything sounded good and was perfectly appropriate for the song. The set ended with the group members reaching out toward the soloist as if they were trying to grab her. Very good performance to finish the first half of the show.

The first group to perform after intermission was After Hours from the University of Rochester. Members were dressed in their traditional black and red attire. They began with Alex Clare’s “Too Close.” Really interesting choreography here—the group members stayed close to one another in a tight group (almost too close) and moved in synch with one another toward the soloist where he moved on stage. They then slowly disbanded and spread across the stage. At one point the soloist was completely engulfed by the other members, right before everyone dropped down to the floor and another member screamed out toward the audience. This, in combination with exceptional vocal perc made it hard to fathom anyone not feeling the energy of the group. Very strong start to the set. The next song was “Samson” by Regina Spektor. Not only do I like this song selection, I’m glad they decided to make it the second of their three-song set for the reasons I previously mentioned. Members were positioned in a diagonal line across stage, which is how they concluded their first song. They transitioned into a horizontal line, then semicircle, with some group members singing in the middle. The sound was very crisp; the backing vocals were at the perfect volume; the harmonies were in key . I thought this whole piece was just executed very well. The group finished by holding hands with one another in a semicircle and humming the final notes. The final song of the set was “Titanium” by David Guetta. Again, the VP here was solid. The choreography was also interesting. It consisted of members dancing and rockin’ out, crouching and rotating, turning their heads, and raising their hands toward the audience. To bring focus to the soloist, the group both formed a “V” with her at the point and completely surrounded her by the end of the song so that they could crouch to the ground, leaving her to be the only one left standing and raising her hand in victory. Strong performance overall.

Next up were the Cornell University Chordials. Members of this co-ed group also wore a combination of black and red attire. They started their set with “"Plain Gold Ring” by Nina Simone. The song started with several “oh” syllables. Members stood in two vertical lines initially and then formed a semicircle throughout the rest of the song, with the soloist in the middle. There wasn’t a whole lot of choreography, but given the nature of the song, there needn’t have been. The soloist herself was very strong, projecting her voice onto the audience, hitting some very high notes, and emitting a passionate vibe. The Chordials’ next selection was “Lies” by The Black Keys. The solo was sung with a tremendous amount of raw emotion and passion, which was evidenced by his energy and movement on stage. The backing vocals were soothing, which allowed the audience to focus on the soloist and take in the meaning of the song. I was very happy with the selection. The last song of the group’s set was “Too Close” by Alex Clare. This would be the second time of the night the audience has heard this song, but I personally have an appreciation for multiple arrangements for the same song, and enjoy hearing the subtle and obvious differences (this is also one of the reasons we created The Run Off on ACB). The solo was strong, but I particularly liked the choreography, which included a lot of stomping, clapping, slapping thighs, and side stepping. Good support from the backing vocals, especially during the chorus, where the sound was loud yet controlled and full enough for the audience to feel the power of the song.

The second-to-last group to perform was the Fordham University Ramblers. Each member of this all-male group sported a white shirt and different-colored pants—unique, yet consistent look. The group started its set with four members on stage, sampling “Yesterday” by The Beatles. As the initial four members sang, the remainder of the group joined them on stage until they made two horizontal lines. Shortly after, the song transitioned into “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys and the dance turned into one of playful antics—head bends to the left and right, marching, side-stepping, kneeling, sleeping, and yes, even a one-leg lift as you would expect when someone is kissing another person. As juvenile as the visuals were is how good the vocals sounded. The soloist, backing vocals, and VP alike all worked perfectly together. Pitch was perfect, visuals were there, and volume was just about right, making this a great start to the set. Consistent with some other groups of the night, the group chose to perform a mashup for its next piece. Group members started in a “V” formation and quickly dropped to their knees, revealing the soloist, who began with “Summertime." After the first verse, another soloist took over with “Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean. Again, we see two songs that were released decades apart from one another, and again, it worked. Each soloist took a turn reciting a verse from his respective song, and each sounded controlled and in tune. In addition, the remaining group members kept it interesting with a combination of side steps, shoe taps, and finger snaps. Not to mention, the general dancing interwoven between these. The Ramblers’ final song was “Remade Horizon” by The Dirty Projectors. Again, the group started in a “V” formation, extending their arms outward, then crouched down in a fluid motion, which looked pretty cool. While the soloist was very good, one of the more interesting parts of the performance occurred when three members of the group (including the soloist) took to the front of the stage and mimicked the song as if it were played on a melodica. In the meantime, the rest of the group members formed a semicircle in the back and built to a progressively louder sound until an abrupt stop that concluded the piece, and what I believed to be a dynamite performance.

I suppose it's only appropriate that Rochester Institute of Technology’s Eight Beat Measure was the eighth and final competitor for the night. The stylish group arrived on stage wearing orange ties and black shirts, pants, and sport coats. The group’s first song was “Scream” by Usher. All of the group members except one started in a crouched position, facing the audience; the soloist standing on his own, back to the audience, facing the other members. As the song progressed, everyone moved toward the audience and the soloist put on glasses and spun to face the crowd. I liked the choreography in this song. You can (and should) expect some cool choreography in Usher pieces, and this was no disappointment. Group members leaned from left to right and front to back on multiple occasions; they slid together and apart a few times, and, at one point drew attention to the soloist by completely surrounding then revealing him to the audience. He also drew attention to himself when he approached the front of the stage and dropped to his knees. In addition, he had a very smooth voice which was complemented by the full-sounding backing vocals. Lastly, this song demands exceptional vocal percussion, and I have to say that the group certainly acheived that. 8BM continued its set with “Men of Erin” by The Elders. As I previously mentioned, I’m a big proponent of starting a set with a fast and upbeat song, then moving into a slower piece that the audience can take in, so I was pleased with this selection. The group started the song by with only one member at the front of the stage singing, then, after the first verse, three more members; then another, and another, until the whole group was singing at the front. The overall sound was very rich and the harmonies were perfect, without any discernible mistakes. Very good performance The group concluded its set with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who. I’m not particularly fond of this song, but I was hoping a stellar performance might change my view. The group stood like soldiers in two horizontal lines while the soloist made his way across the stage and eventually took off and threw his sport jacket. The choreography also included praying, victory posing, hat tipping, and general rockin’ out. The soloist very animated and it, like the VP, sounded very good. This was a great way to round out the semifinal.

During the deliberation period I made my picks. It was a very tough semifinal, and I thought any of my top four groups--The Ramblers, The Chordials, Eight Beat Measure, or The Statesmen--could have represented the Mid-Atlantic quite nicely at Finals, and I had After Hours just a shave behind the front of the pack. Ultimately, the judges' picks and mine didn't completely align, but I can certainly see why they made their decisions.

ACB Picks:
Overall Placement
1. The Ramblers
2. The Chordials
3. Eight Beat Measure
4. The Statesmen
5. After Hours

Official Results
Overall Placement:
1. The Chordials
2. The Ramblers
3. Eight Beat Measure

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: The Ramblers for the full set

Outstanding Soloist: The Chordials for "Lies"

Outstanding Arrangement: After Hours for "Samson" and Eight Beat Measure for "Men of Erin"

ICCA Midwest Semifinal at Washington University

Event Reviews

On Saturday, March 30, Washington University in St. Louis, MO, played host to the 2013 ICCA Midwest Semifinal. The event featured eight competing groups. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:

The Competitors:
University of Wisconsin-Madison Fundamentally Sound
The Missouri State Beartones
University of Nebraska Rocktavo
University of Kansas Genuine Imitation
The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Xtension Chords
University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana No Comment
The University of Nebraska Bathtub Dogs
Northwestern University Extreme Measures

Guest Group: University of Chicago Voices in Your Head

Host Group: The Washington University Stereotypes

Photos of the event are available now on our Facebook page.

The Washington University Stereotypes kicked off the night with Fun.’s “Some Nights.” I always love the energy and spirit from these guys. Very well-chosen piece to warm up the audience for what promised to be pretty fantastic night of a cappella. From there, Leah Gastman from Varsity Vocals took over with the standard announcements, before handing things over to emcees Tripp Wickersham and Jason Unger from The Stereotypes. The guys did an outstanding job all night, interweaving all sorts of diversions, including a series of a cappella-themed jokes, pickup lines texted from the audience, and a sing-along to “Happy Birthday” in honor of Jason’s 21st birthday.

The first competitors were Fundamentally Sound. The all-male group wore red shirts, gray pants and tan suspenders. They keyed off with dramatic gun pointing-begging off posing before settling into a more conventional formation for Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”. Very interesting reimagining of the song, and the guys demonstrated excellent energy throughout the piece before transitioning to a sample of MGMT’s “Kids” Very nice haunting, steady woodblock percussion beneath the soft hum of the group. Lots of reconfigurations on stage which worked well, helping to punch the drama—moving with a purpose. They maneuvered back to “Pumped Up Kicks, with the two soloists singing heatedly at each other. I loved the drama. Very unconventional, intense opener, which ended with the group reassuming the same pose with the gun to bring things full circle.

The gun pointing provided a fun transition as the pointer used the posturing to hand off the microphone to the next soloist for “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” from Book of Mormon. Fun interaction between soloists, one the arrogant leader, the other the toady hanging by his side. Excellent charisma and stage presence from the two of them and a lot of high energy movement and good vocals in the background again. It didn’t think this song had the strongest solo work, but the guys were clearly playing up the theatrical comedy factor, so it was fine. I appreciated the creative decision to go somewhere really different for the second song.

Three soloists stood still for the opening to Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” while the other group members wandered around and through the gaps between them for a really interesting visual, that I interpreted to be making a statement about the protagonists of this story going unnoticed and feeling lost in the shuffle. The three-part falsetto solo felt a little muddled—it was hard to catch the lyrics, which I thought took away from the dramatic impact a little. Very, very pretty high harmonizing from the whole group as the guys lined the front of the stage. The blend was awesome there as the whole group sang chorally.

The perc keyed in as the guys made a seamless transition to ”Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore. Excellent rap lead on the first verse, and it came across especially well in stark contrast to “Holocene.” Very good percussion. The guys transitioned to a second rapper on the second verse, who may have been even better. Great stomp-clap moment. This was such a diverse set, and I loved the guys’ willingness to take chances. Moreover, for much of the set, the overhead mics were shaking from guys hitting the stand or actually hitting the mics themselves. I don’t say that to suggest they were careless, but rather because this movement felt indicative of just how aggressively the guys were attacking the stage, completely un-self-conscious and completely plugged into their music. This was a really strong set.

Next up, The Beartones. The all-male group took the stage in light blue shirts, gray sweaters, and black slacks. They opened with Parachute’s ”What I Know” Very cool idea for the staging with two rows of guys lined up and the group members crossing over with each other as the soloist walked through them toward the front of the stage. Good percussion. Stellar use of dynamics building to the choruses each time and popping with sound at those points. Very good power moment on the repetition of “I’m on my knees.” Nice breakdown on the finish with some of the guys echoing the soloist for some good drama and emotion. I think the guys made the most of the song, but when you only have twelve minutes to make your case that you deserve to advance to New York, this isn’t the song choice with which to lead off your set—just a little too soft, too mellow, too lightweight feel to the song itself to allow the guys to really wow the audience.

The guys slowed things down next with Josh Groban’s ”Broken Vow.” Nice soft harmonies, and interesting visual choice to have the soloist standing entrenched in the middle of the group early on—nice symbolism for a guy feeling lost. Very nice selling of the emotion from the group, including the facials. While I usually don’t feel much movement in necessary on ballads like this, I liked the little bit of side step swaying from the guys that felt a little like slow dancing, recalling better days of the relationship. Again, nice use of dynamics, building toward the bridge. Very nice fall out moment before the guys shuffled back around for the soloist to end up in the back of the pack for the instrumental finish as the guys one-by-one consoled each other with hands on shoulders. A little cheesy, but it worked because they sold the gesture with total sincerity.

Arms crossed to start next song, Kelly Clarkson’s “The Sun Will Rise.” Very interesting song choice for an all-male group, and it worked for the guys’ willingness not to be tongue in cheek about it, but rather make the song their own. Fun bit of snap and step movement in the background, which felt very old school. Really nice build to the second verse when the guys really seemed to feel the emotion and the soloist ripped loose—I almost wondered if they should have gotten to that point more quickly because the song felt a little blah before that--particularly because they led into this song with a ballad, I thought they could have afforded an explosion much sooner without losing the dramatic contrast. Fun sample of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on the finish. All in all, this was a solid set. While I appreciate that the guys seem to have established their identity with an overarching soft rock vibe, I couldn’t help feeling the set overall would have benefited from going a little faster tempo or a little rawer. At the semifinal level, it’s not enough to impress the audience—you’ve got to awe them if you hope to advance.

Rocktavo took the stage next in black suits, white shirts. They started the set with their backs to the audience, then began, en medias res with a bit of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and some very theatrical dancing, before segueing into a more traditional take on the song. Sick bass effect into the dubstep remix, with some pretty sharp dancing in formation at the middle of the stage. While the song felt a little disjointed, I loved that the guys went all out from the word go, pulsing with energy and going for the gusto with every note, very much including the falsetto bit, which they doubled up on. Very creative first song.

The guys followed up with a ballad. While I usually don’t dig the classical vocal style in a cappella, these guys have a real gift for finding the middle ground between contemporary a cappella aesthetics and musical theatre sensibilities. Superb solo. Very good visual presentation with lots of transitions and one hundred percent pained and sincere facials. Very nice whistling wind sound effect on the second chorus before the guys picked up the tempo. Beautiful fall out to a choral handling of the final chorus, exposing tremendous vulnerability from the guys. Stellar second song.

The guys picked up the tempo to close their set with a Maroon 5 medley, including “Harder to Breathe,” “Misery,” “Payphone,” and “This Love,” with some neat little transitional bridges inserting bits of “Moves Like Jagger” and other hits by the band. Borrowing from the style of “Dream On,” the guys started pieces in unusual places and circled back to the beginnings. Really fun bit as the “Makes Me Wonder” soloist repeatedly approached the “and it really makes me wonder if I ever gave a ****” lyric, and his groupmates kept cutting him off to maintain a family-friendly set. While there were some rough edges and some of the transitions felt a little abrupt, the arrangement of the medley was pretty brilliant and I loved that the guys both sang and danced their hearts out. They looked like they were having fun and it was a joy to bring this music to us--that’s a great place to sing from. Excellent set.

Genuine Imitation closed the first half of the show—our first co-ed group of the night, clad in black and electric blue. They opened with One Republic’s “Secrets.” Very good leads. Lots of “th” syllables on the opening which sounded a little clumsy to me. Ton of choreography here and while it was well-synched and executed with conviction, it was a lot of hand-based stuff that read as either overly literal or gratuitous--not the sort of visual presentation anchored in movement across the stage, that really makes dramatic moments. Nicely doubling on the solo on the bridge—good choice to differentiate the sound and keep things aurally interesting.

The group followed with Christina Aguilera’s “Bound to You.” Very strong solo on this one. Nice dramatic entry of the percussion en route to the chorus. Nice doubling on the solo to lead into second chorus, as the group again made the effort to differentiate the sound as the piece moved along, though I worry that the verses were still a little forgettable. Nice crescendo on the bridge, where the group seemed to momentarily unlock the x-factor they were missing up to that point. I think a part of why this song dragged for me was the song selection to precede it. You need to think about chemistry between songs and the overall presentation you’re giving the audience, and first six to eight minutes of the set, despite being well-sung, were pretty plodding.

The group knelt on the finish of “Bound to You,” then rose in staggered formations as the percussion pounded on the intro to Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” Nice dramatic fall out and exhale sound effect on the “breathing in the dust” lyric. Very nice bass effect in the background and I’m really glad the group decided to make a radical departure from the previous two songs for an industrial finisher. The choreogaraphy , again, felt like too much and distracted me. Good solo. Good overall handling of the song, but a song like this is so widely covered this year that I would have liked to see the group do something to make it more their own. Nonetheless, a good closer to a good set.

The Xtension Chords kicked off the second half. Cool look for the group with nametags and Xtension Chord tags on their collared shirts looking something like electricians’ uniforms. They led off with “Some Nights.” Nicely re-imagined soft intro before the guys popped into the first chorus. The choreography was a little excessive, but handled with a good level of energy—a lot of dipping at the knees and bobbing between each other for some cool visual effects. I kind of wish the guys had done more to reinvent the song like they had on the opening, as this quickly turned into a very standard, if well-executed interpretation of a song that many, many groups are singing this year. Very good solo, though, strong percussion, and excellent low harmonies on the finish.

The guys continued their set with “Swallowed by the Sea” by Coldplay. Very well-handled understated solo and a really warm, soft low hum beneath him on the intro. Nice moment as the group sound grew more complex with some high, staccato instrumentation as the soloist grew louder. I probably would have trimmed the instrumental section of this one, as well-sung as it was, as it tested the audience’s attention span. Nice, big bridge leading to a soft finish.

Well-planned transition with the guys forming a tight mass in the middle of the stage, with the soloist at the edge of the second row, where he could hand the mic to the new soloist up front for ”Spectrum” by Zedd , featuring Matthew Koma. Some nice explosive movements on the chorus, but the problem was that the build didn’t feel directional here—the sound just sort of popped, receded and popped again with little sense of drama or narrative to go with it. Nice high solo bit here. Really epic accelerando as the guys keyed into the fast part of the song, though, again, there was a really long instrumental section. The guys worked in some fun movement, including elevator rises and drops, but this leg of the song still felt a bit rudderless, and was soon followed by another instrumental break. A little more creative cutting or sampling could have taken this performance to the next level. As it stood, it was a good closer to an above average semifinal set.

No Comment followed. The co-ed group wore a mix of black, white, blue, and gray—very sharp. They started with Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” I really loved the soft, tender treatment of the early parts of this song, particularly on the chorus with the interplay of the two soloists, interpreting it less as a dance party song, more as a love song. The leads were at their best when they sang to each other. Fun breakdown bit with men and women pairing off for a brief moment of dancing with each other. The piece warmed up as it went and got a little faster, a little bigger. While the song has the feel of a closer, I liked the boldness of kicking things off with such a barnstormer and letting it grow into a barnstormer, earning the cheers of the crowd as the soloists ripped free and the group sound exploded in the late stages.

No Comment’s second song was “Breathe Again” by Sara Bareilles. I really liked the way this group took advantage of the co-ed dynamic with the low end building the foundation beneath the female lead and some brief moments of shimmering high harmonies from the sopranos. Excellent solo. Really good dynamic variation on the second verse, with the group going for a more abrupt, cut off sound in general. Really nice power moments on the solo in the late stages.

The group wrapped up its set with “Clarity” by Zedd. Excellent contrast between a slow bit of instrumentation on the opening before the group roared into a bigger, faster sound. Very good solo here. Really fun staging on the chorus with the group crouching in formation behind her. Pounding percussion on this one. Fun, loose vibe, with a touch of yearning on the solo. Dubstep remix on the finish which seemed a little thrown in, but was well-executed enough to work for me and, again, this is one of those times when a group throwing itself into the song one hundred percent made a huge difference.

Next up, The Bathtub Dogs.The all-male group took the stage in different shades of purple collared shirts, ties, and jeans. They kicked off the set with a highly choreographed take on “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall. Flood of movement on this one. The guys took this song in a very, very upbeat direction, with smiles plastered on every guy’s face. Killer percussion on this one. Really nice handling of the bridge with the soloist crouched and soft, and gradually bulding his sound. Lots of stop motion and pose staging. Fine opener.

The soloist started Sara Bareilles’s ”Gravity”standing at the opposite corner from the rest of the group, singing to them. Lovely harmony as two of the guys sang back. Really bold choice to take a song that’s so oft-covered, but always covered with a female lead and reimagine it in a man’s voice. Interesting addition of a bassline. Part of what was cool about the visual presentation from these guys was that it was so cohesive that you couldn’t separate any part of the group from the rest, even when they were standing still—they were all very plainly integrated with each other, moving and posing with a purpose. Excellent money moment on the end of the bridge with the soloist at the back of the stage, the rest of the group bent to him and turning into him as he marched to the front of the stage. Tremendous drama. Brilliant performance.

The guys closed with David Guetta, featuring Sia’s ”Titanium.” Excellent visuals again and excellent handling of the high harmonies, before the guys really popped the song wide open with their low end. So much energy on stage. Very good solo. This was just waiting for the dubstep and sure enough it arrived. Badass slap the stage body percussion as the guys were already crawling to the soloist and smacked their hands down. This was a leave everything on the stage performance and I really dug it. I loved the creative choice for this group to sing songs with female leads, sing them seriously, and make them their own.

Extreme Measures closed the competition portion of the evening. The co-ed group wore black and violet. Crystal clean opening chords on Delta Rae’s ”The Morning Comes.” Clap percussion behind the soloist en route to the first chorus. Excellent percussion and such lovely blend from this group. The piece had the feel of a spiritual in a sense, and I loved that the group picked such a narrative, impactful song for its opener, showcasing the group’s blend as well as the soloist’s slick vocals.

The soloist from the first song slipped over to vocal percussion for the next song. The group grooved then split into two, giving room for the new soloist to walk through for The Cab’s ”Animal.” Great charisma from the soloist as he worked the stage, and nice bit as the group members followed him into two distinctive clusters—women on the right, men on the left. Really nice dramatic build over the bridge with the soloist busting loose and percussion adding a real dimension of drama.

The ladies took the lead for Rihanna’s “S&M”, the guys on their knees. Great attitude on this one, particularly from the soloist and I liked the choice for the guys to take the background both visually and aurally on this one, adding a rich, low background while the high end took the lead. Sample of “Please Don’t Stop the Music” to transition to “Where Have You Been.” Lot of firepower on this one, too, with more tremendous attitude on the soloist, though I worry the sound got a little unwieldy as the woman got most invested in the music.. “Disturbia” functioned as a bridge into the last leg of the medley, “Diamonds, with the two soloists singing to each other. Nice choral finish—very clean. While I didn’t think this quite reached level of the top tier of performers for this particular night, I do feel they have a really stellar foundation to build from, and with a little more of the control they exhibited in the final moments of their set, paired with the personality they exhibited throughout, they should be a real threat in the ICCA Midwest for years to come.

As the judges deliberated, the 2012 ICCA Midwest Champions, University of Chicago Voices in Your Head performed their BOSS set. Let’s be clear. This. Was. Rid. Ic. U. Lous. The group members came equipped with their individual mics, laser pointers, pedals, and positively oozing sexuality. I don’t want to give too much away for those who will be traveling to Boston to catch their live act next week, so just a few notes: Usher’s “Scream” was all about attitude, confidence, and raw power and the group nailed it. Their take on Katie Melua’s “The Flood” was, in many senses a showcase for the laser light technology. Cool, distinctive sound, excellent controlled stomp percussion and a killer solo. The group completely re-imagined Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” extracting the feel-good pluck of the original, infusing with all of the horror of a Halloween track, then using it to feed into the group’s original song, “Life of the Mind.” While the last piece felt a little long and bogged down at points, when the industrial, edgy sound was really clicking, it was pretty sublime. The folks in Boston are in for a treat when this group visits the northeast.

From there, The Stereotypes returned to the stage. Their set included a medley of songs from the 1950s, “Wayfaring Stranger,” “I Won’t Give Up,” and “Radioactive.” As per usual excellent, high energy performance from these guys, fueled by full hearts and an earnest approach to the stage. It was interesting to hear them take their sound in an edgier direction, too, with “Radioactive.”

As the judges deliberated, I made my picks for the night. While every group belonged at the semifinals level, I thought there were four that were in close contention for the top spot. Rocktavo probably had the most unique identity of anyone on stage and made the boldest decisions about how to rearrange and re-imagine their songs, though parts of their set felt a little disjointed. As I shuffled my rankings, I had them as high as second place, but ultimately ended placing them a very close fourth. Fundamentally Sound brought together one of the most unique sets of the night, full of energy and employing an excellent visual presentation. The hardest thing for this group was that they had to perform first, so I don’t think the audience was able to appreciate how different their set really was. No Comment put together a somewhat understated set that built really nicely and featured some of the evening’s best soloists. The Bathtub Dogs made bold creative decisions, boasted huge vocals, and choreographed out the wazoo for what I ultimately considered the most memorable set of the night. When I think about which sets deserves to go to ICCA Finals, I tend to think about not only the best sets, but the sets that break the most ground, make the boldest choices, and will ultimately be most memorable a decade from now. As such, I had The Bathtub Dogs edging out No Comment for the win.

Ultimately, No Comment, did win. They gave a really strong performance, so I certainly can’t complain—they’ll serve the Midwest proud in New York. The group looked legitimately surprised and thrilled at the opportunity. They sang their encore, “Home” by Philip Phillips to finish the night.

ACB Picks:
Overall Placement
1. The Bathtub Dogs
2. No Comment
3. Fundamentally Sound
4. Rocktavo

Outstanding Soloists:
1. Rocktavo for their second song
2. No Comment for “Breathe Again”
3. No Comment for the female lead on “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”
4. Extreme Measures for “The Morning Comes”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. No Comment for the full set
2. The Bathtub Dogs for the full set

Outstanding Arrangement::
1. Rocktavo for the Maroon 5 Medley
2. Fundamentally Sound for “Pumped Up Kicks”
3. No Comment for “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”

Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. The Bathtub Dogs for the full set
2. Rocktavo for the full set
3. Fundamentally Sound for the full set

Official Results
Overall Placement:
1. No Comment
2. The Bathtub Dogs
3. Fundamentally Sound

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: No Comment for the full set

Outstanding Soloist: No Comment for “Breathe Again”

Outstanding Arrangement: Fundamentally Sound for “Pumped Up Kicks”

Outstanding Choreography: The Bathtub Dogs for the full set

ICCA Northeast Semifinal at MIT

Event Reviews

Irene Droney is a student at Simmons College in Boston, MA. She is an a cappella enthusiast and is the music director and business manager of The Sirens, the official a cappella group of Simmons College.

On Saturday March 23, The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Northeast Semifinal was held at MIT in Cambridge, MA. The competition featured 10 competing groups from three states across the Northeast region. Let me start off with a quick summary of the events.

The competing groups:

Skidmore College Drastic Measures
Suffolk University Ramifications
Northeastern University Downbeats
University of Massachusetts Amherst Hexachords
Northeastern University Pitch, Please!
College of Saint Rose Girls Next Door
Mass College of Liberal Arts Allegrettos
Brown University Brown Derbies
Northeastern University Distilled Harmony
Northeastern University Nor’easters

Host group: MIT Resonance

The energy and excitement was almost tangible walking into the ICCA Northeast Semifinal held at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. The 1,230 person venue was completely sold out and even arriving early it was difficult to get a good seat. Everyone in the audience knew that they were going to be in for a tough competition and a fantastic night of a cappella. The competition got off to a bit of a late start so the host group did not perform to start off the show and the competition started immediately.

The first group performing was Drastic Measures from Skidmore College. They came out wearing all black and looking very put together and they stood in a simple arc on stage. They opened the set with “Mama Who Bore Me” from Spring Awakening with a beautiful and striking solo. The arrangement was cohesive and simple, and picked up-tempo to create a vibrant energy for the rest of the set. I did notice that right off the bat, the dynamics and tone in the women’s sections sounded a little bit brassy and at times like they were shouting to be heard. Once the novelty of the competition beginning wore off as well, the simplicity of the performance began to get a bit tired. The next song that they did was “Mother Nature’s Sun” by The Beatles. Their appropriate and decisive choreography on stage gave them a very purposeful appearance. This was the song that they really showed how big their sound could be without sounding like they were trying too hard. The strength of this group was definitely in their full bass section, which rounded out the sound very well. They closed their set with “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, another uncommon and refreshing song choice. The first female soloist began this tune, and sang her section sweetly and artfully. A male soloist took over shortly and increased the energy and tempo but seemed to cause a bit of a shock to the group and they had pitch issues while trying to adjust to him. He had great stage presence though and some entertaining dance moves to boot! Thankfully, after a few awkward moments, the group mostly recovered from their pitch issues and were able to end with a big sound and confidence. This group was an exciting way to kick off what would be an intense competition!

The second group of the night was The Suffolk Ramifications. They came on in striking black and white which can easily end up looking like choral attire, but worked very well for them. They opened up their set with “Some Nights” by Fun. Innately a great song to open, this song has been done by so many groups recently that it has become a bit tired and cheapened. Unfortunately for The Ramifications, the choice posed a big challenge for them to overcome. Regardless, it was a strong arrangement and the group had really vivacious energy. My biggest qualms were the balance problems. The treble voices greatly overwhelmed their lower counterparts and it sounded like this group needed some more power in the bass section and male voices in general. They then transitioned very smoothly into “The Parting Glass” as performed by Ed Sheeran. I personally love when groups make their performances one cohesive set as opposed to sounding like 3 or 4 different songs all separated and this group’s use of transitions definitely made that happen for them. In this song, the timing and blend worked well and the group sounded like they were really paying attention to each other and worked well together. The solo was lovely and the arrangement sounded very nice but was occasionally overwhelmed by a really loud, heavy percussion that the piece could have done without. This song also seemed to carry on a little bit too long and because the song is so repetitive and mellow, having it go on for so long made it hard for them to keep interest level up in the audience. The bass really carried the transition into the next song, “Shake it Out” by Florence and The Machine, a great closing number. There was really entertaining audience pleasing choreography but occasionally strange choices for syllables that distracted from the arrangement instead of letting it shine. Despite this, I think that this was their strongest number of their set and a great choice to close on.

The third group competing was The Downbeats from Northeastern University, the first group of four from the school which was quite the a cappella powerhouse this year. The Downbeats were not originally scheduled to perform at this semifinal given their third place ranking at the quarterfinal, but were invited to semifinals due to a group having to drop. They entered the stage in classy red and black attire and opened their set with “Hey Ya” by Outkast with an angelic tenor soloist. They had great, energetic choreography which was funny and entertaining for the audience. The arrangement started slowly and then picked up in tempo and sounded and felt more like the original song. The male trio they featured during the bridge and end of the song was a good idea in theory, but unfortunately did not appeal to the audience due to noticeable pitch issues. These issues were also present in the soprano and the bass section but overall, “Hey Ya” was a strong opening number for this group. The next song was “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. When I first saw this group at quarterfinals, I thought that it might not have been the best choice for them and I still stand by that opinion. The solo was much better this time around and sounded less pitchy and thin but the overall sound was not very full and did not live up to the potential of the group. In their arrangements they had some nice use of non-chord tones and tension that brought a lot of interest and complexity to them. The last song that they did was “Skyfall” by Adele. The strong tenor section really stood out in this piece and the soloist had a really rich, rawness to her tone. They had some questionable choices in choreography that the audience laughed at, but to me made them seem like they weren’t taking themselves very seriously such as pantomiming one of the members being shot by another, James Bond style. All in all, this group put on a much stronger performance than I went in expecting and if the judges or audience went in thinking that they would be the underdogs, they were proven wrong.

The next group was The Hexachords from Umass Amherst. They were a very small group, only six people, four men and two women. They were dressed in maroon, black, white and jeans looking put together and casual. They started off very strong with “Let’s Get it Started” by The Black Eyed Peas which featured cute choreography and very tight harmonies. This group definitely displayed a lot of good musicality and worked very well together. With only one person per part, pitch issues seemed imminent but this group kept very well in tune with each other showing how well they worked together. They also demonstrated a much fuller sound than would be expected from such a small group. The next song they did was a jazzy version of “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. This ended up being very entertaining without being overly campy as this song can easily be. The arrangement was very innovative and the playful interactions between the group members brought a lot to the song. They transitioned beautifully then into “Who You Are” by Jessie J. My major concern during this song was blend issues mostly in the soprano. At some points she was on the verge of sounding screechy and because they are so small this took away, at times, from the entire tone quality of the group. The bass and vocal percussion interactions were a very strong part of this group and I couldn’t help but think of Pentatonix, the winners of the last season of The Sing Off, while listening to how well these two worked together, built off of each other and rounded out this group’s sound. The last song in this group’s set was an interesting mash-up of “Trouble” by Taylor Swift and “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi. Now, this was not a combination I expected to work and there were times when I was questioning it, but, somehow, it did come together well and ended up being a great example of this group’s musical innovation. This group was extremely entertaining and very high-energy, definitely a crowd favorite and an up and comer in the a cappella world.

The last group before intermission was Pitch, Please! the brand new all-female group from Northeastern. These ladies walked out looking fierce in all black and towering gold glitter heels. The opened up their set with “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars. The opening was very strong and right off the bat I could tell that this group had a lot of power and a ton of potential. They had great choreography and staging, really using the whole space to their advantage. They used “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn as a transition into “I Know You Won’t” by Carrie Underwood. The solo for this song was gorgeous and emotive, giving me chills the whole time. The whole group acted with their entire bodies clearly striving to convey the story that was entwined in their set and that really captured and reeled in the audience. The bass and vocal percussion stood out particularly, completely rounding out the sound without overwhelming the rest of the group. All-female groups are often seen as underdogs because of not having as big of a range as a co-ed group or even an all male group but this group proved those stereotypes wrong. My only issue during this song was honestly the shoes. They were unbelievably fierce and made an awesome visual statement but in this venue they were unfortunately a little bit loud and the sounds from walking and dancing were picked up on the microphones and distracted slightly during the softer parts of this song. The next song that this group did was “My Kind of Love” by Emeli Sande. This song really showed off the raw power that this group has. The entire group was positively brimming with emotion and heart. The audience definitely took notice. They had a huge sound that occasionally sounded on the verge of shouting in the lower voices but managed to stay musical. There were some pitch issues at times seemingly from pushing too hard for volume but this group worked well with each other and always managed to get right back on. The last song of their set was “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. The choreography for this song was fantastic. Normally I’m not a huge fan of flashy choreography. I usually feel that is comes across as cheesy or makes the performance less about the music but these ladies made it work! The dancing fit in perfectly and only added to an amazing closing number. I loved the clear connection and story between all the songs and how cohesive it made their set. These ladies put on a great performance and are definitely going to be a group to watch in the coming years!

The first group on after a quick intermission was The Girls Next Door from The College of Saint Rose. They came on clad in black t-shirts, jeans, matching pink sneakers and looking very cute. They started off their set singing “Fire” by Ingrid Michaelson. The soloist had a nice tone and good volume but unfortunately she was not supported as much by her group. The group as a whole did not start out with as big of a sound as I expected from such a large number. They did have a lot of good energy and dynamics but they had begun to struggle with pitch by the end of the first song. They also used some very staged choreography that didn’t seem to fit the songs and tended to be distracting. The next song in their set was “Keep on Bringing me Down” by Forever The Sickest Kids. I couldn’t help but thinking that this was a poor song choice for a cappella. The song just didn’t seem to translate and ended up sounding thin despite another very strong solo performance. The vocal percussion in the second song was also noticeably quite well done and fit the song well. The last song that this group performed was “I Won’t Let Go” by Rascall Flatts. This group definitely saved the best for last. This arrangement was simple and clean and accentuated all of the positive aspects of this group such as their energy and passion. They ended this song with huge sound that I did not think that they were capable of earlier in their set. The end of the song used some gospel influence that seemed to work very well for this group and they really ended on a bang.

The Allegrettos from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts were up next. They seemed to be one of the more popular groups with an enormous cheering section erupting in the front of the audience as they walked on dressed in blues and purples. They started off their set with “Happy Ending” by Mika with a gospel twist. The song started off with a male soloist who had great stage presence, a beautiful voice and seemed very comfortable on stage, engaging the audience the whole time. The second soloist was a female with an equally gorgeous voice who continued to reel in the crowd. They used simple, gospel derived choreography and arrangements that really worked for such a large group. Unfortunately it seemed a lot of times at the soloists were shining a lot brighter than the group as a whole. There were slight, but persisting pitch issues through out the set and at times it almost seemed like there were too many of them to the point where it became almost cacophonous. The next song in the set was “Run” by Gnarls Barkley. The soloist used a lot of audience interaction and this made the song very entertaining for everyone. They had some really well done choreography during this song. The issue that I noticed which was one that I noticed with groups across the board throughout the night was that they sometimes sounded like they were shouting to try and get their volume to carry in the space. Now, I’m not sure if this is a space issue or not because it was something that I noticed in almost all of the groups during the night but this yelling sound created blend issues for this group, particularly in the soprano voices. Despite these problems, I was impressed by this group’s smooth key change and subsequent transition into their third and last song of the set was “Breath of Life” by Florence and the Machine. I really enjoyed how this group put their own spin their songs and arrangements. They took popular songs with gospel influences and made them sound really different and interesting. This song was the group’s shining moment in their set. Although at some points I felt that it lacked the fullness it should have coming out of such a large group, the soloist performed it beautifully with great emotion and power. Despite issues throughout, this group undoubtedly put on an entertaining performance with excellent soloists that was definitely a crowd pleaser.

The next group up was The Brown Derbies, the only all-male group of the night. This group gets my best-dressed award for the night. They were undeniably dapper in khakis, white shirts, ties and their signature derby hats. They literally ran on stage with incredibly high energy and even before they began singing had the audience pumped up. The first song in their set was “Where Have You Been” by Rihanna. This group definitely used their all-male charm to their advantage. They had really excellent, amusing choreography that did not get in the way of their clearly complex arrangements. The one issue I noticed during this first set was that the timing on the vocal percussion seemed slightly off from the rest of the group which lead to some confusion. This group used some really cool vocal effects to transition into S.O.S. another amusing and upbeat song which worked really well for this high-energy group. They had some very tight, well-done harmonies throughout this song all well keeping up with some very complex choreography. They slowed it down in the next song with “Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford and Sons. There was some really nice percussion and bass work in this song. They used the soloists. Unfortunately, the main soloist’s voice, while beautiful, had a very dark tone and I believe that this brought the group slightly flat. This song was definitely straying away from the group’s comfort zone and for that I give them credit. However, they did not seem as excited about this song as they did the others and the audience seemed less engaged as a result. The last song of their set was “Give Me Love” by Ed Sheeran. This song is very beautiful but definitely a difficult choice to cover. The arrangement was good but at times sounded thin and slightly strained especially in the highest tenor voices. As a whole though, the background was beautiful and the soloist was very good. He has a lovely falsetto that stayed on pitch very well and carried throughout the whole auditorium, not always an easy task. Personally, I think that this group would have gained a lot by shortening “Give Me Love” and adding one more of the high energy songs that are so in their wheelhouse to close with. Regardless, the group put on a good performance and took a lot of risks that were great to see.

The next group was Distilled Harmony, also from Northeastern University. They came out looking very classy in black and gold and a lot of sparkles and started on stage in a cool pose, definitely adding a lot of visual interest right from the start. They started off their set with “You and I” by Lady Gaga done as a duet with a male and a female soloist. This group had great blend from the start but once the soloists came in it sounded like the tempo was being pushed slightly, partially just because of the energy and passion coming from the soloists. They worked very well together and used the stage very well. The whole group had an ease about them that was very refreshing. They transitioned really nicely into “Turn To Stone” by Ingrid Michaelson. The solo was pretty and the arrangement was well done, letting the soloist shine while using some nice, unique chords and great blend. The next song that they did was “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble. The group’s sound was really nice and they seemed very comfortable in this song and the solo sounded effortless and confident. Not very long into this song, it transitioned suddenly into “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake. Although they had the same soloist singing both songs, this sudden transition definitely took the audience by surprise and it took a little bit of time for the group to adjust as well, despite the soloist doing an amazing job on the many intricate runs of the song making them sound smooth and flawless all well engaging the audience with great stage presence. The last song in this group’s set was a mash-up of “Warzone” by The Wanted and “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele. The vocal percussion and bass stood out particularly in this song and added a whole other level of intricacy to the sound. The arrangement was well executed and ended up being a very powerful and explosive song to end a strong set on. One of the qualms I had with this group however was how they almost seemed to have a front man. The last 3 songs all featured solos from the same person and although he had a wonderful voice, it could have added some interest to the set to have mixed it up a little more than they did.

The final competing group of the night was The Nor’easters also hailing from Northeastern University. Fresh off a win at SoJam X in October, it seemed as though this group was not only the most anticipated group of the night but also widely regarded as the favorite to win. They came on stage wearing all black and looking very powerful even from their beginning pose. They started off their set with “Drumming Song” by Florence and the Machine. Right from the start, the vocal percussion and the bass worked together phenomenally, demanding the audience’s attention. The soloist was raw and expressive and was clearly putting everything she had into the solo. The arrangement was also amazing, playing to all the strengths of this group. The next song in this set was “Wrong Side of a Love Song” by Melanie Fiona. The solo in this song was absolutely incredible. She sang with such clear passion and feeling and had an unbelievable range and power. Despite this group’s enormous sound, the solo was not overwhelmed, which was quite the arranging feat. This group has a unique ability to convey drama without coming across as melodramatic. They used complex but not distracting or over the top choreography and never looked rigid. They also used beautiful transitions such as seamlessly worked in a sampling of “When David Heard” by Eric Whitacre as a beautiful and moving transition into “Diamonds” by Rihanna. There was a very cool use of vocal effects in this song, one person doing an impressive string effect that added a lot to the sound and overall tone of the song. This was, in my opinion, the most innovative of the songs in their set. The original song was completely transformed and made into more of a ballad with an incredibly emotive male solo. There was also an homage to “Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey briefly in the middle of the song, adding a lot of interest and surprise to the song. The group did not let the slower tempo of their middle two songs take away from any of their energy, in fact, they used this to their advantage, really letting the rawness and emotion of the songs shine and showing off their ability to make dramatic dynamic changes. This group definitely kept the audience on their toes the whole night, always doing the unexpected and with incredible results. The last song in their set was “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia. Only the Nor’easters could make a top forty song sound so edgy with another original and transformative arrangement. The song started out with a female alto soloist who introduced the song beautifully and the arrangement really started to gain traction when the male tenor soloist came in, eventually culminating in a powerful trio with the addition of a soprano. On the first chorus, the song had an almost choral feeling that worked really well with a group as large as The Nor’easters. The arrangement then went into a sampling of all the other songs from the set, all of which had been used throughout the duration of the performance to produce a great cohesiveness. The only thing I noticed in this song was that at times the balance seemed to lean to heavily on the sopranos, with them sometimes almost overtaking the arrangement and throwing off the blend. This group started and ended with enormous sound and amazing musicality and was a wonderful end to the competition.

The judges deliberated, the host group, MIT Resonance finally got a change to perform, their set including “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran and “Trouble” by Taylor Swift. As they sang I made my picks for the night, unsure of what the judges were going to decide. In my mind, there was a clear top five and I knew which group I thought was number one but the competition was so tough, I was stumped on the order for the rest. Ultimately I thought that The Nor’easters had the strongest set and that they would be the clear winner. The rest of my top 5 included Pitch, Please!, The Hexachords, The Brown Derbies and Distilled Harmony. All of these groups had great performances and strengths. It ended up being a toss up for second place for me between Pitch, Please! and The Hexachords and it seemed that the judges felt the same. The Nor’easters took home the win and are headed to finals in April with The Hexachords as the first runner up and Pitch, Please! as second runner up, both of the runner up groups now eligible to compete in the wild card round to win a spot at finals. The Nor’easters finished off the evening with an encore performance of “As Long As You Love Me” by Justin Beiber.

My predictions:
Overall Placement:
1. The Nor’easters
2. Pitch, Please!
3. The Hexachords

Outstanding Soloists:
• The Nor’easters for “Wrong Side of A Love Song”
• Distilled Harmony for “Feeling Good” and “Mirrors”

Outstanding Choreography: Pitch, Please! for their entire set

Official Results:
Overall Placement:
1. The Nor’easters
2. The Hexachords
3. Pitch, Please!

Outstanding Soloist: Jasmine Garcia of The Allegrettos for “Breath of Life”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Rachel Carron of Pitch, Please! for the entire set

Outstanding Arrangement: Shams Ahmed of The Nor’easters for “Wrong Side of a Love Song”

Outstanding Choreography: Ty Meyers of The Nor’easters for the entire set

ICCA Quarterfinal at University of Florida

Event Reviews

Alexa Gedigian is a student at the University of Florida and Vice President of the all-female a cappella group: The Sedoctaves. This is her second review for The A Cappella Blog.

University of Florida held the Southern Quarterfinal for the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in Gainesville for the second year in a row on January 26. This sold-out show was hosted by UF’s co-ed group No Southern Accent and featured eight groups.

The Competitors:
University of Miami’s BisCaydence
University of Florida’s No Southern Accent
University of Florida’s The Staff
University of Central Florida’s KeyHarmony
University of Central Florida’s Gemini Blvd.
Florida State University’s Reverb
Loyola University’s Belles
University of Central Florida’s So Noted

Guest Groups: University of Florida’s The Sedoctaves and Theater Strike Force

University of Florida’s only all-female a cappella group The Sedoctaves opened the show with a fierce rendition of “I Am Woman,” made popular by Jordin Sparks, in the style of a cappella powerhouse Musae. The Sedoctaves proved that even though they weren’t competing this year, they are still a feminine force to be reckoned with. Lindsay Howerton of Varsity Vocals gave the standard announcements and introduced the two dashing emcees of the night and alumni of UF’s own No Southern Accent: Daniel Doan and Nic Parsons.

The first group on stage was University of Miami’s co-ed BisCaydence. The first song of the night was “Zombie” by The Cranberries. There was a very dramatic beginning as they built momentum. Melissa Simmons had a really strong, soulful solo that was a great fit with the song. The soprano special voice was really beautiful and matched up with what I remembered from The Cranberries’ version. I would have liked more contrast with the quieter verses with bigger choruses. The percussive sounds at the end were so unexpected, but very cool!

BisCaydence’s second piece was “Ready To Go” by Panic! At The Disco. There was a “girls versus boys” struggle in the choreography, which I’m just not sure worked with the song’s message. There was a lack of chemistry between the soloist and the special voice response in the chorus. The vocal percussionist really had a chance to shine and his beat laid the foundation for the other voices.

The final song in BisCaydence’s set was “Karmastition” by Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder. They definitely had the most fun with it. This song had all the energy and excitement I had been waiting to see from BisCaydence and they really delivered. Alyssa Wilkins brought an R&B flavor with her solo, echoed by fantastic backing from the group. They executed a dramatic slide and then the sopranos came in confidently with a nice standout part. Again, the VP was excellent in this song. It was a great way to end their set.

Next up was the host group of this quarterfinal, University of Florida’s co-ed No Southern Accent. All wearing red sneakers, NSA began with “Time” by Hanz Zimmer before transitioning into a medley of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive/Too Close.” When the group breathed in loudly in unison and held it for four full seconds (yes, I went back and counted), I was completely on the edge of my seat. The solo was less effective in the chorus than in the verses, despite the strong background vocals. Another moment that almost had me out of my seat in the mezzanine was when soloist CJ Wittus literally jumped out from the formation with a deafening scream. The “Too Close” part of the medley was weaker for me than “Radioactive,” but overall a fantastic way to start their set.

NSA’s second song was Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” with soloist Alissa Kotranza. She did a beautiful job on an exceedingly difficult song. I loved how the group backed up the soloist during the chorus with the same words instead of a cappella oohs and ahs. The rap was very intimidating and could have been slightly less jarring. Consistently in their set I felt as though the vocal percussion was too intense, and in this case it took away from the solo. Overall, a very powerful middle song with several distracting moments.

NSA closed with “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers; interestingly, the soloist Elliott Van Mitchell for this piece did the VP in the other two. I loved the build up in the chorus of the song, but there were some blend issues. It was an over-the-top performance with an amazing soprano part near the end as well. Something I was continually impressed by was the commitment of every single member to each precise moment. The choreography and staging was outstanding.

Third to perform was the second group from UF, all-male The Staff, and they began with an arrangement of “Misty Mountains/Some Nights/It’s Time” by Howard Shore, Fun., and Imagine Dragons respectively. The mash-up was incredibly moving and beautiful, and I loved the use of counter-tenor parts. Most impressive was the stand-out bass in the beginning, Jaewon Jang. These are three songs I don’t think I would ever put together, but it was fantastic. Especially loved the stomp and clap portion in “It’s Time.”

The second number began with a nice feature of the vocal percussionist and a great slide into the opening chords of “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. It was an unexpectedly lower solo, especially when considering Ellie Goulding’s airy soprano, but Jeffrey Marsar had some nice falsetto moments in the second verse. The Staff executed a killer key change from another slide that I didn’t see coming at all. There was good dynamic contrast throughout this piece.

Finally, The Staff closed with “No Light No Light” by Florence and the Machine. It was a distinct change from the last high-energy song, but the beat in the chorus pulled it through. I looked for the same drive and movement in this song; it lacked the same energy. Nonetheless, soloist Chris VanDenmark gave a performance that Flo would be proud of, hitting those high notes with ease. This set was one of the best performances from The Staff that I have seen to date.

Fourth in the lineup was the first group from the University of Central Florida, KeyHarmony. They stood out as the first all-female group of the night and began with “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. No one wants to be the group to do a repeat song, but it was an entirely different version with a nice soprano solo that closely matched the original. I could have used more background vocals in the chorus, but there was a strong bass consistently. KeyHarmony was very effective in the use of a bass mic, which tends to be difficult for a girl group. It was good to hear the group back the soloist up on the “calling, calling” part of the chorus and there was a solid breakdown as well.

KeyHarmony changed the pace with “Pretty Handsome Awkward” by The Used with the soloist really working the audience. There were very effective yells in the second verse that didn’t distract from the song as a whole. The group seemed very comfortable with this song and the movement was more natural. It seemed a bit repetitive and I would have liked some more variation in the different parts of the song.

The last piece--“Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons--was absolutely my favorite from their set. The trio featured for the entire song was beautiful and completely together. Again, I have to give major props to the bass for holding down her part, one alto to another. This emotional piece pulled in the audience with a very pure solo from Sarah Zorrilla. I was impressed by the trio and the group’s dynamics, particularly at the very end. It was a beautiful way for KeyHarmony to finish.

University of Central Florida’s co-ed group Gemini Blvd. was the last to go on before intermission, and they made their moment count. They began with an almost choral version of “Shark in the Water” by V V Brown, but picked it up by the first verse. The background vocals were so full and completely blended. Gemini Blvd. took the choreography in a different direction than we had seen all night by incorporating small movements in unison. Soloist Stephanie Trull gave a stunning performance with some great moments to show off her range.

Gemini Blvd. transitioned smoothly into a mash-up of “Skinny Love/Almost Lover” by Bon Iver and A Fine Frenzy, mash-up made in indie heaven. I loved that vocal percussionist Jeff Ting included some different sounds in the beginning to break up the vocals. The addition of the male soloist gave the choruses a nice pull between the two soloists. The group truly came together in the bridge, one of my favorite parts. I had goosebumps for much of the song and was impressed by the purity of the soloist and the group as a whole.

The co-ed group ended their set with an excellent reboot of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Huston mixed with “We Found Love.” Soloist Shayna Kurland did a fabulous job on the key change--wow. This was the first time I got to see Gemini Blvd. really jam out to their music and loosen up. The bass really worked it in this song as well. I was most impressed by how they actually didn’t need to do any serious movement or formation changes in their set; they didn’t need any gimmicks at all, just music. It was incredible to hear a group with that kind of vocal talent.

Coming back from intermission, we were introduced to Florida State University’s, all-male Reverb. I had high expectations for this group, since they won last year when I reviewed, and they didn’t disappoint. They showed all of their personality with “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan featuring “Bad” by Michael Jackson. Soloist Reggie Williams’s voice had every girl in the audience melting. I loved the feature of the bass line in this song during the “Bad” section and the groovy choreography of the whole piece. Those boys can work their falsetto--incredible. There was personality and energy absolutely bursting from every member.

Reverb next took radio pop song “Give Your Heart A Break” by Demi Lovato and turned it into a slower, jazzy piece. I could see the artistic qualities in the arrangement, yet this song wasn’t my favorite. The song improved as it went along, but there were beautiful moments where the chords locked perfectly. This arrangement proved that Reverb is not afraid to take risks, and that they are definitely not going to settle for a typical remake of a Top 40 song. The soloist really let loose at the end of the piece with some excellent riffing.

The final song in Reverb’s set began with soloist Eric Glaze on his own in “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley which became “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé. I loved that the group and the soloist locked eyes as they were switching songs, as if they were surprising the other with the new song. The audience loved the Beyoncé-esque choreography from the guys. The final riffing by the soloist was out of control--it was that good. You know how we’re told at least one person in the audience is looking at you at any time? Well each member of Reverb gave everything the entire time (I checked). I’m constantly impressed with their commitment to performance in addition to stellar vocals. They are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

The biggest surprise of the night was the addition of the Loyola Belles to the lineup of all Florida groups. The Belles drove all the way from Maryland and began the set with a “Paris” medley by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Trick Daddy feat. Lil Jon and Twista. The Grace Potter soloist did a great job with a difficult solo and I really enjoyed the rhythmic background vocals. I wish this group fully committed to the performance aspect of their set. The second song worked fairly well for the background girls, but I was confused by the rap in a higher register. All in all, a nice start to the set from the Belles.

The Belles slowed it down with “At Last” by the great Etta James. This song was another example of a nice solo and sound from the group but not enough energy in the performance. This song is so often performed by soloists, bands and groups that it has to be a particularly impressive arrangement to make it truly work (similar to everything by Coldplay or Lady Gaga in a cappella). There were some rhythm issues near the end, but the soloist brought it home.

To close, the Belles sang “As Long As You Love Me” by both Justin Bieber and Backstreet Boys. This was a mash-up just waiting to happen, but I was a bit disappointed in the actualization. The choreography in this song is a perfect example of how difficult it is for a girl group to be goofy on stage. For whatever reason, we ladies just can’t do it like the all-guy groups can without being awkward. In general, I would have liked to have heard some more of the background vocals. Overall, the Belles have the building blocks for future ICCA performances, but they just need to amp up their performance quality to make it work next time.

The last group of the night was UCF’s second all-female group So Noted. They started a space themed set with “E.T.” by Katy Perry. I enjoyed the higher harmony to the solo in the verses. It’s pretty difficult to replicate anything Katy Perry does., but the soloist belted those higher notes like it was easy. There was a little moment of dubstep in the middle, which worked well. It was a great start to their set and I was impressed by how much the group had grown from last year.

So Noted transitioned into “Starlight” by Muse. The very beginning was a little rough for me, but the girls worked their way into. The background vocals had the chance to stand out during the chorus and it was nicely blended. This had the strongest background vocals of the entire set for the girls. I enjoyed the breakdown of this song; it was well-executed by all parts.

For the final piece of their set, So Noted brought us all back to age 11 with a mash-up of “Outer Space Girl/Supernova Girl” by the Spice Girls and Prota Zoa (from Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century!). Every girl in the audience was singing along “zoom zoom zoom” with soloist Leah Williams in the second half of the mash-up. This was a fun song where the girls got to really groove instead of having a lot of choreography, but the background vocals were lost as a result. Overall, it was a great way to end the competition with the late 90s/early 2000s nostalgia.

What an amazing competition! Having reviewed this same quarterfinal last year, I was a bit apprehensive about seeing the same groups again, but each group really brought something new and impressive this year. The judges’ deliberation seemed to take longer this year, but they had such a difficult decision to make. I know I agonized over my own rankings and changed my predictions several times. My top three places ended up being spot-on. I knew that Reverb and Gemini Blvd. were going to fight it out over that top spot, and then I couldn’t decide between my two UF groups for the third spot. I ended up deciding on No Southern Accent as third because they had a spectacular performance, Gemini Blvd. as second because of their immense vocal strength, and Reverb as the top place because they seemed to be the entire package. Congratulations to all the groups on an incredible competition!

Alexa Gedigian’s Picks:
Overall Placement:
1. Reverb
2. Gemini Blvd.
3. No Southern Accent

Best Solo: Eric Glaze for “Crazy” mash-up

Best Choreography: No Southern Accent

Best Arrangement: The Staff for “Misty Mountains/Some nights/It’s Time”

Best Vocal Percussion: Gemini Blvd.

ICCA Official Results:
Overall Placement:
1. Reverb
2. Gemini Blvd.
3. No Southern Accent

Outstanding Soloist: Gemini Blvd. for “Shark in the Water”

Outstanding Choreography: Alissa Kotranza (No Southern Accent)

Outstanding Arrangement: Reverb for their entire set

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Gemini Blvd. for their entire set

ICCA Northeast Quarterfinal at Northeastern University

Event Reviews

Irene Droney is a student at Simmons College in Boston, MA. She is an a cappella enthusiast and is the music director and business manager of The Sirens, the official a cappella group of Simmons College.

As a self-proclaimed “aca-addict” I have been in the audience for my fair share of ICCA rounds in my time as a college student in Boston. When you’ve been to a lot of these events, you sometimes go in with a sense of what is going to happen and which group is going to go home with the win. Walking to Northeastern University on Friday, February 15, for the second northeast quarterfinal round, I could not even guess. The list of competing groups was so strong, I knew we were in for an amazing night of a cappella music and some extremely tough competition.

Let me start with a quick summary of the event:

The Competitors:
The Northeastern University Downbeats
The Harvard University Callbacks
The Bates College Manic Optimists
The Northeastern University UniSons
Northeastern University Treble on Huntington
Northeastern University Distilled Harmony
The College of Saint Rose Golden Notes

Host Group: The Northeastern University’s Nor’easters

Walking into Blackman auditorium, I was stunned at the turn out. This was a rescheduled date because of a storm the week before but the venue was still packed. It may be because this round was not only hosted at Northeastern, but was very Northeastern heavy with 4 out of the 7 competing groups coming from the university. The first group to perform was the host group and special guest performers, recent SoJam X champions, The Nor’easters. They started the show off with a bang with their competition-winning rendition of “Sweet Nothing” by Calvin Harris.

The first competing group was The Downbeats from Northeastern University. Their set started out with a gorgeous version of “Hey Ya” by OutKast which started off slow but soon picked up the tempo. This was a really good song to start with for this group. The slow beginning showed off a lot of their strengths but as it moved into becoming more like the original song, the group did not lose any of their musicality but gained a lot of audience appreciation. Their second song was “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. I can’t help thinking that this was a poor song choice for this group. There were some lovely high harmonies but the solo was pitchy and it made the song seem unfocused with too much going on. The group ended with “SkyFall” by Adele which was a refreshing song choice. The arrangements were very well done and overall played to the strengths of the group however, overall the group outshone the soloists in this set. If this group works vocally with their soloists over the next year I think that they will become a force to reckoned with in the a cappella world.

Next up were The Callbacks from Harvard University. Their set started off very strong with an amazing and moving performance of “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. This group had a really great cohesiveness and a very full sound. This group also deserves a special shout out to their first soloist sang her solo beautifully as well as performing in the rest of the set and doing the choreography all on crutches. Unfortunately, the choreography came off as forced and out of place and too Broadway for the ICCAs stage. The soloists had beautiful voices and had seemingly very high levels of musicality. They sounded highly trained and professional which produced a good sound but they lost the rawness and emotion that they had at the beginning of their set and the audience seemed to lose interest consequently.

The next group to take the stage was The Manic Optimists from Bates College in Lewiston Maine. As an all male group, they were in the minority of the performers during the evening but they played this to their advantage. Their set was very visual with silly choreography and a song selection that was consistently high energy. They began their set with a crowd-pleasing rendition of the classic Hall and Oates song “You Make My Dreams” which reeled in the audience right from the start with a very strong lead. The second song in their set was “I Can’t Lie” by Maroon 5, another high-energy pick. They performed with a great deal of charm and definitely used this charm, unique to all-male groups, to capture the audience’s attention. My only qualm is that the funny dance moves did occasionally distract from the group’s high levels of musical cohesiveness and stand out arrangements. I would have liked to have seen this group slow it down a little bit mid-set more than they did and drop some of silliness. That attitude and fun is a great selling point for this group but because of the constant raucous laughter coming from the audience and silliness on stage, their good musicality, blend and tone almost went unnoticed. It may help them to slow it down for one song in the set so that they can be taken more seriously by the judges and audience and show them that there is in fact, high quality musicianship in the group. The song that really stole the show was their closer, “It’s Raining Men.” The soloists were extremely dynamic and by the end of the set the crowd was in an uproar. This was an extremely fun set, definitely an audience favorite.

The last group before intermission were The UniSons, another all male group. This group definitely wins my personal award for best dressed. The red and gray outfits were very nice, a great presentation. This group brought a lot of life to the stage doing songs not as frequently covered in the a cappella world and making them catchy and appealing to a large audience. They started out with the song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and immediately had the audience captivated. I was also very happy with the choreography of this group. I hardly noticed it and that is personally, my kind of a cappella choreography. It worked very well with the music and served as a great compliment to it but not a distraction. They slowed it down for their second song, ”Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons. This was a beautiful song choice and the two harmonies complimenting the lead added a nice depth and their set up having these three men in front of the group was a nice visual. The syllables used by the group as the song got into its groove sometimes sounded a little forced and distracted from the solo and made it more difficult to understand. It was really at the transitions that things felt iffy for me. There were definitely pitch and blend issues, especially in the tenor that were especially noticeable during the transitions. Despite a less than smooth transition into their third song, “Grey Street” OPB Dave Matthews Band may have been the best song of their set. The range and style played to this group very well and it seemed as though they hit their stride in this song. The lead had great breath control, seemingly effortlessly singing sustained notes over the group. This group brought a lot of life to a very repetitive song. Their last song was “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” by Fitz and the Tantrums, definitely ending their set on the high note. The biggest issues that I noticed were in the transitions and they were mostly in the higher voices but all in all I felt that this was a strong performance.

Treble on Huntington was the first group to take the stage after intermission. These ladies definitely made a statement with their purple and black outfits and they had some really nice high-energy choreography throughout the set. This set started out with a really cool arrangement of “Till The World Ends” by Britney Spears. The arrangement started off very understated with some almost haunting harmonies that showed off the musicality of the group. When the arrangement picked up the pace, it lost some of the musicality and felt a little bit empty. The bass was the standout of this arrangement and it realty anchored this piece and the group’s tone. This transitioned smoothly into “Some Nights” by fun. I think that this group would have gained a lot by lowering the key of this arrangement. It seemed to me that a lot of this groups vocal power lay in their middle range and the higher range of this song took away some of the intricacy that they had at the beginning of their first song as well as making the tone sound less rich. It’s also much easier to fall flat when singing so high and this did happen at times. Their next song was “The Chain” by Ingrid Michelson. This was probably the most impressive song of their set for me. This song had some really intricate timing throughout it and this group did a really great job staying on it. This song was also lower in their ranges and showed off their vocal ability much more so than the faster paced songs. The last song in this set was a mashup of “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry and “Animal” by Neon Trees. There were definitely some microphone issues in this song and unfortunately the soloist for “Teenage Dream” was often really difficult to hear and I don’t think that the audience or the judges got to really hear the full arrangement or hear its full potential. That being said, it was definitely still a crowd pleaser. It was high energy without being over the top and the arrangement flowed really smoothly. It was a great way to end this set. This group has a lot of potential.

Distilled Harmony was on next. This group definitely made a great visual statement, all striking a pose center stage and wearing the striking combination of black with gold accents. They opened their set with “You and I” by Lady Gaga, done as a male/female duet. The song worked very well as a duet, neither of the leads trying to outshine the other. This transitioned smoothly into “Jar of Hearts” by Christina Perry. This was the one song of this group’s set that I felt was not up to par with the rest. The arrangement as well as the lead felt bland and lacking in the emotion that the song is capable of however, the set really came to life with their next song “Feeling Good” as performed by Michael Buble. The arrangement was very well done and the lead’s voice was perfectly matched for the song and sounded quite effortless. His lead and the rest of the group’s enthusiasm about it and this song was what really gave this set the kick-start it needed. The last song in this set was a mash-up of “Warzone” by The Wanted and “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele. This was the perfect song for this group to end with. The songs were meshed seamlessly together and the male and female soloists worked very well together. It packed a very powerful punch as an ending song, this group definitely made sure that they would be remembered by the audience and the judges with this song.

The College of Saint Rose Golden Notes were the last group of the night. They started out with “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. There is definitely an advantage to doing songs that everyone in the audience will know. This group immediately got a huge crowd reaction and they built off of it. The first soloist was very impressive to me; she had great tone and started off the set strong. The next song in the set was “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. This song was good but it was not particularly exciting. Everything that happened was what I would have expected to happen in this arrangement and there was not a lot of creativity or innovation. It was however, performed very cleanly. I think that it could have used an extra push to really capture the audience. The last song of their set was “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables. This was a very interesting song choice. The whole set was heavy on musical theater which is not something that you often hear in a cappella competition. They had good blend and nice tone during this song and it ended their set in a nice way that played to their strengths as a group as well as being an innovative song choice that the audience would remember. This group was strong musically as well as being very entertaining.

As the judges deliberated, The Nor’easters performed a set of their songs which included “The Walk” by Imogen Heap and “Diamonds” by Rihanna, as well as hosting the most fun perc off that I had ever seen. There was a lot of dancing up on stage and all of the participants were amazing and so into it!

It was a tough competition but in the end, Distilled Harmony took the win with The Manic Optimists finishing second and The Downbeats coming in at third.

My predictions:
Overall Placement:
1. The Manic Optimists
2. Distilled Harmony
3. The Downbeats

Outstanding Soloists:
1. The Callbacks for “How Will I know”
2. Distilled Harmony for “Feeling Good”

Official Results:
Overall Placement:
1. Distilled Harmony
2. The Manic Optimists
3. The Downbeats

Outstanding Soloist: Dan Harcourt of Distilled Harmony for “Feeling Good”

Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Alex Cornwall of The UniSons for the entire set

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VoiceFest 2013 in Wooster, OH
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Rutgers University
ICCA Midwest Semifinal at Washington University
ICCA Northeast Semifinal at MIT
ICCA Quarterfinal at University of Florida
ICCA Northeast Quarterfinal at Northeastern University
ICCA South Quarterfinal at Clemson University
SingStrong Aca-Idol
ICCA South Quarterfinal at Johns Hopkins University
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Nazareth College
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Penn State University
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Rutgers University
ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Northern Highlands Regional High School
2012 SoJam Collegiate Competition
SoJam: The Transcendent Moments
The ACappellaFest 2012 College Competition
The 2012 ICCA Finals
The 2012 ICHSA Finals
Voice Fest in Wooster, OH
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at Rutgers University
SingStrong ACA Idol 2012
ICCA South Semifinal at Vanderbilt University
ICCA Quarterfinal at University of Georgia
ICCA South Quarterfinal at The University of Florida
ICCA South Quarterfinal at The University of Florida
ICCA South Quarterfinal at Duke University
ICCA South Quarterfinal at Johns Hopkins University
ICCA West Quarterfinal at Berkeley
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Cornell University
ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal at Rutgers University