200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

The Evolution of ICCA

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #200: The Evolution of ICCA

Since its founding in 1996, the ICCA tournament has undergone changes.

There have been changes in scope. Even when I hopped on the a cappella bandwagon in 2005, most quarterfinals featured five-to-seven groups. Now there are about ten more quarterfinals across the tournament, and it’s rare to catch one with fewer than ten competitors.

There have been changes in exposure. Executive Director Amanda Newman tells tale of having to give out tickets on the street for early ICCA Finals shows; after the success of the Pitch Perfect film franchise, Finals now routinely sells out well in advance and at much larger venues.

There have been changes to the number of judges and judging procedures. Special recognition awards have grown more routinized. Groups are now performing with individual mics for each group member. The very name of the competition has shifted from an NCAA-based pun (the National Collegiate Championship of A Cappella, or NCCA) to its own unique, legitimate, and recognizable acronym and brand.

The bottom line: ICCA has evolved.

I’ve attended ICCA shows regularly for a decade—not as long as some, longer than many. At the end of the day, it’s remarkable to see how much this competition has advanced, as groups grow more diverse, tighter in sound, and greater in number. As audiences get larger. As more and more media outlets grow cognizant of and offer coverage to the tournament.

I don’t know what the future will hold for this unique institution, but if my experience thus far is any indication, it will keep getting better, and better, and better. 

I love it!

Professional Groups Performing at Colleges

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #199: Professional Groups Performing at Colleges

Now more than ever, professional a cappella groups are plying their trade on stages across the United States and abroad. One of my favorite places to see them work their magic is on a college campus.

A cappella music offers a near ideal form of entertainment for college students—interesting and mysterious for how singers accomplish all of their effects without instruments, often funny, sometimes raunchy, and generally workable in just about any performance venue available with minimal technical set up (not to take anything away from the sound engineers who do amazing work optimizing sound, but rather to say that an “unplugged” set can work just fine for an intimate performance).

Better yet, pro groups can offer something for collegiate singers to look up to and aspire to. Not all members of college a cappella groups can or should try to make a living at a cappella post-graduation, but it’s good for them to see what pros are up to, and perhaps even have the opportunity to network with them to get a sense of what it really means to go pro.

In any event, professional a cappella groups performing at colleges have the ability to entertain, to educate, and to provide a memorable experience for everyone involved.

I love it!

The Return to Finals

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #198: The Return to Finals

Scholastic a cappella, not unlike scholastic sports, and other competitive mediums, face the interesting dynamic that at least once every four years or so, groups tend to face massive turnover. Graduation, shifting priorities, life changes—there are any number of contributing factors, but regardless, despite bearing the same name, the high school or college group you hear in 2012 is not the same group you’ll hear in 2016.

From 2007 to 2016, I attended every iteration of the ICCA Finals, and over half of the ICHSA Finals shows. One of the most surprising, remarkable, and impressive pieces of watching these shows across a decade was how many times the same groups arrived at the big stage.

Whether we’re talking about The SoCal VoCals winning a record five ICCA Championships, The University of Michigan G-Men making it to Finals in back-to-back-to-back years, or The Highlands Voices winning their ICHSA region six years straight, these groups demonstrated an astonishing continuity of excellence. Whether it’s maintaining institutional knowledge and practices, alumni support networks, the input of faculty advisor, or the sheer hard work and tenacity within the a cappella franchise to continually rebuild and re-attain excellence, it’s downright inspiring to see great groups remain great or return to greatness, often in new ways and with new faces over a period of years.

I love it!

When The Home Group Wins

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #197: When The Home Group Wins

In an age when more and more groups are competing, more and more groups also have cheering sections with them at their shows. Friends, significant others, parents, legit fans won over at a campus show—they’ll make time for a whole competition for the sake of cheering on their favorites, and they’ll even travel to do so.

Despite traveling fanships, though, it’s rare for any group to have more supporters than the “home team”—the group based out of the school where the competition is happening, or at least closer to the venue than any of the other competitors.

You can claim that this dynamic gives the home team the advantage, on account of more crowd support, besides not having to travel, navigate an unfamiliar city, or perform on an unfamiliar stage—these advantages are for another time and place. For this post, I’m focusing on the joy of a group winning a competition in front of its supporters.

It’s the explosion of cheers when it happens. The wave of hugs and high fives after the encore. The palpable excitement in the room, for the sensation that not just the group, but the local community is moving up in the world.

Over the past twelve years, I’ve traveled to a lot of a cappella competitions. I may not always agree that the home group should have won, and I may have even come in rooting for someone else, but there’s nonetheless something about getting swept up in the excitement of a hometown crowd, celebrating its success.

I love it!

Making a Life in A Cappella

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #196: Making a Life in A Cappella

Conventional wisdom would suggest that you don’t sing a cappella to make a living. Traditionally speaking, I would argue that the overwhelming majority of a cappella singers have no aspirations beyond success in the ICCAs or CARAs with their college group before they move on, and maybe come back to sing at an alumni weekend reunion show here and there.

But over time, the situation has changed.

So many of us recognize Deke Sharon as the “godfather” of contemporary a cappella, who straight up started or at least contributed to the founding of such institutions as the Contemporary A Cappella Society, Varsity Vocals, and Camp A Cappella, in addition to being a player for the Pitch Perfect franchise, different iterations of The Sing-Off (in the United States and abroad), and dozens of other aca-projects. All that, and he has starred on stage with the wildly talented House Jacks.

Sharon is an exemplar for what it means to make a life in a cappella—building a dedicated career in which few people rival his expertise, you can tell he loves what he’s doing, and by all indications he’s actually making a living in the field. And there are others. Amanda Newman owning and operating Varsity Vocals. The good people at organizations like The Vocal Company and Liquid 5th, making their livelihood recording, mixing, mastering in the studio, not to mention doing live sound work and offering other services to a cappella groups. All of this and I’m not even getting into the increasing number of musicians who actually make a living as a cappella performers.

But whether an individual pays the bills off of a cappella-based money, or simply stays invested in the a cappella world without making a dime, today, we’re seeing more and more people build lives in which a cappella isn’t a memory, but rather an active part of what they do. A cappella isn’t just for kids, and it isn’t a dead end. For more and more people, it’s a way of life.

I love it!

Coming To A Cappella From Unexpected Places

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #195: Coming To A Cappella From Unexpected Places

Increasingly, there are stories of successful practitioners of the a cappella form who first heard a cappella as a child and got hooked, or who were part of their high school or even middle school a cappella groups and stuck with it straight through.

It’s not less exciting, though, to hear the stories of people who came to a cappella via less conventional or straightforward routes. It’s Bill Hare recording bands in his studio only to strike gold when the Stanford Mendicants commissioned his services, and he found his footing in what would become arguably the most legendary a cappella recording studio in the world. It’s Ben folds, who became aware of all of the collegiate a cappella groups covering his music and decided to do something about it—touring the country to record these groups for a special album, which led to him becoming the most popular judge on The Sing-Off. Heck, I count myself among these ranks, as someone who had heard a cappella groups sing a handful of times on my campus, but never thought about writing on the topic until I started dating a woman in a cappella group toward the end of my college career. That was a decade and a half ago.

One of the big selling points that I use to proselytize about a cappella to people in my own life is that it’s a form that has something for a wide audience—a diverse range of music being covered (and, increasingly, originals!), compelling stage performance, a buddying scene of reality TV shows centered on the form. And one of the great joys of meeting another a cappella enthusiast is learning about her journey into this world, because no two of them are ever quite the same.

I love it!

Next Page
The Evolution of ICCA
Professional Groups Performing at Colleges
The Return to Finals
When The Home Group Wins
Making a Life in A Cappella
Coming To A Cappella From Unexpected Places
When Everyone’s Got Something Interesting To Do
When It All Comes Together
When Gender Flips Work
High School Groups Going Old School
“Dream On” as performed by Casual Harmony
When A Show Starts On Time
Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing
Complementary Soloists
“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes
Fluid Transitions
Throwbacks
A Balanced Competition
Such Great Heights
Skinny Love
Crimson
Men of Note
Enormous High School Groups
Aca-Couples
Groups With Unique Identities
Stages
Pocketappella
Off-Beat Openings
The One Person Rocking Out the Hardest
The End to Controversy on the Internet