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:
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.
1. The Ramblers
2. The Chordials
3. Eight Beat Measure
4. The Statesmen
5. After Hours
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"