On Friday, January 29, Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, Oregon played host to an ICHSA Semifinal. Before the review, a quick summary of the show:
The Competing Groups
Oregon Children's Choir Some Cool Guys
Lincoln High School Vivace
South Albany High School Rebelation!
The Athenian High School hOWLers
West Albany High School Rhythmix
Corvallis High School Spartacappella
Oregon Children’s Choir Synergy
Wilsonville High School Soul’d Out
Bend High School Dynamics
The Sherwood High School Mixolydians
Emcee: Courtney Jensen
Guest Performers: University of Oregon Mind The Gap
We have a full set of photos from the show available now on our Facebook page.
Courtney Jensen opened the evening with the standard announcements and her standard brand of charisma and awesome sauce.
The first competing group was Oregon Children’s Choir Some Cool Guys. The guys looked sharp, dressed in all black with purple ties. Nice beatbox lead in on this one before the guys led off with pulsing energy for their first song. Nice bob into motion on the chorus with some nice spoken word secondary solo work. The guys wove in a moment of intensity on a clap-hand drive bit, and some fun little insertions of guys coming out of the pack to work to play hype man and rile the crowd. All in all, this was a strong choice for an opener that could have used a smidge more confidence, but nonetheless felt quite good as a get-the-butterflies-out statement song and I appreciated that the guys tackled the stage with so much energy.
The group followed up with Jason Mraz’s "I Won’t Give Up." It’s a beautiful song and the guys—particularly the soloist sang it beautifully. Nice warm blend from the group, and some really fine harmonizing on a two, and then three-part lead. My only real knock on this middle song comes to song selection itself—while “I Won’t Give Up” is, itself, a great song for an a cappella group, in the year 2016it has been so extensively covered in competition settings that it’s at least two year’s past its aca-expiration date and demands some full-fledged reinvention to justify bringing it to competition.
The guys wrapped up with Taylor Swift’s "Bad Blood." I appreciate the choice to go full-tilt into a song originally by an all-female artist—not the innovative choice it once was but still unexpected, and the song itself is a contemporary, recognizable finisher to get the crowd into the performance. Good intensity again, which is the right call for the identity this group established and I liked that his song gave a lot of different soloists an opportunities to shine on both the Swift part and the Kendrick Lamar rap.
Lincoln High School Vivace was out next, a co-ed group that took the stage all in black. Impressive that they’re a student-run high school group—a real rarity for a high school crew, and particularly one that would go on to perform at this level. They opened with Ariana Grande’s "Honeymoon Avenue." Really nice stage presence on the part of this soloist and a nice, smooth sound from the group on the whole. I liked the staging here, all oriented toward repositioning bodies on stage as opposed to literal interpretations or hand drives. Solid, mellow opener.
Vivace continued with Michael Jackson’s "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)" Very cool, distinctive tone on this lead vocal. Interesting composition in the background, mixing up the style and letting the rhythm drive the backing sound.
They closed with Sara Bareilles’s ”Islands.” Interesting staging, starting out in triads with breathy syllables that mirrored the sound of the original song. Very professional, smooth solo for this song. Nice differentiation on the second verse, as the bass weighed in and the group worked its way into a steady groove. Very nice visual and aural work on the group falling out as they crouched down and encircled the soloist for her to sing unaccompanied on the outro. This was a nice, off-beat way to finish the set.
South Albany High School Rebelation! was up next. Bold bright red jacket over black tees and jeans look. They opened on Bon Jovi’s <b>”You Give Love A Bad Name.”</b> The group demonstrated high energy with particularly good charisma on the part of the soloist who worked each side of the stage nicely as the group whirled in motion on each transition. Interesting choice to go choral on the second verse—I liked the impulse to mix up the sound but I’m not sure that this was the right song for that effect.
Next up, Sara Bareilles’s "Gonna Get Over You" The soloist did a good job of selling her part visually, asserting herself with different group members over the course of the first verse. I liked the backup part on the second chorus, with a portion of the group doubling up on the lyrics. Lots of good visual work here, particularly on the bridge with the group splitting in two for the soloist to work her way through the middle.
Fun transition into Styx’s "Mr. Roboto" with a robotic “powering down” before the group sagged, then split into two clusters to do the robot behind the soloist. Fun count off transition from there to “Safety Dance.” Really fun selection of songs here, and I particularly liked that the group looked at home in the staging doing the signature dances of each song. When a group can make the performance fun, they have the best chance of making it fun for the audience as well. Impressive cartwheel move on the transition into Rick Astley’s ”Never Gonna Give You Up,” leading up to fun clap breakdown on the finish, wrapping up the set with tremendous energy and a sense of light-heartedness.
The Athenian High School hOWLers were up next, clad in black and white. They opened their set with Bon Iver’s "Woods." Really lovely blend here. While I wish they could have pulled it off without the conducting on stage, the sound was well worth that gambit—some of the most pristine harmonies of the night. Nice little break out soprano part here, too.
Simply beautiful seamless transition into "House of Gold" by Twenty One Pilots before the beatbox joined in. Electric transition there. Really nice solo work, and great confidence all around from the group for this middle song.
They wrapped with "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Son. Good, steady sound here. Awesome bit of stomp percussion worked into the first chorus. Good staging work again with the group finding nice, subtle ways of rearranging itself on every available transition. I would have been interested in hearing a more original song choice to cap this strong set, but just the same, it was a fine, energized finish for The hOWLers, a technically sound group that really performed its set at a high level.
West Albany High School Rhythmix hit the stage next. Nice blue and yellow dudes for this co-ed crew. They kicked off with Imagine Dragons’ "Roots." Nice jazzy sound and bass groove here on the choral opening. The soloist demonstrated great charisma and was the first lead of the night to break the fourth wall and step off the main stage to the steps below to engage the audience.
The group employed another choral opening on Kelly Clarkson’s "Dark Side." The soloist emerged on the lyric, “will you stay even if it hurts?” Nice poise on her part and purity of sound. I really liked the staging as the group re-clustered with members looking out in different directions to the crowd on the second chorus. Really good staging with the soloist caught in the middle as the groups moved to separate sides and she was left alone to sing unaccompanied.
Rhythmix shut it down with Panic! At the Disco’s "This Is Gospel." Another choral intro. If I were to change one thing for this group, that’d be it—as much as I appreciated their technical precision and recognize how the choral bit lent a sense of uniformity, it grew predictable and I didn’t feel it afforded soloists as much of an opportunity to establish themselves in the early going. Really nice personality on all of the solo work here once it got going, and more solid staging. I thought the group could have afforded to have gone a little bigger on sound to milk this one for all it was worth. Just the same, it was an excellent closer.
Corvallis High School Spartacappella were up next, clad in black and blue, with white suspenders for the gentlemen. They opened with The Civil Wars’ "Barton Hollow." Really nice sound on this one, with those high harmonies really off-setting the low end perfectly, and a nice silky smooth solo work on this one from both the male and female leads. Good staging at the end with the group staggering in time with the music as the soloists converged, back to back at the front of the stage.
Really nice chanting follow up on an incredibly serious take on Bonnie Tyler’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Cool effect with the group still and spread around stage while one of the soloists wove between them and a kick drum sound added an extra sense of gravity. They grooved into a sample of Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love." It felt a little strange not to have the third song here—I may have cut the Meatloaf and trimmed the Total Eclipse <i>a little</i> to squeeze in another little something.
Oregon Children’s Choir Synergy led off the second half, starting with Janet Jackson’s "Girls (Who Runs The World)." It’s funny that they started at back of stage and I consciously thought they looked too timid for their own good, before a perfect surprise march to the front of the stage, chanting, full-throttle, full-power. Awesome attitude and strength on this one to assemble a really bold starting number. Follow up would be key, though, because this one had the energy of a closing number.
Synergy continued the set with James Bay’s “Let It Go.” This was a nice contrast to their opener--still a good confident sound and particularly good when the perc keyed in. Really nice mix of different lead vocals on this one—smooth transitions, distinctive sounds and personalities and a steady, soft backing sound. Lovely un-mic’ed four-part harmony toward the end before the group keyed in again and built to a clap-along segment.
The group huddled at the back of the stage before they spread into <i>dance</i>-y motion into Joy Williams’ “Woman (Oh Mama).” Tremendous power sound here. <i>Scintillating</i> solo. Interesting that I might have flipped the set for song order, but with this killer lead to put a bow on the set, I don’t blame them for leaving this one as a last impression. Awesome syllable work. Such a distinctive sound on this one, really sculpting an identity. As far as I was concerned, this set, and particularly this closer set a new bar for the evening.
Next up, Wilsonville High School Soul’d Out. Killer opening with just three members on stage, the others waiting to the side before they launched onto stage for One Direction’s “Drag Me Down.” Really nice stage presence and confidence. Cool moment as the leads stepped off stage to break the fourth wall.
Slick seamless transition with hints of the preceding song en route to Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Really nice staging again, particularly from the soloist’s showmanship at the fore. Nice dynamic variation here, really spiking the sound at key moments. Well-planned reconfigurations in the background. Cool mashing up of the two songs on the finish to lend some much appreciated continuity to the set.
Soul’d Out made another seamless transition into “Get It Right.” Really nice, vulnerable solo work here, with the lead standing at center stage, in contrast to the more-in-your-face showmanship of the performances before it.
Bend High School Dynamics hit the stage next in black and silver formal wear and launched straight into instrumental work from Star Wars, complete with a well-placed Wookie sound effect before transitioning to a choral take on Stevie Wonder’s "Signed, Sealed Delivered." The Star Wars bit was entertaining and topical, but given that it didn’t meaningfully connect to the rest of the set, the group may have been better off leaving it out of a competition set. Just the same, on to Stevie, they delivered some nice little riffs off of it, mixing up the tempo and letting parts fall in and out. Very clean. From a visual perspective, there wasn’t much choreo to speak of, per se, but I liked it better for that—how natural the group looked, and the extent to which they looked as though were sincerely having fun.
Dynamics followed up with “Green Garden” by Laura Mvula. Constant clap on this one from the whole group. I liked the idea and get how it mirrored the original track, but thought they really could have afforded to scale back to half or less of the group clapping to keep the effect better controlled and prevent it from overwhelming the song. Really slick, soulful solo on this song and nice motion again as the group kept reconfiguring. Fun bit from the soloist on the “I’ll go wherever you’ll go” lyric, as she proceeded to lead the group in a circle around the stage, clapping along. Really fun interpretation.
Dynamics wrapped up with “Dreams” by Beck. They started with the group sagged and one member wandering through to rouse them as the soloist performed up front. Again, this one was more entertaining for the degree to which the group was clearly having fun on stage. The bulk of them fell into sleeping positions as one of the guys explained that it was a gag related to the name of the song. The lead VPer remained unconscious up front before he was individually roused for a fun little moment. Cool stop motion movement in the end game. This was a super entertaining, fun to watch set.
Last up, we heard from The Sherwood High School Mixolydians, one last co-ed group, in black and purple. Nice full sound on the lead-in to “Love Like You” by Eric Hutchinson. Terrific energy and confidence from this group. They went for clap along early here—I’d usually wait until the closer—but they had a large contingent of fans up front who bit on it to make it work.
A choral opening gave way to two group members singing from either side of the stage on Vienna Teng’s “The Hymn of Acxiom.” Good mechanics on this one and I really liked the sharp contrast to the first song, as this number afforded more of a showcase for the group’s polished technical skill after more of a showmanship-oriented number. The whole group came together for a lovely, warm finish.
The group knelt and rose one-by-one on the intro to "Feeling Good." Nice build to a big crescendo on the end of the first verse, before a female lead stepped forward for AWOLNATION’s "Sail." Great sound here, particularly on the lead—sensational attitude. I don’t suspect I ever would have thought to mash these particular two songs together, but I’ll be darned if the results weren’t electric. Positively haunting fall out finish. What a fresh, surprising, thoroughly entertaining set to finish out the competiion!
As the judges deliberated, University of Oregon Mind The Gap entertained the crowd with a stellar set including “Higher Love,” “Where Have You Been” “Crazy In Love,” “Rather Be” “Here’s Where I Stand,” “A Little Party,” and “Sweater Weather” I really love the dynamic of a rock solid college group performing in this spot, rounding out the night with a polished, mature sound and offering a taste of what some of these high schoolers have to look forward to in their futures.
While Mind The Gap worked their magic, I made my picks for the night. It was a tough show to call between Vivace’s stellar solo work and song selection, Soul’d Out’s polish (particularly on those transitions!), The Mixolydians diversity of sound and stupendous closer, Spartacappella’s off-beat takes on classics, and The hOWLers’ purity of sound and winning personalities, and Rhythmix’s stellar mechanics and glowing stage presence. In the end, though, the act I best remembered and found most startlingly clear in identity was Synergy. The young women delivered a bold, smart, super-powered story of a set that sounded terrific and had something to say. I went on and on about this last year when Vocal Rush took home first at this very show, but when terrific artists can use their gifts to in turn use their craft to put forth a worthwhile statement into the world, it has the potential to transcend music into message. In so many walks of life, women have a tendency to be overlooked, dismissed, or treated as lesser than their male counterparts. Synergy put forth one of those special performances that not only compelled the audience to take them seriously, but arrived as unforgettable.
As it turned out, Rhythmix picked up the victory. I can certainly understand this pick, but was quite surprised to see Synergy not place. In any event, the crew from Sherwood High wrapped up the night with their rendition of “Carol of the Bells.”
Check back later this week for my review of the ICCA quarterfinal from the next night in Tualatin!
Official ICHSA Results
2. Soul’d Out
3. The Mixolydians
Outstanding Soloist: Vivace for “Islands” and Synergy for “Woman (Oh Mama)
Outstanding Choreography: Synergy
Outstanding Arrangement: Vivace and The Mixolydians
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Soul’d Out and Some Cool Guys
Mike Chin's Picks for the Night
2. The Mixolydians
3. Tie: Rhythmix and Soul’d Out
1. Synergy for “Woman (Oh Mama)”
2. Vivace for “Islands”
3. Soul’d Out for “Get It Right”
Outstanding Visual Presentation:
1. Soul’d Out
1. The Mixolydians for “Feeling Good”/”Sail”
2. Spartacappella for “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Outstanding Vocal Percussion:
1. Soul’d Out
2. The hOWLers
3. Some Cool Guys