Earlier today, I had the honor of joining Musae/Overboard/Delilah’s Johanna Vinson and Syracuse radio personality Mike Fiss to serve as judges at the inaugural A Cappella Showdown event at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York. Nine groups competed, each allotted ten minutes to put forth the best set possible. I was focused on completing my scoring assessments, and listening for some different qualities than I ordinarily do; thus I didn’t take nearly as copious notes as I ordinarily would when covering an event for The A Cappella Blog, and don’t have a comprehensive write up to share. Therefore, what follows are a handful of thoughts from the show, rather than a complete summary and review.
A Cappella Competition
On March 23, 2012, South Lakes High School in Reston, VA played host to SingStrong’s ACA Idol competition. The night’s winners would receive $1,000 and a professional photo shoot. Before we get to the review, a quick summary of the event:
Case Western Reserve University Dhamakappella
The University of South Carolina Cocktails
Ohio State and Marion Technical College InChant
James Madison University Note-oriety
The Virginia Commonwealth University RAMifications
The University of North Carolina Greensboro Sapphires
Danielle Withers of Afro-Blue
Kim Hudson of MAXX Factor
Proceeds from the night’s event (and the weekend festival on the whole) benefited The Alzheimer’s Association and Parents for Choral Arts.
Photos from this competition are available now on our Facebook page.
On Friday, October 7, 2011, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) played host to its first Sing-Off-based competition, appropriately titled The RIT Sing Off.
The event featured three competing groups. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:
RIT Vocal Accent
RIT Brick City Singers
RIT Eight Beat Measure
Mary Beth Cooper
When I arrived at RIT for the event, I was surprised to see how full the venue was. Granted, this was a free event for faculty, staff, and students, but without much promotion, the show drew in approximately 400 people. I showed up a little on the later side, but was able to see the stage without a problem thanks to Ingle Auditorium’s stadium seating. In addition, I’d like to point out that this event was unique to me in that it was the first a cappella competition I’ve attended that was interpreted for the hearing impaired. Methinks this is because RIT has the world’s largest technical college for deaf students (NTID).
The first group to take the stage was Vocal Accent. The group was comprised of thirteen females wearing a mixture of black and purple apparel. They began their set with “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles, which I think was a really good song choice to be sung a cappella, especially for an all-female group. Group members formed a small semicircle around the soloist and swayed their shoulders, hips, and knees to the beat. The soloist was simply OK. There were some parts that were a bit out of tune and I thought the vocals in general could have been a little louder. However, this could have been the result of many possible factors.
Vocal Accent’s second song choice was Jordin Sparks’ “One Step at a Time.” Again, this was an appropriate selection for the group. The arrangement of group members and general movements throughout the song did not change much from the first song. However, the backing vocals were much fuller this time and the vocal percussion was well executed. Unfortunately, I still felt like the soloist could have been a little more pronounced.
For their final song, the group sang Sublime’s “What I Got.” While normally I don’t advocate that single-gender a cappella groups choose songs that are traditionally sung by the opposite gender, Vocal Accent pulled it together and gave what I believe to be their best performance of the night. There were two soloists throughout the song, both of which were in tune and easy to hear. The vocal percussionist was extremely into the song and delivered a strong performance. The group concluded their set by collectively and vibrantly singing the chorus of the song – all in all, a good way to start off the competition.
Mickey said the group brought him into the story, but to make sure they bring everyone in by increasing the energy level.
Mary Beth said she loved the lavender colors the group was wearing. She thought the soloists could have been a little louder and offered up a tip to hold the microphone closer to their mouths. She also mentioned that it’s tough to be the first group to perform, and working through the sound issues is, in part, why. Lastly, she agreed with Mickey that the energy levels could have been raised to enhance their performance.
Katie said the group’s sopranos were fantastic. She also said that the first song was a little rushed and that the group should make sure to take their time. Along with that tip, she, like the other two judges, recommended that the girls exude more energy.
Next up were the RIT Brick City Singers (BCS). This group of fourteen males arrived on stage looking like what one judge described as a bunch of Crayola crayons. The guys had on black shoes, slacks, and ties, as well each with a uniquely-colored button-down shirt. Personally, I like uniformity without uniformity, and this seemed to fit the bill.
On Friday, April 29, 2011, Johns Hopkins University held The Battle of the A Cappella Groups. Five Hopkins groups competed for bragging rights and a prize of $500. The set up had each group perform two songs—the first a traditional Hopkins song, the second a song that represented the group’s identity. Judges, including the president of the Alumni Association and alumni of the prestigious Peabody Institute, evaluated each of the groups in categories including musicality, entertainment, and school spirit. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:
The Johns Hopkins University Vocal Chords
Johns Hopkins University Kranti
The Johns Hopkins University All-Nighters
Johns Hopkins University Ketzev
The Johns Hopkins University Octopodes
The Johns Hopkins University Mental Notes
Photos from this event are available on our Facebook page.
With the ICCAs over for the year, here is a look back at my favorite performances from the competition.
Of course, before we get under way, I do have to stress that I only attended five out of the thirty-one shows that occurred throughout the US, Canada and England, so by no means would I claim that this is a comprehensive of list of which performances were actually the year's best. The shows I caught were:
Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals at Syracuse University
Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals at Lafayette College
Northeast Quarterfinals at SUNY Potsdam
Mid-Atlantic Semifinals at Rutgers University
Finals at the Lincoln Center
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:
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.
On Friday, March 1, South Lakes High School in Reston, VA, played host to the SingStrong DC Aca-Idol competition. The event featured nine competing groups. Before we get to the review, a quick summary:
Baltimore Vocal Jazz Ensemble
George Mason University Tomorrow’s Harmony
The Gettysburg College Four Scores
The Virginia Commonwealth University RAMifications
The Virginia Commonweath University Notochords
James Madison University Note-oriety
Rob Dietz (from The Funx)
Amy Engelhardt (formerly from The Bobs)
Ali Hauger (from GQ)
This past weekend’s SoJam Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, kicked off with a collegiate competition.
Venue: Memorial Auditorium, Progress Energy Center
Sound: Sled Dog Studios
Emcees and Guest Group: Members of The Edge Effect
North Carolina State University Acappology
The Vanderbilt University Melodores
The University of South Carolina Cocktails
Georgia Tech Nothin’ but Treble
University of Colorado Denver Mix
The Northeastern University Nor’easters
The annual SoJam Collegiate Competition got a new look this year with an elimination-style, progressive competition featuring different categories for each round.
Round one centered on the theme, “Come as You Are.”
Acappology opened the competition with Carrie Underwood’s “Good Girl.” Lots of well-planned movement on this song; with the group clustering and segmenting in male groups and female groups, the women often at the fore. The group employed plenty of seductive bends and twists to add a distinctive, sultry flavor to the song. Nice solo. Solid perc. Fun soft clap body percussion breakdown, leading into a clap along segment while background sound fell out and the soloist got her power moment. The seams started to show on the choreography late in the song as the group looked a little sloppy trying backing itself up in unison.. Good sound, and I appreciated the general connectedness of the sound and visual performance. Unfortunately, the group never quite arrived at a show-stopping moment. With just one song to make its case to move on to round two, Acappology’s performance didn’t quite resonate the way it needed to.
The Melodores showed off a new look for the crowd in Raleigh, clad in white tops rather than their traditional black. They tackled Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole,” featuring a positively sick falsetto solo. Nice full, complex sound from the group. Excellent percussion. The guys stood in a simple arc, performing very little choreography per se, but each group member moved with the music. Very cool electric guitar effect. Top to bottom, this was an excellent song choice to establish The Melodores’ edgy, aggressive identity.
This past weekend, I had the honor of serving as a judge at Voice Fest—a uniquely structured elimination-style competition that was part of the Wooster Jam music festival in Wooster, OH. I was focused on completing my scoring sheets, was listening for some different qualities than I ordinarily do, and didn’t take as copious notes as I ordinarily would when covering an event for The A Cappella Blog, and so I don’t have a full write up to share. Furthermore, I don’t want to undermine my fellow judges by necessarily making public the few points on which we disagreed. Therefore, what follows are a handful of thoughts from the show, rather than a comprehensive summary and review.
The Kent Clarks are one of those groups that’s absurdly good for how short a time it has been together (under a year). I didn’t envy them for having to open this show, but they did themselves proud with a set that featured a very good solo on Sara Bareilles’s “King of Anything” and excellent dynamics on “Pumped Up Kicks.” The truest surprise of the set was “Somebody I Used to Know,” covered in the style of Pentatonix, which saw the group strip down to just five vocalists. Really strong rotating lead on this one and some keen harmonies. I really enjoyed the borderline dubstep bass effect as the rhythm guy worked double time to electrify this song. I would have liked to have seen a little more stage presence from the group, and, while they actually did surprisingly well with it, I seriously don’t think any collegiate group in 2012 should be covering a song from The Little Mermaid (“Kiss the Girl”)—it has been done and while it can work in the context of a family weekend-type show, it’s a little too silly for competition.
By virtue of the competition structure, all seven groups performed, three were eliminated, then the remaining four groups sang again, then two more were out, leaving the final two. As a result, Ohio State Buck That! graced the stage three times. One of the things that was immediately evident about this group was their degree of polish. Remarkably, like the Kent Clarks, they haven’t been around very long, but they have already tested the waters of ICCAs, and that experience shone through in their stage presence, showmanship, and, most definitely in their choreography. Their seven songs included their three-song ICCA set—one piece of it in each of their outings. Understandably, these pieces were by far their most polished. “Poison” had incredibly slick vocals and a very cool stomp percussion effect that was used just long enough to make sure the audience took notice (too often, groups will do something cool and experimental like this, but drop it after a measure or two—too quickly for most of the audience to really appreciate what they’re doing) but also sparingly enough not to go overboard. I worry the choreography did go a little too far on “It’s Gonna Be Me.” While I credit them for moving with a purpose and synching things up really well, there’s a critical point where too much movement can distract from the music and that piece teetered on the verge of that. While “Kryptonite” was no less movement intensive, I positively loved the way in which the guys’ movement and vocals culminated, including samples from earlier songs to give it a “grand finale” feel. Sublime closer. My only knock on Buck That! Has to do with song selection. “Stand By Me”/”Beautiful Girls” medleys were hot on the collegiate scene with all-male groups five years ago. “Fix You,” the other relatively contemporary song selection, has been covered by a plethora of collegiate groups over the last few years. The rest of the set was all songs groups could have (and many cases have) been covered for the last decade. I don’t mean to diminish Buck That!’s accomplishment—they’re a great group. But to take the act to the next level, I’d love to hear them take on more contemporary and/or offbeat selections. Nonetheless, they very much deserved the first place honors they took home from this competition.