<![CDATA[The A Cappella Blog]]> http://acappellablog.com/ The A Cappella Blog en Copyright 2018 2018-02-23T23:13:54-05:00 <![CDATA[A Well-Executed Choral Arrangement]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/a-well-executed-choral-arrangement http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/a-well-executed-choral-arrangement

Reason #143: A Well-Executed Choral Arrangement

Bringing a choral piece to a contemporary a cappella show may seem counter-intuitive. After all, the form has garnered much of its popularity by eschewing traditionalism in favor of covering cool music in cool ways, and what could come across less innovative than singing something soft and slow in the same style as your high school chorus or the college’s madrigal choir?

The thing is that the excellent execution of a choral arrangement highlights so many of the core elements of what great a cappella is all about—seamless blend, intentional use of dynamics, compounding harmonies upon harmonies to reimagine a piece of music.

Yes, star soloists can go a long way toward captivating an audience, but a choral arrangement casts a spotlight on a group as a united whole, and there are few sounds in the a cappella world more magical than a choral arrangement executed to perfection.

I love it!

<![CDATA[To Build a Home]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/to-build-a-home http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/to-build-a-home

This week we present Central Washington University Nada Cantata performing the Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home.”

<![CDATA[Attire]]>http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/attire http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/attire

In this addition, the focus is on attire.

Does it really matter?

The biggest question about attire in collegiate a cappella may well be whether it really makes a difference at all. After all, if a groups sound sensational, and incorporates a professional-grade visual show via choreography and staging, is anyone really going to care about how a group dressed?


The thing about attire is that it goes a long way toward making a first impression and informing the audience’s understanding of group's identity. There are opportunities to play with and subvert such expectations. For example, consider the seemingly stodgy group wearing tuxedos with tails that proceeds throw down a high-octane set with a hip hop bent. Even if you’re not trying be satirical, it is worth thinking about what message your group’s attire is sending.  


It’s exceedingly rare to see a group in t-shirt and jeans compete in the ICCA Finals.

Don’t get me wrong, casual attire is fine and perhaps even preferable for a casual show on campus. But when a group takes the stage in competition, the choice of outfits should reflect thought, preparation and coordination. Professional threads tend to play better with grown-up judges, and communicate a tone that a group takes itself seriously.


There are exceptions, but, in general, if a group doesn’t take the time to coordinate at least a general color scheme or min/max standard for how formally they will dress, the group ends up looking sloppy on stage, and are often more difficult for judges and audience members to distinctively remember, because they can’t point to “the women who wore black dresses” or “the mixed group that wore purple.”


Within the context of uniformity, it’s ideal if a group can find opportunities to celebrate individual characters—the hipster, the nerd, and the jock can all co-exist within a color scheme of black and yellow; group members can go with or without ties, and in blue skirts or blue jeans and still look like a unit, without looking like clones.


Can you perform your choreography in those blazers? In those heels? Does your director have a pocket to carry her pitch pipe? Is that skirt too short to be anything but distracting on stage?

Attire does more than communicate group identity—when a group doesn’t carefully consider its threads, it runs the risk of hindering the groups ability to effectively perform by becoming a functional inhibitor or distraction for the performers or the audience.

How have you seen attire affect a group’s performance in competition? What helps? What hurts? Let us know in the comments.

<![CDATA[Glitter in the Air]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/glitter-in-the-air http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/glitter-in-the-air

This week we present Penn State University Blue in the FACE performing P!nk’s “Glitter in the Air.”

<![CDATA[Update On A Cappella Blog Event Reviews]]>http://acappellablog.com/open-letters/update-on-a-cappella-blog-event-reviews http://acappellablog.com/open-letters/update-on-a-cappella-blog-event-reviews

Dear Readers,

Since we started The A Cappella Blog in 2007, the cornerstone of this site has been live event coverage, and in particular reviews of Varsity Vocals competitions. Indeed, the idea to start the site at all came up in 2006, in recognition that reviews weren’t happening elsewhere—no one was archiving, let alone offering evaluation of all of the awesome a cappella going down at competitions.

And so we began. At the site’s peak, I would personally go on the road for as many as eight-to-ten consecutive weekends in a season, putting thousands of miles on my Civic each spring.

Times have changed.

In my mid-to-late twenties, I lived in Baltimore, within a couple hundred miles of just about any Mid-Atlantic ICCA or ICHSA show including Finals and a number of festivals. I was a bachelor, worked a respectable office job, and lived in a hole-in-the-wall apartment—a recipe for expendable time and money to hit all of these shows and make it down south or into the Midwest a couple times a year (not to mention actually write a several-thousand word review in the days to immediately follow each event).

Regular readers likely noticed that the site’s live event coverage dipped in 2015. I’d left the job behind in favor of a second round of graduate school. I wound up in Oregon, in reasonable driving distance for two or three events a year, and making an annual flight out to New York for Finals. Money and time were tighter. And I got engaged.

Fast forward to now. I’ve settled in Georgia where I teach college composition courses. I’m married and, in my most recent life transition, am now a father.

Image 1

Being a father was always a long-term goal, and I always said that I didn’t want to be a father until I was ready to put my child ahead of anything else.

I toyed with the idea of making it to the few Varsity Vocals shows happening this year within an hour or two of my home, or of going to New York again in April. At this particular moment, however, the time away from my family—for travel, for shows, for writing—simply doesn’t feel worth it.

I’ve always taken pride in being transparent about how The A Cappella Blog operates, for example, publicizing our annual off-season so as to not mislead readers that they should check back to our site when we’re not going to be active. And so, I want to be open here and now as well that I do not anticipate covering live events for the foreseeable future.

That’s not to suggest we’ll never have another event review, and in particular it’s not to indicate that the site is closing. We will continue our regular columns (stay tuned as we get to each and every one of those 200 Reasons to Love A Cappella!) and special features for the foreseeable future. For the time being, however, the live event reviews are on the shelf. I appreciate your understanding, and in case you haven’t encountered them, would like to refer you in particular to FloVoice and Acaville which, via their sites and social media, are among the leaders in live a cappella event coverage, doing so much of what we set out to do with the ACB from the beginning.

Keep singing, and I’ll see you down the road.



<![CDATA[We Don't Talk Anymore]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/we-dont-talk-anymore http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/we-dont-talk-anymore

This week we present University of Florida Gestalt performing Charlie Puth ft. Selenea Gomez’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore.”

<![CDATA[When a Group Defies What You’d Expect By Looking at Them]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-a-group-defies-what-youd-expect-by-looking-at-them http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-a-group-defies-what-youd-expect-by-looking-at-them

Reason #142: When a Group Defies What You’d Expect By Looking at Them

Many of us grow up hearing that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover—and yet how many of us honestly heed that advice? One of my truest pleasures as an a cappella fan has long been watching a group take the stage—a bunch guys dressed like scrubs, timid-looking young women, , people who otherwise look as though they’re not truly ready for performance—hand having them prove me dead wrong by knocking their performance out o the park.

 One of my favorite examples is Reverb, an ostensibly nerdy group of guys in powder blue bow ties who look about as cool or threatening as a pastel teddy bear and yet for every performance I’ve heard from them, demonstrate ambition in their song selection and a level of attitude and energy that’s nearly without peer in the contemporary a cappella landscape. Their brand of entertainment and undermining expectations was, perhaps, nowhere more evident than in their 2013 ICCA Finals run when they made it all the way to NYC and stunned the crowd with the highest of caliber mashups, slamming home a “Bad” and “This Is How We Do It.”

I love it!

<![CDATA[Back to Me]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/back-to-me http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/back-to-me

This week we present University of Florida No Southern Accent performing Daya’s “Back To Me.”

<![CDATA[Using Instruments]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/using-instruments http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/using-instruments

In this edition, our focus is on using instruments.

The concept of this article may come across as completely antithetical to content and principles of this site. After all, what interest would a site dedicated to all-vocal music have in analyzing music that, well, isn’t all vocal?

But things have changed, and questions about group identity have grown more complicated. True, a cappella purists have had a hard time accepting vocal percussion as a part of the a cappella landscape because it’s not about vocal harmony. And what of groups like Arora and A.Squared that make innovative use of looping technology be criticized for not truly making all of their music with the human voice?

Nowadays, most a cappella fans are ready to accept vocal percussion, body percussion, special mic-ing techniques, and looping as viable components of a cappella performance and recording. Instruments, however, remain a no-no. After all, most genres of music are dominated by instrument usage, and the absence of instruments is generally accepted as the factor that defines a cappella. But when a high profile group like The Exchange recorded tracks using instruments, and when even The Sing-Off permitted instruments (though, beyond looping pedals, they didn’t come into use) in 2014, is rebelling against the use of instruments becoming an uphill battle? Will the renegade genre that rejected conventional instrumentation come back into the fold for a style of music that may prioritize vocals and harmonies but still include guitars, keyboards, and real drums?

A cappella groups that are pondering this question need to think about why they are or are not interested in instruments. Is it a matter of principle or a matter of pragmatism? Are you, and your listeners, invested in the a cappella sound? Has the novelty of the cliché disclaimer that  “all of the sounds you hear were created with the human voice”  worn out its value? Might the introduction of instruments make your music more palatable to a larger audience?

For groups considering the use of instruments, one place to start is to introduce instruments to your group minimally. On a recording, this might mean using instruments on just one song, and doing so with good reason—for example, incorporating a standout violinist from your local community, or weaving a real trumpet solo around your vocal trumpet solo in a song to create a unique effect.

Another, fundamentally disparate approach would be to enter the instrumental fray aggressively. This could mean using instruments on every track and using them shamelessly to truly step away from the a cappella world for a special recording project that includes a full band. This is the realm in which experimentation is key. How can you make creative use of instruments to justify their placement and not devolve into a standard band with a surplus of lead vocalists?

Overall, though the key to introducing instruments to an a cappella group is to use them purposefully—to generate an effect you cannot with the human voice—and to do so in such a way that produces the best music possible. At its core, making music should be about expression, the creation of art, or entertainment. None of these factors necessarily exclude the use of instruments, if your group pursues it in such a way that is true to the group’s identity, and in the name of advancing new ideas, and better pleasing your audience.

<![CDATA[What Now]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/what-now http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/what-now

This week we present the Rutgers University Orphan Sporks performing Rihanna’s “What Now.”

<![CDATA[10 Reasons Every College-Aged Male Singer Should Audition for the Hyannis Sound]]>http://acappellablog.com/guest-columns/10-reasons-every-college-aged-male-singer-should-audition-for-the-hyannis-sound http://acappellablog.com/guest-columns/10-reasons-every-college-aged-male-singer-should-audition-for-the-hyannis-sound
Hs 1

Calling all male collegiate a cappella singers: Whether you’re on the hunt for your summer internship, or you’re arranging to get back home to your old summer job, don’t forget to send in an audition video for the Hyannis Sound. It’s a unique and lucrative opportunity worth looking into if you’re interested in spending your summer gaining professional experience. Friends here at the ACB so kindly refer to us as the unique 'all star powerhouse [that] since 1994 has drawn ten talented young men from across the country.' We're gearing up for our 24th summer touring Cape Cod, and we're currently looking for talented male singers to add to our 2018 roster. If you’re at all interested, read more about the audition process here.

The Hyannis Sound is a summer job unlike any other. It offers college-aged young men the opportunity to run a professional a cappella group all by themselves, fostering the skills necessary to succeed both as a musician and a professional. Unlike with an unpaid internship, it’s a full-time job and you keep your share of what the group makes while still earning valuable experience. Auditions are now open, and we can’t wait to hear from you.

The first step is a video submission, with live-round call-back auditions in Boston sometime early spring. Submit a short (~5 minute) audition video before February 10th, 2018. Remember to be yourself, as cliche as it sounds. We want to get to know you from your video, so relax and have fun. Click here to get started. Email Jared with any questions at hyannissoundauditions@gmail.com

Hs 2

As a member of the Hyannis Sound, you’re a part of a professional a cappella group, a small business, bust most importantly, a tight-knit family. Hear it from directly from the ten young men that currently fill its ranks. Here’s 10 reasons why you should audition. One from each of us!

1. You’re pushed out of your comfort zone.

Jason Berk: Jason is the Hyannis Sound’s business manager, and he’s completed three summers with the Hyannis Sound. At Elon University, Jason was the president of Rip_Chord.

“You’re absolutely pushed out of your comfort zone. You learn so many new things. Not only will you learn a ton of new music, but you’ll learn so much about yourself. You leave the summer as a better musician, but more importantly a better person. I know I met some of the most amazing people, and I’m lucky to call them my best friends.”- Jason

2. You get to watch your friends grow and improve too.

Jared Graveley is the Hyannis Sound’s very own music director and has just finished his third summer in the group. He attended the University of Connecticut where he was the co-music director for his college group, the Conn-Men.

“The Hyannis Sound has been one of the greatest opportunities of my life. I’ve grown so much since being in the group; more so than I did in my first two years of college. What’s really cool is watching the newcomers grow in the same ways that I did. When you work hard and you finally get something, the best feeling is being able to give that back to someone else. I can’t wait for the next round of new guys and to see who’s auditioning for a spot in this awesome group.” - Jared

3. You’re immediately part of a loving community.

Grayson Kilgo is the Hyannis Sound’s social media manager, and has completed three summers with the group. He founded his college group No Ceiling in 2015 at the College of William and Mary. 

“Hyannis Sound has allowed me to truly feel connected to the awesome communities here on Cape Cod. I've had the opportunity to explore the Cape for three summers alongside 9 great friends and teammates. Joining Hyannis Sound is a wonderful opportunity for young singers to find confidence in themselves, and to feel connected to an extremely loving community during the summer months.”- Grayson

4. It changes your life in ways you can’t even imagine.

Ryan LaForest is the events coordinator for the group and has completed three summers with the Hyannis Sound. In college he sang with the CharlieChords at the Berklee College of Music. 

 “When I auditioned for the group back in 2015, I thought I was just auditioning for a group where I’d get to live on Cape for the summer singing awesome music with a bunch of cool guys. In the past three years, it’s proven to be so much more than that. It’s way more than an a cappella group. It really is a family. The alumni network is so supportive and more than willing to help the current guys with whatever they do.”- Ryan

5. You’ll find 9 of your best friends.

Anthony Rodriguez is our operations manager and has completed two summers. In 2017 his college group, the Nor’easters, won the ICCA championship and Anthony was awarded best soloist.

“We do pretty much everything together. Since we’re learning and rehearsing and performing all the time, we’re always together. Not only that, but we live in the same house, spend our time hanging out with each other, and cook and eat together too. It takes a little getting used to at first, but because of that, I’ve found 9 of my best friends.”- Anthony

6. You learn to become not only a better singer, but a more engaging performer.

Mark Farnum is the alumni liaison of the group and has been around for two summers. In college, he was the music director for Ithaca College’s very own Ithacappella.

“As a member of Hyannis Sound, you’ll be rehearsing and performing almost every day of the summer. The arrangements are both fun and challenging to sing. Performing them every day forces you to find ways to keep your performance engaging and different each time. There are few better ways to improve as a singer and performer than practicing 7 days a week for a whole summer!”- Mark

7. You get to record a ton of music with some of the best people in the industry.

Peter Carboni has just completed his first summer in the group and is the group’s Public Relations Coordinator. He was the creative director of the Doo Wop Shop at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“As a member of the Hyannis Sound, there’s no doubt that you’ll be performing every night of the week. But what’s also cool is recording the songs you love in the studio. We produce a live-recorded bootleg album each summer, and on top of that we release a studio album every two years. We just released our latest album, “Boys of Summer” (RARB gave us a 5/5!) as well as our 2017 bootleg. It’s so cool to be a part of that and to leave your mark on an existing legacy.” -Peter

8. It’s an unforgettable, one-of-a kind summer.

Will Wolz is the website manager for the Hyannis Sound, and has completed his first summer with the Hyannis Sound. He’s currently the music director for No Ceiling at the College of William and Mary.

“Nowhere else will you find the perfect mix of friendship, fun and all-around growth other than with the Hyannis Sound. It’s truly unforgettable. Everyone in the group pushes you to be the best you can be as a performer, a musician and as a person.” - Will Wollz

9. You gain valuable life skills while pursuing your passion.

Nolan Roche acts at the Hyannis Sound’s house manager, and has completed his first summer with the group. He’s currently the co-business manager for the Bowdoin College Longfellows at Bowdoin College.

“Although I've been in the group for less than one year at this point, Hyannis Sound already holds an important place in my mind and heart. The combination of skills developed during a summer in HS are unique compared to typical summer jobs: public speaking, living and working as a team, and small business experience are just a few. But for me, the biggest takeaway involves a connection with and development of passion. After leaving Cape Cod, I felt a reinvigorated sense of my passion for music, performance, and most importantly, people that’ll impact the rest of my life. The quality of people, both in the group, community and alumni base, is remarkable” - Nolan Roche

10. You’re challenged musically, but it’s so much fun.

Matt Goldstein is the merchandise manager of the group and has just finished up his first summer with the Hyannis Sound. He was the music director of the Vassar Devils at Vassar College.

“The arrangements that we sing are super challenging. They aren’t easy! But because they’re so challenging, it makes for a beautiful product. We sing them every day and it’s so much fun. We have the guys in the house arrange songs for us, and we’ll also reach out to alumni who are more than happy to help.” - Matt Goldstein

So what are you waiting for? Submission deadline is February 10th! We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Follow the Hyannis Sound on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Listen on Apple MusicGoogle Play, and Spotify


Author bio: Peter Carboni is the Public Relations Coordinator of the Hyannis Sound, Cape Cod’s all-male professional a cappella group. He’s excited to return to Cape Cod in the summer for another jam-packed season of a cappella with 9 of his best friends. Like Peter on Facebook.

<![CDATA[Cherry Wine]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/cherry-wine http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/cherry-wine

This week we present the University of Michigan Dicks and Janes performing Hozier’s “Cherry Wine.”

<![CDATA[Breath as a Sound Effect]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/breath-as-a-sound-effect http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/breath-as-a-sound-effect

Reason #141: Breath as a Sound Effect

If a cappella is rooted in making the most of the human voice, one of the greatest gifts of the contemporary style over the last decade is creative use of other parts of the human body to make music. Whether it’s stomping or chest-thumping body percussion, a full-range of vocal percussion techniques, or Bill Hare famously having a member of the Tufts Beelzebubs tap his teeth into a microphone, the human body has revealed itself as a remarkably diverse musical instrument.

And how about breathing?

More and more groups have combined microphone technique with the simple act of breathing to result in a very dramatic, very cool effect, whether it’s any number of groups mimicking Imagine Dragons on the “breathin the chemicals” line of “Radioactive,” groups like Lafayette College Cadence punctuating each chorus of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” with staccato exhales, or The Cornell Chordials’ masterful take on someone running out of breath to punch up the drama in a magnificent interpretation of Tori Amos’s “Precious Things.”

I love it!

<![CDATA[Death of a Bachelor]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/death-of-a-bachelor-1 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/death-of-a-bachelor-1

This week we present UC Santa Barbara Naked Voices performing Panic! At the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor.”

<![CDATA[Seniors’ Last Show]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/seniors-last-show http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/seniors-last-show

Reason #140: Seniors’ Last Show

One of the sad inevitabilities of scholastic a cappella group is that the group will, in time, separate. Graduation happens and senior send off shows are among the most bittersweet parts of our world, simultaneously marking a tearful farewell, while it also commemorates and celebrates a singer’s tenure with a group. While the world might watch most readily in a competition setting, and it’s always fun to watch newer group members have their breakout moments, there’s still nothing quite like the experience of watching a loyal group member sing his or her final solo.

I love it!

<![CDATA[A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/a-little-party-never-killed-nobody-all-we-got http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/a-little-party-never-killed-nobody-all-we-got

This week we present Texas A&M University HardChord Dynamix performing Fergie’s “A Litle Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got).”

<![CDATA[Greedy for Freedom]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/greedy-for-freedom http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/greedy-for-freedom

This week, we present the UPenn Counterparts performing a Nathan Sykes and Ariana Grand mashup, "Greedy for Freedom."

<![CDATA[This Christmas]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/this-christmas http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/this-christmas

This week we present Elon University’s Vital Signs performing Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.”

<![CDATA[The Ten Can't Miss American Collegiate A Cappella Groups of 2017]]>http://acappellablog.com/newsline/the-ten-cant-miss-american-collegiate-a-cappella-groups-of-2017 http://acappellablog.com/newsline/the-ten-cant-miss-american-collegiate-a-cappella-groups-of-2017

2017 was a great year for a collegiate a cappella. As the year comes to a close, it is time to salute ten truly extraordinary groups.

A few notes:

-Groups included in The Ten Can’t-Miss American Collegiate A Cappella Groups of 2014, 2015, and 2016 were not eligible for inclusion in this year’s list. It’s not that those groups are any less exceptional this year, but I wanted to give ten different groups recognition. So, the following thirty groups were not considered this time around:

  • a.Squared
  • The AcaBelles
  • Acasola
  • All-Night Yahtzee
  • Bare Naked Statues
  • Beyond Measure
  • The BluesTones
  • The BosTones
  • Divisi
  • Faux Paz
  • Fundamentally Sound
  • Gold Vibrations
  • The Hexachords
  • Men In Drag
  • Mosaic Whispers
  • The N’Harmonics
  • The Octaves
  • The Octopodes
  • The Originals
  • Pitch, Please!
  • The ScatterTones
  • The Sil’hooettes
  • Soundcheck
  • State of Fifths
  • The Statesmen
  • The Vassar Devils
  • VirtuOSO
  • Vocal Point (Brigham Young University)
  • Vocal Point (University of Delaware)
  • Voicebox

-This list does not necessarily denote the best groups, so much as the ones that were most successful and noteworthy in 2016. The criteria for the list included (but was not necessarily limited to) accomplishments, public recognition, innovation, and quality of performance (live and recorded). Two other pieces of criteria that are least scientific, but unavoidable: my personal preferences and what I’ve been exposed to. I’m only one critic, and if I haven’t heard your group, I welcome you to send me some YouTube links or a CD to help bring me up to speed

- This list only considers groups based in the United States of America. I simply don’t have enough exposure to international groups at this time to fairly consider them in this context.

-I opted to limit this list to ten groups, which meant that many groups worthy of superlatives could not make it. I did want to acknowledge a handful of them with honorable mentions: Berklee College of Music Upper Structure, The University of Rochester YellowJackets, University of Oregon Mind the Gap, University of Pittsburgh Pittch Please, The Missouri State University Beartones, Texas A&M University HardChord DynaMix, UMass Amherst S#arp Attitude, and Georgia Tech Sympathetic Vibrations.

Without further ado, I am very pleased to present, in no particular order, The Ten Can’t-Miss American Collegiate A Cappella Groups of 2017.

University of Central Florida KeyHarmony

All-female KeyHarmony finished 2016 strong by releasing their well-received second EP, War Without Weapons. After a successful year, the group wound up winning one of the highest profile collegiate competitions there is at SoJam XV. Besides winning the competition on the whole, the group collected superlatives for Best Visual Performance and Best Vocal Percussion, solidifying their status as a star collegiate a cappella group.

The Northeastern University Nor’Easters

The Nor’Easters have been a perennial threat in the ICCA tournament for quite some time. In 2017 they won their way through the Northeast to arrive at Finals as stars. Their set not only awed the crowd in terms of soloists, complexity of sound, and visual presentation, but was so impressive for breaking down convention in a genuinely unique set. Add onto that placing a track on the Best of Collegiate A Cappella (a cover of Andra Day's "Rise Up") and The Nor’Easters furthered their legacy as an ensemble that breaks boundaries, and sounds like no other a cappella group on the planet.

University of Chicago Voices in Your Head

In speaking with a Voices in Your Head alum after ICCA Finals, I picked up the impression that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the group. On the Finals stage, they came across as anything but a group in transition, much less trying to find itself. An inspired, original set positively took command of the competition, and rightfully landed Voices a second place finish. You can add onto that they also won a CARA in the same year—Best Mixed Collegiate Album for LIGHTS--and you have a special year for a special group.

Ohio State University Ohio State of Mind

Ohio State of Mind won its way to ICCA Finals out of the Midwest this year, with superlatives including winning the Outstanding Arrangement award at their regional semifinal. The truest story for this truly excellent group, however, may well have been their rhythm section. Not only did they pick up an Outstanding Vocal Percussion honor at the regional level, but at Finals in New York, Music Director Jojo Otseidu garnered the rare recognition of Outstanding Bass. When the most auspicious collection of judges in collegiate a cappella deems fit to tailor fit a special award to you—and the last time they did so was to honor Avi Kaplan—you’d better believe you’ve achieved something sensational.

University of Florida Gestalt

One of the rarest feats for a scholastic a cappella group is to maintain excellence over the course of a calendar year. We expect groups to peak in the spring, after a year of singing together. We expect for the fall to be rougher, as the group reorganizes after the summer, rallies from losing seniors, and incorporates new members. Gestalt is that rare group that managed to finish third in an ultra-competitive ICCA South region, only to come into the fall guns-ablaze for a second place finish at the SoJam, while collecting the Best Soloist and Best Arrangement accolades. Add onto that the release of their debut album, Beyond the Archetype and it was a heck of a year for this group. The scariest part? They were only founded in 2016. There are surely big things ahead for Gestalt.

University of Michigan Amazin' Blue

One of the greatest ICCA innovations of the last decade is the Wild Card round, which grants one regional semifinal runner up entry into the Finals. The Wild Card has offered the Finals audience in New York the opportunity to hear some truly fantastic groups, and Amazin’ Blue was a particularly luminous addition to that legacy. Coming out of the Great Lakes region, Amazin’ Blue delivered huge with a brilliantly cohesive set, that was not only fundamentally sound, but underscored with a sense of danger at every turn. 

University of Washington Furmata A Cappella

2017 saw Furmata A Cappella not only win its way out of the ICCA Northwest to their first appearance at Finals, but saw them become the first group to represent the state of Washington at Finals. They brought a wonderful intensity to competition, including a wild closing number for which the group left everything on the stage. Add onto that alumni of the group (and UW Awaaz) doing them proud as part of SeaNote—releasing a fine new album, Transititions, and competed as part of the first Varsity Vocals Open competition.

The Towson University Trills

After just a year and a half singing together, The Towson Trills did the unthinkable. The seven-member ensemble qualified for ICCA Finals. If you think that’s a small group size or a short period of time together to make it to Finals, you’re correct on both counts, and the group brought a truly unique style to the Finals stage, anchored by keen arranging work and killer VP. The best news for Trills fans? No one from the group is set to graduate before 2019, so they’ve still got a year and a half ahead of them to thrive before losing any seniors.

The University of Waterloo Water Boys

The ICCA Finals have taken a turn for the dark side. While some have criticized it, a lot of the top groups in the world have come to embrace intensity, sorrow, and rage over representing happier ideals. There’s nothing wrong with that—in fact I’d call recent years of ICCA Finals some of the best a cappella I’ve experienced—but it’s nonetheless a breath of fresh air to encounter a group like The Water Boys. While this all-male group isn’t necessarily happy go lucky, they represent a polished aesthetic that leans toward silky smooth and professional. The guys’ competition set simultaneously felt like a bit of a throwback, and like a new direction for the genre. For groups seeking to make their presence felt on the national level, its so important to forge a unique identity, and The Water Boys were one of the best groups at doing that in 2017.

The Belmont University Beltones

Nashville is known as a prime location for serious musicians and for a certain country fried sensibility. Out of these traditions, The Beltones arise as a quietly awesome group that tends to get wrongfully overlooked in conversations about the best contemporary collegiate a cappella franchises. In 2017, they reached ICCA Finals for the third time in five years by winning the very competitive South region. Their competition set this year saw them diversify their sound and their presentation, ranging from pop, to power, to a jazzier sound, lined with seamless transition and their trademark musical precision.

<![CDATA[Alive]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/alive http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/alive

This week we present University of Washington Furmata A Cappella performing Sia’s “Alive.”

<![CDATA[Small Groups]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/small-groups http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/small-groups

Reason #139: Small Groups

In reason number 138, we took a look at super-sized groups. This time we turn to the opposite extreme. Small groups have cemented themselves, particularly at the professional or semi-pro level as some of the most compelling acts in a cappella, whether we’re talking about Pentatonix, Arora, The Boxettes, GQ, Musae, or any other number of elite groups with a half dozen members or fewer.

Having fewer members can present some very real strengths. The fewer the voices, the less complex a problem it is to make voices blend, and the more opportunity there are for individual personalities to shine. Fewer group members can make visual presentation simpler, both for fewer bodies to move in synch, and on the principle that a smaller group can more readily connect with an audience on an individual level without choreographing at all, per se, but rather just focusing on a few key movements and letting stage presence and charisma do the heavy lifting.

Smaller groups allow for stars to be made, delivering some of the most captivating a cappella in the world.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Bang Bang]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/bang-bang-2 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/bang-bang-2

This week we present The Kings College London Rolling Tones performing Nancy Sinatra/Destiny Child’s “Bang Bang.”

<![CDATA[Greek Life]]>http://acappellablog.com/campus-connections/greek-life http://acappellablog.com/campus-connections/greek-life

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: Greek life.

Fraternities and sororities tend to be some of the longest standing student organizations on a college campus. Their features include large and fiercely loyal memberships, a history of putting on social gatherings, and high visibility on campus.

Greek life varies from school to school, and I can understand why some a cappella groups may be reluctant to collaborate with these groups, given their frequent reputation for debauchery and hazing. But if we can see past these stereotypes, many sororities and fraternities have cleaner acts than you might think and, regardless of how clean they are, have some serious pull on campus.

Connecting with Greek life can open performance opportunities. Fraternities and sororities tend to be known for their parties and performing at such an event can release your own group from a reputation of being goody-two-shoes, and expose your music to a host of people who might not ordinarily attend one of your shows. A cappella can be a hard sell in theory, but less so when you let a general audience hear you in the flesh, and can demonstrate just what makes this art form so special.

Moreover, if you connect with fraternities or sororities, there is the potential to win over a loyal new body of fans. Greek organizations tend to have an uncanny ability to mobilize their members—forming a voting block in elections for student government, raising significant money for charitable causes of choice, and, yes, even potentially leading their whole roster to attend your shows.

Greek life is a vibrant part of so many colleges. Work with them, and you may be surprised at how many new listeners and opportunities you can create for your music.

<![CDATA[Young Volcanoes]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/young-volcanoes http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/young-volcanoes

This week we present The University of Waterloo Water Boys performing Fall Out Boy’s “Young Volcanoes.”

<![CDATA[Dancing in the Rain]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/dancing-in-the-rain http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/dancing-in-the-rain

This week we present Rockwall High School Walk the Line performing their original “Dancing in the Rain.”

<![CDATA[Super-Sized Groups]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/super-sized-groups http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/super-sized-groups

Reason #138: Super-Sized Groups

While a cappella groups with a small number of members can certainly command an audience’s attention and feature distinctive personalities, there’s also something to be said for very large groups. Ensembles with twenty-plus members have the unique capacity to stage less like a traditional singing group, more like the cast of a full-scale musical production. From elaborately choreographed crowd scenes, complete with townspeople in the background, to a deep pool of rotating soloists, super-sized groups can deliver unparalleled power, range, and pure spectacle.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Lay Me Down]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/lay-me-down http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/lay-me-down

This week we present Oregon State University Outspoken performing Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down.”

<![CDATA[Singing in a Round]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/singing-in-a-round http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/singing-in-a-round

Reason #137: Singing in a Round

Who among us doesn’t reflect fondly upon childhood sing-alongs of “Row, Row, Row Your Boa?.” It’s a simple, feel-good song, perfect for young people just beginning to learn about music and the world around them.

Coolest of all is the way in which the song lends itself to being sung in a round—and how cool is it the first time you experience music in a round?—that the absence of synchronicity can actually be complex, captivating, haunting, and beautiful.

Such is the feeling when a cappella groups reproduce this effect in the appropriate contemporary song choice, such as the treatment a number of groups gave to Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Chain.”

Singing in a round takes us back to the roots of our love for music, besides rewarding the careful listener with an enchanting experience.

I love it!

<![CDATA[The Light That Never Fails]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/the-light-that-never-fails http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/the-light-that-never-fails

This week we present DeKalb High School Enharmonic Fusion performing Andra Day’s “The Light That Never Fails."

<![CDATA[A Radical Arrangement]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/a-radical-arrangement http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/a-radical-arrangement

Reason #136: A Radical Arrangement

The last decade has seen the a cappella palate multiply several times over. While industrial rock and hip-hop performances were groundbreaking at one time, it’s no longer particularly novel to hear covers of music by Muse or Usher at a college a cappella show. In an era when very few song choices are shocking in and of themselves, groups have still found ways to dazzle, surprise, and impress audiences via genuinely creative takes on existing art.

Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” A song most longstanding a cappella fans have heard covered ad infinitum. The kind of song selection we tend to roll our eyes at not out of any malice toward the group itself, but because, well, we’re a little bored.

Then, consider what The Stanford Harmonics did with the song in 2009:

or Cherry Hill High School East’s re-interpretation in 2013:

Through creative arrangement and performance, these groups made a classic song their own and reinvented it for their audiences resulting in something that may have been even cooler than a creative song choice, but rather turning every listener’s expectations on their head to find innovation within tradition.

I love it!