Season two of The Sing-Off saw the rise of a unique a cappella supergroup—a collection of talent culled from alumni of Cherry Hill High School West’s Men of Note. The high school group had racked up three consecutive International Championship of High School A Cappella crowns in the late 2000s. But how would the cream of that crop do on national TV?
The good news was that the guys delivered. Their performance of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” used old school charm to win over a national audience. The bad news was, in a show steeped with sensational talent, Men of Note had to make an early exit from the season.
“The experience was a very exciting one,” Men of Note member Jason Nop recalled. “It was almost as if you were a celebrity.”
“We went from throwing together new arrangements the week before the audition to boarding a plane to Los Angeles, California,” another member, Rajeer Alford said. “Aside from performing on live television, the most exciting part for me was probably listening to the other groups rehearse when we weren't filming. I recall listening to Street Corner Symphony practice parts of Train's “Hey, Soul Sister” and I was in complete shock at how in sync they were with each other. I've never seen a rehearsal be so productive and run so smoothly at the same time. It's a little ridiculous how talented all the groups were. To this day it still surprises me how much of a family that season of The Sing-Off grew to be. You would have never guessed it was a competition by watching the groups interact.”
Members of the Men of Note super group persevered in the a cappella world. Alford and Richard Crandle carried their a cappella dream into the collegiate ranks, forming a brand new group at Rider University known as Vocalmotion. After just three months together, the co-ed group placed second in its International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) quarterfinal. With two months to hone their sound and revise their set, the group came to play at the Mid-Atlantic Semifinals, and finished just one place shy of going all the way to the ICCA Finals.
“One MAJOR difference from The Sing-Off was that now, instead of Men of Note, a bunch of goofy college guys, there were some lovely ladies added to the mix,” Alford said of the transition. “This was one of the smallest groups I ever sang in, and since there were only nine of us we really had to own our parts. For me, that made it more enjoyable because we all had to depend on each other. Sometimes it's easy to hide mistakes in a large group of singers but with Vocalmotion there was no hiding.”
Meanwhile, Nop pursued his own path at Rutgers University. He auditioned for and had the opportunity to join either Casual Harmony or Deep Treble, but ultimately picked the latter, citing a desire to work with a co-ed ensemble. “The people in Deep Treble are amazing,” he said. “They were the best part of my college a cappella experience, and I regret that I was not able to work with them this year.”
Following Vocalmotion’s premiere ICCA run, some members of the group decided to start another new group. This fall, Alford and Elena Camp led the way in holding auditions for a group that would become known as ‘Til Further Notes. “The beginning was exciting but it took some time to find our sound as a group,” Alford said. “We were patient and all of the work we did in the fall is starting to pay off.”
Alford went on to explain that, “'Til Further Notes differs from [the 2010-2011 version of] Vocalmotion in a couple of ways. This group is a little larger [so,] we've added some room for error. Also, the sound is going to be different than last year's group. Even adding one voice to an a cappella group changes the sound, so even though most of the members of TFN were in Vocalmotion, we had to find our new sound with the new people.”
While Nop is not a part of an a cappella group this semester, he did help his friends in ‘Til Further Notes prepare for their pending competition season, including arranging two songs for their 2012 ICCA set. “When arranging, I did not want to have typical college a cappella arrangements,” Nop explained. “Nothing against them, but I want my arrangements to stand out. Their second to last song, I had arranged not for Til Further Notes, but for a group Rajeer had invited me to sing with over summer for a wedding. We didn't perform it over the summer, because it was too difficult to learn in the short period of time, so they decided to do it for the ICCAs. It’s probably my best arrangement ever.”
Nop went on to describe that for his other arrangement, “I wanted to keep the same theme of the song, but not copy it to the T, so I had changed it up. When I arrange, I never want to basically do the song with just voices. Yes, that's what a cappella is, but as an arranger, we have a chance to re-imagine and re-interpret popular songs, which is an amazing opportunity. Working with the groups, I had seen that they really feel the emotions of the actual songs, which I'm really excited about.”
Nop’s enthusiasm for the music has clearly translated to the group he arranged for. “We're super excited for our ICCA quarterfinal,” Alford said. “Last year, a majority of this group got really close to the ICCA finals and this year we want to get to New York! The audience can expect a really diverse set with something in it for everyone. We've been working really hard and can't wait to share our music at the ICCAs!”
The first-year group will face some interesting challenges in competition. Groups like Ithacappella and The Buffalo Chips, which have dominated the Mid-Atlantic Region in recent years, are not competing in 2012, leaving the door wide open for a new group to explode onto The Finals scene. A bevy of perennial contenders are lined up, but some of the most interesting stories of all will take shape at ‘Til Further Notes’ quarterfinal at Rutgers this weekend. Not only will ICCA mainstays like The Melismatics and ShockWave be in the mix, but the group will also run into familiar faces from Deep Treble and Vocalmotion.
Which of these talented squads will advance to semifinals and get its shot at going all the way to New York? We’ll find out this Saturday!