In honor of the 2017 ICCA tournament, The A Cappella Blog pursued short interviews with competing groups to develop insights into why and how groups approach competition, and to get appropriately excited for the tremendous shows ahead of us.
What’s your group name and on what date is your group’s quarterfinal?
Hello! We are S#arp Attitude, and our northeast region quarterfinal is on February 12th at Cohen Auditorium. I’m Archie Gopal, the current Music Director and Primary Arranger for the group this year, and I'll be answering these questions on behalf of the group.
How long has your group been around? Have you competed before?
This is our 6th year in existence at UMass Amherst. We were formed by 2 amazing ladies, Alissa Platcow and Melinda Packer. This is our fourth year competing in the ICCA competition. The first time we competed we won Outstanding Vocal Percussion for the entire set thanks to Melinda Packer (she’s so good!!!). In the 2016 competition, we placed third in our quarterfinal and received the award for Outstanding Choreography thanks to our lovely alum Sam Cormier.
Why are you competing this year? What does your group hope to accomplish or get out of the experience?
S#arp Attitude would be nowhere near what we are today without the motivation of competition. We started out as an extremely casual all-female group and it wasn’t until we started competition that we gained some traction. Preparing 12 minutes of solid music with choreography is tougher than you think! Initially, it was a way for us to check in to the a cappella scene and gain some recognition and make some connections. It has taken some time for us to grasp the concept of what it takes to be successful in competition. Going into the competition last year, we had a small group of 8 and every single girl wanted to win, we just didn’t know how. Looking back, we worked so hard, but certain decisions we made really limited us. This year, as a group of 12, we want to prove ourselves. Last year, placing third (by only 4 points!!) was very difficult for us, and we know that we can make it to the ICCA Northeast Semifinal this year. The few returning members have learned from our experience last year and have instilled these takeaways in the new members so that we are all on the same page.
People often look down on all-female groups, and not a lot of us make it far in competition. It’s tough for a small all-female group to beat 16-17 people co-ed groups who have a huge wall of sound. But we believe all-female identified a cappella is an art of its own and we strive to be the best in our own craft. We look up to the individuals who have forged that path in the a cappella community and hope to continue following in their footsteps. You gain something from competition regardless of the outcome and historically, that is what has been most beneficial to S#arp Attitude.
How is your group preparing for competition?
Since our quarterfinal date is only two weeks after we get back from our month long winter recess, we already have two songs of the three prepared. One song has been with us since the beginning of the academic year and the second song I just arranged when I heard that our competition date was so soon. Many of our members are from out of state, so rehearsing over winter break won’t be possible. However, we’ve started to plan a retreat the weekend before we return so that we can learn our third song before we’re even back at school. Once we return, we’ll polish up the music and learn choreography in one week and workshop everything about the set and plan and rehearse our sound check the week before competition. There is no time for something to not work or for us to be behind schedule. At this point, we have to run like a well-oiled machine, and that takes a lot of effort from the leaders in the group. It also takes a lot of individual effort from every single member of the group. I am counting on these girls to learn and memorize music over our winter break. 2 weeks is not a lot of time, and I’m really hoping we can grasp choreography while maintaining our musicality before hitting the stage!
Last year, we were featured on aca-reality show, Sing It On by Executive Producer John Legend. It was such a great experience and changed our group for the better, but it was so so stressful. We would be filming late at night for days in a row the week before the competition and for us, that time would have been used as crucial rehearsal time. The day of competition last year, we only got to run our set in full, with all of our members and with choreography, once. So while we are so grateful to have been in the spotlight for a little, we are definitely glad to have a more normal competition preparation process this year.
A few weeks ago, I attended SoJam, a festival hosted by CASA. While there, I realized that we had decided to do competition long before we entered 5 new members. I felt uneasy about the fact that, as a leader, I had no idea if everyone in the group was even on the same page. So I made it a point to call up each member and see what their stance was on competition and if they were willing to put in more effort to improve. What amazed me, and still amazes me today, is that every single member of S#arp Attitude not only wants to compete, but has the drive to be successful in competition this year. Because of this, we had to make some cuts and adjust some things, but I have never seen this group more focused and excited before. Regardless of the outcome, I am already so proud of the women in this group.
If you were to describe your group, or the set your group is planning for competition with just three words, what would they be?
Our group: Unapologetic Female Empowerment
Our set: Powerful Emotional Creepy
You can follow S#arp Attitude on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Sharp... and on Twitter and Instagram @sharpattitude. They also have a new album available on Loudr and iTunes now (available on Spotify soon!): https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/deja-vu/id1169541630.