Earlier this week, Varsity Vocals announced the launch of the International Championship of A Cappella Open—a competition that will culminate New York next fall, featuring (should they choose to compete) the ICCA and ICHSA champions, plus up to eight other groups that may come from the scholastic ranks, but also may be alumni groups reuniting, all-star groups converging, post-collegiate groups already performing together, or full-on professionals.
There are a lot of intriguing permutations out there. I’ll be the first to recognize that some of these groups coming together, much less entering this competition, is easier said than done, but for the sake of argument, in this edition of The 5s and I’m looking at five groups I’d love to hear in this unique competition. To narrow the scope a bit, I’m going to focus more precisely on five all-female groups (maybe I’ll come back later to touch on all-male or mixed ensembles as well).
1. The Loreleis, 1996
In 1996, an all-female group out of UNC Chapel Hill became the original ICCA Champions. Twenty-one years later, how about getting the band back together for another run at aca-glory, aiming to etch the group’s name in history for another important first? If nothing else, this group might add a sense of scope to the competition, reflecting a style from an earlier stage of competitive a cappella, and perhaps lending a sense of tradition to the show.
2. Divisi, 2005
In 2005, Divisi threatened to become the first all-female group since The Loreleis to win the ICCA tournament. They wound up in second, in a turn that many in attendance considered in an injustice. The upshot may have been all the more important, however, as the turn of events provided a cornerstone for Mickey Rapkin’s <i>Pitch Perfect</i> book, which loosely inspired the films to follow that helped a cappella explode into the mainstream, featuring the all-female Barden Bellas. I can think of no better way to honor that whole legacy than bringing Lisa Forkish and company back for one more shot at a championship victory on the big stage in New York.
3. Vocal Rush, 2012
For those following the ICHSA tournament over the last five years, it’s well-established that Vocal Rush is a high school a cappella franchise in a league of its own, winning three championships to go along with successes like thriving on <i>The Sing-Off</i> and win in the high-school/college inclusive Los Angeles A Cappella Festival scholastic competition. Vocal Rush is, typically, a co-ed group, but the version of the ensemble that traveled to New York to decisively win ICHSA Finals in 2012 was just seven young women who carried themselves like professionals, under the aforementioned Forkish’s direction, and driven by Sarah Vela’s virtuosic solo work. While I’d have no problem hearing any version of Vocal Rush from any year bring it to the Open, if a particular all-female unit were to bring it, this would be my pick.
4. The AcaBelles, 2012
From a resume perspective, this is the most outside-the-box pick out of these five—a group that did compete in ICCAs, but didn’t make the Finals, let alone place. So why do they make the cut?
I’ve been covering Varsity Vocals tournaments for ten years. Out of those ten years, The Florida State AcaBelles’ 2012 Semifinals offering stands out to me among my top five all-time favorites—a seamless emotional rollercoaster of a set that finished second in its region, third in the Wild Card though, in my estimation, it very arguably could have won Finals. I’d love to see this group come back together five years later, if for no other reason than that I’d love to hear this particular set or an updated take on it live one more time.
When this quartet first formed in 2011, its members were all students at Towson University outside Baltimore, MD. They never took their act to ICCAs, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t compete. Instead, they won the competition at SingStrong 2012 and their region in Harmony Sweepstakes (besides finishing second overall in that tournament). The foursome went on to thrive in Sweet Adeline competition, place music on a Sing! compilation and appear on A Prairie Home Companion.
Much of the buzz about the Open has surrounded groups from diverse eras competing, or group members from different years coming together into one unit. GQ represents another possibility—bringing their unique blend of barbershop training and contemporary sensibilities to a new audience and diversifying the style of the competition.
So, who's up for the challenge? And who would you like to see? Anything looks possible, and on this Thanksgiving day, we're very thankful for that.