HomeBlogsbspaldin's blogBen Spalding's High School Blog: An Interview With Varsity Vocals' Andrea Poole

When deciding to take the position of Program Manager of High School Outreach for CASA, I thought about all of the different areas of high school a cappella that I could promote. I thought about my favorite events that my own high school a cappella groups have been a part of, and the ICHSA is certainly one of them. This past year, my high school a cappella kids competed at Dekalb High School in Dekalb, Illinois. Getting feedback from professionals and seeing other groups perform is the best way to grow as a group. It was a fantastic experience and something that I plan on continuing to do for a long time. At the heart of putting together this competition is Andrea Poole. You can read more about her accomplishments at http://varsityvocals.com/contact.html#Andrea%20Poole. Andrea is the current director of the ICHSA and has produced many of its competitions. Below is an interview that I did with her, and her passion for a cappella music is very evident from the interview. The deadline for competing in this year’s competition is fastly approaching. If you’re thinking about competing, I can offer no better advice than to say that you need to go for it. Your kids will thank you for it. 

1.  For those that don't know what the ICHSA is can you explain a little bit about it?

The Varsity Vocals International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA) showcases the art of student a cappella singing. Similar to the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), the ICHSA is dedicated to providing high school a cappella groups with valuable feedback from our highly qualified judges. Our young vocalists also have the opportunity to showcase their talent to an international audience and develop relationships with each other, cultivating the art of a cappella singing and a lifelong love of music.

Each year, the tournament takes place from January through April in regions around the country. Last year we had six regional semifinals. This season we're planning nine semifinals, plus a wild card round (see list here: http://www.varsityvocals.com/acappella-events.html. he winner of each semifinal is invited to participate in finals, held in New York City, where they compete for the coveted title of Grand Champion.

2.  How much has the ICHSA grown and when did it start?

The ICHSA began in 2005 with five regions and a somewhat small following. It's since grown to more than 60 competing groups, with many groups returning each year.

3.  What advice would you give to any group that has never competed in the ICHSA, but is thinking about it?

The best advice I can give to high school a cappella directors is to take the leap and apply. I think the groups that get the most out of the ICHSA are the ones that approach it not as a competition, but as an opportunity to learn from other groups and meet other singers who love a cappella. At a typical ICHSA show, you'll find students mingling before and after the show, singing together backstage, teaching each other vocal percussion, etc. We encourage groups to sit in the audience when they're not on stage to get a chance to see the other competing groups, and we often find they are the biggest cheerleaders for each other. The high school a cappella community is so encouraging and supportive and it's growing. It's really exciting to be a part of it.

4.  What advice would you give to groups that are planning on competing for the first time?

For the directors: Approach the competition as an opportunity for your students to learn something new and challenge them to be at their personal best. Network with the other directors. Encourage your students to support each other and the other competing groups.

For the students: Have fun. Work hard to prepare a set that you're really proud of. Watch the other groups and take mental notes (or actual notes) of awesome things that they're doing on stage. Cheer loudly for everyone--you know how it feels to be up there too! Introduce yourself to students in the other groups. Sing with them. Teach them something new. Last but definitely not least, thank your director for their support of having an a cappella group at your school--it's not the norm everywhere, and it's an experience you'll remember forever.

5.  How long have you been working with the ICHSA and why do you continue to be a part of it?

I started working for Varsity Vocals in 2007 as the ICHSA Midwest Producer. I was in my senior year at Michigan State University and still singing in Capital Green at the time. I loved competing in the ICCA each year and wanted to stay involved in the a cappella community after graduating. I couldn't have asked for a better gig.

I was lucky enough to sing in an a cappella group at my high school in Colorado and from the first syllable I was hooked. Through that experience I met some of my closest friends and learned so much about music. It all spilled over into college of course. I am forever grateful to my high school director Dan Jeppson for introducing me to a cappella.

Why do I continue to devote time to the ICHSA? Well, seeing the faces of the students as they perform brings me back to that first time I sang with a group in high school. Many of these high school groups rival the college groups in terms of talent and professionalism. I'm consistently inspired by the students, the directors, the great Varsity Vocals staff, and how a cappella can teach us bigger lessons than musical ones.

6.  Can you talk about other opportunities through Varsity Vocals.

If you are a high school director interested in hosting a show, please contact me at andrea@varsityvocals.com for more information. If you or someone you know might be interested in judging for ICHSA, visit http://varsityvocals.com/acappella-judge.html.

Also, Varsity Vocals produces annual compilation albums of the Best of College A Cappella and Best of High School A Cappella, featuring the very best tracks from groups around the world. Varsity Vocals accepts hundreds of submissions every year and being selected to appear on this album has become a valuable mark of accomplishment in the a cappella community. The deadline for applications is November 1. Apply online on our website.

For the ICHSA, the deadline to apply to compete is also November 1 – but we are absolutely able to offer extensions. We will do everything we can to ensure that your group can participate. Be sure to visit our website for more details about the competition rules, schedule, and other details.

Lastly, if you'd like to receive information about the ICHSA via email, please sign up on our online form.

About the author:
Ben Spalding is the head Choral Director at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio. At Centerville, Ben directs all of the choirs and the a cappella group Forte. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Kentucky. Ben’s a cappella roots go back to college, when he was a member of the University of Kentucky AcoUstiKats and a semi-professional group called 5 by Tuesday.  His love for music goes as far back as elementary school and music has and always will be a major driving force in his life.

photo: Rossmedia, 2011