April 28th 2012: A date that 7 collegiate groups put in their Google calendars as the day that they fight for the coveted 2012 ICCA Champion title. This year, I was lucky enough to sit in the center 4th row at the Town Hall venue with my friends and respected aca colleagues Jim Diego, Sean Riley, Matt Shirer and Shams Ahmed. Cameras and video equipment were strictly prohibited at the event, so I obviously snuck my camera into the venue with the greatest stealth (I recorded the winning group’s encore). The night was emceed by Dave Brown, a man known in the community for his insightful but hilariously witty commentary on the aca-podcast, Mouth Off. The competitors in this event were (in performance order): The UCLA Scattertones, U of Chicago Voices in Your Head, Yale’s Out Of The Blue, Penn State PennHarmonics, USC SoCal VoCals, King’s College All The King’s Men and the UGA Accidentals.
For the special awards, best choreography went to Caitlyn Calfas from the UCLA Scattertones, best vocal percussion went to Schafer Gray of the UGA Accidentals and best soloist went to Segun Olwadele of the SoCal VoCals. At the end of the evening, 3rd place was taken by All The King’s Men from King’s College (London, England) and 2nd place was awarded to the Scattertones from UCLA. This year’s title was won by the Wildcard Champions, The USC SoCal VoCals, which makes them the ONLY group in ICCA history to ever win this coveted title THREE times. Very impressive, right?
Now for my opinion. Overall, it was a wonderful show. I thought every award was rightfully deserved. In fact, I had predicted almost every award correctly with the exception of choreography. Personally, I thought it could have gone to either the Scattertones or Voices in Your Head. Both had staging and choreography that enhanced their visual and musical performance most effectively than any of the other competing groups. The only issue I had with the special awards was the one that wasn’t given: best arrangement. Why wasn’t this accolade given to anyone? Did the judges think that there were too many incredible arrangements in this year’s ICCA to pick just one? Or did they think that this year’s compositions were underwhelming? Hopefully not the latter.
As a former ICCA competitor, the songs that earned this award have touched on specific entities that make a composition great…whether it was something simple as slowing the original down or keeping the lyrics but completely changing the song entirely or (insert another creative idea here). But when push comes to shove, an outstanding arrangement is an interpretation that gives a different but amazing feeling/perspective of the original song itself, leaving the audience in a state of self-recognition and awe till the very last note. That being said there were two pieces that night that fit this: “No Woman, No Cry” from the Scattertones and “We Found Love/Titanium” from Voices in Your Head. Taylor Fugit’s interpretation of a reggae classic into a slow ballad is unexpected but genius. Just from the sheer simplicity of the chord rich “oos” in the beginning verse, I was taken aback by how meaningful and intimate Bob Marley’s lyrics were sung by both the soloist and the group. Towards the end, it had more ferocious but earnest build from the group as its members sang “everything’s gonna be alright” until it died out appropriately. At that moment, I forgot what the actual song sounded like. I was given a new perspective of a song I’d heard dozens of times. The same thing said about “No Woman No Cry” can be said about “We Found Love/Titanium”. Chris Rishel from Voices in Your Head takes a song that most people hear drunkenly at a party (or in a club) and puts an Eric Whitacre-esque spin on it. Complete with a THX effect on the “come alive” and the incredible sustained female parts on “but I’ve got to let it go”, a story between two lovers wasn’t just visually seen/choreographed, but it also accompanied the progression of this insanely awesome arrangement. The first time they fell passionately in love was seen and heard through the male section as they sang “feel the heartbeat in my mind” in a driving rhythmically intense pattern. The group’s minor key change in the “but I’ve got to let it go” signified the devastating breakup between the two. The seamless transition into “Titanium” gave the female soloist a platform to state her case and defend her actions (you shoot me down/ but I won’t fall/I am Titanium). But the most memorable musical part of “Titanium” was partly the arrangement and how it was performed. I’m specifically talking about how Voices In Your Head used the microphones as a Doppler Effect for their sustained “ahhs” in the chorus: simple but effective? More like simple and extremely innovative. With Voices and Scattertones, their arrangements left the audience (and myself included) besides themselves in awe of how a song can be successfully and beautifully interpreted. I guess the judges didn’t hear what I heard…which is disappointing to say the least. Talent like that should be recognized as outstanding. Which brings to me to my last point…..why didn’t Voices in Your Head place?
I didn’t hate All The King’s Men. I actually enjoyed them. They were visually cohesive and hilarious. Furthermore, I thought their blend was so good it reminded of their British counterparts, The King’s Singers. I did, however, think their set was dated. Approximately how many groups perform a Lady Gaga song? A fair amount. Approximately how many groups performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? TOO many to count. There is something to be said about a group that sounds outstanding and a group that is musically innovative. Personally, I thought that All The King’s Men accomplished the first part but failed the second. Furthermore, I thought Voices In Your Head were musically and artistically one of the best groups of the night (and this whole ICCA season). I am, however, happy for the Scattertones and the SoCal VoCals. They deserved to place for the professionalism and exceptional musicality they both exhibited in their respective ICCA sets. How many times can you say you saw two legendary West Coast groups perform several feet away from you? Not that many.
I’ll end this review with my bootleg recording of the SoCal VoCal’s encore! And what a beautiful heartfelt encore this was.
For three more perspectives, click this link.
[photo: SoCal Vocals]
About the author:
Selame Scarlett graduated with a degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Michigan State University in 2011. Currently she is a full time medical student at MSU. She was the former music director of Capital Green, MSU’s first co-ed a cappella group Selame also served as one of the main beatboxers of her group for 4 years Selame is an ICHSA producer, a CASA member, a Midwest clinician and an arranger for various college/high school groups in the Midwest. Participating in both collaborative recording sessions at SoJam, LAAF and BOSS, Selame was fortunate enough to record alongside Naturally 7, The Boxettes, Hookslide, Duwende, Pentatonix, Ball in The House, Redline and Cadence. She loves harmonizing and beatboxing at random (but not at the same time). Outside a cappella, Selame loves tennis, MSU basketball and science.