HomeConcert Review: NE Voices High School Competition

jessica.chen's picture

While much of the a cappella community was at LAAF over the January 31st - February 2nd weekend, many of us on the east coast were in attendance at the N.E. Voices Festival. Geared specifically towards high schoolers, N.E. Voices is a two-day festival based in Massachusetts consisting of workshops, masterclasses, performances, and a Friday night high school competition with the opportunity to perform as part of the Saturday night showcase. Although last year’s event was sadly snowed out, they were back in action this year and the performances were better than ever. The host for the evening was Fermata Town, starting off with one song at the beginning and performing the rest of their set during deliberation, with different members giving introductions for the competing groups along the way. Below is my event review of the high school competition, featuring eight groups from around the state.

First to perform that evening were the Grizzly Freakin’ Man Singers from Marblehead High School. Their set list included “Keep Your Head Up,” as well as a rendition of rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” which included bringing up a female from the audience to serenade, complete with seating her on a Grizzly member’s back. The performance was cheesy, but endearing, and an audience favorite. Their final song of the night was “One Day” by Matiyashu. I did find that the Grizzlies had a few tuning issues along the way, and their performance to me felt a bit static on occasion, but there is no denying that they have an infectious energy.

Second up was the Northern Lights, the co-ed group from Plymouth North High School. Their set consisted of a four-song medley, beginning with a choral version of “Clarity” by Zedd, leading into “Over the Love,” then “The Blower’s Daughter,” and lastly building to a big climax in “Below My Feet” by Mumford & Sons. They put on a fantastic performance - I particularly enjoyed the soloist of second song and thought she really nailed it, powerfully channeling her inner Florence Welch. Their emotional performance showed great dynamics and build, and they had a strong direction from start to finish.

The third group of the night was Serendipity, the all-female, student-led group from Marblehead High School. They started off with “Fall for You” by Secondhand Serenade, followed by “Waterfalls” by TLC in between, an enjoyable throwback which included a solid rap that the audience loved. They ended with a choral version of “Fields of Gold” by Sting, which I thought was well-done and included effective uses of (singing in) unison. I was impressed that they are a student-directed group, and thought they did a lovely job.

Fourth up was Voices Re-Choired, a co-ed group from Marlborough High School (formerly known as A Choired Taste). Their set included “Acapella” by Karmin, obviously an appropriate choice and well-suited to their style, as they hammed it up with the audience with a sassy entrance and a prop money toss-up during the first verse. Second in their set was “I’ll Be Waiting” by Adele, and last but certainly not least was the well-known “Sweet Child o’ Mine” which I think was a great choice for them. They definitely showed me that they are a musically versatile group, and it was refreshing to hear them mix it up in that way.

The fifth and final group before intermission was Soundscape, a co-ed group from Wilmington High School. Soundscape performed “Lightweight” by Demi Lovato, as well as “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse. They finished off with “Radioactive,” where the solo was passed around and even a rap was added, giving multiple members of the group a chance to showcase their talent. Overall, I would have liked to see some more diversity in their arrangements, which had a lot of “ooh” parts and not too much other variation in vowels which seemed to hold them back, but they were a fun group and I enjoyed watching their performance.

After a brief intermission, The Jewel Tones from Marblehead High School brought us back in with “What You Know” by Two Door Cinema Club. Next up was the song that seems to be everywhere these days, “Royals” by Lorde, but their rendition felt fresh and the solo sounded effortless. Their third song was “This Head I Hold” - I enjoyed their choices of of syllables and vowels in this arrangement and found it effective for this song’s style. Marblehead High School was the home of four of the eight groups - rightfully so, since each group was unique from one another and all had so much talent to showcase!

The other all-female group of the night was Luminescence from Marblehead High School, who performed second-to-last. We were forewarned by the hosts that their swagger would “blow us away” and they definitely did not disappoint! They performed a very sassy version of “Sweeter” by Gavin DeGraw with a fantastic soloist, a choral version of “Demons” by Imagine Dragons with really spot-on blend and tuning, and finished off with a rendition “Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkson. They seemed very comfortable on stage, connected well with the audience and put on a great set.

Rounding out the night was Voices of Steel, a co-ed group from Wakefield High School. They started their set off with a heartfelt rendition of “Falling Slowly,” complete with a beautifully sung duet by the soloists. Their second song was a “Brave” and “Roar” mash-up which, although more than a few people have noticed the similarity between the two songs, was still put together in a pretty clever way. The final song of the evening was a high energy performance of “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, ending the night on a solid high note.

After the judges’ deliberation and an entertaining set from the always-fabulous Fermata Town, it was revealed that the three winners of the night were Luminescence, Northern Lights, and Voices of Steel!

In all, I thought the event was very well-run and the talent was high. Throughout the night I noticed that every group appeared to have anywhere between 15-20 members, showing just how popular high school a cappella is and how much talent there is at that level. Although this was a competition setting, I also noticed how supportive each group was of each other, being sure to catch as much of each other’s performances as possible and not being afraid to cheer and show some love. Everyone did a great job, and I was impressed by their talent and more importantly, their passion for the music.

If you are interested in learning more about the N.E. Voices Festival, please check out their website at ne-voices.com, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/n.e.voices, or check out their Twitter (@nevoicesfest)! I am glad I was able to catch some great performances by talented high school groups, and am definitely looking forward to next year already.

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About the writer:
As a musician Jessica started at an early age, playing piano and flute throughout her childhood, but she discovered singing and a cappella during high school and was immediately hooked. In college she sang with and directed the Boston University Allegrettos, doing most of the arranging as well as producing an album, and sang with friends in her hometown during the summers in Henry Fonda & the Falsettos. As a post-grad she has continued to arrange for various collegiate and high school groups. Some of her other interests include Boston sports and all dogs, ever.