HomeBlogsZiggyBway's blogReview of 2007 ICCA Finals

ZiggyBway's picture

Truth be told, Alice Tully Hall has seen better days, but this year’s ICCA’s have to rank among the best ever, surpassing the quality of last year’s show in just about every category: on the whole, the repertoire felt more varied, the tuning more consistent, the choreography more extensive, and the arrangements better-crafted and the use of sound equipment more carefully considered. As a result, even with the addition of four high school groups competing in their own division, the marathon concert never once had me looking at my watch.

Just like last year, however, the cream rose right to the top and to my mind, there was little question that the BYU ladies, the Amherst Zumbyes and Rocktavo from the University of Nebraska – the first three collegiate groups to perform, by the way – would end up as the top three. What order they might finish, however, was tough to predict, but in the end, the judges made the right call.

The twelve men of the Zumbyes, the eventual third place finishers, definitely brought the “goof” factor, complete with a guy in a banana suit and a general persona that could perhaps best be described as the merging of the Alpha Beta and Lambda Lambda Lambdas fraternities. Their set of “Heard It Thru the Grapevine”, “Blackbird” and “Thriller” began and ended with humor and had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands, but their sound suffered as a result. “Blackbird” showed that these guys can certainly sing, but overall, it was a set built more on shtick than on music-making.

If the Zumbyes brought the joke, there was no question that Rocktavo brought the music. These guys are singing some of the most intricately harmonized arrangements I’ve heard on the collegiate scene in some time and they do it phenomenally well (scary bass/VP and sick tenor I’s in particular). In my estimation, though, their performance left the judges a little cold. Sure, their Best Arrangement-winning “Figaro” was a hoot, but with all of the other groups generating so much energy and enthusiasm, the guys of Rocktavo may just have come off a little too slick and adult for a competition that is not just about craft and ability, but about performance.

Which brings us to the ladies of Noteworthy who pretty much had it all. Their forceful, powerful opener – a Bulgarian folk song, I believe? – announced that they were here and they were taking names. They followed that up with a John Legend’s “Don’t You Worry” that had a terrific mix of attitude, choreography and tight tuning. Shifting gears again, they segued into religious territory with “How Great Thou Art”, showing clarity of tone and blend that was the best of the night. And perhaps most impressive of all, they ended their set with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, complete with a mini-step show and a separate hip-hop dance breakdown, both delivered without compromising the integrity of the arrangement. Oh, and did I mention what sounded like lip-buzz from their VP at the end? Others may have sung a bit better; others may have danced even more; still others may have been funnier. But no one delivered the whole package – a great set top to bottom – like the deserved champions of Noteworthy.

As for the other competitors, the Gargoyles from Oxford University in England added a bit of polish with their formalwear, but their tamer brand of vocal jazz just couldn’t compete with Rocktavo. FSU All Night Yahtzee’s Chris Diaz was the rightful winner as Best Soloist for “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk”, but everything else about their eclectic set, also featuring Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” and a tempo-altered “Such Great Heights” – tuning, blend, movement – was merely OK. Ditto for Rutgers’ “Deep Treble”, the closest thing to a hometown favorite, whose soloists also were a trouble spot: plenty of attitude and energy but sometimes too much (as in the case of “Janie’s Got a Gun”) or sometimes at the expense of tuning precision (as in the case of The Fray’s “How to Save a Life”). As expected, the history’s only 4-time finalists and 2003 winners from Binghamton put on a solid set. Their unison syllables for “Pinball Wizard” were ingenious, and the warped arpeggios on Pink Floyd were surprisingly well-tuned. But again, this is a competition about performance, and by the time they brought out their signature step-dancing in the “I’m a Man” medley, it was probably too little too late to excite the judges.

As for the high schoolers, it was really a two-group race and in the end the judges chose the overall tight sound of the Men of Note, repeating their win from last year, over the energy and attitude of Crimson from Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs. Can’t say I agreed with that choice, but the Men of Note were definitely the best singers in their division. Their unison arrangements and lack of movement made for a somewhat stagnant set, whereas the seven ladies of Crimson had me hooked from their vocal jazz intro and their hip-swaying choreography. But the shaky tuning in “Heaven” and the mumbled sing intros probably didn’t do them any favors either.

Blissfully, this year’s judging went significantly more quickly than last year’s, when Ball in the House’s set went on and on and on. Our host group for this year was the Boston-based Firedrill! whose set still was just as entertaining as it was at SoJam last November despite being virtually identical. For those who were in North Carolina, Nate Altimari’s “Can’t Stop Thinkin’ About You” is as fantabulous as ever and yes, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”, arranged by Samrat Chakrabarti during a 2-hour session at SoJam, now seems to be permanently in the group’s repertoire.

And then there was host Julia Hoffman’s wardrobe. What to say about her sartorial splendor except that she looked beautiful in each of her twelve outfits. Yes, twelve. OK…maybe her mother, seated right next to me, let out a small gasp when she entered the stage in her Santa mini-dress from the Rockettes Christmas show, but her banter for that intro and throughout the show gave the lengthy show a welcome injection of levity between each performance.

Once again, just praise must be showered on Don Gooding, Amanda Grish and their whole team for putting the whole shebang together. The ICCA’s are comprised of nearly 40 separate concerts nationally and internationally and it’s a Herculean task. That they happen at all every year is nothing short of a miracle. That they turn out so well every time is a treat for all of us to enjoy hopefully for many years to come.