Imagine a sea of voices in perfect harmony. You can hear the bass drum beating below and the guitar strings plucking out a familiar melody . . . but there are no instruments on the stage, only people. That is the magic of a capella. Vocalists are able to come together to create an incredible and unique musical experience for their audiences using only their voices.
This year, West Chester University had the privilege of being able to host an amazing celebration of a capella known as the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella (ICCA) Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 17 in Asplundh Concert Hall. Two of the university’s four a capella groups, High Street Harmonix and Under A Rest, were able to compete in the quarterfinals.
High Street Harmonix is a men’s bass and tenor contemporary a capella group that was founded in the spring of 2013 and has been competing since 2015. In 2015, they earned third place in the competition. This year, they wowed the crowd with a high energy set that included the songs “Blackout” by Breathe Carolina, “Life of the Party” by All Time Low, “Windswept” by Crywolf and “Press Restart” by Walk the Moon.
President of High Street Harmonix Rob Clark described the reasoning behind their arrangement. “The idea we were going for circles around how someone can not be sure of their place in life, someone can be lost with nowhere to turn, but that you can’t give up. There will be somewhere to go, someone to turn to-you just need to keep fighting and pushing on, and you will find what you need. In a way, this set is about redemption; one may think they have it all, then take a step back to realize they aren’t who they want to be or they aren’t in a situation they want to be in.”
Clark went on: “It’s about making this realization and saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to do something about this, I’m going to get what I want.’” The group put their heart and soul into the set and really conveys that message with their phenomenal vocal percussionist Andrew Bollenbach at the heart (or should I say “heartbeat”) of the act. His captivating abilities to create surreal, almost computerized sounds won him the award for outstanding vocal percussion.
The High Street Harmonix put so much passion and hard work into their set, including nine straight days of “boot camp” during winter break, which earned them third place in the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals.
Clark expressed his pride in the group, exclaiming, “Honestly, it’s indescribable. It’s now two days removed from the competition and I’m still on cloud nine. There is a video of our set on YouTube, and I haven’t been able to go more than one class without listening to it. I really just don’t know what to say. This was my second year doing the ICCAs, but this time around things felt so different. Last year, I was hyper-focused on trying to win; this year, all I wanted to do was give the audience what they paid for and maybe blow the roof off the place in the process. Needless to say, both happened.”
Under A Rest is a co-ed a capella group that was founded in the fall of 2014 and has been competing since 2016. In 2016, they earned third place in the competition and in 2017 they placed second. This year they performed an extremely strong, emotional set that included songs such as “One More Light” by Linkin Park, “Aloha Ke Akua” by Nahko and Medicine for the People, “Other Side of Paradise” by Glass Animals, “Impossible Year” by Panic! At The Disco and “Oblivion” by M83.
Their extremely talented music director, Spencer Camacho, arranged these songs into a beautiful story that pulled soloist Michael Nangle back and forth between feelings of loneliness and a more optimistic view of life. At the end of the act, he realizes, “when the nights are long, all the stars will recall your goodbyes…” that people have been there for him all along.
By telling this beautiful story, Comacho was given the award for outstanding arrangement. Along with the beautiful arrangement, the set would not be complete without the mesmerizing movements choreographed by Bri Decario, who won the award for outstanding choreography. She expressed her love of the art saying, “I can’t get enough of a cappella. It’s literally my obsession.“
She went on to say, ”My friends ask me all the time if I’ve changed my major to a cappella. If I would, I could . . . singing with my best friends and creating art with only our voices and bodies is truly something special.” The group has only been working on their set for a short time, beginning in January, but they worked through the music and choreography in multiple three to four day “boot camps” that ran from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. All of their hard work paid off because Under A Rest was awarded second place in the quarterfinals, which means that they will now be moving on to the semifinals at the Kimmel Center for the Arts on March 31.
Soloist Michael Nangle described the next steps that the group is taking to prepare for their journey. He said, “We actually just developed our goals and are ready to ramp back up into rehearsal mode! We’ll be working on the things the judges told us to take a look at and cleaning up the choreo and music. Meanwhile, we’ll be singing at a few gigs across the tri-state area!”
All of the groups that performed at the competition were phenomenal; it was an extraordinary display of the passion that college students have for the art of a capella. Needless to say, both High Street Harmonix and Under A Rest are full of incredibly talented vocalists with a passion for their craft. Given the chance to display their skills their home turf, they did not disappoint!
Ashley Sigerson is a first-year student with a secondary English education and special education double major ✉ AS898455@wcupa.edu.