Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: Photograph by Sandra Soliman

This weekend, 10 groups of musicians from across the region will pack up their instruments and make the trek to West Chester University. No heavy lifting or moving trucks required. Why? Because these musicians and their instruments are one and the same. 

Vocalists near and far have been hard at work preparing for the Mid-Atlantic round of the International Championship for Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) Quarterfinals, held this year at WCU’s very own Asplundh Concert Hall. On Saturday, March 2, these singers, composers, choreographers and vocal percussionists will pull out the glitter, put on the costumes and perform their hearts out in hopes of advancing to the semifinals in Wilmington, Delaware at the end of March. 

Each group presents their set before a live audience and a panel of three-to-five judges who distribute points based on three categories — vocal performance, visual performance and subjective rank. Though not a requirement, judges can also honor choreographers, vocal percussionists, soloists and composers with special awards. Whichever groups place first and second will advance further in the competition. 

This year, WCU’s two competing groups, High Street Harmonix (HSX) and Under A Rest (UAR), are especially excited to present their 10-minute sets. Yes, you read that right — each group is granted no more than ten minutes’ time to give their all on the stage. 

So, what does it take to participate in such an intense performance? Planning and preparation — and, in the words of High Street’s music director, JT Hawkes, “lots.” 

While most students enjoyed their winter breaks at home, these musicians spent quite a lot of time in the Swope Music Building for intensives they like to call “Boot Camp.” High Street’s Boot Camp consisted of 12-hour sessions spanning eight days, while Under A Rest hosted a two-week camp with eight-hour sessions. Though the students spend a majority of camp learning choreography and perfecting their sound, camp was also an opportunity for the singers to better connect and bond with one another. 

Both groups are entirely student-run, so student music directors Hawkes and Christina Samar of UAR hold a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. 

“I run every rehearsal. So I lesson plan for all of those,” Christina explains. “It’s not required, but personally, I love doing albums and live videos and arranging the competitive set.” Planning an ICCA set begins with a concept before anything else, the three-time music director explains. After the big ideas are hashed out comes the task of song selection. “Your personal favorite song might not be the best song for your group to sing. You have to think about your singers as well,” says Christina. 

Although 10 groups are attending the quarterfinal round in West Chester, over 450 groups from nine regions across the United States and Europe are participating in their own regional quarterfinals.

“It’s steep competition, every group is as good [as you] or better,” JT says. “Good preparation just comes from really nitpicky stuff, like fine-tuning one note. That’s how deep we have to get to match the level of the groups that do that kind of stuff on a regular basis.” With the stakes so high, every moment matters. 

Curious about the competition? Don’t play it by ear. Grab your tickets at to secure your seat on Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m. 

“If you’ve never experienced collegiate a cappella before, it’s a wonderful experience,” JT says. “It’s just a lot of people getting together to create really beautiful, moving, fun pieces of art.” Not to mention, as Christina says, “it’s a competition!” 

You heard it here. Come out and support your pitch perfect peers this weekend. It’s sure to be “aca-awesome.” Ticket link:


Erin McGinniss is a fourth-year English major with a minor in American Sign Language.

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