This Presidents Day weekend (and virtually since the eighth grade) I found myself knee-deep in a cappella. My a cappella group, The Binghamton Crosbys, took a trip to the worst place in the world (New Jersey) to compete in the first round of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, the ICCA.
Think of the ICCA as the NCAA tournament: the country is broken down into five regions — West, Midwest, South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast — consisting of about 30 to 40 groups each. Each region holds four quarterfinal events, in which the top two groups move on to their regional semifinal.
The winner of each eight-group semifinal, and a national wild-card winner, proceeds to compete in the finals at Lincoln Center. A cappella’s “Final Four,” if you will. The winner of this six-group showdown is ICCA Champion.
For the record, www.acappellablog.com has an interactive bracket feature, in which you can predict the winners of each quarterfinal, semifinal and final. Dick Vitale can’t help you on this one.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Rewind back to Saturday afternoon. Here I was at The College of New Jersey — a reasonably nice place, all things about New Jersey considered — in a room with my singing buddies and about 120 other a cappella singers from schools such as Syracuse, Drexel, Pittsburgh, as well as our sister group, the Harpur Harpeggios.
I’d been on the spectator’s end of an ICCA competition before, but this experience was something completely new.
Each group found their own corner, eyeing us down as we entered the room. Picture “Bring it On,” but with a cappella instead of cheerleading. The tension was much too palpable for a singing competition. I just wanted to tell everyone to chill out.
But I was in no place to do that. I got into it. After all, I love “Bring it On” and I love a cappella, so I was ready to buy into the hype.
College a cappella is intense and should not be taken lightly. Take, for example, what happened at Wendy’s only hours before we took the stage to compete.
While I sat, enjoying a lovely Junior Bacon Chicken and five-piece nuggets, our music director and lead vocalist stammers into the establishment and grabs his head, writhing in pain. A door pivot fell on him. I can’t make this stuff up.
A girl at the table across from us, who previously identified herself as a member of an opposing group, suggested we take him to the hospital, post haste. A courteous suggestion or a cappella mind games?
We decided to forego this girl’s cunning advice and keep our most valuable member of the group intact for competition. He was going to have to play through the injury.
If you’re still unsure whether I’m talking about a cappella or basketball, don’t worry. It just means I’m doing my job correctly.
When it came time for the actual performance, the intergroup tension persisted. Members of different groups dared not talk to each other back stage, let alone make eye contact. Each group wanted a victory badly and was going to make the 12 minutes they had on stage the most important 12 minutes of their lives.
But only two groups can proceed. We wound up in second place, all said and done, bested only by Groovestand, a mixed ensemble from Syracuse. We did, however, win “Best Choreography” for our entire set. At least we know we can dance.
The world of college a cappella has existed right under your nose for a long time, and it’s time you take notice. If a cappella still isn’t your thing, then take this from me: Don’t stay at the Red Roof Inn in Lawrenceville, N.J.