A cappella thrives by the Great Lakes
BY ERIN BEN-MOCHE
OU News Bureau
Twenty-one years ago, the a cappella company Varsity Vocals created a competition that more than 300 groups now participate in — The International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella.
A cappella is broken into nine regions, then bracketed down to the top 10 groups. The final 10 from around the world compete at finals in New York City.
The Great Lakes region includes Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. This year, Michigan dominated in size at semifinals.
“I’ve been saying for years that Michigan is a hotbed for interesting, high-level scholastic a cappella and the Great Lakes Semifinal proved just that,” said Emily Flanders, a producer for the Great Lakes region. “The sheer level of talent from Michigan was overwhelming and each group was distinct from one another in arranging styles, performance and choreography.”
Five mitten groups ventured to Chicago on March 4: Ladies First from Michigan State University, Gold Vibrations from Oakland University, Euphoria from Grand Valley State University, and Maize Mirchi and Amazin’ Blue from the University of Michigan. It is rare to see 50 percent of the competition represented by Michigan schools.
“We compete in ICCA for a multitude of reasons, the biggest reason being that it’s a lot of fun,” said Noah Hubbard, vice president of Gold Vibrations.
“It’s super cheesy and corny but there are moments in each of our songs when done right it makes the whole room lift. Looking around and seeing everyone else in the group feel that, too, it’s impossible not to be proud.“
Gold Vibrations won the Great Lakes semifinals in 2016 and represented Michigan by performing at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. This year, Voices in Your Head from the University of Chicago advanced to Finals.
Although Gold Vibrations is the only a cappella group on its campus, other universities have multiple groups. U of M had two groups competing this year at semis out of 16 active on campus. One of them, the coed Maize Mirchi, celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year.
“A very important facet of (Maize) Mirchi is our tie to the South Asian culture. We strive to maintain a healthy balance between high quality performance and authentic sound,” said business manager Ellie Olds. “Additionally, this group is a true family. Each and every individual person in this group makes us what we are today.”
U of M’s Amazin’ Blue won an award for best choreography and placed second overall with a score of 393 out of 465.
Four of the five groups competing from Michigan were coed. Ladies First was the only Michigan all-female group. The 16 MSU women have previously competed in the semifinals and have released five albums.
“I am most proud of seeing women of all ages connect with our music,” said Ladies First music director Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah. “We love to inspire other women in such a powerful way, and it’s something our whole group realizes we have the ability to do.”
Michigan groups have advanced to semifinals and finals for the past five years, but GVSU’s Euphoria experienced semifinals for the first time.
“Euphoria made a big step this year and decided to put a huge focus on competitions,” said Jack Phillipson, music director for Euphoria. “We had done ICCA in the past, but 2017 was the first time we put all of our energy toward competition and it paid off.
“As music director, I would say that I am most proud of the passion and trust that each and every member of Euphoria has.”
A cappella has grown in popularity over the years. Many of the Michigan groups can be heard on iTunes and Spotify and are featured on Varsity Vocals “Best of Collegiate A Cappella” album.
“Singing is so universal. No matter our backgrounds, creeds or beliefs, we can all sing,” Flanders said. “I think that watching a group of young people create and move together in harmony is beautiful. It’s potential, limitless. A cappella taps into all of that, and, when done well, is pretty amazing.”
Erin Ben-Moche is on the executive board for Gold Vibrations A Cappella and participated in the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella this year.
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