Annual AcaPitt performance brings talented a cappella groups to Rangos Ballroom

I love a cappella music. I love skillful arrangements; I love impassioned soloists and flailing beatboxers; and I love the overall power, artistry, and variability in the human voice. Because of that fact, AcaPitt is something I always look forward to because of its variety.

The concert was held in Rangos Ballroom, so the energy in the room was buzzing simply because of the sheer number of people. The night started out with a performance from Counterpoint, sporting fancy t-shirts with the event’s logo printed on them. It was a rather rough start for Counterpoint, as there appeared to be a fuddling of lyrics during their first song, a cover of Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be.” But Counterpoint hardly missed a beat, smiling and enjoying themselves the entire time. Their second song, an oldie and a goodie, “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” by the 4 Seasons, was a pleasant listen. Overall, I loved Counterpoint’s energy, and their beatboxer was pretty fly, making quite a few fun facial expressions throughout the night.

After Counterpoint left the stage, singers of the organization being benefited, Arts Greenhouse, a local hip-hop outreach group for high-school-age artists, came to perform. The first performance featured a soloist and a line of backup singers, and though I can’t quite remember it, I know that the tone was pretty lax and sad. Two members of the backup brigade then came forward and delivered some spoken word poetry, which I normally adore. This performance featured recitation of the pledge of allegiance, followed by a string of personal condemnations of the country’s despicable treatment of African Americans. The poetry, however, seemed a bit out of place and too aggressive for the overall tone of the night, which was whimsical (as a cappella usually is) and light-hearted. While the first poet did deliver some powerful lines and a message that is very relevant and very real these days, an audience member commented that he felt “very attacked” because of the sudden pejorative mood change. The third performance featured a young woman and two others singing a song that she wrote called, from what I could gather, “Six-String Soul”, which was very nice. I tend to really enjoy trio arrangements, and this one was not an exception. The main singer had such an expressive voice and body that I could really tell she was connected to the song, and it was pleasant to watch.

The Originals were next. The group, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this school year, is always a pleasure to watch. The group started their set with The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” featuring soloist Erik Fredriksen and his hair. It was pretty intense and heightened the mood of the room. The audience really enjoyed it, and while I hate the song, I enjoyed the arrangement. Their second song featured a puppy-eyed soloist whose rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love” was a great emotional contrast and compliment to the intensity of their first song. Their third song featured spunky soloist Angelo Ragghianti singing “Classic” with all of the backwards-hat swag he could muster. It was fun to watch, especially because of the song’s general lyrics which are quite uncharacteristic of him. I believe that backwards hats signal a personality shift that can only be measured in factors of swag, and Angelo’s swag factor was a good 3/5: not enough to be off-putting, but just enough to give him some measure of street cred.

Next up was the club group C#, who started with Coldplay’s “Magic”. The group was rather low-energy — perhaps a fault of the song — and parts were pitchy, but when member Christian Bernard came out from the back and started harmonizing, the pitchiness was less noticeable. The group then transitioned into Katy Perry’s “Birthday,” which was also a bit pitchy, but the soloist seemed to be having a great time, even bouncing up and yelling “Drop it!” at one point during her singing, cementing her as the only performer during the night to have both feet leave the stage. The final song in C#’s set was an Ariana Grande’s medley, which was pleasant, if a little loud.

Next up was Saans, a Western-South-Asian fusion group whose style was both fresh and enjoyable. Their first song was a mix between a song I didn’t recognize and Tiesto’s “Wasted,” which was really cute. The second song was what really caught my attention, though, because it incorporated some great soloists and a background harmony which created a very mystical atmosphere, and there’s hardly anything I love more than atmosphere of any kind. I absolutely adore the incorporation of South Asian lyrics and styles of singing into an English song-- it melded very well and was very enjoyable. The third combination, Kimbra’s “Settle Down” and “Zubi Dubi Zubi Dubi” from the movie 3 Idiots was very nice, though the soloist of “Settle Down” had a bit of a brittle high register.

Next up were the Soundbytes with Hozier’s “Someone New”. The soloist had a good voice for this song’s genre, and the background harmonies were buoyant and enjoyable. I was especially impressed by the overall cheekbone definition of this group — they had quite the architectural bone structure. The second song was mellow and worked perfectly for the soloist’s voice. The Soundbytes impressed me with their attention to soloist’s strongest styles and the genre of the song they sang. The final transition was into The Script’s “Breakeven,” which was great and high-energy.

Representing the University of Pittsburgh, Pitch Please was next. I remember them being quite good last year, and they did not disappoint. This year, however, they sported fancy baseball uniforms — get it? Pitch? Double entendre, there. Pitch Please had what I will call the most aggressively developed falsetto of the night. These guys even sounded like a women’s choir at one point — it was sensational. The beatboxer from the first song was especially fun to watch — he was getting so into every song, flailing his limbs in that good shadow-drumming, beatboxer way.

Next up was Joyful Noise, and the noise they made was true to their name. I really enjoy the passion that these singers bring to their performances. Their faith is mirrored so closely to their lyrics and overall presentation that any audience member can feel their sincerity. Overall, I adored this group and their performance.

The male equivalent to Saans, Deewane, was interesting. As I’ve said, I love the flavors of different styles coming together, but the arrangements seemed overly ambitious for the group. As the group sang Justin Timberlake's "Suit and Tie" there was a major issue in the soloists’ use of falsetto. It reminded me a little of Mariah Carey’s flubbed whistle tones at last year’s Rockefeller Center performance. Their saving grace, however, proved to be their soloists who sang in languages other than English, which the audience and I went crazy for.

The highlight of the night was the Treblemakers’ performance of B.O.B.’s “Magic”, which started off tender and sweet, and then out from nowhere, a woman from the middle busted out rhymes so fluid, I thought she would wash away the audience. She was sassing all over that stage, and the audience was going crazy. The second singer on melody was snapping and sassing alongside her, and their energy and talent were absolutely fantastic.

Counterpoint closed out the show with a second set which featured a mash-up of Lorde’s “Buzzcut Season” and Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”, and with the naturally amazing harmonies that song presents, it was a very pleasant, calming listen. They finished the concert with Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” Sia, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult artists to cover because her songs are so aggressively crafted to her vocal style. That being said, it was a valiant effort on the part of Counterpoint’s final soloist.

AcaPittsburgh is an annual benefit concert started eight years ago by the all-female group Counterpoint. The concert features all eight of Carnegie Mellon’s acappella groups. This year, the charity concert benefited Arts Greenhouse, a local hip-hop outreach program, and raised over $3,000 for the organization.