A cappella competition brings talent to CMU

This is Pittch Please’s first year as a recognized organization at Pitt and is its first year participating in an ICCA competition. (credit: Kevin Zheng/) This is Pittch Please’s first year as a recognized organization at Pitt and is its first year participating in an ICCA competition. (credit: Kevin Zheng/)

On Friday night, a cappella enthusiasts from around Carnegie Mellon, around Pittsburgh, and even a handful from Michigan gathered in McConomy Auditorium to watch their favorite groups compete in the Great Lakes International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) quarterfinals. McConomy was full to bursting, with individuals standing in the back and lining the stairs. Completely unintentionally, I managed to find a seat in the row where all the judges, scorekeepers, and timekeepers sat. Under their book lights, the judges scribbled furiously on clipboards during the performances, analyzing each of the ten groups’ strengths and weaknesses in a variety of categories.

The evening of a cappella craziness was hosted by Carnegie Mellon’s very own Brad Plaxen, a senior electrical and computer engineering and English double major. Having been an MC for other events on campus, Plaxen seemed comfortable addressing the huge audience. While introducing the show, Plaxen got the audience guffawing after preparing them to hear “a lot of top 40 songs from the last three months that you’re tired of. A lot of Taylor Swift. Actually that’s unconfirmed, but she’s actually here tonight, here in McConomy. Taylor Swift just loves a cappella.” Ridiculous quips like this had the audience giggling and kept the energy light throughout the over-three-hour-long show.

Each group was limited to 12 minutes’ worth of a cappella glory. Plaxen made numerous comments about keeping the clapping between songs to a minimum in order to expedite each set. The first group of the evening — and the only group from out of state — specifically asked for no applause until the end, as their set was timed to fill the 12 minutes almost exactly. The Gold Vibrations, a co-ed a cappella group from Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan, performed a lively set including the current toe-tapping favorite, Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars.

With charming choreography and sets that seemed to be pulled off seamlessly, even the littlest mistakes could ruin a group’s chances to take home a coveted prize or advance to the semifinals. The second group, the University of Pittsburgh’s C Flat Run, included the first soloist of the evening who sent chills up my spine. His rendition of “Supremacy” by Muse sent his voice soaring to incredible high notes.

The evening was full of knock-your-socks-off talent, as well as plenty of funny moments and numbers. The University of Pittsburgh’s Pitt Pendulums arranged Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” to merge into other numbers such as “New York” and “Oops I Did it Again” before each chorus. I always find men giving their all while singing vintage Britney Spears to be enjoyable and highly entertaining.

The first Carnegie Mellon group of the evening stunned with another inspired arrangement. Counterpoint, the only all-female a cappella group at Carnegie Mellon, had the genius idea of pairing Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Their performance also included a rousing “Summertime Sadness” by Lana del Rey and a wonderful version of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” (replete with Jessie J’s rap).

Pittch Please, an all-male a cappella group from University of Pittsburgh — and the first-place winners of the evening — earned the audience’s respect and admiration with a variety of flawlessly arranged and executed songs. The soloist who sang Jessie J’s part in Bang Bang performed tons of animation and impressive intonation as his voice slipped and slid over the runs and performed vocal gymnastics. Pittch Please’s staging was also perfect: entertaining, but not at the expense of the vocals. At one point the members pretended to be various instruments.

The other two Carnegie Mellon groups to perform took the stage by storm. The Originals, an all-male ensemble, delivered a complex and majestic performance. One of the most enjoyable moments of the evening was the mash-up of jazzy-blues ballad “Cry Me a River” with Justin Timberlake’s popular song of the same name. Freshman musical theatre major Kyle Pitts performed the ballad — famously covered by jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald — soulfully, as the rest of the group backed him up with spunky lines from Justin Timberlake’s version.

Carnegie Mellon’s co-ed group The Treblemakers performed a set that showed off their ability to perform melodic and fast-paced number with ease. Senior BXA student Bridget McCoy delivered a beautiful version of Rihanna’s “Stay” and sophomore psychology major Reagan Henke sang Calvin Harris’ “Sweet Nothing” with an amazing amount of power and emotion. Entertaining and impressive dancing accompanied the vocals, so it was no surprise that The Treblemakers took home the award for best choreography.

The evening was certainly long, but it was hard to complain when there was the opportunity to watch so many talented people doing what they love. If you didn’t feel sorry for yourself regarding your personal singing talent, the funny bios of each group in the program definitely made you feel substantially less cool. During the period before the winners were announced, the audience was entertained with performances from Infra Dance Company and improv troupe No Parking Players.

Carnegie Mellon groups won all of the prizes except first prize. Second prize went to The Originals, and third prize went to the Treblemakers. In addition to winning best choreography, Bridget McCoy of the Treblemakers won Best Soloist. Junior global studies major Diana Pacilio won Best Vocal Percussion for Counterpoint, and composition major Stephen Murphy won Best Arrangement for The Originals.

All in all, the ICCA quarterfinals once again blew the audience away with their whirlwind of vocal majesty.