UW gets in sync at the ICCA

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Waterloo&rsquo;s own a cappella groups The Water Boys, The AcaBellas, The Unaccompanied Minors, and The Committee competed at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), the very competition that <em>Pitch Perfect</em> was based on, Feb. 6 and Feb. 27.&nbsp;</p>

After a difficult competition in the two quarter-finals amongst nine other teams, The AcaBellas placed third in their respective quarter-final while The Committee placed second in theirs. The Committee will be competing in the semifinals in Buffalo on April 2 with “I Found” by Amber Run, and “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson.

This achievement — in addition to the high placements of the other groups within their respective quarterfinals — shows the advancement UW has achieved in such a few short years in the a cappella world.

While a cappella at UW is still quite young, having only begun with The Water Boys in 2008, its presence has grown rapidly. UW now has five main a cappella groups and multiple smaller groups that run through multiple semesters. Yang Chen, executive chair of the UW A Cappella Club and musical director of The Committee; attributes the success to the nature of UW students who “are serious about what they do and care about their passions.”

UW’s collaborative and passionate atmosphere lend well to such an intensive club. For example, to perform at the ICCA, Waterloo groups rehearsed about six hours a week for four to five weeks leading up the competitions, sometimes also having day-long, eight-hour rehearsals to learn and perfect everything.

For Chen, it is not the time commitment that is the most difficult part.

“The hardest part is definitely the nature of the genre itself — a cappella means that we have no backing instruments, nowhere to hide … you have to leave no room for mistakes.” This, in addition to having to sing perfectly in time with around 10-20 people, makes a cappella a challenge for the competing groups. 

Similarly to how Beca, a member of the Barden Bellas in Pitch Perfect converted “Don’t You Forget About Me” from The Breakfast Club, songs must likewise be altered by an arranger to suit the singing style of UW’s a cappella groups. 

“The songs have to be translated into notes that the group can sing; the doos and ahs.  …  Then comes the actual rehearsals. We first learn the music vocally, making sure everyone sings the correct rhythms and pitches, and has a unified sound with dynamic volume contrast. Then we add in the choreography later … Visual presentation counts for 40 per cent of the overall score, so you can’t underestimate the choreography,” Chen said.

Despite all the complexities and commitment, a cappella has never been more widely accepted amongst university campuses and the general media. 

“We’re in a golden age of a cappella and singing … Glee and Pitch Perfect have really, truly made singing and in particular, group singing, a cool activity that everyone loves,” Chen said. “It has certainly helped with the popularity, of our club and our concerts — we’re consistently selling out our usual venue the Modern Languages Theatre of the Arts, and have to move Hagey Hall this term!”

As The Committee advances to the semifinals and the other groups celebrate their victories, the a cappella club will host a large end-of-term show March 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. in Hagey Hall. Tickets will be on sale from a link on the UW A Cappella Club Winter 2016 EOT Concert Facebook page.

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