‘Soaking in the moment, embracing that we’re here’

Country’s best a cappella groups understood and appreciated in any language


Birdland Avenue

Birdland Avenue won Outstanding Choreography at the Open New England Semifinals of A Capella at Berklee College on July 29, 2017.

Janelle Christopher, Everett High

A cappella is opening yourself to something different and special, and using your voice as an instrument and as a vocalist.

The 2017 Open New England Semifinal of A Capella was a competition run by Varsity Vocals and held July 29, 2017, at Berklee College of Music. There have been more than 80 competitions around the world to help determine who will be finalists.

The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, or ICCA, is a real-life collegiate-level a cappella competition, as in the hit movie “Pitch Perfect,” with colleges battling for the winning title.

Women of the World won the New England semifinal and will now go on to compete in the 2017 Open finals next month at Carnegie Hall. This competition will have 10 of the best a cappella groups in the world, and they will leave it all on the stage for $25,000.

While waiting to take seats in the Berklee venue, people were buzzing with energy and excitement regarding the competition. Some had never heard of a cappella, others were superfans and betting on who would place based on past experiences at the shows.

Jim Boardman, a superfan who arrived at the venue early, expressed that he has been closely following a cappella since he was 18 years old when the Harvard Callbacks sang at his birthday. His favorite part is the no-instruments aspect, and that it is solely based on vocals.

Each group was allowed 12 minutes for its arrangement and could have up to 18 people on stage soaking in the greatness that is competing for a crowd.

Women of the World placed first, which was no surprise based on its moving performance. The four women — who are able to sing in 31 languages — sang in six during their performance. The women on stage were of four different races, and wore culturally appropriate outfits for each heritage.

Although the women spoke in other languages, their talent shined through and the whole crowd appreciated the difference. When the group was given the title, everyone on stage was extremely supportive and happy for them. The women hugged each other and it was evident that they were proud of themselves for their job well done.

Similar Jones, a group from Arlington, Mass., came in second and also won two special awards. Member Mike Stevens won Outstanding Vocal Percussion for the entire set, and the group won Outstanding Arrangement for their original song, “Mercy.”

There was only one woman in this group, and her vocals with the six men gave it a feminine touch that couldn’t have been achieved with only the men. Their costumes were different colored dress shirts, and their high energy came from their connection of being together as a group for so long.

Fermata Town, which was from Somerville, Mass., and had 13 members, came in third.

The Outstanding Soloist award was given to Jessica Savage of Martini Glass for “Bottom of the River,” and her voice had the whole room in awe. Her raw talent was something truly indescribable.

The last and final award, Outstanding Choreography, was given to Birdland Avenue’s Haley Castuera and Kayla Pichichero. Birdland Avenue is a group composed of five people who met at Boston University, in the a cappella group the Treblemakers. They began with small projects with instruments, and then posted covers on YouTube of a cappella.

The day before the Open competition, this group defied odds and had a 14-hour day of rehearsal due to distance, as their sets are usually created over Google Hangouts without learning the choreography.

This group plays to each other’s strengths and never has just one soloist on a song.

“It’s much easier to know your role in a smaller group,” said member Adrienne Rube. “You’re forced to go outside of your comfort zone.”

Their advice to all groups trying to make it is to find what makes your sound unique. Castuera and Rube agree that if you don’t feel genuine in your choices, you won’t be organic and real. They take pride in their storytelling as opposed to trying to “sell” themselves to the crowd.

“We’re soaking in the moment, embracing that we’re here, and being exposed to people,” said Castuera, “A cappella was a major part of our college experience, and it’s amazing.”

–Aug. 10, 2017–