The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) is a bracketed competition that takes place from January through April. It consists of quarterfinals, semifinals, a wild-card round, and finals. It was founded in a college dorm room in 1996 and currently has more than 450 groups competing throughout nine regions in the U.S. and Europe. This year, finals are being held at the historic Beacon Theatre in New York City on Saturday, April 22.
Over the past 20 years, the ICCA (NOT ICCAs or "ickas") has produced many spectacular a cappella performances. Here are 10 of the most memorable!
10. All Competing Groups Sing Together -- 2015 ICCA Finals
This song was arranged by Ben Bram and was an idea Varsity Vocals had been kicking around for a while. With so many amazing singers on stage, why not let them all sing together? The "Sing it On" TV show gave a good reason to finally do it (since it was filming the entire show that year). It was fantastic! Rumor has it, Varsity Vocals is bringing this idea back for the ICCA Finals this year as well as introducing it into ICHSA Finals as well. This was such a great note on which to end the singing portion of the show.
9. Pitch Slapped -- Berklee College of Music 2010 ICCA Quarterfinals
Sometimes a group can appear out of nowhere. This was the case for Pitch Slapped's first year of competition in ICCA. It marked Hannah Juliano's entrance into the a cappella scene, as the soloist on "Halo." The group easily won its quarterfinal and semifinal rounds before most of the a cappella community had even noticed it existed. Of course, it didn't hurt that every single student in the group was attending a music college. Pitch Slapped finished second at ICCA Finals that year. But their talent, focus, and unique abilities led them to an ICCA victory the very next year, with more to come!
8. The Techtonics -- Imperial College 2016 ICCA Finals
The rubato arpeggios (slightly out-of-time broken-up chord notes) start the Techtonics' set beautifully. Their musical cutaways (Star Wars, Star Spangled Banner, etc.) are whimsical. But it's the bicycle they build at the 4:55 mark that makes this list.
7. Devils -- Vassar College 2015 ICCA Finals Set
An ICCA set is comprised of a group's best 12 minutes of music. It is extremely rare to hear an original song (written by the group and not a cover) at any competition, let alone at ICCA Finals. At 4:56 of their set, you will hear "Nothing," written by Hannah Tobias and Matt Goldstein. When asked about the risk of performing an original song when everyone solely performs covers, Tobias said, "We always thought of it as a pro, not a con, because we found out that it 'blended in.' We knew it was of a caliber that at least didn't detract from our performance. And from that point on, we hoped and believed the fact that it was entirely unique material could only make the set as a whole more rare."
6. Vocal Point -- Brigham Young University 2006 ICCA Finals
Six years before Pitch Perfect did this, BYU Vocal Point opened their award-winning set with a similar gag. The audio quality isn't the best (funny how much difference a few years in technology makes), but their THX and Universal Pictures themes are... well... on point. With great power comes great responsibility.
5. Melodores -- Vanderbilt University 2011 ICCA Wild Card
At just two years old, the Vanderbilt Melodores are one of the youngest groups to ever place at the ICCA Finals.
In 2011, the wild-card round was relatively new, and the Melodores had won it. As a new group in the South region, few knew what to expect from them. But as soon as they opened their mouths, heads in the audience shot up -- they absolutely had to see what was going on up on stage. This was true for the event staff as well. Note to finalists: if you see someone with a headset or a clipboard actually watch your set, that's a compliment. They have way too many things to do than actually watch a set.
The Melodores had, to many, a perfect set in 2011. It was inventive, new, had visual elements that didn't detract from the music, and bled passion. Would this set place now? Probably not -- a cappella has evolved pretty far since 2011. But this set was a surprising breath of fresh air then, and some still use it now as an example of an ICCA Finals favorite.
4. Noteworthy -- Bringham Young University 2007 ICCA Finals
BYU Noteworthy is still, to this day, one of the only all-female group to ever win ICCA Finals (UNC Loreleis won the NCCA in 1997). Overall, their set was great, and you can find most of it here. The tuning was tight. The choreography was on point, and it was all done with a confident attitude. Every move they made on stage was on purpose, and every song shifted gears from the last. The piece chosen for this list was "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," complete with a full step percussion routine and breakdown, both delivered without compromising the integrity of the arrangement. This level of fierceness and what we now call swagger coupled with top-notch musicianship (down to the lip buzz vocal percussion) was way ahead of its time.
3. Nor'Easters -- Northeastern University 2013 ICCA Semifinals
Very few single performances can start a revolution. To be fair, Shams Ahmed's arrangement of Rihanna's "Diamonds" not only helped the Nor'Easters win the ICCA finals in 2013 but also sweep the entire competition circuit that year. This arrangement in particular inspired an entire generation of a cappellists to quote Eric Whitacre and employ cascading cluster chords to the point of it becoming a trope. "Diamonds" can be heard at 5:35 of this video.
2. Voices in Your Head -- University of Chicago 2012 ICCA FinalsThe process of using the output of one audio track to control the action of a compressor on a completely different track is called side-chaining and is precisely the effect that Voices in Your Head was going for in Titanium. By strategically pulling their microphones back and forth across their mouths as they belted their faces off, they achieved a sound a lot of sound engineers cannot: the side-chain pump. This punchy, pumping sound can be witnessed at 4:50. It was awesome.
1. Divisi -- University of Oregon 2005 ICCA SemifinalsThere were rumors swirling that Divisi was good, but at the time, internet video was limited, so most hadn't actually heard or seen anything from them. At soundchecks, Divisi blew everyone away -- it was clear that they had a very defined ethos and that they were specifically aiming right at the heart of material that would be appropriate only for all-male groups. "Yeah" embodied all of this. Originally performed by male rap/R&B artist Usher, Divisi turned "Yeah" into something different -- an anthem. With "Yeah," Divisi shattered every boundary they could find. Though Divisi didn't win that year (subject of a book you may have heard of...), "Yeah" made them a national conversation.
Did you know that "Pitch Perfect" is (loosely) based on a true story? Mickey Rapkin wrote a book called "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory" that follows three groups: Univeristy of Oregon Divisi, Tufts Beezlebubs, and University of Virginia Hullabahoos. Divisi and the Beezlebubs became the inspiration for the Barden Bellas and the Barden Treblemakers.
The ICCA and ICHSA (High School) Finals sell out. Every year. Quickly and without fail. There are very few tickets left for Saturday's ICCA Finals, and you can find them here.
What's your favorite? Who should've made the list? Who are you rooting for this year?
Let us know in the comments below!