Vocal Rush's Powerful Performance Lifts Group To 2017 ICHSA Title

By Ben Spalding

For the first time this past weekend, I was able to watch the ICHSA Finals without the stress and excitement of my own group, Forte, performing in the competition.

This is my fifth time at ICHSA, a year after Forte won the coveted Gooding Cup, which I returned ahead of Friday's finals at The Town Hall in New York City. Forte took the year off from competing so that we could focus on making our largest and most ambitious album to date.

However, it gave a different perspective to watching the show without having the stress of my group competing. I could sit back and simply enjoy the show. Varsity Vocals, put simply, doesn't get enough credit for all that they do. I mean let's face it, 500 or more groups from across the country and even Europe competing in both the ICHSA and ICCA is incredible.

When it was all said and done, the competition was very stiff between Friday's nine finalists, and I felt like there were four groups that were in contention for the top three. The judging worked out well with who ended up in the top three, and it's hard to argue with any of those groups winning for the evening. But to no one's surprise, it was Vocal Rush, the ICHSA West champions from Oakland, CA, who came out on top. They have and always will be a force to be reckoned with on the ICHSA stage.

Here's how the evening unfolded:

The A Cappella Group (TAG)
The competition kicked off with The A Cappella Group (TAG), the ICHSA South champions, from Fort Myers, FL. They opened up the show with the song "I Want to Dance With Somebody," and they certainly made me grin ear to ear with their fun energetic style and sleek dance moves. At times, the tuning suffered from some of the dancing, but overall they did a great job with their set.

Walk The Line
The second group of the evening was Walk the Line, the ICHSA Southwest champions, from Rockwall, Texas. Interestingly enough, I caught a quick clip of this group on Acaville Radio earlier in the day, and I was really excited about their sound. The started off their set with "Halo," and it had a nice lush opening and then moved on and became upbeat the second half of the song. I didn't love the upbeat portion of "Halo" as much as the other moments in their set as they certainly had some of the most memorable moments of the evening -- one being the soloist on a Mariah Carey tune, who showed off her whistle tones.

Let's face it, not too many singers can do that and I appreciate that the group took a risk and highlighted this with their second soloist. The song that I liked the most with this group was their rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I feel that this song really played well to the groups strengths of standing and singing as a whole. The soloist was incredible, and the group certainly did well with the intricate backing vocals and harmonies behind her.

Enharmonic Fusion
The next group up was Enharmonic Fusion, the ICHSA Midwest champions, from Dekalb, Illinois. This group has been a major player in the a cappella world for many years, and it was nice not going up against them this year!

The soloists in this group were incredible and kept my attention and interest from start to finish. This set was the most polished and dynamic that I've ever seen from this group, which has been fantastic every year that I've seen it. The set was centered around three main soloists and each were in a world of their own.

In fact, these soloists have gifts that need to be shared with the world. Not only were the soloists outstanding, but the backing vocals were also amazing! After this set, I knew that Enharmonic Fusion was going to be in the running for the Gooding Cup.

The Thursdays
Another new group to me was The Thursdays, the ICHSA Northeast champions, from Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Overall, this group was very enjoyable to watch, and I absolutely love getting to hear and see groups that I've never heard of before. They had a nice sound, but their set could've been a tad more polished in order for them to be in contention at the end of the night. They had a great energy, and one of the highlights of their set for me was their final song "If You're Out There." This is such a powerful song and the male soloist did a fantastic job covering this song.

The group that closed the first half was Synergy, the ICHSA Northwest champions, from Eugene, Oregon. This group had tons of energy throughout its entire set. They opened up with Sia's "The Greatest," and the lyric "I've got stamina" was perfect for this group. You couldn't help but get Synergy's message and positive vibe as they performed their set.

One of the best parts of their set is how engaged and committed this group is with what it's doing. It's not often that a group has such passion and energy and gets after it as much as this one did. At the very end of their set, the group dropped their mics and all held hands together to deliver their message that "one in four women experience sexual assault." When a group comes together to deliver a message through music, it transcends and can be the most powerful means of spreading love in a chaotic world.

Vocal Point
Kicking off the second half was Vocal Point, the ICHSA Wild Card champions, from Galesville, Wisconsin. They started off the second half with a ton of musicianship and emotion. In fact, I believe they probably had the most musical moments of the night in their set. From using rests to create space and emotion to making great use of crescendos and dynamics, this set was very well executed and you could tell that this group was very polished and put together.

The groove with the vocal percussionist and the bass was spot on and another highlight for this group. It's always fascinating to me that the wild-card winner is typically in the hunt for the Gooding Cup, and this set certainly put Vocal Point in the running.

Stay Tuned
Ironically enough, this group was second after intermission. If you watched the show "Pitch Slapped," I think you know what I'm talking about. Stay Tuned were the ICHSA Mid Atlantic champions from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They are no stranger to competition, and this year they advanced past Highlands Voices in their semifinal.

It was a very bold move to open with the guys singing alone. I mean let's face it, many high school groups struggle to find guys. I really loved how they opened up their set dynamically and set the mood for what was to come. The soloists in this group really stood out as well. This was also the second time that we had heard the song "Freedom" performed. This song was performed more than any other song, but I truly enjoyed their take on it.

Ars Nova
Ars Nova were the ICHSA Great Lakes champions, hailing from the A Cappella Capital of the United States, Dayton, Ohio. Kind of kidding, kind of not!

This group also had a lot of musical moments, and I loved the energy that they brought to the stage. Their vocal percussionist was an absolute joy to watch move and get into it on stage. I loved the opening off mic moments of "That's My Girl" in their opening number as well as the bold moments that the group brought to the music. From feel changes to a great use of dynamics and emotion, this group brought it. It became a little harder to start to separate a few of the groups from the pack as this group was the third group of the night to sing Beyonce's "Freedom." I will say, and this is not typically the case, I truly did enjoy all three takes on this song. They all had their own distinct differences, and all three were enjoyable.

Vocal Rush
Do they need an introduction? Lisa Forkish is a mad scientist, beautiful human being, and an amazing teacher. Vocal Rush were the ICHSA West champions, and they are from Oakland, California. Every time this group sets forth on the stage, you already know it is going to bring it. And guess what? It did!

I love the interesting mix of personnel that this group has each and every year. This current group is comprised of eight girls and only one guy. They oozed musicianship from moment one and built all the way to a very powerful and climactic ending! When you watch and listen to Vocal Rush, it's great because you simply get to sit back and enjoy. It's hard to critique a group of this caliber. Another powerful thing with this group is that it always comes with purpose and a musical message. It embodies what a cappella is about and should continue to be from now and into the future.

The judges for the evening were...
Abbey Janes
Bill Hare
Ed Boyer
India Carney
Roopak Ahuja

You can find the full results of the 2017 ICHSA Finals HERE

Forte Breaks Down Their 2016 ICHSA Finals Win

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