by Alana Dore, deputy inside editor  

The curtains are closing on the participation of Northeastern University a cappella groups in this year’s competition season after successful performances in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA).

On March 22, the northeast region of the ICCA held its semifinal event. Although all of the Northeastern a cappella groups originally competed in the ICCAs, only two groups, the Nor’easters and Distilled Harmony, advanced to the semifinal event at Boston Symphony Hall.

Both teams advanced after taking home the title of Quarterfinal champion at their respective events, Distilled Harmony with 383 points and the Nor’easters with 400.

In the semifinal round, both groups competed ferociously.

For its semifinals set, the always-professional Nor’easters, who took home the ICCA title in 2013, sang “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” made famous by Dean Martin in 1965. The group’s last song of the night featured a powerful solo by Johanna Martendal, third-year political science and international affairs dual major, in a haunting and emotive mash-up of Beyoncé’s “Mine” and Sia’s “Elastic Heart.”

In an ironic twist, the Nor’easters took second place in the semifinals just five points behind the Vassar Devils from Vassar College, whom they beat by four points in the quarterfinal round. The Devils will proceed to the finals in New York City on April 18.

Although the Nor’easters do not automatically move on to the Finals, because the group placed second in the semifinal round it has the option to compete for the wildcard spot. The Nor’easters must create a video submission and send it to ICCA sponsor Varsity Vocals to compete for a space in the ICCA Finals.

In both 2011 and 2012, the Nor’easters took second place in the wildcard round, but first place moves on to join the winners of the semifinal rounds from each region.

This year, another group represented NU in the semifinals:  Distilled Harmony, which also came in first during its quarterfinal round on Feb. 14.

“Since our quarterfinals were about a month before our semifinals, it was a fine line to walk,” Distilled Harmony Manager Marie Pines, sophomore international business major, said. “We wanted to practice our set enough that we got better, but not so much that it got stale. We settled on waiting until about two weeks before the competition to really amp up our rehearsal schedule. I think it was a really good way to handle it; the set really improved, and we were able to not hate the music by the end of it.”

The 12-year-old group took care to prepare for this year’s ICCA semifinals and adapt their winning set list from the quarterfinal event for the semifinal competition. They watched videos of their own quarterfinal performance, added slight musical changes and reworked some choreography.

“The real bulk of the work came trying to match up our blend, balance, dynamics, choreo and much more through lots of rehearsal. Changes were constantly made in order to get the set as perfect as possible,” Music Director and Vocal Percussionist Steve McCarthy, senior biology major, said.

The group started its set with an lively rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free.” It then broke into a heart-wrenching arrangement of “Weights & Measures” by Dry the River featuring soloist Brian McCarthy, third-year biology major, that showed off the group’s ability to blend and balance the 17 individual voices. The third song in the set was Ingrid Michaelson’s upbeat “You Got Me,” which had playful choreography to match the song’s vibe. Distilled Harmony wrapped up its set with “Timebomb” by Tove Lo, featuring freshman Soloist Isabelle Knežević, closing with a blend of all four of the set’s songs, reminding the audience of each solo performer and the distinct sounds of each song.

The set succeeded in showing off the group’s range and ability to adapt to songs of many styles. Senior music and mathematics double major Elijah Botkin won an award for Outstanding Arrangement for the Entire Set at the ICCA Quarterfinals.

“Overall, I’d say our sound tends to be very lush, with dense pads and flowing lyrical lines. We like to showcase the talents of individual members and really focus on a united group blend,” McCarthy said. “Since I joined the group back in 2010, we’ve dramatically improved year to year. Our focus on top-notch musicality has led us to become such a cohesive group.”

Although they did not place in the top three, Distilled Harmony did not walk away empty-handed. Dharani Rao, sophomore biology major, won Outstanding Soloist for an explosive performance in “Break Free,” which showed off the impressive heights of her soprano range.

NU’s a capella groups Pitch, Please! and UniSons both came in third place in their respective quarterfinal rounds this year.

Last year, Pitch, Please! moved on to the semifinal round, as did The Downbeats, another group from NU, and UniSons, which tied in their quarterfinal round for second. Distilled Harmony placed third behind the tie. In 2013, the Nor’easters took home the ICCA champion title but Distilled Harmony and Pitch, Please! also made it to the semifinal round.

“As far as next year,” Pines said, “Finals here we come.”

photo courtesy Phil Zminda