By Sophie Cannon, deputy A&E editor
While winter sports are coming to a close, the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) season has just begun. This weekend, it was time for another Northeastern a cappella group to step up to the plate and compete for a spot in the ICCA semifinals. Distilled Harmony, one of three co-ed groups on campus, won first place in the second quarterfinal competition Saturday night at Tufts University.
Distilled Harmony will be joining the Nor’easters as well as the Harvard Lowkeys and the New Hampshire Notables on March 26 at the semifinal competition at Boston Symphony Hall.
The group’s main focus in the spring semester is ICCA. Despite the routine rehearsal schedule for competition season, the group always finds a way to make its set fresh and dynamic. Their quarterfinal set list included powerful belting songs like “Watercolors” by Machineheart and “Take Me Home” by Jess Glynne, as well as more unique choices like “You and I” by Pvris and “Love + War” by Kwabs.
“We really use ICCA as a time to perfect our craft and grow,” said Alejandro Clark, a junior mechanical engineering major and the technical director for Distilled Harmony. “One thing I really enjoy about us as a group is that we always debute a complete new set just for ICCA. We won’t perform things on the ICCA stage that we’ve already been performing before.”
The quarterfinals are held all over the nation as well as across the sea in Europe, but the northeast region is one of the most competitive. With upwards of 20 competing colleges and universities in the Boston area alone, it can be hard for groups to consistently stand out – unless you’re Distilled Harmony, seasoned professionals on the ICCA stage.
“ICCA has been a yearly occurrence for us,” said Dharani Rao, a junior biology major and the co-music director of Distilled Harmony. “Not doing it has never really been part of the equation. When it came around this year, the hypothetical question of to do or not to do came up and it was an obvious choice to be like, ‘Yup, we’re competing.’”
Distilled Harmony has competed at ICCA for as long as any of the current group members can remember. Throughout the history of the group, they have worked on not just their technical skills and vocals but also on perfecting a brand they can be proud of and relate to.
“What sets us apart, beyond the music, is the vibe and sound we try to go for,” said Phil Zminda, a third-year marketing major and manager of Distilled Harmony. “A lot of the groups have their own thing. The Nor’easters are super professional and serious, whereas the Downbeats are fun but also great musically, and we try to fit somewhere in the middle of them.”
Another thing that sets Distilled Harmony apart from the five other a cappella groups on campus is the group’s makeup. One would think that such a musically talented bunch would each be on a music track at Northeastern, but these singers and beatboxers are mostly science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors.
“In terms of majors and music, it’s really funny because the vast majority of the group are science majors,” Zminda said. “Around 10 of the 14 members are in STEM, [with] only a few music industry majors and a few business majors.”
The group members see the lack of music students as a testament to how passionate and motivated each member is when it comes to this high-energy, high-time-commitment extracurricular.
“I think the cool part of our dynamic is that we’re here because this is something we want to do. We are so remarkably passionate about this,” Rao said. “This isn’t our day-to-day, these aren’t our day jobs, but the level of investment and passion that goes into this, you’d think it was our day job. Sometimes the lines get blurred and we don’t even know the difference.”
The drive to compete makes Distilled Harmony a fierce competitor in ICCA. The singers’ fighting spirit is accompanied by their genuine love for music and fellow group members.
With that goal in mind at every performance, they strive not only for vocal perfection but also to convey feeling to the audience and make them feel as passionate as the group does about music.
“What we really want to encapsulate is how much we enjoy each other’s presence and how much we love each other,” Clark said. “We want people to look at us perform and go, ‘Wow, it looks like they are having so much fun and really like each other. I want to be a part of that.’ That’s the goal.”
The 14 members come from all walks of life, but come together seamlessly on stage, working as a single unit made up of their own very unique parts.
“We try to convey to the audience that we really are a family. We spend so much time hanging out aside from our music, so I really hope that comes across through the music,” said Tara Kane, a third-year behavioral neuroscience major and co-music director of the group.
With another win under the group’s belt, the next stop on the road to finals at New York City’s Beacon Theatre is semifinals here in Boston. Semifinals will be a challenging competition, but members in Distilled Harmony maintain not only their fighting spirit but also pride in their massive accomplishments.
“Where we are now is really great,” Kane said. “We got so much work done in such a short amount of time, and while we still have things we can perfect, I am really proud of how far we’ve come.”
photo courtesy of Distilled Harmony’s Facebook page