By Sophie Cannon, deputy A&E editor
It’s the March Madness of singing, the Super Bowl of choreography and the World Cup of collegiate pride. This year’s International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) is as competitive as ever and comes with a Northeastern twist: Four of the six Northeastern University a cappella groups are competing throughout the month for their spot at the finals.
The first in a series of articles, The News will profile each group competing in the upcoming quarterfinals and semifinals, hopefully following one Northeastern team all the way to finals in New York City. This wish may come true because at the first competition in the northeast region, the quarterfinals at Berklee College of Music in Boston on Saturday, the Northeastern Nor’easters won the first place title. They will be advancing to the next round at Boston Symphony Hall on March 26, along with the Harvard Lowkeys, who placed second.
Dressed in their classic all-black attire, the Nor’easters took the stage seventh in the eight-group line-up. Their set did not have the usual songs, like Rise Up from the #RiseUpNU campaign, and kept the audience on their toes. The set included the ballad “715 Creeks” by Bon Iver, and energized the crowd with “Kids” by OneRepublic. The songs meshed into each other seamlessly, only stopping briefly between a few songs for a breath and the roaring applause from the audience.
After outstanding performances by groups from Emmanuel College, Simmons College, Suffolk University and Berklee College of Music on their home stage, the judges left the room to deliberate which two groups would be advancing to the semifinal competition in just over a month. The Nor’easters not only came out on top winning the number one spot, but soloist Anthony Rodriguez, a third-year psychology major and current president of the Nor’easters, won the award for best solo of the night.
“Something I think that we are really strong in is our stage presence,” Rodriguez said. “When we come on the stage, people are like, ‘Okay, those are the Nor’easters.’ We come on very confident and very excited to display what we’ve worked so hard on creating.”
The Nor’easters are famous at the ICCA and in the a cappella community as a whole. After starring in the Pop TV series “Sing it On” that was added to Netflix in 2015, the Nor’easters won the wildcard spot to advance to the ICCA finals in 2014. The wildcard is a video contest, open for teams that did not win semi-finals but want a second shot at competing in the final showdown, the winner advancing to finals.
This year, the Nor’easters are hoping to take home another win for themselves and the university. The pressure of ICCA competition is high enough, but according to both Rodriguez and Sofia Berg, the business and brand manager of the Nor’easters and a third-year political science and communication studies dual major, this year is especially crazy.
“It stresses people out, but this year our group is made up of people that haven’t done ICCA before which is unique,” Berg said. “I was never expecting to do ICCA this year, and when we did, it was mostly pressure from the people that had not done ICCA. It was great to see that our newer members were so driven to compete and have a new experience.”
Usually, groups who lose many members after graduation take a few semesters off to rebuild and nail down their set, image and flow, but the Nor’easters have excelled at maintaining their brand while never failing to spice up their repertoire and keep the audience and competition guessing.
“I feel like we have a very set brand in the sense that all of our stuff is very cohesive in one way,” Berg said. “When you go to a Nor’easters show a lot of people expect certain music and a certain style which is not very typical for a college a capella group to follow one vein of thought as a whole group.”
While the Nor’easters’ polished vibes are true of their brand, they are coming into this new season and the competition with a few tricks up their sleeve to shake the other northeast schools.
“We are going to be displaying some new stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I think the audience and the crowd and competitors will be in for a little surprise. We’re not bringing the typical Nor’easters thing this year and we have some surprises in the works.”
The group is infamous in the a cappella scene as a force to be reckoned with, but there were many other groups that threatened the group’s chances to advance to the semifinals and beyond.
“Our biggest competition are definitely Boston groups, for sure,” Rodriguez explained. “If we make it to semifinals, however, some of our biggest competition are in different regions. I think our biggest competition here is our fellow Northeastern group, Distilled Harmony. They are super polished, super good at ICCA season and they always bring it every year.”
Despite having a new managing board and new members, the Nor’easters did not come to the competition without support from those who have been through it before. Isaac Willnow, Jessie Litwin and Amanda Fazio, all alumni of the Nor’easters, came out in support of the current group and were with them the entire way.
“Because we have always taken it so seriously, as a group and as an institution, it’s exciting to see what they are doing to push the boundaries,” said Willnow, Northeastern ’16 alumnus and the former music director and brand manager of the Nor’easters. “It’s a cliche at this point, but when you are creating music together and sharing that experience of baring yourself to one another to create a set of music, we will have that connection with one another forever and so that’s really what makes it special and that’s why we are always here supporting them.”
Even though Northeastern will be represented at semifinals no matter what now, there are still three strong Northeastern a cappella groups still yet to compete. Stay tuned, because semifinals could result in a Husky on Husky battle to the Beacon Theatre in New York City.
photo by Lauren Scornavacca