Distilled Harmony a cappella group advances to semifinals in national competition


One of Northeastern’s a cappella teams, Distilled Harmony, performed at the quarterfinals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Feb. 26, winning second place overall and with two members receiving individual awards. Photo courtesy of Maghdalin Joyce.

Renée Abbott, news staff

Competing against the Treblemakers, two groups performing the same song, last minute solo replacements, team camaraderie, a capella — one might think that this is the plot to 2012 hit movie “Pitch Perfect,” but this is the story behind the real thing: the ICCA competition. 

One of Northeastern’s many a cappella groups, Distilled Harmony, placed second in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, or ICCA, quarterfinals and will compete in the semifinals March 27. On Feb. 26, they performed at Berklee Performing Center, competing against nine other a cappella groups from the Northeast. 

In addition to placing second overall, Distilled Harmony had two members receive individual awards. Second-year computer science and math combined major Eli Thomas won best vocal percussionist and second-year computer science major Neha Prasad won the outstanding solo award. 

“I’m super happy with it, it was super fun. We went up there, we had a lot of fun and then it turned out pretty good,” Thomas said, “I wasn’t expecting all of the awards and stuff so that was pretty cool as a plus. After our soundcheck we got a minute to just jam out onstage so that really set the tone for the rest of the day, we had a lot of fun.” 

Distilled Harmony competed against groups from Boston University, Boston College, Harvard College, Tufts University, UMass Lowell, University of New Hampshire and Simmons College. The show started off with UMass Lowell’s Vocality as they covered “Somebody to Love” by Queen, “Unconditional” by Katy Perry and “Slow Dancing in the Dark” by Joji. Other groups covered hit songs such as “jealousy, jealousy” by Olivia Rodrigo, “People Watching” by Conan Gray and “American Boy” by Estelle. 

“Everyone is so talented and some of the groups are just incredibly polished, especially considering everything over the last couple of years, these groups really have pulled themselves together despite all that hardship. They’re excellent,” said audience member Heather Mistretta, who was there supporting her daughter in the Simmons Sirens. 

Each group had a ten-minute set that covered three or four songs. Groups adhered to a color scheme for their outfits and coordinated choreography to align with the crescendos and emotional moments in the songs. 

“It’s been really awesome to see this live again,” said audience member and Northeastern fourth-year political science and biology combined major Ben Gossart, “I feel like I am so used to watching everyone do it on Zoom, so I feel like it’s cool to actually watch it in person again.” 

Distilled Harmony members wore purple, dark blue, dark green and black outfits. Their set started off with soloist Breanna McClarey, a fourth-year political science and criminal justice combined major, leading “Jaded” by Ms. White. Music director and third-year bioengineering major Sam Prosperi then soloed in a cover of “Georgia” by Phoebe Bridgers and treasurer Neha Prasad soloed in “Erase Me” by Lizzy McAlphine to finish off the set. 

The pieces are chosen by the group and arranged by professional musician, composer and arranger Isiah Carter. Choreography is done by Prosperi, current member Evan Penn and Northeastern alumna Karizma Kishnani.

“Not only are they songs that we really care about and enjoy, but they also showcase our different abilities as a group,” Prosperi said.

Distilled Harmony held a critique Feb. 23, where members of other a cappella groups at Northeastern watched the set and gave them constructive criticism to help them improve. Alumni joined in on Zoom and encouraged the current members. Andie Weiner, one of the music directors of Northeastern a cappella group The Downbeats, told Distilled Harmony to convey their emotions, do their best and most importantly, have fun.  

“Fully embody every part of it and have fun. Yes you are doing it to win and doing it to grow as a group, but you are also doing it to get closer to your group and have fun,” Weiner said.

The competition was emceed by Nina Pelligra, a singer who also does a cappella production and solo a cappella loop tracks. She also did solo a cappella covers of Nirvana, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift songs and played her original work while the judges finalized scores and awards. During the competition, Pelligra introduced each group alongside her loop machine.

After all groups had performed, the judges announced winners for outstanding soloists, outstanding arrangement, outstanding vocal percussionist, outstanding choreo and the top three winners. The Harvard Lowkeys came in first, followed by Distilled Harmony in second and the BU Treblemakers in third. The Harvard Lowkeys and Distilled Harmony will move on to the semifinals on March 27 at the Berklee Performing Center. Distilled Harmony scored 79 points less than the Treblemakers, but because the Treblemakers exceeded the ten minute time slot, they got third. 

“The Treblemakers actually scored higher than us, but they did go over the time limit and there is a really strict ten minute time limit, and in the past they have docked groups for going over that time, so I’m not really sure what happened on their end,” said Distilled Harmony President Breanna McClarey, who is a fourth year political science and criminal justice combined major. “It was kind of strange honestly, but I am excited to go over the judges’ notes and see what they said.”  

Prasad of Distilled Harmony won outstanding soloist for her performance of “Erase Me,” but she was not the original soloist. Third year bioengineering major Sumedha Rajesh was initially going to perform the solo, but tested positive for COVID-19 before the show. 

“When I heard the news, I was excited for the opportunity but a little stressed and sad obviously because the original soloist could not make it. I kind of just had to get in the zone, do what I could do, and make sure that I could get the group to semis, and make sure that we ended off with a bang,” Prasad said. 

Second-year Thomas, who won outstanding vocal percussionist, or VP, won the award after starting in the role just this semester. 

“I was super surprised, I had no idea what caliber the other VPs would be at, and I had no gauge for how good they were going to be,” Thomas said. I remember we were sitting in the audience and they said ‘and the award for outstanding VP,’ and everybody in my group looked at me and I’m like ‘it’s just not going to be me,’ and then they said my name and I was like ‘oh my god.’ It makes me feel a little bit more secure about my beatboxing since I’m new to it, so that’s cool.”

Distilled Harmony will perform the same set at the semifinals and will continue to enjoy the time they spend together in rehearsals. 

“I feel like the thing that makes us super special is the fact that we are all there for the main purpose of having fun. We don’t take it too seriously which is nice, but we are all still invested in it. We prioritize having a good time in the group rather than being super stressed,” Thomas said. 

At the semifinals March 27, Distilled Harmony will compete against the Harvard Lowkeys and two Berklee groups, who placed first and second in the other quarterfinal competition. The two teams that place highest at the semifinals will move on to the national finals, held in New York in April.