Performing A cappella Is Way Easier Than Judging It

Last weekend, I had the honor of judging one of the Varsity Vocals ICCA events in Rochester, New York. It was a quarterfinal competition pitting nine groups from around New York State against one another for two spots in the Mid-Atlantic semifinals and a host of individual awards. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in a cappella music.

When I was performing a cappella, I had just a few things to worry about. My part was generally memorized to the point where I didn’t have to think about it too much and my ears could hear the other singers just fine for tuning and blend. The main thing I had to worry about was choreography and entertaining the audience – something that never came naturally for me as a performer.

As a judge I had to listen to soloists, pick up on arrangements and balance, watch choreography and facial expression, and listen for that all-important intonation as I was writing comments. That’s a lot to do during a group’s 12-minute set and especially hard to do after eight other groups and at 10:30 at night.

The most difficult part for me was listening to the balance. As an audience member, I like to let songs play out in my ears. Deconstructing songs as they are happening takes work and it’s something I only normally do in front of my own choir. It’s easy to pick out when a soloist is off or someone’s not selling the visual cues to the audience but the balance can fluctuate between sections and it isn’t a mistake that is readily apparent unless you’re searching it out.

To make matters even more hectic, we began scoring the group while they were still performing and finished during the short introductions for the next group. To say the timeline was compressed is an understatement. There were sixteen categories we rated on numeric scales in those two minutes or so. In addition to the group numbers, we charted the best soloists, vocal percussion, choreography, and arrangement.

Here is the complete list of groups I saw in alphabetical order:
Eight Beat Measure | Rochester Institute of Technology
Encore | Rochester Institute of Technology
Main Squeeze | Syracuse University
Otto Tunes | Syracuse University
The Buffalo Chips | University at Buffalo
•The Chordials | Cornell University
The Class Notes | Cornell University
The Macaulay Triplets | Macaulay Honors College at CUNY
The Mandarins | Syracuse University

Results and Awards
1st Place: The Chordials
2nd Place: Eight Beat Measure
Outstanding Soloist, Male: Jay Grollman of the Chordials for “Lies”
Outstanding Soloist, Female: Kristy Timms of the Macaulay Triplets for “Feelin Good”
Outstanding Vocal Percussion, Male: Shawn Falzone of Eight Beat Measure
Outstanding Vocal Percussion, Female: Heather Newkirk of Main Squeeze

I won’t get into the specifics about what was talked about in the judges room. I will tell you I think the two groups that eventually moved on were the two best groups that night. That’s obviously my opinion but one shared by the other judges enough where the numbers said they advance.

The night was hectic but worth it. Groups gave their all vocally and in their choreography. It was a great night to be a fan of a cappella music. Good luck to all the groups as they move on to the semi-finals and go back to their campuses.

What do you think?