Vassar Devils sing their way to collective a cappella success

The Vassar Devils perform in Boston as part of the ICCA Semifinal competition. The group won first place and now moves on to the Broadway stage for the final competition in mid April. Photo By: Cathy Zhou
The Vassar Devils perform in Boston as part of the ICCA Semifinal competition. The group won first place and now moves on to the Broadway stage for the final competition in mid April.  Photo By: Cathy Zhou
The Vassar Devils perform in Boston as part of the ICCA Semifinal competition. The group won first place and now moves on to the Broadway stage for the final competition in mid April. Photo By: Cathy Zhou

While many of us might have spent spring break getting excited for Pitch Perfect 2, the Vassar Devils were experiencing the real-life excitement of a national a cappella competition. The Vassar group travelled to Boston to compete in the Northeast Semifinals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella (ICCA) at the Boston Symphony Hall.

Member of the Devils, Joshua Bruce ’16 wrote in an emailed statement about the other schools the Vassar singers were up against, “[The competition] included groups from Berklee College of Music, Harvard University, Hofstra University, NYU, Northeastern University, Emerson College, SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Purchase.”

Although those schools were the semifinalists, there was a longer previous process even to get to this competition in Boston.

The Music Co-Director, or “Pitch” of the Devils, Matt Goldstein ’17 described the road to get to where they are now. He said, “There are 4 rounds in the ICCA. First, groups send in video submissions in October in order to be considered to participate. This year featured the most submissions the ICCA has ever had–over 300 groups! We were then chosen to participate in one of 5 Quarterfinal rounds in the Northeast.”

Goldstein continued, “At the Quarterfinal, 10 groups compete, and at the end the judges fill out a complicated score-card and combine their votes to determine the Champion, Runner-Up, and Second Runner-Up of the event. They can also elect to give awards for Best Arrangement, Best Choreography, Best Vocal Percussion, and/or Best Soloist.”

This selection process proved to be a success for the Devils and Bruce noted the specific results of their competition. “Only the first place winner of each semifinal advances to the finals, which will be held at the Beacon Theater on Broadway on April 18th. We won the Northeast Regional Semifinal and our directors, Matt Goldstein and Hannah Tobias, got two special awards for best musical arrangements and best choreography,” he said.

The Devils’ winning performance consisted of a wide variety of songs–including an original one–which told a story, strung together with formulated transitions. The other Devils Co-Director who has been in the group since the beginning of her freshman year, Hannah Tobias ’16, reported the songs in an emailed statement, “We performed 4 songs: ‘Iscariot’ by Walk the Moon, ‘Time Machine’ by Ingrid Michealson, ‘Cough Cough’ by Everything Everything, and an original song written by Matt Goldstein and myself, ‘Nothing’; all connected by musical transitions.”

Bruce went into more detail about their overarching theme for the performance and how they strung the songs together, “We tried to tell an interwoven story of the stages of addiction (be it to drugs or a person, etc.) starting with the initial hook, realization of the depth of the addiction and its damaging effects, anger at one’s self and the world for falling into addiction and finally acceptance of the whole arc. Everyone in the group and hopefully the audience had their own nuances to this general interpretation.”

Although their set was impressive enough for them to reach outstanding achievements, the Devils expressed surprise at their success, as their goals didn’t necessarily include winning. Devils member, Laura Baretto ’17 conveyed their goals, writing in an emailed statement, “We were originally fearful of being in a competitive environment, but ever since we decided to compete, we told each other we were just going to view the entire competition as just a way to share a set that we were proud of.”

Goldstein echoed Baretto by expanding on her sentiments. He said, “The craziest thing about this whole experience has been that we didn’t really intend to compete­—were just doing it for the experience! Going into the rehearsal process, a lot of the Devils were worried that we would get too competitive or stressed out preparing for the competition, so we made sure to emphasize that we were doing this for ourselves, not for any judges.”

Goldstein continued, “We pushed ourselves to make a set of songs that we enjoyed singing…and never really thought about what criteria the judges were looking for. So it’s been insane that we have gotten this far and have gotten such wonderful feedback from the judges and even random audience members!”

As the Devils advance to the next level, there will be not only a heightened sense of competition, but also of prestige; Goldstein illustrated this point, “The Champion of each Semifinal is invited to sing at Finals in New York City, so we are now one of the top 8 groups that will be performing at Finals! Finals this year are being held at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway–it’s a huge house that seats over 2,900 people, and it’s already sold out! We are so excited to be representing Vassar a cappella at this huge event!”

While winning has, of course, been a highlight of the Devils’ experience, members of the group have also expressed excitement for other aspects of their time in Boston.

Baretto wrote, “My favorite part was rehearsing and performing the set with my best friends. Every person in the group is wonderful, so basically just going through the competition with people I enjoy spending time with just makes the entire experience memorable.”

On his favorite moment from the competition, Bruce noted the surprise the Devils met post-performance. “When we first came off the stage at quarterfinals we were all laughing because of how badly we thought it went (we didn’t go there to win and we had already had a couple of really good rehearsal runs so we knew that we could achieve our ideal performance of it, at least privately). But then when we entered the backstage area a big swarm of people from the other groups there came over to say how absolutely amazing our set was and some of them were still crying. It was completely unexpected and completely awesome,” he said.

Goldstein wrote his idea of the unforgettable part of the experience, “While performing at these events has been amazing, my favorite moments have definitely been hanging out with the Devils after each round of the competition. After both rounds of the competition we went back to one of our member’s houses and celebrated; eating piles of ice cream and cookies, reading audience members’ crazy live-tweets of the performance, laughing about all the mistakes we made, watching movies, playing silly sleepover games, and just enjoying each other’s company.”

Finally, Tobias addressed the question on all of our minds: “Our involvement and the competition itself, is about as far from Pitch Perfect as you can get, despite the media’s attempts to say otherwise…The people we met are all wonderful, the experience is relatively stressless…and our choreography doesn’t have a single jazz hand.”

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