A cappella lights up Villard Room

Prior to their joint on-campus concert, the Vassar Devils and Northeastern’s Nor’easters first met in 2015 on the set of PopTV’s docuseries “Sing It On.” / Courtesy of Hannah Benton

As Sam Smith’s “Writings on the Wall” rang out through the hallways of Main Building, a wave of uplifting energy reverberated throughout the packed Villard Room. Gracing the stage with a medley of sounds that left the audience breathless, the Nor’easters, Northeastern University’s premiere a cappella group, collaborated in a joint concert with Vassar’s very own Devils on Saturday, Nov. 4.

The two acclaimed groups have both made a name for themselves among the country’s collegiate a cappella scene by competing at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), releasing albums of their own and receiving accolades at a number of different festivals and competitions. Both groups have also performed for former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama of the United States at the White House on separate occasions.

The Nor’easters currently hold the title of the 2017 ICCA Champions and are recording a new album. While the Devils and the Nor’easters first met in 2015 on the set of PopTV’s docuseries “Sing It On,” their alliance began last spring when the Devils were on tour in Boston. After performing a joint concert at Northeastern, it seemed inevitable to the two contemporaries that they would collaborate once again, with the next time being for Vassar audiences.

Human Resources Advisor for the Devils Olivia Keane ’20 illuminated on providing a comfortable visit. She explained, “It was definitely stressful hosting another group be- cause we wanted to ensure that they had enough time for a sound check and could get a chance to be in the room and get a sense of the acoustics. We wanted to make sure that we really provided them with what they needed, so as to do them justice.”

Moreover, Music Director of the Devils Lily Carmichael ’20 expanded on the work done by their friends: “The Nor’easters are what a lot of people in the musical community would consider the quintessential a cappella group. They exemplify the new a cappella style, which is far more intricate than the old style and focuses on the human voice as human voice as opposed to human voice as an instrument. The Devils make use of this style as well, and we definitely see the Nor’easters as an inspiration.” Keane explained that the two groups have similar styles and musical influences, and thus they are often able to bounce off each other’s ideas and song arrangements quite easily whenever they meet, making collaboration an enjoyable and easy process. She said, “This concert really gave us the opportunity to learn from another group, spend time with them and understand what their experience has been. Having them be in the audience was pretty nerve-wracking, at least for me, because they’re so talented, but they were incredibly supportive and it was a wonderful experience.”

To highlight the beauty of each group’s unique dynamics in complement to the other’s, the two groups performed their sets separately. The Devils opened the show, delving right into their two songs. While the group started the audience off with an upbeat performance, the Devils were quick to contrast it with a beautifully haunting piece that showcased the variety in their repertoire from the very beginning before handing the mic over to the Nor’easters.

The acclaimed Vassar Devils held a joint concert with Northeastern University’s Nor’easters. The event successfully brought the groups together through the power of music. / Courtesy of Hannah Benton

The visiting group’s set was an absolute pleasure to watch. Moving from recognizable pop favorites abounding with energy to chillingly powerful ballads, the Nor’easters never failed to lose their vibrancy, holding the audience’s attention throughout. They dabbled in different genres and styles, added twists to the arrangements of familiar songs so as to pleasantly surprise viewers and built up their pieces to climaxes that ultimately left audiences with chills running down their arms.

Underscoring where the two groups diverge, Keane continued, “I think the Nor’easters have become a brand of their own and have sort of surpassed the realm of college a cappella. They’re very professional and committed to the group. While the Devils are very committed to the music, I feel we approach a cappella as a concept a little differently. But either way it is always exciting to have insight into how another group that likes to perform the same type of current music as us operates and carries themselves.”

Interspersing their songs with comical plugs for their new album, as well as heartwarming appreciation for the Devils, the Nor’easters performed a setlist starting with Troye Sivan’s “Fools” into Drake’s “Too Good” followed by a breathtaking rendition of “Writings on the Wall” as a finale. As raucous applause and a standing ovation followed, Northeastern University’s representatives took a bow and then made way for the Devils, who closed the show with a set of four incredibly powerful pieces. Keane performed a touching rendition of “I Am” by JoJo, a beautifully chilling solo that steadily built in crescendo and left the audience deeply moved.

Keane elaborated on her experience perform- ing it: “I really love that song because I connect to it a lot, and I think it can be very empowering to hear. I always try to do it justice and convey the message because audiences usually do react quite strongly to that piece. It definitely has the potential to move people, and it’s powerful to be able to transfer that emotional experience to others.”

As the joint concert wrapped up, both groups basked in the joy of delivering performances that left spectators whooping wildly. Audience member Samantha Hodes ’20 mentioned, “It was cool to witness the Devils watching the Nor’easters and the Nor’easters watching the Devils as each respective group took the stage. They both were very supportive of each other and it was nice to see that comradery break through the Vassar bubble, allowing all of us, as the audience, to witness this union of talent and musical expertise.”

While each group performed their sets separately, both were very supportive of the other’s performance, and they beautifully complimented each other, leaving the audience in awe. / Courtesy of Hannah Benton

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