The human voice is a powerful instrument. No one can appreciate that or take it as literally as a cappella performers. An Italian phrase meaning “in the manner or the church,” acappella music is performed without any instrumental accompaniment.
Western students in the all-male acappella ensemble, “Undefined,” and the all-female ensemble, “Major Treble,” make up for the lack of instruments by reproducing sounds with their voices.
“[In acappella,] every single instrument in your favorite pop song is made with the human body,” Musical Director for Major Treble RJ Solomon said. “With your voice, with your mouth, through stomping your feet or clapping and snapping – everything is done with your body. You are imitating instruments.”
Freshman Taylor VanDuser joined Major Treble this year and has been singing acappella for two years. She said that acappella is more challenging than other forms of singing.
“In most types of musical performance, you have an instrument with a fixed pitch, so it’s really easy to stay in tune that way,” VanDuser said. “The voice does not have a fixed pitch, so we could go sharp or flat and if some of us do that and some of us don’t, we end up with a horrible sound.”
Both Undefined and Major Treble will separately compete in the quarterfinals of the Varsity Vocals International Championship of Collegiate Acappella (ICCA). The event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. on the Performing Arts Center Main Stage. Tickets are $16 with student ID or $21.50 for general admission.
Five other a cappella groups from Pacific Lutheran University, Gonzaga University, University of Utah, and Central Washington University will also compete in the event. The top two groups in the quarterfinals will advance to the semifinals in April at the University of Southern California for a chance to compete for the national title in New York.
This year’s ICCA will be the first acappella competition ever for both Major Treble and Undefined.
“It’s pretty intimidating. Coming into this as my first year of being the director is really, really scary,” Solomon said. “We’re all kind of stressing, but it’s still fun and we enjoy it so we want to put in the time and effort for it.”
Both Major Treble and Undefined are members of the WWU Acappella Club along with All Aboard, the club’s non-auditioned, mixed-gender ensemble.
President of the Acappella Club Colin Donoghue, who is also the business manager for Undefined, said that although two Western acappella ensembles are competing against one another in the ICCA’s, the two groups still get along and help each other out.
“It’s really nice because there’s not a really strong air of competition between us, but we definitely help each other get better,” Donoghue said. “When you hear the other group and they sound really good, you’re just like, ‘I really want to be on their level.’ It makes us want to work harder to keep a level playing field.”
“I respect the boy’s group a lot. We all love them, and they support us too. We’re both trying our best,” Solomon said. “As long as both of us are representing our school well and putting in the same effort, there’s no animosity between us.”
Each group will perform three songs at the ICCA. A panel of three judges will rate each song separately and then come up with an aggregate score for the group’s performance as a whole. The judges will also give out special awards for best soloist, best arrangement and best vocal percussionist.
Both Major Treble and Undefined have been collaborating amongst themselves and with Western’s Department of Music. The two groups often give each other performance feedback and help each other learn parts and better their singing skills. Major Treble and Undefined are also performing one piece each at ICCA arranged by Western composition majors.
Solomon said that in preparation for the competition, Major Treble is learning an entirely new song and incorporating choreography into their performance – something they don’t usually do.
“It’s a little more difficult than anything else we’ve done so we’re kind of scrambling to learn really quickly so we can practice,” Solomon said. “It’s a lot of work, but I think that at the end of it, we’ll be really proud of what we’ve done.”