By Dylan Toolajian
15 young women take the stage, microphones in hand and arrange themselves into a time-honored performance formation. Some of them smile confidently while others scan the audience, anxiety evident. At the International Championship of Collegiate A cappella, the stakes are high and the competition is incredibly fierce – this group of singers is right to be excited.
But this isn’t a scene out of “Pitch Perfect,” these ladies are the Drexel University Troublemakers, and they are the hosts of the first 2014 ICCA Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals competition.
This competition is the first stop for Northeast collegiate a cappella groups looking to perform with and against the cream of the crop of the collegiate a cappella community. It takes serious chops to make it to even the first stage–the amounts of money, rehearsal time and creative ingenuity required to make it work are huge, and don’t necessarily guarantee success. Nobody knows this better than the University’s very own Supernovas, one of two co-ed a cappella groups on campus, who competed in the Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals this past Saturday.
The Supernovas are well-known for their technical prowess and superb arrangement, both of which are impressive to audiences everywhere, including the ICAA judges. They brought three songs to the competition meant to showcase their finely-honed talents: a mash up of “Timber” by Pitbull ft. Ke$ha and “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic, “Bleeding Love,” by Leona Lewis and “The One That Got Away” by the Civil Wars.
“Timber/Counting Stars” is a strongly pop-rooted mash up; its bounciness and driving rhythm are well suited to connecting with an audience, while the intricacies of the background “pad” parts added warmth and character to the existing music. All in all, it was a strong choice for the Supernovas’ opener– reasonably light fare that still exhibits creativity and talent. And, of course, the smoothly choreographed stage movements only helped to draw in the crowd and boost the performance value of the number.
Conversely, “Bleeding Love” is an infinitely more intimate, soulful song; one the Supernovas handle masterfully. The introduction, a segmented and scattered riff off of a selected few lyrics, blended well into a soulful solo by Tommy Monks ’14. The song, which is Monks’ chosen Senior Song, beautifully showcased his emotive skill and ability to ground the performance in sincerity. Perhaps even more remarkable is the laser-pinpointed precision of the arrangement, also done by Monks: an intensely animated piece that alternately soars and growls, striking complex chords and rhythms that completely satisfy the listener.
“The One That Got Away” is a powerful finish, with a darker tone and a less restrained arrangement. The background vocals faded in dramatically, building a crescendo into each chorus of the song, accompanied by a strikingly tormented duet commanding the track’s main line. During this piece, the Supernovas hit their stride; never in the set was their intense focus so palpable as in each chorus of this song. The Supernovas rarely falter when it comes to connecting with an audience, and “The One That Got Away” was no exception–it was an electrifyingly charismatic performance.
The Supernovas walked away from the Quarterfinals with the achievement of Second Runners-Up and a surprise award–Outstanding Arrangement, given to Tommy Monks for each of the Supernovas’ three arrangements. Given that 2014 is only the second year that the Supernovas have competed at the ICCAs, their placement is especially impressive–though not unheard of, the circumstances are certainly rare. Against such regulars as Stockapella, from Richard Stockton College and the Westminster Choir College’s Deaftones, the Supernovas certainly held their own.
As a cappella makes even greater advances into pop culture, groups like the Supernovas help colleges and universities everywhere pick up mainstream music recognition. Where Villanova is concerned, it’s obvious that the future of a Cappella is very, very bright. You can see the Supernovas and each of the other six a cappella groups on campus perform at the biggest event of the year, A Cappella Palooza, on March 21 in Jake Nevin Fieldhouse.