VoiceMale competes at ICCAs

February 9, 2018

This past Saturday, over 10 a cappella groups from Massachusetts schools competed for a cappella glory at the quarterfinals of the International Collegiate Championship of A cappella at Berklee School of Music. The name of this competition might sound familiar, from movies such as “Pitch Perfect.” The ICCAs attract hundreds of competitive college a capella groups annually, and this year, featured a performance from the Brandeis men’s a cappella group, VoiceMale.

Groups that perform are scored based on their vocal and visual performance, and the groups who place first and second in the competition move on to the semifinals. While VoiceMale did not advance to the next round, their performance on Saturday night was still a proud accomplishment for members of the group.

The group opened their up their set with “What Do You Want From Me” by Adam Lambert, featuring a solo from the music director of the group, Abram Foster ’19. They followed with, “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles, soloed by Marek Haar ’20, which transitioned into “Death Of A Bachelor” by Panic! At The Disco, soloed by VoiceMale president, Ben Astrachan ’19.

There are a variety of ways the group selects their songs to perform, where members propose songs and the others vote. Afterwards, singers audition for parts, and, as a group, they decide who sounded best on each of the solos. VoiceMale made their song choices for the ICCAs after an extended period of deliberation. Foster proposed “What Do You Want From Me,” another member in the proposed “Dear Prudence” and an alum suggested “Death of a Bachelor.”

The group been rehearsing rigorously. They structured much of their rehearsal process around the two new members they took this semester. “We had a very intensive two week ‘hell week’ process, where for the first week, we had a choreography rehearsal, and then two music rehearsals of the ICCA set,” Foster recalled. The second ‘hell week’ consisted of fine tuning everything, making sure that every note was in tune and that the choreography meshed well with the performance. The group put in at least 20-25 hours of rehearsal in the past two weeks alone preparing for this competition. However, the effort was all worth it in the end. Foster described the feeling of being able to compete in the quarterfinals of an international competition to be “relieving because I had been working on this the entire year.”
“In the time we had, I am really proud of the work people put in it was working the last year, everyone was really helpful,” he said.

Zain Walker ’18 is a member of the publicity board for VoiceMale. “I am the only senior in the group, and I have been doing a capella since the first semester here. I have waiting four years to do the competition. After finally doing it, I do not want to say it was a dream come true because it sounds kind of dramatic, but it kind of was.”

Both Foster and Walker identify that one of the biggest differences between performing a cappella in a noncompetitive setting versus at competition is the visual element. When VoiceMale performs on campus, they often have no choreography, and if they do, it will only be for one song. “I think this was really great opportunity to not just focus on music, but to really focus on every particularly the visual element to pull together in a cohesive set,” Foster explained. Another major difference between a casual performance and a competitive performance is increased pressure. “When we perform on campus with other groups from Brandeis, we are just performing with them, but as for the a cappella groups at the ICCAs, we do not know them or the people in the groups,” Walker said.

Foster and Walker began to sing as young children and have not stopped since. They both auditioned for VoiceMale their first semester freshman year, but did not get callbacks. Foster re-auditioned his second semester and got in, while Walker stayed with another a capella group for three semesters before taking a semester off, and joining VoiceMale fall of his junior year. Foster cites Stephen Sondheim and Ben Brown as some of his biggest musical inspirations. “I am always in awe of the way Ben Brown gets such rich chords out in so few voices. Voice Male is a traditionally small a capella group. To have someone who is that good and get that good of a sound with so few members is so inspirational to me,” he explained. Walker explains while he grew up on angsty teen bands, such as Green Day and Blink 182, he turns to musical theatre when picking songs that he wants to sing. “It is always a lot of fun to go through new kinds of songs that I never even heard, I have learned to love them through Voice Male, so it is really nice to be a part of the group with new music,” he said.

There are still opportunities to watch VoiceMale perform in the next month. The group is hosting an a cappella festival, Lovapalooza, this coming Saturday. The event features nine groups from on and off campus, including Pitch Please from Northeastern, who also competed at the ICCAs last weekend. Brandeis groups, Starving Artists, Rather Be Giraffes, Too Cheap for Instruments, Company B and Up the Octave will also be performing. VoiceMale will be going on tour during February break throughout the local area to raise money for a larger tour next year. One of the most anticipated performances on their tour is Brandeis VoiceMale at Zuzu on Sunday, Feb. 18, in Cambridge. The group has several upcoming gigs in the Boston area this semester before their semester show in April.

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