4 Teams Head Into Finals Of Collegiate A Cappella Championship

Dec 9, 2020
Originally published on December 9, 2020 1:40 pm

It's Pitch Perfect meets March Madness.

Well, almost.

The competition might lack the drama, stage fright and screaming fans of a live singing competition, but hundreds of collegiate a cappella groups from across the country submitted their best videos for the UpStaged National Collegiate Performing Arts A Cappella Championship.

Organizers announce the final four teams heading into a championship round Wednesday:

YouTube

An audience that topped 150,000 people voted these groups into the Final Four, the competition's organizers say.

Annette Philip, one of the judges during the earlier rounds, says she was "overwhelmed and really just feeling so much joy" over the four finalists. Philip is a member of the Berklee College of Music faculty and a longtime a cappella singer with the group Women of the World. "The four final entries really spoke to the amazing diversity and the richness of a cappella music that is today," she says.

YouTube

Some of the vocal groups submitted videos that were made before the pandemic. UpStaged judge Christopher Diaz says he was thrilled to see other groups take on the challenge of making videos during lockdown. Even though it didn't reach the Final Four, one of his favorites was the Doox of Yale arrangement of the Nick Jonas song "Levels," which was made on a Zoom call. "They have all these flashing boxes with really kind of creative things happening in each of the boxes," Diaz says excitedly. "And it made me feel like, 'Wow, this is on Zoom, but this is the kind of Zoom call I'd like to be on.' "

The UpStaged competition was as much about video producing and editing skills as it was about singing. Brigham Young's video was shot in the spring of 2019 on the Salt Flats in Utah with the singers surrounded by gorgeous mountains.

YouTube

BYU senior Carson Trautman says the group has tried to find ways to rehearse during the pandemic. For a while they did it in the school's football stadium.

"So we were like 20 feet apart," he says. Using in-ear monitors, he says they could hear themselves and one another when they sang into the mic. "But then it started getting really cold," he laughs.

Now Trautman says they're practicing indoors, wearing masks and staying socially distant.

YouTube

The Harvard Opportunes are not singing together at all right now. "It's really sad. I miss it so much," says singer and junior Ben Dreier.

He also misses competing in person. While the group is very proud to be in the final four of UpStaged, he says the video competition didn't produce "the same butterflies" as performing in-person does. But he notes "You can't have that right now." During this pandemic, "we've been grateful to have any amount of competition," he says.

A cappella groups that make it to the final rounds win cash prizes for charities of their choosing.

Rose Friedman edited and Ryan Benk produced this story for radio. Meghan Sullivan edited and produced for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Just imagine this - the movie "Pitch Perfect" meets March Madness. I bring this up because a new national a cappella competition is attracting hundreds of groups from colleges and universities across the country, and today organizers will announce the final four teams headed to the championship round. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The competition is called UpStaged. Hundreds of videos were submitted, and here are the final four. The Vanderbilt Melodores with an Ariana Grande medley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THE VANDERBILT MELODORES: (Singing) Right now I'm in a state of mind I want to be in, like, all the time.

BLAIR: The Harvard Opportunes with an arrangement of Labrinth's "All For Us."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL FOR US")

THE HARVARD OPPORTUNES: (Singing) Ey, ey, ey (ph). Taking it all for us. I'm taking it all. I'm taking it all.

BLAIR: From Brigham Young University, Vocal Point did "Circle Of Life" from "The Lion King."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIRCLE OF LIFE")

BYU VOCAL POINT: (Singing) Circle of life. And it moves us all.

BLAIR: And from the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Masala did a mashup of Ed Sheeran's "Castle On The Hill" and the Bollywood song "Ilahi."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ILAHI/CASTLE ON THE HILL")

PENN MASALA: (Singing) I'm on my way to see. I still remember these old country lanes.

ANNETTE PHILIP: I was, frankly, overwhelmed and really just feeling so much joy.

BLAIR: Annette Philip was one of the judges. She's on the Berklee College of Music faculty and a longtime a cappella singer.

PHILIP: The four final entries really spoke to the amazing diversity and the richness of a cappella music there is today.

BLAIR: Some of the videos were made pre-pandemic. Judge Christopher Diaz says he was thrilled to see other groups take on the challenge of making videos during lockdown. Even though it didn't reach the final four, one of his favorites was the Yale Doox arrangement of the Nick Jonas song "Levels" made on a Zoom call.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEVELS")

DOOX OF YALE: (Singing, vocalizing).

CHRISTOPHER DIAZ: They have these - all these flashing boxes with really kind of creative things happening in each of the boxes. And it made me feel like, wow, this is on Zoom, but this is the kind of Zoom call I'd like to be on (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEVELS")

DOOX OF YALE: (Singing) All the ones trying to get through the door. I'mma (ph) go where they all couldn't go - up a floor, up a floor, up a floor - ooh-a (ph). I know...

BLAIR: This competition was as much about video producing and editing skills as it was about singing. Brigham Young's video was shot last spring on the Salt Flats in Utah, surrounded by gorgeous mountains.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIRCLE OF LIFE")

BYU VOCAL POINT: (Singing in non-English language).

BLAIR: BYU senior Carson Trautman says they've tried to find ways to rehearse during the pandemic. For a while, they did it in the school's football stadium.

CARSON TRAUTMAN: So we were, like, 20 feet apart. We were practicing with in-ear monitors, and so it was easy for us to hear each other. But then it started getting really cold.

BLAIR: Now he says they're practicing indoors, wearing masks and staying socially distant. The Harvard Opportunes are not singing together at all right now.

BEN DREIER: It's really sad. I really - I miss it so much.

BLAIR: Singer Ben Dreier, a junior at Harvard, says he also misses competing in person. He says they're very proud to be in the final four of the UpStaged competition, but...

DREIER: We've never gotten, like, the same, like, butterflies. But you can't really have that right now. It's a pandemic. So I think we've been really grateful to have any amount of competition.

BLAIR: A cappella groups that made it to the final rounds win cash prizes for charities of their choosing.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL FOR US")

THE HARVARD OPPORTUNES: (Singing) Taking it all, taking it all... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.