I realize I haven't posted in about a bajillion years, but I feel like this absolutely must be forever archived in LiveJournal, where much of what I went through with the topic of the post is captured in.
As some may know, I started an a cappella group my second year of college, the ScatterTones. At the time, we were the third ever group on campus, and honestly, that first year, we got the dregs of the auditionee pool since we a) were new and b) started auditioning late. Regardless, my cofounder and I put together what we considered to be a fairly talented group, and we just went for it. There's a big national (now international) college a cappella competition that we auditioned for and were accepted in our second year in existence (the ICCAs). We didn't really know what we were doing; we picked a set list that we thought was impressive, but really wasn't all that creative, and it also included a song that we should have realized was far too difficult to do under competition conditions with choreography - seriously, never do a song with a ton of key changes, it's just bad. Obviously, we neither placed nor advanced to the semifinals, nor did we compete again during my time there, but it was a good experience and I think future generations took away from it.
My last year of college, the same a cappella competition was launching it's high school version, and I was asked to help launch it in the West region. If I remember correctly, I got one season in as the West producer. When I moved to Atlanta for grad school, I was asked again to be the South region producer, and so I produced the high school competition in the South for both years I was there. I also ended up judging the collegiate quarterfinal at UGA both years I was there. When I moved to San Francisco, I didn't ask to continue, and the producer positions were all filled, but regardless, it turns out that the college West producer asked me to produce the Berkeley quarterfinal, which I've done for all three years I've been here.
Somewhere along the way, the ScatterTones recruited some amazing talent - both performance and arranger wise. Powerful, riveting soloists. Arrangements that were constantly in contention for best arrangement awards. The group got GOOD. REALLY GOOD. Especially in the last few years, they've managed to get some amazing arranging and musical direction talent in. I look at the group now and think that never in a million years, if I auditioned now, could I ever get in. I don't have the chops that they're looking for anymore. For the past three years, as a result, the ScatterTones have made it to the regional Semifinal, and I've always gone down to LA to watch and cheer them on, since it usually takes place at USC. Last year, they placed second, a heart-breaking second, just a few points separating them from the winners, the powerhouse group Vocal Point from BYU.
This year, their quarterfinal was actually at Berkeley, which I produced. As a result, I got to watch their set, which I absolutely loved. It was creative, and showed off all the points that judges look for: creativity, power solos, emotional ballads. While they won Best Arrangement, which the current Music Director has been striving for for years, they ultimately placed second to a Berkeley group - but no matter, it meant moving on to semifinals. Since they were up here, I had my first chance since graduating to really hang out with the group afterwards...my "I'll stick around for an hour or so" to chat with them turned into me leaving at 5am and getting home at 6 since the Bay Bridge was closed that weekend. I talked some shop with the President and Music Director (including the immediate past who was also there), and got to know some of the members too, which was really nice. As alumni, it's easy to quickly fall out of relevance and never get to know who's in the group.
Fast forward to this past weekend, when I flew down to LA again to watch the semifinals. I battled delayed flights, random traffic jams on LA's freeways, road closures, and stupid drivers who can't drive if it rains. At Bovard Auditorium at USC, I met with other alumni and families of current and even past members, and we sat in a giant cheering section of a group. To be honest, the first four groups we saw, I was even surprised they were at Semis...all I could think was that if they were there, their quarters must have been really, really weak. What's crazy, though, is that the West region is statistically the strongest region in the competition - out of 16 seasons, the West group finalist has won eight of them, including a five year streak.
This semifinal, in fact, had three groups that had previously won the whole thing - the SoCal VoCals from USC (who have won twice), Fermata Nowhere from Mt. SAC, and Noteworthy from BYU. In fact, I was kind of nervous going in - I knew the ScatterTones were about as good as I've ever seen them, but I hadn't heard or seen anything from Fermata Nowhere or Noteworthy in a while. Noteworthy had been on the Sing Off last season, but were kicked off after a few rounds. The VoCals, on the other hand, had won the whole thing back in 2010. It was going to be tough.
But for whatever reason, Noteworthy had tumbled from their highest point - something was off with the group this year, and I quickly dismissed them once I saw their set. Fermata Nowhere, doing their set, was highly entertaining, as always, putting on a show that can only be pulled off by a testosterone-fueled all-male group. But something about their execution beyond their first song was just...sloppy. The choreo started to fall apart, tuning started to drift, and the cohesive sound started to be lost. The VoCals, on the other hand, put on a very traditional VoCal set - loud, proud, and superbly technically perfect. But whereas in years past I always was excited and amazed at their set (despite rooting for other groups), something about this year's performance fell flat, emotionally. Something didn't connect - that spark that turns a group's performance from great to amazing just wasn't there. Yes, I'll admit I am biased, but the ScatterTones just managed to connect a little better this year.
And of course, came the deliberations...20 or 30 nervous minutes, with lots of whispering amongst the group. Was it our year? The VoCals had done something perfect as always, but did the judges feel the same lack of spark? In my head, it was a really nerve-wracking toss-up. I knew two of the judges, but not the other three. I didn't know their backgrounds or their leanings.
And so when the producer came out with the groups to announce awards, it was clear that the entire UCLA contingent, both on and off stage, were a nervous wreck. But of course, first, special awards. In a amazing moment, Taylor Fugit, our music director, won the Outstanding Arrangement award...for TWO arrangements in the set. Which, to my knowledge, has never been done before, at least at the ICCA level. It's exceedingly rare for the judges to do something like that. Like I said, some serious arranging chops. The look on his face was priceless. Then, the Outstanding Vocal Percussion award...went to Matt Flesock, our president. Matt had lost out on the VP award at quarterfinals because the judges thought it was too loud and overbearing - but apparently, he wowed them enough here to beat out some amazing percussionists on stage. Matt has won the VP award before, but never at Semis. All I could think was - we've cinched two of four special awards so far...this is going good...especially since we cinched the arrangement award. The choreography award went to Fermata Nowhere, which I kind of expected, and the soloist award went to a member from the VoCals, who I will admit did an amazing job with Tightrope.
So then the final placements...2nd runner up went to Fermata Nowhere...which I kind of expected. The group on stage, the group in the audience...we clearly were all just holding our breath. 1st runner up went to...the VoCals. I nearly hyperventilated...even now, I can recall the feeling of nervousness (and am actually feeling it!) of thinking "omgomgomgomgomg is it us?! omgomgomg what if it's not and we didn't even place?! no that can't be...oh crap it has to be us it has to be it HAS TO BE". And Lucy, the producer, in her ridiculousness, just milked it out and waited...I think the groups on stage were seriously about ready to faint. And then she announced it - going to finals was the ScatterTones. I don't think I've felt quite that elated in...I don't even know. On top of everything else, this is also the 10th year the group has been in existence...talk about a happy anniversary present.
Honestly...there's no better way to express this other than a photo...whoever took this took 509 photos that night...and they are amazing flipbook material. But I think I absolutely love this photo:
What's amazing are some of the comments from the judges that I read and was told later that night...this will be an exciting finals. Needless to say, the afterparty was pretty ridiculous...and once again, I was out til 6am.
Congratulations ScatterTones...my flight is already booked...see you in New York...and happy 10th birthday!!
PS - if you've never heard/seen this group...this was their encore song, which was part of the competition set last year:
I'll likely end up finding a video of their finals performance later on...but for now, that's under wraps. ;-)
Oh, if you're curious what the overall set was:
1) C'mon Talk, opb Jarle Bernhoft
2) No Woman No Cry, opb Bob Marley (but totally not a reggae arrangement...amazeballs)
3) End of Time, opb Beyonce. Uh huh, the group has girls with enough chops to pull this off.