Four UI a capella groups to compete for US title

Sarah Park, sophomore in music education and a member of the University of Illinois “Rip Chords” performs as the a capella quarterfinals in Lincoln Hall Theater. ME Online

By Phil Collins

Seven a capella groups from across the Midwest competed in Lincoln Hall Theater the night of Saturday, Feb. 3 in the first regional quarterfinal of the Varsity Vocals International Championships of A Capella, also known as ICCA.

Local group The Rip Chords placed second, earning a spot in the semifinals along with the University of Nebraska’s Rocktavo.

“We were so thrilled,” said Colleen Barry, member of the Rip Chords and senior in LAS. “Ever since we got back (from winter break), we’ve been working nonstop on these three songs.”

The ICCA is comprised of seven regions, the University being part of the Midwest region. The top two groups from each regional quarterfinal advance to the regional semifinal.

The winner of each regional semifinal advances to the final.

Four University groups are competing in this year’s quarterfinal round. The Xtension Chords and No Strings Attached will compete at Michigan State University Feb. 17, and Girls Next Door will compete at the University of Michigan Feb. 10.

“It’s very selective just to be chosen to compete in this competition, and then you have to go through three rounds. It’s a tough task,” said Robby Goodman, president of The Xtension Chords and senior in LAS.

Out of more than 150 groups competing at the quarterfinal level, seven groups reach the final.

Each group is given 12 minutes to perform, which usually translates to three songs.

“At ICCA you just pick three songs and perfect them, instead of a normal show where you might do up to ten songs,” said Zach Benkowski, member of No Strings Attached and senior in LAS.

Barry said the Rip Chords will perform the same three songs at the semifinal.

“You spend so much time perfecting those three songs that it would be a lot of work to add more in there,” she said.

Barry added that she hasn’t heard of any group changing their set after the quarterfinals.

As the Rip Chords prepare for the semifinals, the other groups are practicing for their quarterfinal competitions.

The Xtension Chords meet three times a week for three hours each time, while No Strings Attached spends 10 hours a week preparing.

The groups practice in the Music Building, 1114 W. Nevada St., often at the same time. This allows them to do exchanges, during which two groups will get together and perform one song for the other group. Each group will offer their insight on the other’s song.

“The people who know it best are the other groups,” Benkowski said.

“They appreciate it the most, and they know what standard to hold you to,” Benkowski said.

Benkowski said No Strings Attached may travel with The Xtension Chords to their quarterfinal in East Lansing.

Despite close interaction, the University’s a capella groups retain their own styles.

“I think each of the groups has a different energy and something different that they bring to each show,” Barry said.

Benkowski called Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)” the signature song of No Strings Attached.

“We’re the only group that really does any jazz,” he said. “Most groups do pop stuff. I think we’re known for our blend – our voices sounding like one person singing.”

The Xtension Chords showed their comedic side Saturday night as the judges deliberated. The group were guest performers for the event and performed a song dedicated to the Chicago Bears, which had the same melody as Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Barry described The Rip Chords as soulful.

“We are a pretty powerful women’s a capella group and people know us for the R&B; songs we do,” she said.

The ICCA Midwest semifinals will be held at Northwestern University on March 31.

More information on The Rip Chords, The Xtension Chords, No Strings Attached and Girls Next Door can be found at www.uofiripchords.com, http://xchords.net, www.uiuc.edu/ro/nsa, and www.uiuc.edu/ro/gnd respectively.