Seasoned 5C a cappella group After School Specials has previously won a national competition, been judged by pop music luminaries like Diane Warren, and performed at the White House. Still, making it to the final round of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella is no small feat for them.
Competing against more than 400 groups, ASS placed second in quarterfinals, third in semifinals, and first in the ICCA Wild Card round. Next, they will perform with nine other groups at the ICCA Finals, which takes place April 21 at the Beacon Theater in New York City.
Co-president and bass vocalist Spencer Louie PO ’19 described the group’s journey “as long and arduous, but definitely a rewarding one.” With over eight hours of rehearsal per week, it’s clear that the members have been working their “ASS” off in preparation for this moment.
The mounting pressure of competing at such an elite level hasn’t deterred the group, but instead motivated them to work harder and come together as a team.
As the music director for ASS, Perrin York SC ’19 is mainly responsible for leading and preparing the group.
“We’ve been trying to make it as low-stress as possible,” York said. “This year, we decided to keep the same songs from quarter finals all the way through and perfect them, which has really paid off.”
The set list features “Greedy” by Ariana Grande, Moss Kena’s cover of “These Walls” originally by Kendrick Lamar, and “Jealous” by Labrinth.
York believes that keeping the set consistent is what has allowed them to perform so well at ICCA this year. As a result, rehearsals have also been more focused.
“We’ve been running specific parts over and over again,” York said. “We’ll do the chorus of a song and the choreography, and say stuff like ‘let’s do it again, we need to sing with more dynamic,’ or ‘we need to look more confident when we walk from here to there.’”
While being the director of a group is not an easy role, York said it’s been helpful getting input from all the members on how to approach and prepare for ICCA Finals.
“We’ve tried to strike a balance between working hard and not stressing so much that we won’t enjoy the moment,” Louie said. “We’re definitely rehearsing a lot, but we’re trying to work smarter, not strictly harder.”
As a first-year in ASS, mezzo vocalist Anya Zimmerman-Smith CM ’21 sees the older members as “a bunch of big brothers and sisters” who she can depend on when things get stressful.
“Even though sometimes, things may get strained, we will always be there for each other and be able to have a good time together, which is a really sweet reassurance to have,” she said.
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York expressed her amazement at how far ASS has come, explaining that making it to finals is “a really special form of validation for everyone.”
She is excited to meet Ben Bram, a Grammy award-winning a cappella producer who has arranged a final song for the competing groups to perform together.
Louie is looking forward to meeting the other competitors and reconnecting with old friends from Upper Structure, an a cappella group from the Berklee School of Music.
“I think going to finals in itself is a huge accomplishment,” Louie said. “Regardless of outcome, we’re hoping to record our ICCA set and maybe even create a music video.”
Hailing from New York, alto vocalist Langa Chinyoka SC ’21 is excited to be able to share her hometown with the other members. She also sees the finals as a valuable learning opportunity.
“Our set has gotten so much better with each competition,” Chinyoka said. “Making it to finals was kind of unprecedented, so we definitely want to give it all we have and make ourselves proud.”