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Pennharmonics To Sing For International Championship

The seventeen members of The Pennharmonics, who have dubbed themselves Penn State’s premiere co-ed a cappella group, lived up to that description this weekend, winning the Varsity Vocals International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella regional semifinals. They will go on to represent the mid-Atlantic in the international finals on April 28, held in New York City’s “The Town Hall”, a performance space located in midtown Manhattan.

The Pennharmonics, led by director Steph Allen who was awarded Outstanding Soloist at the event, competed against seven other groups this Saturday at Rutgers University in the regional semis, among them The JoePas, another Happy Valley a cappella group. Their director, Jim Hogan, tied with Allen for the soloist award based on his interpretation of “Higher”. Opponents hailing from Drexel, Syracuse, Cornell, Elizabethtown, North Rider, and Rutgers were unable to top a stunning performance from The Pennharmonics that convinced the judges they should represent the mid-Atlantic in New York.

The typical competition allots each group 12 minutes in which they perform three songs, being judged on a variety of aspects including arrangement and choreography. “A lot of a cappella groups use three separate songs that have nothing to do with each other, which is fine and good,” said Jei-Laya Hassan, The Pennharmonics’ public relations manager. “But Steph decided to make ours a story, and decided to have each piece represent a transition of sadness and how people cope with sadness.”

The first song in their set, which is supposed to represent the anger stage of sadness, is an a cappella arrangement of Muse’s “Uprising” that is combined with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”. The surprising fusion of those two songs, which were seemingly flawlessly integrated, turned heads at the competition, as Michael Murray took home the Outstanding Arrangement honor for his work on the mashup. “It’s really out there, it’s really abstract, and it took a lot of thought and a lot of time to try and combine those songs together,” Hassan said.

The second song they performed was “I’m In Here” by Sia, the representation of “just plain old sorrow and depression”. Their third and final song was “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons, the representation of “reaching out, and allowing people to love you to help you heal yourself”. Hassan said that she believes the story behind their songs is what sets them apart from the competition.

“That’s what has made our success possible, because each and every one of us is very committed to what our set represents for everybody,” she said. “What really goes into it is dedication, hard work, hours of practice, and attention to detail. Going into the semis, we enhanced our set … by taking the songs we had, paying more attention to detail, more attention to choreography, more attention to percussion, and even going back to the drawing board and taking out our music again.”

The Pennharmonics will travel to New York one month from today for the April 28th international finals. They will compete against the Accidentals from Georgia – the South champions, Out of Blue from Yale – the Northeast champions, ScatterTones from UCLA – the West champions, Voices in Your Head from UChicago – the Midwest champions, and All the King’s Men from King’s College – the United Kingdom champions. In addition, there will be one wild card champion selected based on an online video submission of a performance.

You can purchase tickets for the finals here, starting at $45. You can check out a video of their semifinals performance here. We wish The Pennharmonics best of luck in New York and sincerely hope that they come home the ICCA International champions next month.

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.


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