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Producing Records and Breaking Them: Dynamics Advance to ICCA Semifinals

When most people picture college a cappella, they think of the iconic Pitch Perfect riff-off scene or over-dramatic Glee mashups. The Boston College Dynamics prove that the reality isn’t far off, but is a little more serious. 

The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) is one of the only global competitions dedicated to student a cappella. The Dynamics performed in the quarterfinals against nine other Boston schools on Feb. 10, placing second overall and earning a spot in the semifinals.

Competing in semifinals gives the Dynamics a chance to advance to the ICCA finals in New York City in April, the same a capella competition featured in Pitch Perfect. According to Dynamics president Sam Deignan, MCAS ’24, the road to get here has not been easy.

“So this really started, like, last May,” Deignan said. “We voted as a group, like, this is something we want to do. We’re going to do it, we’re gonna really commit to it, invest heavily in choreography and arrangers and all that stuff.”

The process of putting together an ICCA set looks a little different from traditional a capella sets, according to Dynamics’ business manager Julia McCahill, CSOM ’24. It requires more planning and energy to develop.

“There are a lot more added elements for ICCAs specifically that we don’t have to think about for a normal process,” McCahill said.

Deignan added that the process of song selection began as early as last summer, with the group collaborating on Spotify playlists with options and working from there. Caroline Sloan, MCAS ’24 and Dynamics’ music director, then worked to teach song arrangements to the rest of the group.

“We prepared pretty heavily, so a lot of times it was music rehearsals and choreography rehearsals,” Sloan said. “But the week before, we were rehearsing every night, sometimes until 12 a.m., to get ready for it. But everybody’s just super passionate about the group.”

ICCA sets are scored not only on vocals, but on a variety of music and performance-based criteria, explained Sloan. A music section and visual performance section of scores are included, with music being weighed more heavily. 

Judges consider musical criteria like intonation, dynamics, diction, and solo interpretation. Visual performance judges cohesion and creativity, as well as the group’s overall professionalism, according to Sloan.

“We’ve really been working on putting a name out for ourselves, and being a professional group these past years,” Sloan said. “Especially with the recording projects and the music videos.”

The group has had to balance practicing for ICCAs with building a reputation as a professional group, which has its own challenges outside of competition. The Dynamics is partially funded by the Student Organization Funding Committee (SOFC), but has to take on expenses itself, often in creative ways.

“There’s been a big push for us to do gigs and be kind of self-sustaining in terms of our funding this year,” Deignan said. “Because it’s just hard. Because a cappella is just generally expensive, because recording costs a lot, mics cost a lot, choreography costs a lot.”

One of the added elements of an ICCA performance is the expected choreography alongside the vocal performance. As a group with more vocal than dance background, this was difficult to incorporate. 

Rather than outsourcing choreography for their ICCA set, which is often expensive, Dynamics publicity director Josh Cruz, CSOM ’25, became the group’s choreographer. Despite having no prior dance experience, Cruz faced the challenge enthusiastically, taking a nontraditional approach.

“The process in general was kind of just me in my bedroom,” Cruz said. “Kind of thinking what would be good in my head, like seeing positions, mapping out stuff, dancing in my room, which was really embarrassing.”

His approach proved successful, however, and the Dynamics ended up earning top scores for choreography in the quarterfinals competition.

“I thought that trying to do some stuff differently than, like, the classical ICCA sets would be great,” Cruz said. “So I didn’t want to take too much inspiration because what really sets people apart is, like, the uniqueness of the set.”

According to Sloan, adding in choreography while still preserving the vocal performance is crucial.

“Beforehand, it’s like you have pieces of the choreo, you have pieces of the song,” Sloan said. “But once it finally comes together, I think all of us started feeling a lot more confident, because we could see the full picture of it.”

The Dynamics’ full ICCA set is three songs, including solos from Anna Puglisi, LSEHD ’26, and Ty Mendez, CSOM ’26. The third song is a duet from Angelina Coles, MCAS ’24, and Henry Greiner, MCAS ’26. The group will perform the same set for semifinals, but will spend time over the coming month working on improving the set based on their quarterfinals feedback.

“I see it as more of, like, a retooling period,” Deignan said. “Rather than changing anything, just like, refining what worked and adapting with things that didn’t work.”

The process is challenging vocally and mentally, but McCahill said preventing burnout is key to keeping the set interesting, especially after months of development.

“Making sure we’re not, like, going too hard, and preserving our energy,” McCahill said. “And not getting tired of what we’re working on, so that it’s still fresh when we compete again.”

The Dynamics will move on to compete again in the Northeast region semifinals, held at Berklee College of Music, on March 23. Also competing will be teams from Northeastern, Quinnipiac, Connecticut, and the other top two groups from each remaining Northeast quarterfinal. 

More important than the competition, however, is that the Dynamics will get a chance to build community with other a capella groups in the area, the groups’ members said. No matter the outcome of the competition, seeing other groups perform outside of the “BC bubble” is an inspiring opportunity, according to Cruz. 

“I think once we all go out into the community of a cappella, I think sometimes it just brings forces together and makes you realize that, like, a capella is a beautiful art form,” Cruz said. “And it kind of gives an appreciation to what a cappella at BC looks like, by experiencing, like, the beauty of other groups.”

February 18, 2024