By Ariana Colozzo
On Saturday, April 1, come to the Somerville Theatre for a night of a cappella with the 33rd annual Harmony Sweepstakes. Seven Boston area a cappella groups will compete for the title of Boston’s best: Birdland Avenue, Bostonality, Carpe Singem, Drive, Fermata Town, Fireside Quartet, and Harmonious Soul, chosen from nearly 20 groups that auditioned for the chance to compete.
Each group gets 10 minutes to wow the judges, and not a minute over, as the Boston regional director Dan Campang, noted, groups who go over will be docked a place.
Many, like Fermata Town, Bostonality, and Fireside Quartet, have experience singing competitively, but Campagna explained that because practicing for a performance can take a few months or more, groups often leave a year or two in between competitions to focus on other priorities, such as recording albums.
The competition, which is in its 27th year in Boston, will be hosted by North Shore A Cappella, the 1991 national champions. North Shore A Cappella has been together for over 30 years and has hundreds of popular hits in their repertoire, with songs from the 1940s through today. The group has been featured on NBC’s The Sing-Off and has opened for The Temptations, The Platters, Ben E. King, Johnny Maestro, Al Jarreau, Roberta Flack, Frankie Vallie, Gene Pitney, and Jay Leno.
The judges have not been chosen for the Boston regional yet, but each year they are composed of a mix of music professors, a cappella singers, television or radio personalities and local music experts.
Regional winners are also chosen in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington State, the Rocky Mountains, and Washington DC, and the eight winning groups will sing at the Marin Center in San Rafael, California in May for the title of National Champion.
The popularity of a cappella has been growing in mainstream pop in the last few years, helped by groups like Pentatonix, who, after winning The Sing-Off, released a number of EPs and full-length studio albums, earning them three Grammys, a double platinum album named the fourth-best-selling album in 2014, and another album in the Billboard 200. Movies like Pitch Perfect have also made a cappella a common household genre.
Though the Pitch Perfect movies get many things right about a cappella, there’s at least one important thing the movie does wrong: Originals are always welcome. While many a cappella groups do prepare cover songs, Campagna said this competition encourages originals. “There’s an emphasis on originality. We give an award for the best original song,” he added. The award is given at both the regional competitions and the national championship.
The Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival, which began as a weekly sing-a-long in a British pub in San Rafael, is now the leading showcase for vocal harmony groups. The 1999 champions, National Seven, who toured internationally with Michael Buble for years, and the 2012 champions, Six Appeal, who tour throughout the country, are among many other groups who have gone on to lead successful a cappella careers after winning.