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A Capella competition set for Jan. 23 at Northern Highlands


JANUARY 19, 2016    LAST UPDATED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2016, 3:41 PM

A Cappella groups from around Bergen County and the greater Tri-State Area are gearing up for the quarterfinal round of the International Championship of High School a Cappella (ICHSA) taking place at Northern Highlands Regional High School on Jan. 23.

Locally, groups representing Cresskill, Ridgewood, Paramus and host Northern Highlands will put their voices to the test against a number of schools from both New Jersey and New York.

The ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Regional competition will feature two rounds this year due to a boost in the number of high schools participating in the competition. The top three finishing groups on Saturday will compete in the semifinal round on March 19.

“It’s kind of exploding,” said Tom Paster, the director of the Northern Highlands group Highlands Voices, which has won the regional competition for the past five years in a row.

One of those newcomers is a group known as The Octaves, a collection of vocalists from Paramus High School.

The Octaves stand in contrast with many of the groups competing as it is completely run by its students. Junior Victoria Marchlewski handles the musical arrangements and vocal parts while Blu Frankel, a senior, runs the meetings and rehearsals.

“They’re pretty much in charge,” said Amanda Faley, the original advisor to the group. “They run the meetings, send out messages, practice at houses on weekends and meet in my room or the auditorium during the week to rehearse and put stuff together.”

The Octaves are still a relatively young group, only about nine months old. They were formed during the spring in the last school year and were able to enter the A Cappella Festival at Northern Highlands last April. Right away, the nascent group was sharing the stage with high school groups from northern and central New Jersey as well as Casual Harmony from Rutgers University.

Since then, The Octaves have performed at other small functions around Paramus, such as the Relay for Life event at Bergen Community College, the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and a senior citizen breakfast at Paramus High School, but the big focus for the students has been the ICHSA competition.

“[The students] are so mature and so responsible,” said Faley. “A lot of teams, they have these big musical coaches who went to places like Julliard. They have professionals hired doing these things with these groups. I’m not making any arrangements or choreographing for them, which is really cool.”

Over at Ridgewood High School, both men’s and women’s groups are feverishly preparing sets of their own. Ridgewood will be sending both the Maroon Men and the Acabellas to the competition.

“The kids are doing well,” said Steven Bourque, the director of both groups. “They’re working hard and I have for the first time some student arrangements. Kids within the group arranged music for the competition.”

Bourque said the students are in the midst of working out an optimal visual component to go along with the songs. Bourque said the Maroon Men tend to favor rock and roll songs while the Acabellas gravitate more toward slower, more powerful songs.

“It’s figuring out how to create formations that are interesting, that don’t involve a lot of movement and getting it to be represent each song that we are singing,” said Bourque.

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