Nine groups from the Midwest region gathered at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to compete in the quarterfinals of the International Competition of High School A Capella. Among those nine groups were Niles West’s very own a cappella groups: Echo Effect, High Fidelity, and Guys and Dolls. All three groups competed on Saturday, Feb. 4 and dominated the competition, winning every single individual award as well as overall.
The International Competition of High School A Cappella, also known as the ICHSA, is a global tournament that displays the immense talents of students all around the globe that rely solely on their voice for every aspect of music. Based off the college version called ICCA and the inspiration behind ‘Pitch Perfect,’ the ICHSA aims to bring schools together from all over the nation, and has even spread all the way to the United Kingdom.
Echo Effect, West’s all-boys a cappella group, took home first place. Junior Isaiah Lopez won Outstanding Vocal Percussion for the entire set. Senior Adrian Micor has been a part of Echo Effect since his freshman year, and he credits their wins to the tremendous work the boys have put in since their freshman years as well as the people they have recruited since then.
“This group is not an accident. Every member is a part of this group for a reason. As a freshman, I didn’t even bother to show up to the audition, but the minute I hopped out of the shower, my mom screamed at me that our previous director had called my house phone three times, trying to get me to audition. Since then, we just kept growing,” Micor said. “I got to know Brayan Asatouri, Chester Beck, and Eli Duros, who were fellow freshmen at the time. That same year, I saw a video of Demetri Mastorakis singing and demanded that we immediately recruit him. We gave him an audition and he made it. The next year, we recruited two of our most valuable juniors — Isaiah Lopez and Anthony Saldana. Anthony brings forth a bright tone and Isaiah is probably runner up for the best high school beatboxer in the nation.”
During Micor’s sophomore year, the group took a major hit. After getting a new director, Echo took a step back and evaluated the group, discussing what they needed to reach their full potential. The following years consisted of recruiting more people with wider vocal ranges until they finally found the missing pieces they needed for the big win they took home this weekend.
“We recruited Auggie Ahn who has the deepest voice ever, Adrian Aguada who is a strong tenor, Caleb Throop, who has the highest voice in the group, and Kenan Ozer who has a nice, meaty baritone sound. That year we took third place, and though we didn’t advance, we knew what we needed for next year. With all of the same experienced guys returning and losing a couple seniors, we knew what we wanted. We picked up Chris Witt and Shebin Chacko, and let me tell you, for two first-year members, they kept up. We strive every day to be great by choice. And that’s Echo Effect in a nutshell,” he said.
Going into the competition, High Fidelity, West’s all-girls a cappella group, just planned on having a memorable time as they sang on the stage for the last time together. Instead, they took home second place and dominated the individual awards, creating history.
“Being an all-female group is extremely difficult because our sound isn’t as full since we don’t have any low male voices. So for the last three years, we never placed in the top three at competition, and we’ve never advanced in HiFi history. We really weren’t expecting anything and just went onstage to perform for ourselves, thinking it was our last competitive performance together. So when we found out we placed and qualified for the next round, there were so many tears and hugs. It was a truly unforgettable experience,” senior and president of HiFi Nicole Cho said.
Senior Raciel Millan won Outstanding Choreography for the entire set, which was a personal goal for her going into the competition.
“I joined halfway through my sophomore year. Comparing us back then and now, I’m really proud of the girls and seeing how we’ve grown. I made the choreography two years ago and it was really cheesy,” Millan said, laughing. “My goal this year was to get best choreography and I actually got it, so I feel accomplished, and we’ve made a cappella history as well. I’m really proud of us.”
Cho snagged two individual awards — Outstanding Arrangement for “Half the Man” and “Bird Set Free,” as well as the extremely competitive award of Outstanding Soloist for her part in “Half the Man.”
“I really wasn’t expecting to get anything going into the competition. I was hoping to get “Best Arrangement” again, but I didn’t even think about “Best Soloist” because it’s such a competitive award, so I was pretty shocked. I really couldn’t have done it without my girls though, because the only way I could’ve gotten anything was if they performed and sang their best, which they did. It’s really all them.”
With Guys and Dolls securing the third place spot and the final individual award being handed to junior Parth Shah for Outstanding Soloist for “Writing on the Wall,” the entire a cappella department has been in equal parts shock and excitement. Senior and president of of G&D Debbie Kim describes the feeling similar to one G&D had her freshman year and is thankful for the support system that all three groups have created through the years.
“Our freshmen year, we were really great because we had a lot of seniors, so reliving that feeling, our senior year is really amazing. It’s the first time in Niles West’s history that the a cappella groups have swept the awards. Even though we did compete against each other, how exciting it is that all of us got an award? It’s like an a cappella family,” Kim said. “We were all there supporting each other, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we did so well. Like, I could hear Nikki Cho screaming “Go Debbie!” I knew that was her cheering for me, and when she’s soloing, I’m like ‘That’s my girl.’ We were all there for each other.”
Senior and vice president of Echo Effect Demetri Mastorakis, although still in shock, is excited to compete in the upcoming semifinals and hopefully advance to the ICHSA finals at the Town Hall in New York City.
“I was actually really shocked because I didn’t expect all three groups to do so well, not because we’re not good, but because they usually spread the awards around for everybody. But we swept every single award and the top three places, so it was really cool and I’m really excited to keep going,” Mastorakis said.
Although the groups are still celebrating their wins, Kim is proud of the work they put in and the memories all three groups created on the stage.
“Awards are great, but in the end, it’s all about the memories and the work you put in. I honestly believe that no matter how bad or good you did, if you gave it your all on that stage and you’re proud of it, then I think you’ve done a great job, and for that reason you should be proud,” she said. “A cappella seems individual because everybody has to know their parts, but then putting it all together is everything.”
The semifinals will take place on President’s Day, Friday, March 3 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago from 7:00 p.m to 11:00 p.m. Students are encouraged to come out and support both Echo and HiFi as they compete. The group that wins the semifinals will advance to the ICHSA finals at the Town Hall in New York City. Be sure to congratulate the groups and follow them on social media to stay updated about the competitions.
Echo Effect Instagram – nwechoeffect
High Fidelity Instagram – nwhighfidelity
Contributions made by Rachel Velarde