By Delia Cruz Kelly
Who knew the absence of instrumentals could make the sweetest of music? The masterful melodies of seven choral groups came together in Winifred Smith Hall here on campus on January 26th for the first annual AcaLove: Southern California A Cappella Festival. This premier event was made possible by the director of UCI’s choral program, Dr. Seth Houston, and co-event coordinators Kenai Gonzalez and Ryan Duong. Nearly a year of planning, creating, and working went into this night with the goal of cultivating a stronger a capella community throughout Southern California. The festival’s lineup featured four UCI groups: Vermillion Vocalists, Uniting Voices, Circle of Fifths, and UCI Chamber Singers; and traveling to Irvine were UCSD’s Tritones, CSUN’s AcaSola, and USC’s Overflow.
Vermillion Vocalists, a co-ed UCI group formed in 2009, kicked off the evening with a set featuring a solo from Randi Paulos singing “Undercover” and marvelous melodies from the whole group musically directed by Kenai Gonzalez. Following VeVo, USC’s christian a cappella group Overflow delivered powerful performances of “The Secret Place” and “God My Rock” that brought the house down while lifting spirits to the highest of highs. Next to the stage was the the top choir, UCI’s Chamber Singers conducted by Dr. Houston. Their performance of Chance the Rapper’s “Finish Line” feautured the stylish rapping of Kenai Gonzalez and filled the room with new energy. The UCSD Tritones closed out the first half of the show with a medley of “Say My Name/ “Honeymoon Avenue”, “Jealous”, and “Girl on Fire”. There’s a reason the Tritones have won the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival: they’re bona fide professionals.
UCI’s multicultural, co-ed a cappella group Uniting Voices had the task of opening the 2nd half of the show with the same level of passion already shown by the four groups before them, and they surely met that task. UV’s music director Ryan Duong also wore the hat of host alongside Kenai Gonzalez. The two event coordinators served as emcees throughout the night introducing each group and during one of the breaks, they even threw in an impromptu freestyle much to the crowd’s delight. The last group from UCI, a definite crowd favorite, was the all male Circle of Fifths whose self-proclaimed mantra is “Have fun!” which they definitely brought to life. The gents performed an NSYNC inspired “Bye Bye Bye” medley complete with coordinated dance moves and all the theatrics. To close the night, CSUN’s AcaSola performed a captivating 3 song set of “Sunday Candy”, “Rhiannon” and “New Rules” that indicated a studio album worth looking out for.
Performance after performance, the stage was electrified by the mingling of complex harmonies and sharp beatboxing. To witness a cappella is to witness fellowship as an art. Songs well known, like Labrinth’s “Jealous” or Chance the Rapper’s “Same Drugs”, become brand new with the machinery being displayed on the stage. Altos and tenors become gears and hinges as the inner workings of the song, every beat and voice dependent on the other to build a finely tuned piece of music.
“Ryan and I definitely plan on expanding the show in its second year. There’s no better feeling than bringing people together through the love of music and being able to share the stage with so many amazing groups,” said Kenai Gonzalez, looking forward.