Long before Pitch Perfect made the genre trendy, a cappella groups were competing madly for performance perfection
Before a major competition, members of the Nor Easters a cappella singing group spend up to 40 hours per week in intense, gruelling rehearsals.
Their university studies, part-time jobs and social lives all take a back seat to their relentless pursuit of performance perfection.
With just their voices – no instruments or backing music – they smash out incredible renditions of popular tracks to crowds of frenzied spectators.
Sing It On is a doco-style reality series, produced by Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend, that follows five of the top a cappella groups from across America as they fight for a spot at the coveted International Championships.
“If it sounds like we take this really seriously, it’s because we totally do,” Nor Easters director Isaac Willnow says. His ensemble is one of six at North Eastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. With that sort of competition to contend with, Willnow manages them like an elite sporting team.
“It’s like a full-time job,” the 21-year-old explains.
“Before a major competition round, like a semifinal, we’ll rehearse for eight hours a day going over arrangements, choreography ... planning every single element.”
While groups like his have been part of many American colleges for a while now, the recent Pitch Perfect movies have seen a “aca revolution”, he says.
“We’ve had an a cappella boom and all of a sudden people are like, oh my God, and we’re like, hello, we’ve been here all along.”
There are plenty of inevitable comparisons to the popular flicks, starring Anna Kendrick and Australia’s own Rebel Wilson, he says.
“It’s funny because all of the elements of Pitch Perfect are basically 100 per cent true,” he laughs. Willnow describes singing as “a musical instrument attached to your soul” and with that comes an intense “emotional investment” – and drama.
He’s been singing for as long as he can remember and discovered the a cappella style by accident when he was 12.
Inspired, he started his own group at school. By recreating pop songs the other kids knew and loved, they avoided the awkward pre-teen reception they might’ve otherwise had.
“Everybody came to our concerts. We kind of become cool in a sense.”
When he left high school, Willnow spent a year at a uni in America’s deep south where both a cappella and his personal brand of “loud and proud flamboyancy” weren’t as enthusiastically accepted.
He was miserable until one day stumbling across the Nor Easters’ performances on YouTube. He immediately applied for a transfer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, between the national tours, a daily opportunity to do what he loves most and imminent global TV fame, Willnow admits he’s reluctant to graduate in a year’s time.
“This is so much fun. I don’t even want to think about the real world!”
The Nor Easters a cappella singing group features in a doco-style reality series.