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Day in the life: Allegrettos sing their hearts out at ICCA Semifinals

“It either all ends today, or we go to New York.”

Bryant Kessie, a junior in the College of Fine Arts and the Allegrettos’ performance director, knew the stakes were high for the Allegrettos Saturday at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Northeast Semifinals.

The Allegrettos, one of Boston University’s 13 a cappella groups, were the only BU group in the competition, which took place at Berklee College of Music. Of ten groups at the semifinals — including several NYU, Hofstra and Berklee groups — only one would proceed to the ICCA Finals in New York City next month.

For the Allegrettos, this particular show held special significance. The competition was possibly the last one for five seniors out of the 12-person team that competed at Berklee — five seniors who led the group out of Covid-19 and worked for years to make the night possible.

Members of the Boston University a cappella group the Allegrettos pose with their awards at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella Northeast Quarterfinals on March 2. The Allegrettos ended their competition season at the semifinals at Berklee College of Music on Saturday. COURTESY OF KATHRYN JORDAN

“This group of seniors has been part of a really exciting set of years for the Grettos,” said Evan Denenberg, a junior in Wheelock College of Education and Human Development and the Allegrettos’ social media director. “We’ve been really building as a group. I hope [the competition] feels like going out with a bang for them.”

The day began at 1:00 p.m. in the Berklee Performance Center. As buckets of rain poured down outside, 10 different acapella groups cheered and whooped as the program manager announced their names.

Numbers were then picked out of a bag to decide the performance order, an important ritual in the a capella world.

“[I prefer] going before intermission. Obviously, the judges have seen so many groups, they’re a little hangry,” said Ocean Bruinius, a freshman in the College of Communication.

The Allegrettos drew number three.

On March 2, the Allegrettos placed second in the ICCA Quarterfinals at Northeastern University, which allowed them to compete in the regional semifinals.

Their victory in the quarterfinals resulted from years of improvement and hours of rehearsal, said Jonathan Ran, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Two years ago, we wouldn’t have thought we could make it this far,” said Clara Haymon, a senior in CAS and the president of the Allegrettos. “We’ve worked hard to get here, and we’re proud of ourselves. We think that we deserve it.”

The group holds rehearsal three times a week for a total of seven hours, adding an extra hour of practice prior to the ICCAs.

The Allegrettos have been perfecting their three-song setlist and accompanying choreography for the past five months: “Through Me (The Flood)” by Hozier, “Envy” by Ogi and “Slow Burn” by Daley.

“Visual performance” comprises 50 of the 155 points available to groups. “Vocal performance” and “subjective rank” make up the remaining difference. Five judges presided over Saturday’s competition, all of them highly accredited a capella experts.

After a soundcheck and a lunch break, the Allegrettos milled about their designated classroom, painting each other’s nails black and donning black outfits ahead of the show. Some poured honey down their throats and others held water vaporizes to their faces in an effort to humidify their vocal chords.

As time dwindled before one of their last performances together, group members reminisced about positive memories they shared over the years. At Allegretto retreats, for example, each member sings the song they auditioned for the group with.

Joseph Chung, a junior in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, recalled watching the movie “tick, tick… BOOM!” at a retreat, a moment he described as when the “noobs really got to know each other.”

“We’ve gotten to go through this process together and spend all this time together,” Haymon said. “The fact that we can all be here, and not be sick of each other, I think that shows our friendship.”

Finally, after much anticipation, an usher escorted the Allegrettos to the green room to prepare for the performance. Just before they took the stage, Kessie brought the team together in a huddle and told everyone on the team how much he loves them.

“This might be the last time we do our set,” Kessie said. “Go big or go home.”

Then, as they had done countless times over the course of five months, the Allegrettos performed their set. Except, this time, they did so before a sold-out auditorium, with the 28th annual ICCA Finals in New York on the line.

Ten minutes later, the Allegrettos walked offstage. They all headed back to the classroom — everyone except Kessie. He had hooked a left and gone through an unknown door while everyone else continued straight.

“I just sat in that room for 30 minutes. I needed to decompress,” he said. “I just like to think, you know. Pray.”

Kessie grew up attending a Black church, an experience he said strongly influenced his a capella performances later on in his life.

“Getting up and dancing and singing, that’s a huge part of the Black church specifically,” he said. “That likeness and personality and that attitude is something I try to bring to my performances.”

Decisions came out later that night. Upper Structure, a group from Berklee, won first place and will compete in New York on April 27.

With their competition season over, next for the Allegrettos is their spring show on April 21.

Still, competing at the semifinals was far from a waste, Denenberg said.

“Just spending the day in the room with them, sitting here while we wait for the competition,” Denenberg said. “It’s just [a] good time with people that I enjoy being with and I’m gonna miss.”

Saturday’s competition was one of the last shows for a number of members who’d been in the group for years — a group Kessie said “feels like a family.”

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