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UNC a cappella group hits the right notes at quarterfinal competition

The Tarpeggios pose for a group portrait in Frank Porter Graham Student Union during their practice on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. The a capella group won the quarterfinals for the ICCA tournament.

For UNC a cappella group The Tarpeggios, winning first place is secondary to the creative process.

On Feb. 10, the mixed-voice group received the highest score at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella South Quarterfinal, held at Durham’s Carolina Theatre.

"I just felt so proud of what we had achieved," Kai Turik, a senior at UNC and the group's president, said. "And even if we hadn't placed, that feeling was not going to go away."

The tournament is hosted by Varsity Vocals, which has held more than 85 yearly competitions around the globe for 24 years. The organization bills itself as "the real-life ‘Pitch Perfect’,” which refers to a fictionalized ICCA competition depicted in the 2012 movie of the same name. 

At the South Quarterfinal, ten selected regional collegiate a cappella groups, including N.C. State University’s Ladies in Red and the University of South Carolina’s Cockappella, performed for a panel of five judges who evaluated their sets on a numeric scale.

The Tarpeggios, along with other UNC group and second-place finisher Tar Heel Voices, will advance to the South Semifinal, which will also be held at the Carolina Theatre on March 16

This is the fourth time that The Tarpeggios have won the regional quarterfinals. 

In addition to the top prize, two Tarpeggios,  junior Elena Holder and sophomore Nikhil Sathyanathan won outstanding soloist awards. 

At Wednesday’s rehearsal in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union, however, the group wasted little time on celebration, diving straight into preparing for an upcoming gig at the North Carolina Botanical Garden and polishing their ICCA set in anticipation of the semifinals.

Turik said the group’s next steps were to incorporate the judges’ written feedback and continue to improve upon the set as a whole.

“We just want to do even better than we did before,” they said.

Although Turik said there were parts of the set that could be fine-tuned, winning was an opportunity to appreciate how the individual members’ showmanship and dedication to theatricality contributed to its success.

Winning soloist Holder said that the group made an effort to convey a narrative and thematic through line with the set’s songs, arrangements and choreography. 

The five-song set began with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” followed by a dance-pop number by RAYE, a Michael Jackson tune and Alanis Morisette’s “Forgiven” before concluding with a gospel ballad from the band Gabriels. 

“We wanted to tell a story of being broken and then leaning on to things that probably aren’t good for you, and then after that, going into fulfillment with yourself without those things,” Holder said.

Sathyanathan, the other top-scoring soloist, said that while he did not know he was going to win first place for his part in the Gabriels song, he felt that he displayed all of his emotions onstage.

“I could be myself on that stage because as much as I was nervous, I was also super excited,” he said. 

Sathyanathan said that his favorite part of his involvement with the Tarpeggios for the past two years was the supportive community and learning environment the members have cultivated.

Before coming to UNC, he had never been in an a cappella group, but he said his prior training with Indian classical music has given him a distinct musical perspective that he enjoys bringing to the table.

“I’m able to surround myself with fantastic musicians every day and learn from them,” he said.

Tickets for the 2024 ICCA South Semifinals are on sale now at on Varsity Vocals’ website. Standard admission is $35, but there is a $5 discount for children under 10 as well as students.

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