The audience goes silent. You walk on to the stage with the members of your group. Your thoughts race as you review every spot on the stage you must touch, every note you must sing, and every movement you must make. The lights gleam in your eyes, preventing you from seeing the hundreds of people in front of you. You hear nothing but a single note and the perfect synchronization of breaths around you.
You recall the months of preparation for the next twelve minutes. These next twelve minutes will define the rest of your year. This is competitive collegiate a cappella.
A cappella is a style of music performance sung by voices only. Collegiate a cappella has recently skyrocketed in popularity after the award-winning movie “Pitch Perfect” swept the box office in 2013. College groups perform and compete all over the nation, using their voices, showmanship, and musicality to gain international recognition.
The Kent Clarks are Kent State University’s first and oldest a cappella group. The Kent Clarks are a co-ed group that consists of full-time students at Kent State University. The group holds auditions throughout the year, and usually has 18—22 members. These members come from several different majors such as musical theater, architecture, communication studies, and many more.
Since their founding in 2011 by Stephen Cox, an original member of a collegiate a cappella group at Vanderbilt University, the Vanderbilt Variations, the Kent Clarks have been performing on campus and across the nation, setting them apart from the group they were six years ago. Some notable performances include, but are not limited to, singing for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2014, singing for NBC’s “Today Show” in 2015, and singing at a Hillary Clinton rally in 2016. Since the formation of the Kent Clarks, three other groups have been created: Flash Harmony, a co-ed group which is now in its third year; Vocal Intensity, a co-ed group which is over a year old; and Momentum, an all-male group that is just starting its first semester.
The Kent Clarks’ mission is to perform and compete with a cappella music. They sing at events across campus and all around the Kent area and they hold one large concert at the end of the semester. To prepare for the numerous events, the Clarks rehearse three nights a week. While these performances are fun for the group, the thought on the members’ mind every year is the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCAs). The ICCA, founded in 1996 by award-winning musician Deke Sharon, is a competitive a cappella tournament that hundreds of groups across the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom compete in. The tournament consists of a regional quarterfinal, a regional semifinal, an online wildcard round, and a final round that takes place in New York City. Each round consists of about ten groups, and only the highest scoring groups advance.
The Clarks have competed in ICCAs for the past three years. They placed third in 2015 and 2016, and they won a special award for outstanding choreography in 2016. In order to advance to semifinals, though, groups at quarterfinals must place in the top two. This has motivated the Clarks for the past year.
Even though the competition takes place in the spring semester, every thought in both fall and spring semester relates to ICCAs, in one way or another. Each song they prepare for their concert is a potential song to place in their twelve minute set, each choreography move and musical arrangement is gauged for audience responses, and every video from the concert is studied in post.
Though the Clarks take their rehearsals, performances, and competitions very seriously, they have fun with this group of friends in the process. They help each other with homework, film videos for their YouTube channel, hang out in their free time, and enjoy the friendly atmosphere that the group creates.
In February of 2017, after months of hard work, the Clarks competed for the fifth time in its history. After long nights, and intense pressure, the Clarks, unfortunately, did not make the top two. Though the feeling of defeat still leaves a bitter taste in their mouth, no hard work goes unrewarded. The Clarks are improving every year. They are becoming closer and identifying themselves more and more individually and collectively. So, when you step on the stage with the Clarks, the noise you hear around you is not just synchronized breaths; it is not just your team; it is your family.
More information on the Kent Clarks can be found on their Facebook page at facebook.com/KentClarks, on their YouTube channel at youtube.com/KentClarksAcappella, and on
their Twitter at @Kent_Clarks.