Pitch Black nears fourth consecutive ICCA

Pitch Black members sell tickets, shirts and stickers Jan. 27. Front row: Abi Horvat, Hannah Simpson and Alanna Spalsbury. In back: Abby Hanson, Alyssa Clark, Audrey Bell and Brianna Robinson.
Pitch Black members sell tickets, shirts and stickers Jan. 27. Front row: Abi Horvat, Hannah Simpson and Alanna Spalsbury. Photo courtesy of Spenser Hickey.

With three rehearsals to go, group leader Brianna Robinson reminded the women of Pitch Black what they represent and what’s at stakes.

“We’re damn good and we all know that,” she said. “… It’s our responsibility to hold the name.”

When she spoke, she had the gravity of a football coach at the goal line, and like a coach she demands 110 percent. Everyone listened.

“I feel like the campus knows who we are,” she explained afterward. “… They know that we go to ICCA every year and I think there is a responsibility in that.”

Pitch Black is entering the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) for the fourth consecutive year, but over half their members are newcomers. Their intensity isn’t driven by arrogance, Robinson made a point of saying, but by a love of singing.

Even on non-rehearsal days, Robinson tells the singers they need to practice. The competition is days away, and everyone can feel it.

“I’m so excited,” Audrey Bell told the group.

“Who, in their life, gets to do this, right here? Not many.”

Bell is a new member, but also a senior, so her first ICCA will be her last, she added sadly.

Last year, Pitch Black placed third in the quarterfinal, their best finish so far, and this has inspired them to aim even higher.

Because of this, junior Emma Sparks said, “we can continue to (perform)…and continue placing, or not, and that’s fine, we still have a great time.”

They’ll be debuting three entirely new songs: “Diamond Chandelier,” led by Sparks and junior Emily Slee; “Run to You,” led by the entire group; and a mashup of boy band songs led by Robinson, Bell and junior Alanna Spalsbury.

Juniors Emma Sparks, left, and Emily Slee lead "Diamond Chandelier."
Juniors Emma Sparks, left, and Emily Slee lead “Diamond Chandelier.” Photo courtesy of Spenser Hickey.

This year’s competition is in Bowling Green, and that brings family connections: freshman Zoe Sares has an uncle who owns a restaurant there, and Abi Horvat’s sister will be in attendance.

She’s only 10, Horvat said, but she already plans to go to OWU and wants to join Pitch Black.

“If you don’t mind, I might introduce her,” Horvat said; everyone was enthusiastic.

While the women of Pitch Black take their work seriously, it’s humorous moments like these that keep them close. When it’s time to sing, they sing, but when there are breaks anything goes.

During an interview with the group, for instance, jokes, snapping, unexpected singing and even horseplay were frequent; at one point Sares hit fellow freshman Dagny Tracy with a wristband.

When ICCA’s aren’t looming overhead, it’s common for them to spontaneously start singing, sophomore Emily Phillips said. Sometimes, like before the interview, they’ll sing a rhythm while only saying “meow.”

“Brianna and Grace (Thompson) do a great job of keeping us on task, because that’s not always easy,” Phillips said.

One of the reasons Robinson is so insistent that they focus is because Pitch Black is all women; she says this requires a higher bar than their all-male counterparts.

All-male groups tend to have lower expectations than women’s groups; she’s seen videos where male groups get higher ratings for a goofy performance than all-women groups that did the same thing.

“I really wanted to do the boy band mashup because we’re just having fun the whole time,” Robinson said. “We’re doing boy band motions, we’re bringing back old songs that people are going to know and I think that gives us power and makes us feel we can do whatever we want to, just like anybody else can.”

“There’s no reason that we should be lower on a judge’s scale just because we’re women and we’re doing these ‘silly moves’ and whatever like that…we always try and have music that makes us feel strong and empowered.”

Coming with that identity of empowerment, Spalsbury and Sparks said they take after women such as Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, lawyer Michelle Obama and pop singer Whitney Houston.

Many of the newer members, though, find their a cappella inspiration in Pitch Black’s veterans, including Spalsbury and Sparks.

Left to right: Freshman Zoe Sares, senior Grace Thompson, junior Emily Slee and sophomore Abi Horvat clap during "Boy Band Mashup."
Left to right: Freshman Zoe Sares, senior Grace Thompson, junior Emily Slee and sophomore Abi Horvat clap during “Boy Band Mashup.” Photo courtesy of Spenser Hickey.

Phillips decided to join because Spalsbury was trying to recruit a beatboxer; now Phillips, a percussion major, will be anchoring the beat at ICCA.

She’ll have some big shoes to fill. Last year, junior Maeve Nash won Best Vocal Percussionist at the ICCA quarterfinal but she’s studying in Ireland this semester.

For Sares, interest in Pitch Black was one of the primary things that led her from sunny Colorado to not-so-sunny Delaware.

“(At a college fair) that lady that was there, all she could talk about was (OWU’s) a cappella groups, especially the all-women’s a cappella group, so I was like, ‘sign me up!’” Sares said.

“Zoe, you were one of the most excited people to come up to the table (at club fair), like low-key excited,” Spalsbury told her in response.

Like Sares, junior Hannah Simpson came to college wanting to join a cappella, along with leading tours, and as the rest of the group quickly pointed out, she mentioned this while wearing an official OWU Tour Guide shirt.

For her, both goals have been accomplished.

Whether Pitch Black will accomplish their ICCA goals will be decided Jan. 31st, on the stage of Bowling Green High School.


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