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Premium Blend Brings Award-Winning Music Set to Buffalo Semifinals

Premium Blend post-win at Binghamton’s ICCA quarterfinal (Photo courtesy of Premium Blend’s Instagram.)

One could hear a pin drop inside Binghamton University’s Watters Theater as members of Varsity Vocals, a collegiate a cappella company, were about to announce who would advance to the next round of the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella (ICCA).

Members of Premium Blend, Ithaca College’s all-female a cappella group, held hands and bowed their heads awaiting their fate. Suddenly the group’s name was called for second place. The group members screamed, cried, and jumped for joy. All of their hard work had paid off.

Before its victory in Binghamton, the group went through an intense rehearsal process members like to call “boot camp.” They came back to Ithaca College early from their winter break vacation in order to prepare for the competition.

They only had 10 days.

Premium Blend vice president Alex Renna said this is the shortest amount of time they’ve had to prepare. “The ICCAs were the first weekend when we got back to school, so the turnover was much shorter. We were rehearsing more hours but within a shorter amount of time.”

In order to complete and master their set in time, Premium Blend members met for eight hours every day to practice. Not only did these rehearsals include learning the arrangement and perfecting vocal skills such as dynamics and vowels, but the women were also learning choreography.

“I would be up all night choreographing for the set. But I think we work best for ICCA under a time crunch,” said Lydia Brown, president of Premium Blend.

Premium Blend members rehearsing for semifinals at Ithaca College's Whalen School of Music
In preparation for semifinals, Premium Blend rehearses its set at Ithaca College’s Whalen School of Music. (Photo by: Jacey Hammond/Ithaca Week)

Perhaps she was right because not only did the group get second place, they also won the category for best choreography.

Not all of the 10 groups that competed at Binghamton’s quarterfinal Jan. 25 had a theme for their song selections. However, Premium Blend decided to switch things up. The group’s set is centered around the concept of dreams. The songs included are “Sweet Dreams” by The Eurythmics, “Trampoline” by SHAED and “Dream On” by Aerosmith.

“It’s very stereotypical for an all-female group to do a set about female empowerment,” said Rachel Unsworth, IC senior and communications director of the group. “You see it time and time again, so to see a set like ours that is so outside of the realm of what female groups do succeed is really cool.”

Most of the members don’t even remember performing. “I think I blacked out,” said Renna, referring to the moment she took the stage that night.

Winning felt very unexpected to some members. “I just thought okay we’re not going to place, we’re just singing for fun,” said Unsworth. “But when they called us, I fell to the ground. I think I cried for at least half an hour.”

As seniors, this victory is particularly sweet for Brown and Unsworth. “It’s fun to move on with a group of girls who haven’t advanced in the ICCAs before,” said Brown. “It’s new, it’s fresh, we all get to go to semis for the first time together. It’s so special and awesome.”

Premium Blend will take its award-winning set to the ICCA semifinals at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts stage on March 29.

Sophomore and ICCA soloist Catriona Ferguson said one of the group’s strategies for improving the set for semifinals is watching videos of past performances.

“Reflection is now another part of our preparation,” Ferguson said.

When the group members return from spring break, they will dedicate all of their rehearsals to improving the set. They were given feedback from ICCA judges at Binghamton’s quarterfinals. They plan on addressing the comments in order to bring their performance to the next level.

Out of the 10 groups performing in Buffalo, Premium Blend is one of two all-female groups. The Ithaca College group will also have to beat University of Rochester’s Midnight Ramblers, the group who took first place in Binghamton, in order to advance.

“We are all rooting for them. PB (Premium Blend) is such an amazing group of girls who work so hard, so all of us, other Ithaca College a cappella groups, really hope they do well,” said fellow a cappella community member Sydney Cozzolino.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., Varsity Vocals has decided to cancel the ICCA Semifinals in Buffalo for all the competitors’ safety.


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