Claremont’s After School Specials Win ICCA Quarterfinal


Ellen Hu ’24 and Ellen Wang ’25

On Feb. 10, Claremont Colleges a cappella group The After School Specials (ASS) won first place at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) West Quarterfinal. ASS and the runner up from University of California, Irvine (UCI), Uniting Voices, will be moving on to the ICCA West Semifinal in Redwood City on March 23.

“It did not feel real,” ASS’s Izzy Gustitus ’25 said. “It genuinely felt like someone had taken reality and just flipped it on its head.”

In addition to advancing in the competition, ASS’s Gustitus, Monty Ellwanger PO ’24, Ava Thuresson CMC ’26, and Aaron Wu PO ’25 won the outstanding award for choreography. Wu also won Outstanding Arrangement for “I’m Tired.”

“I was like, ‘we’re actually being recognized,’” Gustitus said. “I think that was the shock – we had never been [past quarterfinals], not since 2018.” While ASS competed in 2023, they did not move forward in the competition.

Midnight Echo, the only other 5C group competing, marked their re-entry into the competition since 2017 with an award for Outstanding Vocal Percussion (Immanuel Victor KGI ’25). UCI’s Vermillion Vocalists took home Outstanding Soloist.

Winning the vocal percussion award was a “surreal” experience for Victor who began his beatboxing journey two and a half years ago at UC Davis. “We did this for Claremont and we did this for us, but I’ll admit a little part of me was also carrying all the groups and all the people back in Davis with me,” he said.

The event was hosted at Pomona College’s Bridges Auditorium. In addition to the 5C representation by ASS and Midnight Echo, competing teams represented UC Los Angeles; UC Santa Barbara; UC Santa Cruz; UCI; California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo; and Mt. San Antonio College.

“While we were sitting in the balcony watching, my mouth was open the entire time,” Midnight Echo bass Aidan Tu PZ ’24 said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe I will be performing alongside these amazing people.’”

Audience members expressed similar amazement with the performances as well as an appreciation for all of the work that went into the sets. “It was really cool to see them … their beautiful choreography, their beautiful arrangements, and hearing their amazing voices,” Laguna College of Art and Design student Christine Chu ’24 said.

“I could tell that everyone really cared about what set they put on,” ASS mezzo Esther Goldberg ’25 said. “It was really, really fun.”

Following an online application submitted in October of 2023, groups were selected to compete in the regional quarterfinal competition. Months of preparation went into the final sets, both in the arrangements and choreography.

“Preparation for something as big as ICCA is always going to be time intensive and intention intensive,” Victor said. “One of the biggest things that I felt going into this was that it wasn’t like we could go on autopilot anymore.”

Thorough sessions were a part of many groups’ routines. “We held two 3-hour rehearsals each week, in addition to 1-hour sectionals,” UCLA’s Pitch, Please! soprano Joanna Zhang ’24 said. “We also held two ‘rehearsathons,’ which were essentially whole-day rehearsals that ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

Similarly, ASS met regularly and ramped up their practices up until the competition. “In the last week before the competition we met like six days a week, which was crazy,” Goldberg said. “By the end I personally felt very prepared.”

Both ASS and Midnight Echo previously performed at Bridges Auditorium for Southern California A capella Music Festival (SCAMFest), an annual a cappella showcase hosted in the fall semester by The Claremont Shades. Coming back to the space for ICCA was exciting and comforting for students from the 5C groups.

“Having that ability to be flexible with where we are and even go through our routines before the show was really helpful for all of us,” Victor said.

While pre-performance routines and support systems felt familiar, performers experienced a different atmosphere than that of SCAMFest. “Even with the same location and the same staff, it was really a completely different experience because you’re surrounded by different competition, different people you’ve never seen before,” Tu said.

The feeling of competition felt more like comradery for many. “Everyone was super friendly,” Goldberg said. “We were all very big supporters of each other … I mean, you can kind of feel the spirit of competition only in the sense that we’re all about to perform.”

The performances were judged with numerical scores across vocal and visual elements by five local artists with backgrounds in singing, arranging, and education. Gustitus added the judges’ feedback includes advice that can be especially helpful for groups that do not have professional choreographers and staff support.

“We get their notes, which is so awesome,” she said. “They get to tell us ‘your blend here was a little off, choreo could have been a little clearer’ … I think we have a lot more trust in ourselves, which is really a new thing for us. We have capability that we can measure.”

As ASS moves towards the Semifinals in March, they’re using their win to boost their confidence and gratitude for each other. “The biggest thing now is like, just taking it in and allowing the joy to fill you up,” Gustitus said.


Image Source: Ellen Hu ‘24

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