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Cleftomaniacs make a cappella history at UMBC

UMBC’s Cleftomaniacs rocked the stage at a sold-out venue last Saturday at the Inter Collegiate Competition of a cappella, better known as the ICCAs. The Cleftomaniacs not only placed for the first time ever at the Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals, but also won first prize, making history at UMBC.

In recent years, a cappella groups have taken over college campuses throughout the nation and abroad. For those unfamiliar with the term a cappella, it is the act of singing without the use of instruments. Vocal percussion such as beatboxing takes over the role of percussion instruments.

Founded 12 years ago, the Cleftomaniacs are one of four a cappella groups that exist on campus. Along with annual performances and competitions, the Cleftomaniacs put out an album (Last Kiss) in 2016 to commemorate their twelve-year anniversary as a club at UMBC. They are the only co-ed a cappella group at UMBC, differentiating them from the Mama’s Boys, the all-male a cappella group, and the Stilettos, the all-female a capella group.

All three groups competed against seven other teams at the Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals that took place Saturday, February 3 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Cleftomaniacs were up against some tough competitors, said freshman theatre major, Edima Essien.

“Winning ICCAs was a surreal experience. We weren’t expecting to win outstanding choreography, but when the judges called our name for both that award and first place, our whole group was in utter shock.”

College a cappella groups competing at the Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals ranged from schools all over Maryland, including 2 teams from Johns Hopkins University, Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, and University of Maryland College Park. Washington and Lee University was also represented, bringing the total to 10 competing teams.

In order to compete at the Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinals, each team was required to submit a video to the ICCA judges. From there, 10 groups were chosen to perform at the first round of ICCAs. The top two ranked teams from the quarterfinals then move on to compete at the semifinals.

This year, the Cleftomaniacs and DeCadence, from the University of Maryland, College Park, will be performing in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to compete against six other teams.

Andy O’Neil, senior business technology and administration major and the Cleftomaniacs’ music director, spoke on his experience leading the group throughout his years.

“As music director I’m either arranging songs, teaching music or making sure other people are arranging songs […] ICCAs has always been about the experience for our group. This year we took a change in style in terms of leading the group,” said O’Neil.

“It wasn’t just this year’s work that lead us to victory. It was all three years of learning what went wrong in our performances and figuring out how to come back from our failures. Each year we got a little bit better, but I think this year was the year all of those lessons compiled and we finally figured out what worked best.”

AJ Potvin, senior, music technology major, Vice President of Cleftomaniacs and a member of the choreography committee, helped design the choreography to the four-song performance.  Along with first prize, the team won outstanding choreography at the quarterfinals.

“I think choreography brings a performance to the next level. It supplemented our performance over all […]. It wasn’t just the choreo committee that made the choreography great. It’s what everyone brought to the performance,” Potvin said.

The group is the first ever from UMBC to compete at ICCA semifinals. They will be performing on March 31 in a theater that seats 2,500 people, and tickets are expected to sell out.

Sanjana Taskar, junior and Bachelor of Fine Arts acting and sociology major, speaks on the importance of having a strong community dynamic within the group.

“We really emphasized teamwork this time at ICCAs. We all put our heart and soul into the rehearsals and performances.”