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Soul'd Out finishes runner-up at ICHSA Northwest Semifinal


Oakland's Vocal Rush takes top spot, earns trip to NYC and the national high school a cappella finals

by: JOSH KULLA - It took the judges more than an hour Jan. 19 to decide on a winner at the International Championship of High School a Cappella Northwest Semifinal at West Linn High School. 

During that time, the 11 competing teams could only wonder what was going on as judges contemplated three hours of performances by some of the best vocal groups in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.

“It was extremely suspenseful, but we knew it was going to be a tossup between some of the groups,” said Justin Hartenberger, a sophomore at Wilsonville High School and a member of Soul’d Out, the school’s award-winning vocal group. 

In the end, however, no one was shocked to find that the Oakland School for the Arts’ renowned group Vocal Rush, last year’s ICHSA national champions, was selected as this year’s winner.

Soul’d Out was the runner-up, with Synergy, representing the Oregon Children’s Choir of Eugene, finishing third. Everyone else was left to start preparing for the spring performance season and another year until they have a shot at national acclaim. 

Individually, Wilsonville’s Cole Peterson, although now graduated, won an award for outstanding song arrangement, while Hartenberger took home outstanding vocal percussionist honors. 

Vocal Rush earned the overall “Outstanding Choreography” award, while individually Jordan Holly was named outstanding vocalist and Kyana Fanene was honored for outstanding vocal percussion. Further, an “Outstanding Choreography” award went to Branden Thomas of Vocal Rush for his performance of “Bottom of the River.”

“The kids were great; that was awesome,” said Sue Schreiner, director of Soul’d Out and Wilsonville High School’s choir instructor. “Now I just hope we get the chance to get the wild card. We’re going to throw our application in and send it off, and we taped everything tonight.” 

Varsity Vocals, the organization that has helped revive the popularity of a cappella music through its international high school and college group competitions, held nine regional semifinals around the country Jan. 19. Each regional winner earns an automatic invitation to New York City for the national finals in April.

The way the competition is structured, however, leaves a single wild card slot for a group that does not qualify automatically. 

After winning the Northwest semifinal in 2011 and finishing third last year, Schreiner and Soul’d Out are left hoping they are able to use that route to reprise their success two years ago, when they used the national finals at New York’s Lincoln Center as a springboard to an eventual slot on the NBC show “The Sing Off.” 

That prior experience is exactly why Schreiner remains confident. by: JOSH KULLA -

“There’s only one opening in the nation, but it might as well be us,” she said. “I think they know the West Coast, and they know that it’s Vocal Rush and Soul’d Out, and they know that we should both be on the national stage.”

The concert at West Linn High School’s auditorium drew a packed house, with the loudest cheers reserved for Soul’d Out. The group won the Rose City Sing-Off last spring and recorded an outstanding CD’s worth of a cappella standards last summer and fall. Now, its members are focused on continual improvement, said Hartenberger. 

“I’m really proud. I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” he said. “We were (confident), but we were a little nervous. But we’ve practiced this so many times, we just wanted to make sure we got it down and got the mics set up, just so we could give it our all.” 

He added that performing in front of essentially a hometown crowd helped smooth the way. 

“There’s a lot of cheering, a lot of fans when we’re in the same area,” he said. “But you know, it’d be nice to check out another district next year.” 

Now in its sixth year of competition, Soul’d Out has become an institution among budding Wilsonville-area vocalists. Hartenberger is the perfect example. 

“This is my first year with Soul’d Out,” he said. “But I have been waiting since sixth grade.”

During that time, he added, he has watched the popularity of a cappella grow at the high school level. Along with that has come a concurrent improvement in the standard of competition. 

“It has (gotten better),” he said. “I mean, Soul’d Out for the first couple of years definitely dominated the competition. But, definitely, recently the groups have gotten a lot more phenomenal, and it’s gotten a lot more exciting, I’ll say that. It’s really fun with all the awards, it’s just really fun.” 

For Vocal Rush, it will be its second appearance in New York City. Last year, the talented East Bay group scored a runner-up finish in the Northwest semifinal at Rolling Hills Church behind Newberg High School’s Mezzo Devotion before earning the wild card slot and going on to earn the top spot at the ICHSA nationals.

This year, the Oakland crew performed third in the overall lineup and wowed both the crowd and the judges with both vocal abilities and choreography. 

“I’m very happy, and I thought it was a Vocal Rush-Soul’d Out race,” Schreiner said. “They’re great, and we are too. I think it was close, because it took them forever to decide. It was very good, so we’ll see how far we were off of first place, and we’ll see how close it was.” 

With the wild card spot hanging in the balance, there’s still work to do, Schreiner said. 

“We’ll send in the wild card application,” she said. “And if we get the wild card spot we’ll be off to New York and we’ll need to raise some money fast.”