Downbeat places fourth at ICHSA quarter finals


Provided by Laura Lang-Ree

Downbeat performers pose for a photo at the International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA) on March 10. Downbeat placed fourth in the quarter finals against seven other a cappella groups from California.

by Young Min and Alison Yang

Harker’s show choir, Downbeat, placed fourth in the quarter finals of the International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA) on March 10 at John Burroughs High School, competing against seven other a cappella groups from California. Dance captain Samvita Gautam (12) also won Best Student Choreographer.

Since the beginning of the school year, Downbeat singers have been working with upper school vocal music teacher Jennifer Sandusky and performing arts director Laura Lang-Ree in order to prepare for the competition. The group performed three songs, No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” and The Greatest Showman’s “Come Alive,” which center around Downbeat’s theme for this year: advocating for women’s rights. 

“Ms. Lang-Ree and I usually start with trying to create a unifying vision so that there is a storyline for the performers to emotionally follow in the music, and for this year, we chose the loose topic of human rights,” Sandusky said. “We tried to focus on how one takes action when faced with injustice in society.”

Working with arrangers to realize their vision of the setlist, Downbeat began learning parts and establishing choreography. However, the songs took several revisions before they were satisfactory. “Just a Girl” was finalized only a month before competition. Downbeat member Shayla He (11) describes how they maintained group chemistry during this stressful time.

“Trust is a huge part of the process,” Shayla said. “It’s important to let the teachers give notes, not the students. Going into [competition] we really just want to hype each other up and feel pride in each other.”

“Just a Girl” began the emotional arc, bringing anger and sass into the scene as it focuses on a girl drained by societal pressures. “Pure Imagination” followed, bringing the audience to envision a world without injustice, and “Come Alive” ended the set with a rally call to action for everyone to make a change in society, whether big or small. 

Inspired by recent events, Lang-Ree and Sandusky wanted to emphasize the numerous conflicts women face on a daily basis. Coincidentally, their quarter finals date was pushed to March, Women’s History Month, after Downbeat suffered from a bad bout of COVID-19.

“The theme of empowering women came to us last spring when Roe v. Wade was overturned, and we always look for a theme for a cappella competitions because it allows for a storyline that not only the audience members can relate to but the singers as well,” Lang-Ree said. “It was a perfect time to bring the spotlight to this and highlight an issue that women struggle with all the time.”