Lizzy McAlpine, Jonah Nilsson and Imogen Heap may not seem to have much in common besides their singer-songwriter profession. But Stanford’s oldest all-gender a cappella group, Mixed Company (Mixed Co), brought together compositions by each artist in their victorious 2023 West Regional International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) quarterfinal performance. The group placed first in the competition this past month at the Fox Theater in Redwood City, CA on Feb. 18.
Scoring an impressive 363 points, Mixed Co swept the competition. The group was followed closely behind by University of California, Berkeley’s California Golden Overtones with 360 points. Third place went to Stanford’s Mendicants, with 299 points.
Each a cappella set is scored based on both its vocal and visual performances, along with each individual judge’s subjective ranking of the group as a whole. Components of vocal performance include balance, rhythmic accuracy, intonation, tone and diction. Visual performance scores draw from the choreography and its visual cohesiveness, creativity and energy, among other factors.
In order to prepare a strong performance at the ICCAs, Mixed Co members began the preparation during the summer of 2022, according to Mixed Co Music Director Zoey Hu ’24. Hu worked alongside their fellow Assistant Music Directors Richard Yuan ’25 and Brian Pham ’24 to find songs that would fit into a coherent program and display the group’s abilities for the 10 minute set.
“I think the set is a very important aspect of the ICCA competition because you get 10 minutes and that’s a hard limit,” Hu said. “You really want to make good, intentional choices about what songs you put in a set.”
The group’s set opened with Imogen Heap’s playful “Good Night n Go,” arranged under Hu’s leadership. The second song was Lizzy McAlpine’s angsty “Erase Me,” arranged by Yuan. Jonah Nilsson’s jazz cover of “Bad” by Michael Jackson closed off the group’s performance and was co-arranged by Pham and past Music Director Eric Hatch ’23.
Pham and Hatch’s arrangement of “Bad” earned the group the special award of “Outstanding Arrangement.” Since this was the set’s concluding song, they wanted to make it “really high energy and a crowd pleaser,” Pham said.
While these requirements of the arrangement presented challenges, Hatch enjoys sharing his interpretation of pop music with Mixed Co members through the process.
“I find a lot of joy in getting the group to sing my interpretations of songs,” Hatch said. “To bring those [ideas] to life is really special.”
At the same time, movements that accompany an a capella group’s vocal performance are no less challenging. A cappella choreography needs to incorporate physical movements in a way that doesn’t hinder vocal performances. This was a challenge that Performance Manager Naomi Solomon ’25 discovered as she came up with the choreography — formations, it turned out, were a key solution.
“I realized that formations are everything because, when you don’t really have the ability to do big, complicated or intricate movements individually, the way to do it is to have really simple moves, but make it look really cool from afar,” Solomon said. “I think group movement is basically all of a cappella.”
Mixed Co members were encouraged by their victory in the Western Region ICCA quarterfinals for the second year in a row. For new member Nick Bukovich ’26, the victory came as a pleasant surprise.
“We genuinely had no idea [that we won], because they announced third place first, and then second,” Bukovich said. “There were nine more groups that hadn’t gotten their name read, and any one of us could have been first, so the victory just came as an absolute shock.”
“[I had] no expectations, didn’t know which way it was going to go, but once we won, I was very happy,” Bukovich added.
As Mixed Co now looks ahead to the semifinal round of the ICCA’s in Salem, Ore. on Mar. 25, the group continues to polish up their performance and work toward having fun during their set.
“Part of enjoying the experience is to deliver a performance that really reflects our abilities as a group,” Yuan said. “That comes with working on some tuning, cleaning up choreography.”
Yuan expressed confidence in the upcoming competition: “This is all so that when we drive 11 hours to Salem and perform for 1000 people, we feel like it is worth it. And I’d say we’re definitely on track to do that.”