A Cappella Admissions with Casey Matsumoto of Pitch, Please

The president of Northeastern's competing a cappella group talks TV rivalries, actual reality, and what makes her group stand out when the competition gets hot.

Pitch, Please via Youtube

Pitch, Please via Youtube

When you’re one of the frontrunners on a reality show, you’d think that the truth would be divulged exactly as anticipated. When no one is micro-managing your own reality, how else would events be perceived?

On Pop TV’s latest docu-series Sing It On, six a cappella groups prepare to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (the ICCAs). Two of the teams are from Northeastern: the Nor’easters and Pitch, Please. Being from the same school, it’s natural to think the two are rivals, but Pitch, Please president Casey Matsumoto says otherwise. The show, Matsumoto says, has been an education in the art of exaggeration for entertainment.

Prior to the premiere of Sing It On, we had spoken to Isaac Willnow, ringleader of the Nor’easters, about the team’s competition with Pitch, Please.

Later, Matsumoto spoke to us just following the premiere—an episode that had not yet introduced Pitch, Please—and then reached out again after the second episode aired on May 20.

“After seeing the way we were painted, it’s actually really interesting to see how things get twisted and edited,” she wrote to us. Here, Matsumoto clears the air on Pitch, Please’s “rivalry” with their on-campus competitors, and also offers some details on rehearsing, being with a camera crew, and the origins of the group.

 

Isaac and I talked briefly about how Pitch, Please formed, and he mentioned that it sprouted from auditionees who didn’t make the cut for the Nor’easters.

I wouldn’t say that’s true at all. We were formed in 2012, so not that long ago. Basically, one of our founding members really loved performing, but didn’t find what she was looking for in any of the groups that were currently on campus. There was one other all-female group … She didn’t feel that she fit into that group.

The link with the Nor’easters is that we had the same music director for that first year through 2012 and 2013. It’s really hard to get your feet under yourself when you’re first starting out as a new group. The Nor’easters were really supportive when we first formed. They invited us to perform with them at a lot of their gigs, and their officers showed us the ropes and how to do things. They even sang with us when we were first trying to get members. So there’s always been a relationship between our two groups … They’re kind of our big brother in a lot of ways.

How did that ICCA play out for you guys over the years?

Going along with that competitive timeline, we advanced—[Isaac] talked about the ICCA, and how [the Nor’easters] won in 2013, which is the first year we were a group and competed in the ICCA—and we placed third in the Wild Card round. We’ve competed in the ICCA all three years we’ve been a group. We’ve advanced to semis in our first two years. This year, we got second runner-up in the quarterfinals behind the Nor’easters and the Vassar Devils, both of whom ended up advancing to finals in New York City.

How were you approached to be a part of this show?

I think honestly [it’s] because we advanced so far. We got third in the Wild Card our first year as a group, which was the furthest any female group that year advanced. So technically, we were one of the top female groups in the nation, and that’s incredible for such a new group. I think because we started out so strong competitively, and also we wear matching gold heels, and we have a very specific brand. I think that interests people. Amanda Newman, the director of Varsity Vocals, I believe recommended us for the show. At least that’s my understanding.

I know that Northeastern has six different a cappella groups on campus. I was led to believe, maybe just based on the show, that there is a direct rivalry between just the Nor’easters and Pitch, Please. Is that true? Or is the competitiveness more campus-wide?

The show likes to pit the Nor’easters and Pitch, Please as on-campus rivals because we’re the only two Northeastern groups featured on the show. I think that’s definitely dramatic and what they’re looking for. All six groups do compete in the ICCA. Northeastern’s unique in that all six of our groups are unique and really good. There’s no group that’s like ‘oh my gosh, they’re horrible.’ They’re all competitive, they all have their own brands and unique thinks that sets them apart. So there are groups on campus that I regard as competition.

So if all six groups compete in the ICCA, what made you guys stand out as subjects for the show?

I think that the two of us are the most well-known outside of Northeastern in the collegiate a cappella community. The Nor’easters won ICCA in 2013, and I think we were the cool new girls who emerged in 2013 as well. We got a lot of attention from that. I think a lot of our success today is because we came out of the gate so strong when we first became a group. There aren’t a lot of strong, edgy female groups out there. It’s been a long time since a female group advanced really far in the ICCA. No female group has ever won, I believe. I think we’re really just trying to rebrand in the collegiate world.

What does rebranding entail?

People tend to be really dismissive of all-female groups. They have a weak sound, or they’re really girly and young, and don’t have strong soloists or a beatboxer. But we try to show that we can be strong women, still have a big sound, and still compete with the mixed groups.

How do you think your group differs musically?

We are capable of producing that wall of sound, the big full sound that you don’t see too often from all-female groups. Typically, it’s more of something you’d see from a co-ed group or all-male group. We choose songs that show off that sound, and also show off our soloists and our beatboxer. We have a fantastic beatboxer and fantastic bass.

What does the storyline look like for you guys on the show?

They wanted a Pitch Perfect-style ripoff, so we do that with the Nor’easters. Of course, that doesn’t happen in real life, but that’s what they wanted. So we have a little riff-off, you can call it. At the ICCA quarterfinal, [the crew] was with us pretty much all day leading up to that. Everyone got sick, so I guess they’re using that as a plot point. One of our main soloists got really sick the week of ICCA, and we didn’t know if she was going to be able to sing or not. We all kind of got sick. We called it the Pitch, Please Plague.

Where did the riff-off take place?

It was in this 3-D printing shop. It’s called Danger!Awesome in Central Square. It was kind of random. They tried to make it like a party setting. The riff-off happening between Pitch, Please and the Nor’easters I guess was to kind of highlight our quote-unquote “rivalry.” It was different. We’ve never been asked to do anything like that. Unlike Pitch Perfect, that doesn’t happen in real life. We did a lot of adjusting, a lot of scrambling.

So that particular part was staged?

Yes. Very much so.

What is the shooting schedule like for you?

They focused a lot more on the Nor’easters than us. They filmed several of our rehearsals with us, they were at a critique of our set before ICCA where we would have people come in—peers and friends—to watch it, and give us feedback. We didn’t do too many outside things. Yes, we wanted to do the TV show, but we were very focused on ICCA and making our set the best that it could be and trying not to let the cameras and the glamour of being on a TV show distract us.

They usually have two cameras in the room, and a guy holding a mic. They have set up lighting and stuff. They told us, “Oh, we’re going to be a fly on the wall, you’re not even going to notice us.” But you know, you can’t really ignore a camera crew, and sound people, and light people in the room. It’s definitely something you have to consciously ignore and focus harder on having a productive rehearsal. Which is good. It made everyone step up because we were aware of being filmed, and anything that happens could potentially be on the TV show.

 

Sing It On, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Pop TV. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.