Top of the charts: Skyline Blues finish second at 2019 International Championship of High School A Cappella Finals in NYC

As I write this, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is blasting through my speakers on the Beatles Channel. It sounds as fresh to me as the first time I heard it – probably 50 years or so ago. It’s part of the soundtrack of my life and when I hear the Beatles I am transformed. Music has that power!

For 17 students at Skyline High School, music will forever mark a huge moment in their lives. Senior Hannah Connell is one of those students.

“The experience was probably the highlight of my high school career, and it’s one I’ll treasure forever,” Hannah says. “It was my first time going to NYC and I’m so happy I got to experience it with the people I love most.”

Hannah is a member of the Skyline Blues, who placed second overall in the nation at the 2019 International Championship of High School A Cappella Finals in New York City on April 26. Yes, that is correct – second IN THE NATION!

The Blues, a nationally recognized competitive a-cappella group made up of 17 Skyline High School students, compete every year in the International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA) and every year they seem to be singing the same tune – one of success.

This year, they took their song to the top of the charts, competing against the best at The Town Hall in Manhattan.

“I think that was our most satisfying performance and we were able to achieve what we set out to do, which was tell the story to the best of our ability and leave it all on the stage,” Hannah says of the group’s incredible success. “We’ve worked so incredibly hard all year; pouring our blood, sweat, and lots of tears into this set; and because of that I wasn’t surprised with how well our performance went. Everything we had been working on the entire year led up to that moment, and we really delivered our best.”

Their best was 338 points, second only to the 441 points scored by winner InToneNation of New Manchester High School in Douglasville, GA (South Regional Champion). The Thursdays, from Chelmsford High School in Chelmsford MA (Northeast Regional Champion), were third with 331 points.

The Blues advanced to the Big Apple with a big showing at the Great Lakes semifinal in Columbus, Ohio in March, scoring 369 points to finish first at the event held at Hilliard Bradley High School. The host team, Shades of Blue, were a shade behind the Skyline team with 328 points.

On top of the team’s outstanding performance, Skyline’s Chris Ekpiken was named Outstanding Vocal Percussion.

“The whole trip was great and meeting all the amazing groups was really fun,” said Ekpiken, a junior at Skyline. “There were lots of cool things to see but not enough time to see all of it. I personally put us in the first or second place range. Obviously, I wanted to get first but it was less of a surprise and more of a humble graciousness that we got second.”

The entire experience was a great final note for the Skyline seniors.

 “I’m extremely proud of Blues,” said Camille Schuster, one of those talented seniors. “We worked so hard and left everything out on that stage. Not to sound pompous, but I’m not surprised we placed. We really put our souls into our story this year and offered something new to the table.”

They all believed they saved their best for last. Performing on stage in New York City against the very best groups in the nation didn’t faze them at – if anything, it challenged them to be the very best they could.

“I personally think that our ICHSA finals performance was our best run of our set, not just because of the vocals, but because of the mindset we were in,” said senior Emma Throm. “We were a little nervous, of course, but mostly we were so proud of the intense work and all the emotion we put in and we were so excited to perform for such an appreciative audience. I actually kept forgetting that we were at a competition because I was so caught up in enjoying each group’s performance.”

Tessa Wilson, another one of those gifted seniors, says the entire year has been filled with unexpected and amazing experiences. “With all of these experiences we’ve gotten closer as a group and that’s what makes me the most happy,” she said. “This year has just been amazing.

“This was my first time (in NYC) and I will remember our trip for the rest of my life. When we were on stage we let it all go, and we left our hearts on the stage. Because of that, I think we performed the best we ever did.”

Junior Lily Ohye said as soon as they walked off stage many of her mates were sobbing because they were so pleased with their performance.

“I think that was our best performance so far not just musically but with our emotional connection,” Lily said. “I was surprised to do that well because I know many groups have gone multiple times before and not placed. For me, I definitely saw this performance as more of a showcase instead of a competition. I feel like our main goal was to do our personal best and leave it all out on the stage, which we did.”

Junior Derek Mrachko perfectly summed up the entire year in two words: “Mind blowing.”

“Performing with so many amazing groups and other students who are just as passionate about music as you are is very humbling,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any way I could forget going to New York with all of these amazing teammates, directors and friends.

“At the end of the performance, it didn’t matter how well we did. All any of us really cared about was how emotional and fulfilling our last big performance together was. It was easily one of, if not the best, full run of the set that we had the entire year, which is really saying a lot, considering exactly how many times we ran through the full set during performances and rehearsals over the course of the last five months.

“We were all just super excited to be there. The winning group was leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else, but there was a cluster of maybe four or five groups that could’ve placed second and third and no one would’ve batted an eye. I think our cohesiveness and emotion gave us just enough of an edge to do just enough better than all those other amazing groups we saw in New York.”

Cue Frank Sinatra – If these singers can make it there, they can make it anywhere!

Other finalists

Finalist – Evolve, Chesapeake High School, Pasadena MD (Wild Card Champion)

Finalist – Free to Breathe, Sunset High School, Portland OR (West Regional Champion)

Finalist – Highlands Voices, Northern Highlands Regional High School, Allendale NJ (Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion)

Finalist – Knight Club, Oak Creek High School, Oak Creek WI (Midwest Regional Champion)

Finalist – Madison Avenue, James Madison High School, San Antonio TX (Wild Card Champion)

Finalist – PFC, Douglas MacArthur High School, San Antonio TX (Southwest Regional Champion)

Outstanding Soloist – Tyler Lewis (InToneNation)

Outstanding Vocal Percussion – Chris Ekpiken (Skyline Blues)

Outstanding Arrangement – InToneNation

Outstanding Arrangement – Griffin Prillwitz (Free to Breathe)

Outstanding Choreography – Evolve