Northern Lights a cappella prepares for international championship

Liana Maitland

In an exercise room with mirrors along one wall and exercise bikes lining the other wall, a harmonious gathering of voices swells into the air and echoes into a choral melody. There are no instruments and no recording behind their singing. Along with singing, there is dancing and moving to the music and laughter as they prepare for their upcoming challenge.


This is Northern Lights, NMU’s a cappella group that started in 2010. They’re now preparing to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) quarterfinals in the Great Lakes region. They perform on Saturday, Feb. 7 in East Lansing, Mich. at Michigan State University. They are the first a cappella group from the Upper Peninsula to compete in the ICCAs.

The Northern Light’s faculty advisor, Andy Poe, Ph.D., professor in the mathematics and computer science department at NMU, said the tournament is a great chance for Northern Lights to meet other a cappella groups from Michigan and Ontario.

“There’s an a cappella community, and it’s hard when we’re geographically isolated from other collegiate groups,” Poe said. “I hope they win, have fun and interact with other organizations.”

Northern Lights started when Poe and his wife were looking for an a cappella group to sing at their wedding in 2010. Poe and his wife personally auditioned singers, and the group took off from there becoming more involved on campus. They’ve performed at events such as a welcoming for President Fritz Erickson and the NMU Drag Show.

“[The students] are what they want to be,” Poe said. “If they wake up next year and decide they want to be a jazz group or a classical group they can. It’s their vision and their talent.”

The idea for competing nationally began in the 2013-14 school year, but they didn’t feel confident enough yet, said senior music education major Jacob Barnby, the musical director for Northern Lights. This year, they set a goal to make it happen.

“We kept doing more on campus and more people became interested,” Barnby said. “It made us feel more motivated                         to compete.”

If Northern Lights wins at the quarterfinals, they will proceed to the semifinals and the top two groups will sing at the national championship in New York City. If they win the quarterfinals, depending on what the judges say, they may change their lineup of songs and choreography for the semifinal match, said senior music education major Robb Strieter. Strieter is the assistant musical director.

“One of the best parts is the judges’ criticism,” said Strieter. “It’s a great chance to learn from critique.”

The group is allowed to use any part of their body, including clapping and beatboxing and stomping, to make music but no instruments of any kind are allowed. When asked what their biggest accomplishment was, Barnby smiled and answered with the NMU Drag Show.

“Performing at the drag show and singing in front of thousands of people is great,” said Barnby. “I think this will be a great opportunity to expand on that. The best part of being in and directing Northern Lights is that not only do I get to make great music with close friends, but it gives me the skills I need to be a successful teacher after I graduate.”