Santa Monica’s Pacifica Christian High School a cappella group — Wolf PACappella — is preparing to travel up north this weekend to take part in the International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA) 2022 West Semifinal in Salem, Ore., for a chance to compete for the national title in New York next month.

In February, the talented singers earned first place in the ICHSA West Quarterfinals in Burbank, competing against teams from California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. 

At a cappella competitions, groups of singers dance and perform 10-minute compilations of pop songs without instrumental accompaniment — though beats are provided by a vocal percussionist, also known as a beatboxer. The style of performance has been made popular in media including in movies (Pitch Perfect) and music (Pentatonix). 

“Even when we’re competing and we’re stressed out, I think there’s this big love for this group — each individual for everybody. And I think we’re there for each other,” vocal percussionist Noah Skoog, a senior, said. “I think that’s how we stood out as a group in competitions — that we showed more love towards each other than the other groups.”

Speak to the group for 30 minutes and you’ll quickly learn Wolf PACappella is fueled by love: love for each other, love for music, and love for their instructor, Grammy nominated vocal arranger Tehillah Alphonso, herself a former collegiate a cappella singer.

“She has put in so much work to[ward] our group, and just in general. She’s one of the most amazing musicians — make sure you note that,” senior Amanda Lee said during an interview six group members attended with the Daily Press on Monday evening. “We’re so honored and lucky to have her as our teacher and there literally could not be someone better to direct our group.”

Now in her third year directing Wolf PACappella, Alphonso and the 10-member team are heading to their second consecutive ICHSA West Semifinals. In 2021, the team made it to the national finals, but that competition was all virtual. This year, students are able to compete in person.

“This was our first in-person competition,” another senior, Gemma Holscher, said. “Our first one was over Zoom and you don’t really see your competition — you don’t have that adrenaline rush. You kind of just submit your video and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s see what happens.’” 

But at the ICHSA West Quarterfinals last month, Wolf PACappella was there, live and in person, which meant acknowledging the other talented teams they were taking on.

“It felt a lot more formal and scary because you’re not just thinking about yourself at that point, which is really — it’s just a very different experience than something virtually,” Holscher said. 

One thing that helps calm their nerves is that Wolf PACappella tries not to think of other schools as opponents. 

“I don’t really like to think of it as like a competition; I think of it more as a talent show,” sophomore Zane Worth said. “The other groups are in the same place we are, as in, just a group of friends performing and showing how they sing and how they blend together and just how much fun they’re having. 

“When you have that mindset, it becomes a lot easier to perform because you don’t think of the other people as competition,” Worth continued. “You think of them as just other groups of people showing what they love.”

Not only did that positive mindset help propel Wolf PACappella to first place; teammates also won individual awards at the event in February. Skoog took home the award for best vocal percussion and senior Jordan Allen won best choreography by a student.

When it comes to building a strong foundation on the team, Lee said the group thinks of itself less as best friends and more as a family of 10 siblings. 

The atmosphere around the six teammates sitting on benches in the backyard of Pacifica High School on Monday did resemble that of a family — group members laughed at each other’s sincere responses to questions, but then launched into their own descriptions of how important their fellow teammates were to them. They rolled their eyes talking about early morning rehearsals but said they felt more like “hang-outs” than practices.

“Like Amanda said, the fact that we’re a family — that bond — it’s just so much better,” Senior Daniel Boutros said. “We understand each other. If we ever critique one another, there’s never a thought of, ‘Maybe this person’s jealous,’ or whatever. It’s always just like, ‘Oh, this person wants me to do better. He wants me to succeed.’”

Sophomore Skadie Kosta was even more illustrative.

“If you have a sibling at school, you don’t hang out with them in your friend group, but you still are with them a lot,” Kosta said. “You know, that’s kind of how we are: We’re not like one big friend group, but we still know each other so well. And it’s really — I don’t know, it’s really nice to have that kind of presence on campus when you ever need something. Like Daniel was saying, we care about each other so much. When we push each other and try to bring out the best in each other, it’s always with a positive mindset.”

On Thursday, the team —Skoog, Lee, Holscher, Worth, Boutros, Kosta, Allen, Naomi Jones, Anna Duboc and Lexi Sexton — together with Alphonso, will journey up to the Elsinore Theater in Salem, Ore., to face challengers from Utah, Oregon, California and Idaho, bringing with them their talent, positivity and, of course, lots of love. 

emily@smdp.com