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They expected something like “Pitch Perfect” heading to the stage of Carlisle Theatre Saturday night.

Isabel Cooke and Drew Erikson, both freshmen at Dickinson College, had never been in a glee competition before.

Nervous, the two singers drew inspiration from a 2012 musical comedy movie about a fictional all-female a cappella group.

“It was the only way I could describe it to my family,” said Cooke, an English major from Baltimore and member of the Dickinson College Syrens. “It’s going to be weird when this is over.”

Group practice sessions were intense in the weeks leading up to the 7th annual M&T Bank Invitational Glee College A Cappella Competition, which was held Saturday night.

The tight-knit group of 16 singers grew even closer together as a family as they worked hard to perfect the blending of three songs. The team effort took each individual away from other campus activities.

“It’s nerve wracking,” Erikson said about half an hour before taking the stage. A resident of Washington D.C., she knew going in that the Syrens was one of 10 groups performing before a panel of judges and a sold-out venue.

Prior to Saturday, they had only performed at several smaller events throughout the Dickinson campus.

Valerie Weiner, a senior from Stamford, Connecticut, had been there before. She was with the Syrens three years ago when the annual competition was smaller and more casual. She did not attend the 2015 and 2016 shows.

“It’s very exciting to come back and see the growth and the change in the competition,” Weiner said. “It’s really fun to get groups of people from all over to come together and share their passion.

“Our goal is to showcase our voices and our group as best we can,” she said.


Dickinson College had three groups perform at a competition that drew talent from as far away as New Jersey and Maryland. Each group had nine minutes to perform a set during the first round of competition. The top three groups came back as finalists to perform a second seven-minute long set.

The competition honors a grand champion and finalists, and this year, Drexel University's TrebelMakers was named the grand champion, and the finalists joining them were Drexel's 8th to the Bar and St. Joseph's University's 54th & City from Philadelphia.

Other awards handed out Saturday was People's Choice to 54th & City, percussion to Marc Primelo, choreography to 54th & City and soloist to Damie Juat and Betina Dalope.

Other colleges that sent teams include York College and the University of Maryland. 

St. Joseph’s University had an all-male a cappella group whose first set managed a medley of six Disney tunes into a time slot of 8:55 – just five seconds shy of the maximum limit.

“We were really ambitious,” said Peter Born, a senior from upstate New Jersey. “We won this three years ago and have not been able to deliver since then, but we think we have a really strong set.

“We have a ton of fun coming to this,” Born said. “Every single year, the fans clap and cheer.” There were plenty of a cappella enthusiasts in the crowd Saturday night.

Ashley Rakow was the president of Stockata, an all-female ensemble from Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey. Her group was practicing a mash-up of the tunes “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran and “Burn” by Ellie Goulding and a rendition of “Alone,” a classic tune from Heart.

“We love coming here,” Rakow said of the college competition. “It’s really a fun day for us.”

The competition was hosted by ABC 27’s Brett Thackara and Kendra Nichols. Judges included Red 102.3 radio personality Rick Sten, local performer Ric LeBlanc, Mechanicsburg High School vocal music teacher Gordon Kaslusky, founder/director of the Cantate Carlisle Cheryl Parsons, retired choral music teacher Eric Dundore and St. Patrick Church Life Teen Music Ministry Director Peggy Durbin.

Greg Hall and Steve Kaufman of the accounting firm of Smith Elliott Kearns & Co. tabulated the results.

Email Joseph Cress at 


News Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.