Jacob Ritter had a strenuous last week.

First, as Columbus High School’s choir director, he prepared his three show choirs for the Nebraska A Cappella Championships held this past weekend.

This would likely be a fulfilling job for any choir director, but Ritter didn’t stop there. He also prepared to host the event, a Herculean task considering everything else that was on his plate.

“I was desperate for a place for my kids to compete,” Ritter said of the A Cappella craft, which revolves around singing without any instrumental accompaniment. “I decided, ‘Alright, somebody needs to do this, and it might as well be me.’”

Despite the grueling week, Ritter and his students handled themselves nicely at the inaugural event, one that he said was the first of its kind for high school students in Nebraska.

“There’s nothing that allows A cappella groups to compete and really perform for each other at the highest level that competition asks for,” Ritter said. “What makes this event special (is) this is the first one that I know of that is hosted by a high school, where we are solely focused on giving A cappella groups of any style a chance to compete and be recognized for their achievements.”

Twelve groups from five different schools competed during the event, including three from CHS and another from Columbus Middle School. Lincoln’s Pius X High School, Bellevue West High School and Omaha’s Brownell Talbot High School were also in attendance.

Each group mainly performed renditions of popular songs from a variety of different eras and genres, from Toto’s “Africa”, to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September”. The groups performed two or three songs and were evaluated by a three-judge panel.

Columbus’ three show choirs generally compete in at least five events per year. However, this was the first one they hosted. The singers competing this weekend for CHS were excited about hosting some of Nebraska’s best A cappella groups and show choirs.

“I think it is the perfect event for us to host,” said Reagan Gausman, CHS student and member of Neptune’s Angels, an all-female choir, and The New World Singers, a co-ed choir. “I think something that we really embrace here is A cappella music and we want to bring that everywhere else.”

Gausman has been doing A cappella since her sophomore year when she was one of the inaugural members of Neptune’s Angels. She noted the steady progress that A cappella programs at CHS have made in recent years.

“To think about being in Neptune’s Angels when I was a sophomore to what we are doing now, it’s just phenomenally better,” Gausman said. “Each year, we have more fun, we get more connected (and) we do better music. We’ve just kept improving and I can’t wait to see what they can do in the future.”

Ritter said he hopes his students were inspired by the performances held during the competition.

“I believe in the value of competition and how it pushes students to be better,” Ritter said. “I think we see that in sports often (and) we see that in practically every other thing. There is certainly an artistic side to music that we need to preserve, but I believe that my students have been lacking the opportunity for competition. I think they feel like the competition aspect of what we do has brought the best out of them.”

Ritter also wants to see the event expand moving forward. He sees the event growing beyond just a simple competition and into something far greater.

“I want to pave the way for high schools and middle schools across the state to have a place where they can come and compete with their A cappella groups,” he said. “I promise anyone who’s reading this, you will discover a new aspect of energy and enthusiasm in your program if you allow them, if you push them to be their best through competition."

Ritter’s students may not be thinking that big, but many would love for future students to have the opportunity to perform with their peers, just like they have.

"I just think it's a really good opportunity to connect with other people at different schools," said Lillie King, a member of Neptune's Angels. "It's a fun time."

Results were as follows:

Best Class B Soloist: Luke Miles, Pirate Radio

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Best Class A Soloist: Reagan Gausman, New World Singers

Best Jr. High Soloist: Alyva Williams, Vocal Tech

Best Class C Ensemble: N/A

Best Class B Ensemble: Pirate Radio

Best Class A Ensemble: Neptune's Angels

Best Beatboxing: Surya Buddharaju, Pirate Radio

Best Original Arrangement: Luke Miles, Pirate Radio

Best Large Ensemble: Sotto Voce

Best Small Ensemble: Neptune's Angels

Best Pro Ensemble: Vocal Eclipse

Best Overall Soloist: Alyva Williams, Vocal Tech

Best Jr. High Ensemble: Vocal Tech

Scores are out of 210 points, averaged from three judges

5th Best Overall: AcaBellas - 184

4th Best Overall: The New World Singers - 187

3rd Best Overall: Sotto Voce - 188

2nd Best Overall: Pirate Radio - 189

1st Best Overall: Neptune's Angels - 190

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zach.roth@lee.net.

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