Get Your Pitch On: Harmony Sweepstakes at the Washington Center

by Jonah Barrett for OLY ARTS


Prepare yourself for Pitch Perfect, West Coast Style. The Harmony Sweepstakes acapella competition is coming back to the Washington Center this March, hosted by the Masterworks Choral Ensemble.

“Acapella is pure, it’s just voices in a microphone,” said Masterworks leader and show director Gary Witley. “You don’t have any sound effects, post-production editing, all the stuff that’s done in the studio. Acapella is live, and what you’re hearing is being created right in front of you. The vocal percussion is amazing.

If you closed your eyes you’d think you were hearing people playing drums and bass.”

The Harmony Sweepstakes competition itself started in 1985, with seven regional contests across the country: Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, LA, Mid-Atlantic, New York, and Pacific Northwest—but it wasn’t until 1996 that Masterworks began hosting the competition in Olympia. “We’re a group that puts on concerts all the time. We know how to do all the presentation stuff, and we’re organized,” said Witley.

Regional winners go on to compete in a national competition later in the year. Coincidentally, the first year Masterworks hosted Harmony Sweepstakes, the Pacific Northwest group m-Pact! went on to win nationals. Things have changed since 1996 however.

“One new wrinkle this year is that the group size has changed. The national rules used to be you had to have a minimum of three singers and a maximum of eight. Now the maximum has been changed to twelve. There are a lot of collegian groups right now that are really getting into acapella, and most of these collegian groups are bigger than eight.”

Why the rise in aca-popularity? Witley suspects the pop culture phenomenons such as the Pitch Perfect movies, television shows like The Voice, and the YouTube acapella group Pentatonix might have something to do with it. “All those reality based shows on television are really focusing attention on singing, and acappella is very interesting to people. These shows really paved the way to spark the interest for others,” said Witley.

Last year’s regional winners, Renegade Quartet, will be performing throughout the night as well. Audiences can expect a night of singing, competition, and thorough entertainment.


Harmony Sweepstakes

512 Washington St. SE
Olympia, WA 98501

Saturday, March 10. 7:30 p.m.


Washington Center for the Performing Arts