Monday, March 30, 2015

Behind The Scenes of Total Vocal: A cappella Takes Over Carnegie Hall

This past weekend, my students from Five Towns College, along with thirteen other a cappella groups from all over the world (including Australia!) sang in the very first, all a cappella  DCINY concert at Carnegie Hall: Total Vocal. Conducted entirely by Deke Sharon, and featuring notable guests like beatboxer Chesney Snow, Rockapella founder Sean Altman, Blue Jupiter’s Marty Gasper, and Shelley Regner And Kelley Jakle From Pitch Perfect, the two-hour concert was a perfect encapsulation of how far a cappella music has come over the years. Sure, a cappella in the media has a wider reach and is more notable to the public eye, but to choir geeks like myself, seeing a cappella in the most famous of all concert halls really drove the point home: A cappella is not only here to stay, but it is quickly becoming the most popular form of singing among public and private schools.

The three-day event began with rehearsals Friday and Saturday. I watched from the back of the rehearsal space as Deke attempted to wrangle two-hundred singers into a cohesive group. The task wasn’t easy; A two-hundred person choir comes with many challenges: Keeping a steady tempo, sound differentiation from one side to the other, and a battle to stay in tune, especially when everyone is singing forte. Friday had its ups and downs. I’ll admit, even I was skeptical that this was going to work.

Saturday assured my fears and proved me wrong. The first time you rehearse something together, there are always going to be bumps in the road. Once everyone gets used to the sound, and used to how they sound individually within the ensemble, the real music making can begin.

Sunday’s concert was spectacular. Every single seat in the 2800 was sold out, and there were multiple standing ovations. Deke even got the entire hall to sing “Lion Sleeps Tonight” in harmony.

The concert was divided into two halves. Act 1 featured all of the high school students, and their directors, if they chose to sing. Having only witnessed the rehearsals for act 2, I was curious to see which songs were chosen for the other group. Deke focused primarily on the well known songs from “Pitch Perfect,” mainly, the girls sang the Barden Bellas finale and the guys sang the Treblemakers finale. Included in this set were some of the opening numbers from the Sing-Off, as well as some of Deke’s published arrangements. Reinforcing Deke’s mission to get everyone singing as much as possible, almost every song had a number of different solos and vocal percussionists, chosen from the Carnegie Hall singers, and two groups even had a chance to sing arrangements by themselves, separate from the main chorus. Included in this set was Calabasas High School’s Bare Rhythm, an all female group whose rendition of “Hallelujah” received a standing ovation, and G-E-T Vocal Point, who performed their song with choreography.

Act 2 featured college students (including Five Towns College), as well as adult groups like Toronto’s New Choir and The Blenders Chorus from Australia, both of whom performed individual numbers. The second act featured more ballads, and more opening numbers from The Sing-Off, but no features from Pitch Perfect. It wasn’t until the last number, “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2, that the audience was treated to the full might of 400 singers, when the high schools students stormed the aisles and sang with the Act 2 chorus.

Overall, the concert was extremely entertaining, with Deke’s high energy conducting bright smile leading the way. Now that we know Total Vocal will be around next year, I HIGHLY recommend you apply for the chance to be a part of it. Singing a cappella in Carnegie Hall, the same Carnegie Hall that plays home to the New York Philharmonic, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen or been a part of.

Congrats Deke. You did it.

Marc Silverberg

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