Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal
Deke Sharon, conductor and host
Chrissie Fit and Hannah Juliano, guest soloists
Andrew Fitzpatrick, guest vocal percussionist
The Filharmonic, Vocalosity, Highlands Voices, Stay Tuned, featured choirs
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 20, 2016
The second installment of Total Vocal made its energetic appearance on Sunday, March 20 at Carnegie Hall. Deke Sharon, the affable leader of this enterprise, is the pre-eminent arranger, conductor, and promoter of contemporary a cappella choir singing in this country. All but one of the arrangements belonged to Mr. Sharon. His skill is as boundless as his youthful energy, bouncing on stage in his sneakers: he seems as young as the high school kids he works with. Capitalizing on the success of The Sing-Off, the Pitch Perfect movies, and even Glee, the growth of these groups nation- (and world-) wide has been explosive: from 200 when Mr. Sharon began (twenty years ago), to over 3000 today.
The program fell into two parts: that prior to intermission featured a younger-age massed choir made of groups from all over the country and Canada. Their music was, one might say, relentlessly cheerful, with a certain sameness to a lot of it, perhaps a limitation of their age. But their enthusiasm knew no limits whatsoever, and the high-energy was electric. Their bodies were wonderfully free, moving along with all the music, even when they weren’t singing. A slight flaw to me was that the amplification of the female soloists made a lot of them sound alike. A group of 11- to 16-year olds called Chamber Bravura did a fine rendition of “Mercy.” The all-female “Key of She” group was very moving in “True Colors.” The song “Try,” with the excellent Chrissie Fit and the Highlands Voices and Stay Tuned groups, finally revealed some adolescent angst about the dangers of selling out just to fit in and be liked.
After intermission, the massed choir shifted its demographic slightly older, to include young adults and professionals. Choirs from Google (Googapella), Facebook (The Vocal Network), and Twitter (Songbirds) played key roles, with Mr. Sharon remarking that there is in fact time (even for the workaholics of Silicon Valley) to make music. A marvelous summation of the history of a cappella music (another Sharon arrangement) took place disguised as a medley of Beatles songs. Hannah Juliano was the super-strong soloist in Adele’s first hit “Chasing Pavements”: her proud mother (in the audience) was also an a cappella choir singer, back when Deke Sharon was just starting out.
The “tech” groups mentioned above scored a timely message with their version of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which was updated to the “Internet,” and featured the choir members taking the unavoidable selfies of each other while singing.
Not to be forgotten: the amazing “vocal percussion” (commonly called beat-boxing) of Andrew Fitzpatrick, also known as 80Fitz. There would seem to be no sound he can’t make with this mouth, lips, and throat. Truly, a one-man orchestra. This carried over into many of the arrangements as well, lest one think that in a choir it’s all “just singing,” they utilize any sound that can be made without instruments other than the human voice.
Although Mr. Sharon called the song “Close to You” and the Carpenters “cheesy,” I’d remind him that it was Bacharach/David who wrote it; and the velvet-voiced (but tragic) Karen Carpenter wasn’t cheesy. The female side of the choir sang it with beautiful sensitivity, and Mr. Sharon dedicated the performance to his wife, who couldn’t attend.
Mr. Sharon himself soloed in front of his well-trained group (who had only worked with him for two days prior to the concert) in a deep-jazz, complex arrangement of one of Sinatra’s biggest hits, Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Come Fly with Me.”
Another sensation, the all-Filipino male group The Filharmonic sang “Flashlight” with flair, showing why they did so well in the Sing-Off. That was followed by the male side of the choir rendering John Legend’s (formerly John Stephens) “All of Me.”
For a stomping conclusion, Sharon led the choir AND audience in Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” with choir members from the first half coming down all the aisles and leading everyone. A built-in encore was the audience’s rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
It is so good to see young people engaging their musical and emotional skills in this way. Keep it up, America, and Mr. Sharon: Bravo!