Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

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!


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal, a celebration of contemporary a cappella music featuring arrangements from Pitch Perfect, The Sing-Off, and the American pop lexicon
Deke Sharon, conductor/arranger
Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Sean Altman, guest soloists; Chesney Snow, vocal percussion
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 29, 2015

Two of the most desired syllables in the entertainment world are “sold out.” Follow those by the five syllables of “standing ovation” and you get a clear idea of the exciting program that was delivered in “pitch perfect” fashion on Sunday afternoon, by a large assembly of contemporary a cappella choirs from across the country, Canada, and Australia, under the superb and enthusiastic direction of conductor/arranger Deke Sharon.

He explained how only twenty to twenty-five years ago, a cappella choirs were few, mainly centering on eastern seaboard colleges. Today, there are over 3000 in the U.S. alone. Television shows like Glee and The Sing-Off competition, for which Mr. Sharon is music director, have fueled their popularity. The Sing-Off is now expanding to its fourth continent, Africa. Mr. Sharon also did all the music for the 2012 sleeper hit movie Pitch Perfect, about the a cappella competition world; the sequel, Pitch Perfect 2, is slated for release on May 15, 2015. The movie and the competition show provided the overarching theme for the day’s offerings, everything from Gershwin to Sondheim to Louis Prima and the Beatles.

Two hundred singers at high school level occupied the first half of the program, and they really showed how fine their training is, first with their own individual conductors in their hometowns; then coming to New York to combine with other groups and Maestro Sharon.

A cappella is an Italian musical indication (literally “in the chapel”). Since instruments were forbidden in the Sistine Chapel (many centuries ago, as well as today), the unaccompanied vocal singing style took that name. The human voice is the only instrument that is not man-made; it is already “in” everyone’s bodies. Every single sound that was made on Sunday came from the breath, lips, mouths, and throats of these musicians, including the new designation “vocal percussion,” also known as “beat box,” and all the complex arrangements were performed completely from memory.

From the first number, “I Got the Music In Me,” there was no doubt that was a true statement. Everything was precise, polished, beautiful, joyful, yet never sounding anything but spontaneous. Other highlights of the first half included Gill and Wade’s “Heartbreaker,” with Shelley Regner as soloist; she was in the Pitch Perfect movie, and will be in the sequel. An all-female version of Leonard Cohen’s moving “Hallelujah” by the group Bare Rhythm from Calabasas, California, earned a rousing standing ovation, one of many. Another was given to the massed choirs’ Benny Goodman homage: Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing,” with the vibrant vocal percussion of Chesney Snow.

There were dozens and dozens of worthy solos all drawn from the choir members, as well as their own beat boxing; all their movements while feeling the music were natural and contributed to the great joy that pervaded the entire afternoon.

The second half saw the (slightly) older groups, from college age to adult. The Plain White T’s “Rhythm of Love” was given star treatment by a traditional barbershop group from Australia, The Blenders, as was John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” by a Canadian group called newchoir [no capital N]. Gershwin’s “Summertime” contained Sharon himself as the soloist, not only singing, but imitating the wah-wah sound of a trumpet with Harmon mute uncannily.

Kelly Jakle, another star of the Pitch Perfect movie, was outstanding in the inspirational anthem “True Colors,” which banished any comparison with Cyndi Lauper. To finish, the massed choir and all three soloists (including the excellent Sean Altman) sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with energy and fire. They may not have “found what they were looking for,” but they enabled us to find just what we were looking for. Bravo.

A brief, boisterous encore of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” reintroduced the younger singers, who entered Carnegie Hall from the back, standing, singing, and dancing in the aisles. The rafters definitely rang, as audience joined in with the 400 singers, and Sharon encouraged everyone to sing, no matter where or for whom.