Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal
Deke Sharon, guest conductor, arranger, and creative director
Kelley Jakle, guest soloist
Chesney Snow, guest artist
Cast members from Broadway’s In Transit, Writers from Broadway’s In Transit, Shemesh Quartet (Mexico), Forte (2016 ICHSA National Champion), special guests
Distinguished Concert Artists Singers International
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 9, 2017
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) hit another home run with its third (annual) presentation of a cappella glory, Total Vocal, led by the Mr. State-of-the-art himself: Deke Sharon. One might enter this event a curmudgeon, but one will certainly not leave that way. Mr. Sharon has the highest, most joyful energy imaginable, and his genuine enthusiasm in bringing people together creates a reciprocal love fest between him and his performers, then the performers and the audience. I hope that he is as happy and satisfied in life as his musical persona leads me to believe. He definitely deserves to be.
The mania for a cappella choral groups shows no signs of abating, thank goodness. We had the TV series Glee, then the Pitch Perfect movie, its sequel Pitch Perfect 2, and Pitch Perfect 3 has just wrapped, with a December 22, 2017 release date. NBC’s competition show The Sing-Off has also done very well. Mr. Sharon is the arranger for all of these. This concert was sold out.
At today’s concert there were well over four hundred singers from high schools all over the US (and international), as well as many solo additions and even some adults. Mr. Sharon volunteered at one point to hook up any audience member who desired to sing a cappella with a group in his/her area, no experience necessary; or even to help anyone start one of their own. He really believes in his gospel of harmonization, the “natural antidepressant.” The singers were deployed in roughly two halves, until the surprise end of the concert brought the full complement (the other half materializing from the audience side) to create a rousing sound in the glorious acoustic of Carnegie Hall.
Mr. Sharon was the arranger for Broadway’s first-ever a cappella musical In Transit, and the afternoon began with a stunning performance of Getting There by the cast of the show. By the way, they were on their way to perform their show just a few blocks away.
This was followed by Since U Been Gone (made popular by Kelly Clarkson) from Pitch Perfect and Under Pressure (Bowie and Mercury) from The Sing-Off, both excellent. Mr. Sharon related (in his always engaging patter) how important it is to awaken sensitivity to dynamic changes, which his choir then demonstrated in a sensitive rendition of the Ed Sheeran hit Thinking Out Loud. A featured group named Pitch Please from Northwood High School (NC) did a great job on the iconic Man in the Mirror. For such a happy occasion, I became profoundly sad thinking that Freddy Mercury, Michael Jackson, and David Bowie are all no longer alive, taken way too soon.
The girls sang the 1938 bluegrass novelty song Cups (When I’m Gone), sung around a campfire in Pitch Perfect 2. Then Chamber Bravura, another featured ensemble (CA) sparkled in the old Leslie Gore classic You Don’t Own Me, with its continuing relevance. The solos and beat-boxing were well done. The boys had their turn with Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl.
Then Kelley Jakle, one of the stars of the Pitch Perfect movies, took the stage for an amazing traversal of Tomorrow Never Dies, probably the best thing about that particular James Bond movie (as sung by Sheryl Crow). Ms. Jakle’s range is really wide, from deeper mezzo colors all the way up to “Shirley Bassey” highs. She was backed by the massed choir. The first half ended with a rousing Uptown Funk made popular by Bruno Mars.
For the second half, the choir changed personnel, and the joys of community continued to be celebrated with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Sing a Song, Put on a Happy Face (from Bye Bye Birdie), and the girls’ sensitive singing in Sting’s Fields of Gold. Forte, a featured group from Centerville High School (OH) performed their own original song Life’s So Lyrical. What great talent, they have now produced albums entirely of their own songs. You’re My Best Friend (also by Queen) was dedicated to Mr. Sharon’s mother, recently deceased.
After all this bounty, there was even more, with the advent of Shemesh (Hebrew word for sunshine), a Mexican a cappella group, that elicited the only outburst of unexpected profanity from Mr. Sharon, when referring to anti-Mexican attitudes and policies. The group performed a medley of songs so well-known that they risk being cliché, but in this quartet the vocal virtuosity was splendid. Then we went “north of the border” for the next featured group Soundcrowd, from Canada, which indeed delivered Signed, Sealed, Delivered stylishly.
The creators (as distinct from the cast) of In Transit, an a cappella group in their own right, then performed We Are Home from their show. I have yet to see this Broadway gem, which opened in December of last year, but just on the basis of the two songs done today, I’d go. Chesney Snow, possibly the world’s reigning beat-boxer (vocal percussion) was featured, and added an extended virtuosic solo right after.
The boys took a swagger-y turn with Jessie’s Girl. Then Mr. Sharon himself escorted us through his version of Gershwin’s Summertime, complete with his amazing imitation of a muted trumpet. The afternoon finished with the other half of the choir coming up through the audience to have just under 500 people singing Time of My Life (Dirty Dancing, also used in The Sing-Off). It was thunderous and exciting. Mr. Sharon finished with his traditional written-in encore The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with audience participation not only encouraged, but demanded. Ovation!