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.