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Hosts Griffin Lane and Danielle Pointer, both students at Emerson College, walked on stage at the Cutler Majestic Theatre to a nearly sold-out crowd for WERS’ All A Cappella Live 2012 event. The show featured Boston’s best collegiate a cappella groups from the University of Massachusetts, Brandeis University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston College came to show their best with hopes of winning the title as well as $750. “I haven’t heard quality a cappella in a really long time,” Lane said backstage before the show started. “This should be a fantastic show.”
The judges panel consisted of Christopher Diaz, who has had his arrangements nominated for several Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards and recently joined the music staff of NBC’s The Sing Off as a vocal coach and arranger, Lauren Barreiro, who has founded the all-female sextet Musae and has been an ICCA judge, and Naveed Easton, the current musical director of Emerson’s premiere a cappella group, Noteworthy. The show started off with a performance from local a cappella group Funkin’ A! comprised of seven singers. They sang Mariah Carey’s “You’re So Cold,” Scissor Sisters’ “Take Your Mama Out,” Passion Pit’s “Little Secrets,” and The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”. Poppy, light, and happily moving, “Paperback Writer” had great harmonies for the chorus, which was almost trumped by the fun drum and bass solos that pulled giggles from the audience. “When you’ve got an a cappella group, we show up and it’s go time,” said Joe Pierandozzi. “The instruments are there. It’s the best.”
Lane and Pointer came back on before welcoming back UMass Doo Wop Shop who won in 2011. Before coming on, they all put their hands in like a sports team, count down in French, and then shouted nonsense – a tradition whose start they’re not sure of. “We take the idea of having a really energetic and kind of goofy presence on stage while still keeping a very excellent music sound,” said Geoff Herrmann. “Having that balance is not always the easiest, but we try to push that in both directions.” Their first song, “When a Woman Loves” by R. Kelly, really rose due to the vocalist’s strong solo. The crowd burst out cheering and the judges later noted how his solo was “amazing.” As they went on to perform “Save a Horse” by Big & Rich (with a “goofy” presence on stage), “Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band, and “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, Doo Wop Shop received feedback from the judges about polishing pitches, motions, and interactions with the audience.
Before stepping on stage, Brandeis VoiceMale sang a chord progression warm-up around Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”. So when they entered in their blue button-downs and grins on their faces, it was clear they were ready to have a good time. “It’s a fun goofy warm-up that helps you practice syllables and singing quickly,” said Chase Hiller. The small all-male group paid tribute to the a cappella genre by performing “Fallin’ Over You” by Rockapella as well as a song they wrote themselves, “Ask Myself,” that’s good composition gained it favorable praise from the judges. “Instead of just taking something off the radio, transposing it and turning it into a cappella, we like to come up with something for a cappella on our own,” said Dan Schreiber. Brandeis VoiceMale also did “There Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” by Bill Withers and “Marry Me” by Train. Judges found their tuning and pitch to be somewhat off at points but were incredibly fond of Jason Sugarman, the bass for the group. “It’s so hard to find a good bass sound in groups, so that was great,” said Barreiero.
Heightsmen of Boston College were that exact “traditional New England a cappella group,” as described later by the judges, that sport their Sunday bests alongside charming harmonies. “We have a lot of gags in our songs and it’s great to have the audience laugh along and know everyone’s in on the fun,” said Max Hartman. “Feeding off the energy of the audience makes the performance worth wild,” Michael O’Neill said, too. Once on stage, they quietly started with “Take Me Home Tonight” by Eddie Money before bursting into formal melodies with fun back beats. “Reelin’ In the Years” by Steely Dan, “Come Fly With Me” sung by Frank Sinatra, and “Good Ole A Cappella” all had “beautiful musicality,” said Easton, “but they could have done much more with [the backing vocals] than ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’.” Their cover of “My Girl,” which they pulled a volunteer on stage to sing to, was full of fun moments and gags that cracked the audience up. “I’m talking about Maria,” they all said, sliding the volunteer’s name in as the vocalist took his coat off, got on a knee, and held her hand, later twirling her around. At one point another member even came through to make her his own before they all pushed him back. “There’s a great core sound and you’re so engaged with each other, but I wish you shared that joy and charm with all of us,” Diaz critiqued at the end of their performance, referring to how their positions on stage blocking certain audience members from seeing all the comedic action.
Last to take the stage were Chorallaries of MIT, who spent their warm-up time using weird sounds like “Shmeek,” singing in opera voices, or pretending to have T-Rex arms. They were more than excited to take the stage and chose to combine songs for original takes on popular songs. “Moves Like Jagger / Only Girl in the World” by Maroon 5 and Rihanna was their opener, where their snappy annunciation matched their precise choreography and members walked to the sides one-by-one for quirky dance solos. It didn’t take long for everyone in the theater to notice how much time they put into their routine. The audience cheered loudly, but not nearly as much as they did for their performance of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Emily Wean sung each word with care and strength as the air filled with a sense of magic and wonder that everyone could remember from their childhood. “Choreography is fine,” said Diaz, “but it’s great when it supports what you’re singing.” That’s exactly what theirs did during this song, gently and purposefully. They also sang “Something to Believe In” by Parachute and “Wake Up Everybody / Shine,” a combination of John Legend and the Roots. It seemed whoever was chosen as soloist, their voice could nail key elements of the singer’s voice, like Ricky Richardson’s did of Legend’s.
As the ballots were being counted, Emerson’s own Acappellics Anonymous performed a four-song set comprised of “Feelin’ Good” made famous by Nina Simone, “The Chain” by Ingrid Michaelson, “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse, and “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake. With the help of an audience drumroll, Lane and Pointer announced Chorallarries of MIT as the winner. The group ran onstage and was handed a large check from WERS for $750 – their prize for a wonderful performance – that they’re going to put towards their new CD out next year. The Chorallarries then treated the audience to an encore of their own song called “The Engineer’s Drinking Song” that got everyone laughing in good spirits with lines like “The devil said, ‘Why visit me? You’re been to hell already ‘cause you go to MIT!’” One of the critiques they got from the judges was their lack of volume for such a large group. “There were twenty people on stage but sometimes it sounded like five,” said Diaz. “I wish there was more sound.” But as they sang their engineer song, Chorallarries of MIT showed they do know how to use all twenty voices and will definitely be raising them on their new CD.
Tune into All A Cappella on 88.9 FM on Saturdays and Sundays 2 pm to 5 pm.
All A Cappella Live 2012 is brought to you with sponsorship support from New Bedford Antiques Center: