HomeLife's So Lyrical: Forte's Ambitious Originals Project

ThomasMCaruso's picture

Forte.  Loud.  Strong.  Able.  Forte.

At Centerville (OH) High School, Ben Spalding has built an immensely popular, overly talented high school contemporary a cappella group... in 2 years.  Forte has become more than a musical notation for us.  It's become instant recognition of a trail blazing group that has set its own bar high and still outperforms it.

Among their many accomplishments, such as releasing a CD in their first year and placing 2nd in ICHSA Finals, Forte has once again gone above and beyond.  However, the group doesn't see it as above and beyond, but more of exemplifying who they are.

Ben Spalding arrived at Centerville High School 2 years ago and took over an 18 member accompanied jazz choir who called themselves "Forte". The group had 8 men and 10 women.  The school of 3000 students had only 71 in the choral program - only 15 were male.  To spark the interest in music and singing, Ben made the bold decision to transform Forte into a contemporary a cappella choir.  The first performance for Forte under Ben's direction was a coffeehouse concert which featured the original song "Never Alone" written by group member Kendra Huhta.  This was Ben's first exposure to student songwriting and it made such an impression that "Never Alone" landed as the only accompanied track on Forte's first album.

Seeing how inspired his students were by writing their own originals, Ben decided to make it more of a requirement to have songwriting experience on any instrument including the voice.  The following year, more kids auditioned for Forte than there were total in the entire choral program the previous year.  Ben decided that he needed a spark to help prepare Forte for this year's ICHSA.  Enter Christopher Diaz.  While Christopher spent a weekend with Forte going over their ICHSA set, he was able to hear a bunch of original songs by the students.  It was in that weekend that he brought up the interest and possibility of co-producing an all-originals album.  Not a week had gone by after Christopher's departure when a Kickstarter campaign had started to fund the pending album.  With Christopher Diaz backing the idea of a Forte album of all student originals, Ben said "there was no way I was going to pass up on the opportunity"!

As the Kickstarter campaign drew to a close and the financial backing was most certainly present and accounted for, it was now time to look towards the transfer from instrumental original to a cappella arrangement.  Of course, the best in the business were the first to come to mind and when told about the project who could refuse the opportunity?  Names such as Christopher Diaz, Ed Boyer, Robert Dietz, Nick Girard, Ben Bram and of course Deke Sharon were thrown on the table.  Each one of them (and more) answered the call.

The songs you'll hear on "Life's So Lyrical" are all incredibly thoughtful. Normal high school themes such as love and heartbreak make appearances.  However, other more abstract-themed titles such as "My Hat is Awesome" stake their claim on the album as well.  In speaking with some of the members of Forte, it was very clear that their songwriting abilities were rooted within their passion for the music itself.  Some members such as Caroline Glynn draw from deep emotion and reflection in their passions.  Her song "Before I Met You" was described to me as "loving something that's really bad for you, and realizing that it keeps messing up your life, but continuing to be attached to it regardless".  Other members share the same deep thought and reflection such as Chris Jobe and Micaela McCall's "Mannequin".  Chris described it as an open metaphor of a "fake" person: "Both are vain, plastic, and there is always a surface/glass between you and that fake person/mannequin".

In speaking with Ben and the member of Forte, the word passion kept arising.  It's quite clear that everyone within the group feeds off of each others' love for what they do.  The result is spectacular music-making.  How lucky they are to be in a group where there's such a dynamic.  How lucky are we as a community to have a group like that as part of us.

To give Ben the last words, "On a final note, I really need to thank the people in the a cappella community that give their heart and soul to help groups and people succeed on a daily basis.  Deke Sharon, Nick Girard, Christopher Diaz, Robert Dietz, Carl Taylor, and John Gentry have been absolutely essential in helping Forte grow with the originals CD and as a group.  They are never too busy for my questions and I can't say thank you enough. Forte wouldn't be the same without them."

"Life's So Lyrical" will be available October 25, with a CD release concert on that same day: http://www.centervillechoirs.org/cd-release-concert.html

About the writer:
I’ve been involved in a cappella for over 11 years now. I started singing contemporary a cappella back in high school and went on to finish forming and direct the all male Ursinus College Bearitones from 2005-2009. In addition to being a CASA member, I'm also a CAL MD (“Faux Pas” forming out of Princeton, NJ), and a CARA Judge. I own my own business (ACappellaPsych) that provides the standard services of arrangements and coaching as well as our newest service of total project production/consultation. My website also hosts my blog which is about sharing my perspective of a cappella from a psychological view. No, I’m not talking about laying on a big leather couch and talking through your jins and jodos. I specialize in sound preparation. That’s basically my fancy way of saying that I’m good at helping groups reach their musical potential through both musicianship and mental preparedness. I've recently began exploring the subject of "music vs. linguistics" and how they overlap/effect each other in a cappella.