HomeContemporary A Cappella League Spotlight: DeltaCappella

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Most people in Memphis, Tenn. recognize Jay Mednikow’s last name.  He’s the President of J.H. Mednikow & Co., a company that has been selling fine jewelry in Memphis for more than a century. But every Monday night, Jay turns his attention from carats to crescendos. He’s a founding member of DeltaCappella, a contemporary men’s a cappella group based in Memphis.

Jay was involved in a cappella at the college level, singing with the Harvard Din & Tonics as an undergraduate and the Duke Pitchforks while he earned his MBA. He continued to dabble with singing after settling back in Memphis a few years later, but didn’t find many opportunities to sing a cappella.

“No one stayed in a cappella after college,” he said. “A Cappella was something you did in college and didn’t do afterward.”

For the next 16 years, Mednikow poured his energy into his business and his family. But something was missing.

“I just missed contemporary a cappella,” he said.

With a little Googling, Mednikow realized that a cappella had exploded in popularity since he was in college in the ‘80s. He considered starting a group of his own, but wasn’t sure whether his idea would work.

“I let the idea simmer in my mind for probably six months before I did anything about it,” he said.

Mednikow decided to give it a shot in March 2007. He enlisted the help of a couple of friends, and the trio put posters all over Memphis as they sought enthusiastic singers for their first set of auditions. After auditions, Mednikow had a solid group of 12 men, and DeltaCappella was born. With the help of Deke Sharon, DeltaCappella became the first group in the Contemporary A Cappella League.

The lineup has changed since then. Mednikow said one of the biggest challenges from the outset was a mismatch between some people’s expectations and the group’s focus. Some original members weren’t able to make the necessary time commitment. Others were expecting to sing a more classical repertoire. But DeltaCappella was, and is, a contemporary a cappella group.

The group currently has 11 members, a diverse mix of men ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s and representing several ethnic groups and professions.

“It’s a real slice of the Memphis life,” said Thomas “TeKay” King, who joined the group in 2008.

In fact, the group’s signature song is “Walking in Memphis,” King said. The group’s name, DeltaCappella, also reflects regional influences and the laid-back, Southern lifestyle of the Mississippi Delta.

By bringing contemporary a cappella to Memphis, the group is exposing the region to a musical flavor that is underrepresented in the city. “This area has not had a lot of what we’re doing,” King said.

Like Mednikow, King was involved with a cappella groups at his alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill. But King said prior experience in a college a cappella group is not a prerequisite to be in DeltaCappella, and about half the group’s members were not in college a cappella groups. Many group members have experience with musical theater, choral music, barbershop and church music as well.

Toney Walsh III, the group’s youngest member and a recent graduate of Rhodes College, spent two years singing with DeltaCappella and the Woolsocks, a men’s a cappella group from Rhodes, simultaneously.

“It’s definitely a different feel, more professional,” Walsh said of DeltaCappella.

Walsh said he also doesn’t mind getting paid for his work, a change from college a cappella.

“Going into DeltaCappella, I didn’t know I’d be getting paid,” he said. “It makes it sweeter, but I’d do it if it was free.”

Walsh said he was intimidated at first that as the youngest member he wouldn’t fit in. However, the older members have always respected his opinions and suggestions, he said. In fact, his musical tastes are actually not much different from the older members’.

“They’re with it enough to want to sing what’s popular now,” he said. “I don’t think I want to sing anything too groovy for the older guys to understand.”

Walsh said he’s looking for a job in Memphis in hopes of continuing to sing and perform with the group. Considering the performance opportunities the group has snagged in just over two years of existence, that might not be a bad idea.

The group has established itself as a powerful musical presence in the region. Like most a cappella groups, DeltaCappella performs at local benefit concerts, churches and community concerts. But DeltaCappella has also scored some high-profile gigs in Memphis, including opening for two award-winning, world-renowned a cappella groups, Take 6 and Naturally 7.

DeltaCappella first crossed paths with Naturally 7 in November 2007 at the So Jam a cappella festival. A few months later, Mednikow heard that the group would be in Memphis. When he checked the group’s tour schedule, he found that they had a concert in Memphis and another in Nashville three days later. Mednikow contacted Naturally 7, asking if they wanted to hang out and do a performance with DeltaCappella during that three-day span. They agreed, and in March 2008, DeltaCappella opened for Naturally 7 at Memphis’s Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center.

“The stars aligned, so to speak,” Mednikow said.

The opportunity to sing with Take 6 came just a few months later, while Mednikow was making plans for the first Contemporary A Cappella League conference, to be held in Memphis. He needed a headline act and thought Take 6, based in Nashville, would be the perfect fit.

“It was kind of a pipe dream, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask them,” he said.

The group agreed, and in August 2008, DeltaCappella performed at the Orpheum Theatre with Take 6. They also had a master class, where Take 6 demonstrated the techniques they use to layer their voices and create smooth harmonies.

“It was pretty amazing,” King said, for whom the Take 6 show was his first performance with DeltaCappella.

Dr. Sri Naidu, a Memphis ear, nose and throat doctor, was in the audience at DeltaCappella’s performance with Take 6.

It had been more than 10 years since Naidu sang in the UC Men’s Octet at UC-Berkeley, and he missed being involved an a cappella group. Naidu didn’t just miss singing—he missed the feeling that comes from being in a group of people who love singing and come together to make great music.

“That’s what really gives you that rush,” he said.

Now a member of DeltaCappella—he auditioned for the group at its 2009 auditions—Naidu said that void has been filled.

As a professional with a busy schedule, sometimes it’s tough for Naidu to balance work, family, and a cappella. In fact, one of the group’s biggest challenges is that unlike most college a cappella singers, the men of DeltaCappella have jobs and families. A Cappella is a big part of their lives, but it’s not the only obligation commanding their time and focus.

However, it certainly brings new opportunities into their lives.

Last May, the group had a chance to show its stuff miles from Memphis, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where they served as live entertainment at a trade show for Rebecca Jewelry. For most, it was their first trip to Sin City.

“Some of my guys had never traveled that far from home,” Mednikow said.

Both Walsh and King said the trade show was their favorite performance yet with DeltaCappella.  Walsh said the crowd was the most gracious he had ever experienced at a DeltaCappella performance. King said the experience helped the group grow.

“We got sort of treated like rock stars,” he said. “There were moments the group clicked as we hadn’t before.”

While the members of DeltaCappella practice tirelessly so their harmonies jell on stage, they find they click as friends, too, Naidu said. The members of DeltaCappella hang out, go out to eat together, and enjoy each others’ company.

“That’s part of the camaraderie of a cappella,” Naidu said.

When Mednikow started DeltaCappella, he knew he would make a cappella music. He knew he would make friends. But he didn’t predict the time and energy he would devote to the group, nor the extent of the rewards his efforts would reap.

“It has been more work than I anticipated, and it has also been more rewarding than I anticipated,” he said.
 
He is also proof that forty-somethings with families and careers can make time for contemporary a cappella.

“I left college and built a career, and then I had a network of contacts,” he said. “You don’t have to be a twenty-something to do this.”

www.deltacappella.com

More on the Contemporary A Cappella League

-Julie Stewart

About the author:
Julie Stewart has experience singing with choral groups in both high school and college and two a cappella groups, Melismatics and Echoes, at Lehigh University. In high school, Julie was a member of her school's auditioned A Cappella Choir and Madrigal singers. She also represented her high school at District and Region choir festivals and was selected twice to be a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educator's Association All-State Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

Comments

thumbs up to DeltaCappella

DeltaCappella is a fantastic group - and they did a great job putting on the first CAL conference.  Sold me on the idea of joinging the league, that's for sure!  And not only did they open for Take 6 - they shined!

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