There’s nothing like kicking off your summer break with an outdoor concert. In fact, how about a concert of a cappella music in an outdoor pavilion? Does this sound too good to be true? Not for me and a few thousand other spectators who recently saw Straight No Chaser perform in Kettering, Ohio at the Fraze Pavillion on June 5, 2010. A cappella music has been climbing up the charts thanks to outlets like YouTube and shows like “Glee” and “The Sing-off.” To me, there’s nothing better than a summer breeze and outdoor music from this up and coming phenomenon. I hope that I don’t find myself waking up from this dream anytime soon.
Five years ago, I would never have imagined going to see an a cappella concert during the summer scene. I was going to Dave Matthews Band concerts to enjoy my summer music. I will be honest and admit that I was a little skeptical at first about listening to a cappella music outside, but I was pleasantly surprised. I thought that in a big outdoor amphitheater that the quality of the sound would be lost and you would lose some of the interaction, but that was not the case. The sound was fantastic, and if I closed my eyes, it felt like I was riding in my car with the windows down feeling the breeze and listening to a Straight No Chaser CD in my car because the quality of sound was so good.
When you’re studying to be a choral music teacher in college, one of the big things you learn is the importance of the order of music that you will perform at your concerts. You typically want to start out with music that is a little upbeat and going to catch your audience’s attention. Second, you can slow down the pace and really show off the voices and delve more into the musical intricacies. Third, you typically want to end with a bang to close out the performance. Let’s talk about how Straight No Chaser did with this formula.
Let’s go ahead and put a check by the first area of our formula. The show definitely started with upbeat music to catch the audience’s attention. They began with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and yes, they did deliver on the first number. It was exciting and got the audience pumped up and ready for a great concert. After that, they sang “Joy to the World” and then a medley featuring “I’m Yours” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
In the second category, they deserve a check as well. Overall, I would say the concert was very upbeat and musical, but they were able to slow things down on a few numbers and really showcase their musical talents. Two of the slower songs that exemplify this were “Till There Was You” from The Music Man and “All My Life.” Apparently, “All My Life” was an original song written by Dan Ponce that he once used onstage to propose.
Let’s put a third and final check in the category of ending with a bang. The last song of the set was a powerful rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which showcased the huge sound that the group can produce and was an emotionally charged performance. To the delight of the audience, the group returned to the stage for an encore with a performance of “Africa”. On both of the group’s holiday albums, you can hear a live and studio version of the piece that made them famous, “The 12 Days of Christmas”, with a twist of “Africa” thrown in. “Africa” was definitely an appropriate end to the show and as a result, the concert definitely ended on a high note.
Each song throughout the show was sung very well in tune. Even in the open air environment and the very humid, hot weather, the group was able to stay on top of the pitch and that was impressive. The set list was a well-balanced mix of older tunes like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “How Deep Is Your Love” and newer tunes like “Wonderwall.” To me, the highlights of the concert were definitely those songs that are a mixture of 2 different songs. These songs make you appreciate the creativity of the arranger and the talent of the group. Two highlights of these “mixed” songs were “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Billie Jean” with “Poison.” You never knew what additional song the group was going to throw in extra when they began a song and that kept the concert very interesting.
The guys made the entire concert very interactive with the audience by taking turns interjecting stories and talking to the audience between songs and encouraging audience participation, like when they got the audience singing the theme song from “Cheers.” Jerome Collins sort of “stole the show” with his hilarious commentaries and energetic dance moves. The group performed what I consider the perfect balance of choreography. Just enough to keep it interesting and provide some comedic relief at times, but not so much that it distracted from the music itself.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance and would certainly go out of my way to see Straight No Chaser perform again. I would also encourage anyone to see an a cappella performance outdoors. If it is anything like this one, you won’t be disappointed!
About the author:
Ben Spalding is the head Choral Director at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio. At Centerville, Ben directs all of the choirs and the a cappella group Forte. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Kentucky. Ben’s a cappella roots go back to college, when he was a member of the University of Kentucky AcoUstiKats and a semi-professional group called 5 by Tuesday. His love for music goes as far back as elementary school and music has and always will be a major driving force in his life.