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February 19, 2005

Many voices, one goal, in competition

Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

The singers layered their voices over the lonely lyric, pushing it to the walls and ceiling of their rehearsal room and down the high school hallway, where it rose above even the slapping echo of practicing sprinters' feet. Sending out an S.O.S. I'm sending out an S.O.S. "Stop!" yelled Central Bucks West choir director Joseph Ohrt. Silence.

The 20-member a cappella choir had been leaning on Ohrt's beat-keeping hand claps and a few reminder notes from his piano Wednesday afternoon - crutches they could not use at tomorrow's state-level championship, a step toward the first National Championship of High School A Cappella."Do you hear the internal beat in your head?" Ohrt asked. "It's not rhythmically together, and it's very disturbing." No one even smirked when Ohrt asked them to repeat parts "Message in a Bottle" by the Police over and over. The choir, called Legacy, wanted to master this song as it had the other two it will perform in the contest at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill.

"I'm incredibly stimulated by competition," senior Meredith Beck said during a break. If Legacy's voices please the judges, the group could advance to the Mid-Atlantic Division Championship in April, which could lead to May's inaugural national competition in an art form gaining popularity in the nation's high schools. The surge began about 10 years ago and has picked up in the last five, said Ardene R. Shafer, assistant executive director at the National Association for Music Education, an organization of music teachers.

A cappella has existed as long as people have sung, from the chants of monks to barbershop quartets to Rockapella singing the "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" theme. In Italian, a cappella literally means in the manner of the chapel, but the term has come to mean any singing without instruments. "Most chapels 1,500 years ago didn't have instruments," said Mark Surprenant, executive director of the National Championship of High School A Cappella competition.

The style catching on in high schools is called contemporary a cappella. As the name implies, modern songs are sung. "It's where the kids' interest is right now," Shafer said. Even students who are not usually interested in choir music have responded enthusiastically to Legacy, Beck said. She believes that's because everyone, choir member or not, has sung most of Legacy's songs when they have come on the radio. This is Legacy's first year. Senior and choir president David Butterworth said inspiration came from a visiting a cappella choir.

A cappella singing is challenging because there is no piano to camouflage a missed note, and no percussionists to keep time. But there is sophomore Rob Brinkmann, who makes remarkably drumlike sounds with his mouth and turns his swinging body into a time-marking metronome. "That is a lot of pressure, and it takes a lot of practice, but it is so much fun," said Brinkmann, 15. The National Championship of High School A Cappella was created by Maestro Consulting, a for-profit Michigan company that holds clinics for college and high school singers.

For this first year, choirs across the country sent audition tapes to be chosen for state-level competitions. About 200 choirs responded, and 80 groups, representing 31 states, were chosen for state-level competition. West faces choirs from three other schools tomorrow, and only one is from Pennsylvania, the Notables from the Haverford School. Two of the four will advance to the next round. At Wednesday's rehearsal, Legacy eventually nailed the Police song and ran through its entire show: "Galileo," a song about the astronomer by the Indigo Girls; Sicut cervus, a sacred work written by Palestrina, a contemporary of Galileo's; and "Message in a Bottle." The students chose these songs because all are about everyone having a message to convey. As the last notes faded from Room 62, even Ohrt was satisfied

Posted by acapnews at February 19, 2005 12:01 AM