« 22nd Annual Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals line up | Main | Swingles reunite »

April 13, 2006

Champions of harmony

South Lyon Herald (MI):

Elmo Thumm has got the kind of fans that drive hundreds of miles just to hear them sing. When the South Lyon-based a cappella group of five men competed in Chicago several weeks ago, one local family followed them all the way out. "A capella music has some of the most devoted, crazy fans," said Thummster Greg Vaden.

And with Elmo Thumm, fans get the innovative, interesting sound that they have come to expect out of contemporary a capella. The group actually won the entire competition, making them the Midwest champions of the "Harmony Sweepstakes." They've been finalists in the past, but have never beaten out every ensemble in five neighboring states. Next they'll travel to California for the national competition. Will fans come along? Maybe.

But a little closer to home, Elmo Thumm will perform their award winning tunes at 9 p.m. April 22 at the South Lyon Theater. They'll showcase Monkees hit "Last Train to Clarksville" that just won an award for best arrangement. And they'll be singing a lot of other crowd favorites from the 70s and 80s, plus some contemporary songs. There will be new arrangements of songs by Huey Lewis and Shooting Star plus oldies like "Lion Sleeps Tonight." "We try to do a real mix to appeal to a broad audience," said Vaden. "We take songs people already enjoy and recreate them with our voices." And the results are pretty spectacular. The songs are filled with energy and blend subtle harmonies with catchy rhythms. There's no musical instruments - just hand held percussion.

The Thumms have actually invented a new percussion instrument called the "Thummstick." It's like a small drum on a long stick that taps on the floor for a sound kind of like a drum set with snare, cymbal and bass drum. They're the only group with a Thummstick so some people actually recognize the group by the drum. But going without guitars and keyboards doesn't subtract from the sound. Without all the "distraction" of instruments what's left is a wholly pure sound. If all instruments are made to mimic the beauty of the human voice, the sound of Elmo Thumm is what other bands are striving for. "It eliminates some of the clutter," explained Vaden. "Some people listening to bands can't understand the words. It's easier for us to tell a story and get our message across to the audience because those other sounds don't get in the way."

The group has been singing together for eight years. Lead singers Ed Pendleton and Jason Miller are both from South Lyon. Paul Ellinger lives in Canton. Milford residents Adam Westmoreland and Vaden compose most of the arrangements. Many folks have seen these guys perform at festivals and concerts with a variety of groups since the 1980s. They've sung in nationally renowned ensembles like the Gold Company and Four Neat Guys.

The men sing together only part-time. They spend most of their time supporting their families with jobs like at-home dad, teacher, real estate broker and insurance salesman. But they are drawn together by a love for music and a passion for singing. Even through the ups and downs of life, Elmo Thumm sticks together - for the friendship - but mostly for the music. "We love to sing and harmonize together," Vaden said. "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Together, we're good."

Posted by acapnews at April 13, 2006 10:14 PM