At just 50 years of age, Deke Sharon is often referred to as “the father of contemporary a cappella.” He’s produced numerous performances and television shows, including NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” and worked on the “Pitch Perfect” juggernaut.
On March 25, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) hosted Total Vocal with Deke Sharon, his fourth annual presentation celebrating contemporary a cappella with choirs and individual singers from all over the globe. Performers included guest artists from “Pitch Perfect,” Broadway, “The Sing-Off” and the Chesapeake High School a cappella group, Evolve.
There is no doubt that the Chesapeake singers are amazing, but how did they land the coveted spot on the Lincoln Center bill with Sharon, who is hailed as the pioneer of the modern day a cappella sound?
“The administrators of the DCINY Total Vocal actually saw a video of Evolve performing here at Chesapeake on YouTube and reached out to us from there,” said Michael Brisentine, choral director and pianist in Chesapeake High School’s vocal music department. “We were excited about being approached because the video was from our first two months of being a group. We’d also worked with Deke before, and that may have had something to do with it!”
Once the group members arrived in New York, they rehearsed on Friday, March 23, from 12:30pm to 6:00pm, and again on Saturday, March 24, from 8:30am to 12:30pm. Evolve sang through all of their music with the entire choir.
Alissa Weeks, an Evolve member, said Sharon offered helpful tips throughout Total Vocal.
“Rehearsals were fun and full of energy,” Weeks said. “We all had a great time and we felt comfortable with the music. Deke had calm and relaxed rehearsals, while still making sure the music sounded great and we knew the arrangements.”
On Saturday, Evolve spent an hour with Matt Sallee, the new bass vocalist for Pentatonix, a Grammy Award-winning a cappella group from Texas.
“[Matt] was high energy and really fun to work with,” Bristentine said. “Deke was great to work with and helped us to have a maximum amount of fun and connection to the music.”
Evolve selected “Mercy” by Duffy as their song to perform.
“We needed to pick a song from Deke’s repertoire to perform, and it was such a jammer that we decided we wanted to give it a whirl,” Brisentine said. “I was also aware we had a handful of potential soloists for the song, and as that’s an extremely important aspect, we figured it was a safe pick. We knew that Deke liked upbeat bumpers, so we thought it would be best.”
Evolve’s Alexis Andrew added, “We are a group of 16 fun-loving, goofy kids. When picking a song, we knew something that would require high energy would be the best for us. When we listened to ‘Mercy’ the first time, we all were grooving in our chairs as we listened and knew this was the one.”
Brisentine added that Sallee had complimentary words for Evolve regarding their solo “Mercy” performance and throughout the rehearsal process. “He just wanted to make sure we gave it our all because we sounded awesome,” Brisentine said.
The group also emphasized the difficulty of singing a cappella. Because the music is sung without any instruments, performers are dependent on their voices and bodies to keep a beat and stay in the same key, Brisentine said.
“A cappella singing is a complex style of music,” Andrew added. “We are singing all parts and creating all instrumental elements. This requires us to be constantly in sync with one another. Getting to work with Deke, we were able to get to work with the music in a different way than we would with our own director. It gave us a different perspective on the way we preview a piece of music.”
Evolve will perform during Chesapeake High School’s May 7 choral spring concert, and the Evolve concert will be held May 12 in the CHS auditorium at 7:00pm. Evolve will host Faux Paz from University of Maryland, an award-winning a cappella group, and CHS Dance Company for a collaborative performance. Tickets are $10.
Evolve members include Alexis Andrew (senior); Emmalie Burrall (senior); Jake Brannon (senior); Valerie Casey (junior); Samantha Caulkins (senior); Timothy Edwards (junior); Elisabeth Engelmeyer (senior); Laura Fisk (junior); Mason Herndon (junior); Delaney Mavica (sophomore); Kurtis Reichert (senior); Bryan Sachs (senior); Abigail Shakan (junior); Chris Smith (sophomore); Alissa Weeks (senior); and Cameron Wolfe (senior).
Going forward, Evolve will remember Sharon’s advice to practice how they perform.
“Practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent,” Brisentine said. “If we don't practice at 100 percent every single time, who knows what will happen onstage. We may not be used to being so high-energy and may mess up our part, or an entrance, or a countless number of things. It was a nice reminder to always give it your all, even during low-stakes situations.”
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