News Column

Acappella takes over the Miami Valley

November 2, 2013


Nov. 02--The acappella craze continues and it's nowhere more evident than in the Miami Valley where three sold-out concerts are slated for next weekend.

Acappella music, which ranges in genre from rock to jazz, is sung without instruments. It really began to take off locally after Kettering Fairmont High School's "Eleventh Hour" appeared on NBC television's "The Sing-Off" in 2009.

"This is a huge acappella weekend for Dayton with three shows coming at the same time," says Brody McDonald, the Fairmont High School vocal music director responsible for initiating the school's popular music program 12 years ago.

The nation's top male acappella group -- Straight No Chaser -- will appear at the Schuster Center on Friday, Nov. 8, as part of the downtown Dayton venue's year-long 10th anniversary celebration.

Pentatonix and Arora, two mixed groups from Los Angeles, will take the stage as part of the Kettering Music Department's National High School A Cappella Festival.

Eleventh Hour and Fusion, Fairmont's well-known groups, will be the opening acts for the Saturday night Pentatonix show at Fairmont's Trent Arena. Arora will perform on Friday night, along with eight of the top groups attending the festival.

So what makes acappella such a phenomenon?

"I think acappella is really popular because the human voice is nature's instrument and has always been very pleasing to folks," says McDonald, who coordinates the annual festival. "There's a little piece inside of us that yearns to hear things that are very natural and very musical."

He says acappella music has always had its fans.

"I think acapella has been building for a long time, it's one of those overnight sensations that's been years in the making," he says. "In Tin Pan Alley days you had quartets, over the years there've been popular groups like The Four Freshmen and the Andrews Sisters, and there were times when barbershop and vocal jazz were big."

These days, he believes, audiences find it refreshing to hear music that isn't "auto-tuned."

"It's a pleasant change from what we hear on the radio every day," says McDonald. "Everything you hear on the radio is incredibly produced and electronic."

The singers love it, too.

"There is nothing on earth that resonates as well with peoples' emotions as human voices ringing together in sweet harmonies," says Libby Groll, a junior at Fairmont. "I cannot imagine a better way to spend my time than singing and stimulating an audience with my best friends.

So who is coming to Dayton?

-- Straight No Chaser (SNC) is the nation's hottest group at the moment and traces its roots to Indiana University where its original 10 members were students. The group boasts more than 50 million views on YouTube, and has had success with holiday releases as well as "With a Twist" and "Under the Influence."

-- McDonald dubs Pentatonix "an international sensation," with performances in cities from Milan and London to Paris and Anchorage. He was excited when the group accepted his invitation to headline at Saturday night's community concert.

The Pentatonix YouTube channel (PTXOfficial) has more than 126 million views and 1.5 million subscribers, won Season 3 of NBC's "The Sing-Off" and performed at the American Music Awards in 2012 (you can check it out at or on YouTube).

"This was a great chance to promote the genre and their group because this area is known to have a great fan base for pop acappella music," says McDonald who jokes that the group also knew that "Kettering is so much better than Anchorage."

-- Arora has performed to a full house at at Fairmont three times in the past and McDonald says they are especially great with the students. "They're basically evangelists for this type of music," he says.

About the festival

When the Kettering Music Department's National High School Acappella Festival began six years ago five schools signed up to participate. Next weekend, 900 students from 55 schools in eight states will be making their way to the Miami Valley. According to McDonald, this is the first time the the concerts have been sold out weeks in advance.

On Saturday students will take part in a full day of clinics, master classes and evaluations by some of the top acappella performers, directors and arrangers in the country.

Those who've observed the wonders of acappella singing say it's not just about the music.

"While acappella is not a sport, I believe it is a team -- each member offers their own voice and style for one unique sound," observes Colleen Lampton-Brill, whose son, Sam, is the beat-boxer (drum set) for Fairmont's Eleventh Hour. "It's so much more than singing -- it builds self confidence, generates creativity, responsibility, and is an awesome outlet for positive self-expression."

Sam is her second child in Fairmont's acappella program. Her daughter, Holly, was also involved and recently joined a new accapella group at the University of Dayton.

"During her time at Fairmont, I literally watched her grow from an awkward, shy little girl to this force that could stand center stage as the lead in a musical or a soloist in her acappella group and belt in front of an audience of hundreds!"

Fairmont student A.J. Breslin, who performs with Eleventh Hour, says acappella is a way of taking modern music back to its roots by converting all of the parts of the song to purely vocals. He's looking forward to next weekend.

"This event brings together so many talented people that are all celebrating their love of this art together," A.J. says. "I've made so many friends at the previous a cappella festivals and I'm excited to see what these friends have accomplished since last year.


(c)2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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