Rockapella - in concert


The founding members of Rockapella consisted of Brown University alumni Sean Altman , Elliott Kerman, Steve Keyes, and David Stix. They had each been in an a cappella group at Brown called High Jinks, but not all at the same time. Having been in High Jinks the longest, Altman was the only connection between the other three members; when they found with each other in New York City following their graduation, they decided to form Rockapella. The band began performing on New York City street corners in 1986 with a hat at their feet and a song repertoire that consisted of a mix of barbershop arrangements and a cappella renditions of classic doo wop pieces that evolved to focus less on oldies and barbershop and more on contemporary rock music. Passers-by began to drop business cards into the hat, and these street corner performances led to private party and club performances around NYC.

Today's popular music has reduced it to a kind of subgenre--sometimes singled out by the label "unplugged," as if it were like taking to a cabin with no running water for a week--but the practice of "a cappella" vocalism (., voices alone without accompaniment) is the heart and soul of singing. Natural as it seems to the ear, it's true virtuosity that enables the vocal quintet Rockapella to hold audiences spellbound. Ever since their street-performing days in late-1980s Manhattan, the group has evolved a style of sweet close harmonies and acoustical illusions all the more impressive for the effortlessness with which they carry it off. That "second-nature" quality of sounding so natural frees Rockapella up to work their charms before an audience, as they do in this recording of a concert given to an enthusiastic crowd in Santa Barbara, California, in December 2000 (also available as a DVD release ). The program includes many songs bearing Rockapella's signature stamp , such as "Zombie Jamboree," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "Pretty Woman," and of course their theme number "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?"--which calls for a classic workout of Jeff Thacher's jaw-dropping (if you will) vocal percussion. There are also examples of the group's devout balladry, such as their cover of "A Change in My Life." It's amusing to observe the effects of individual members--Barry Carl's benthic bass, for example--as they work the crowd. From street-corner barbershop to Carnegie Hall, Rockapella define singing into a variation of breathing, with a flow that's natural and organic. --Thomas May


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