At the end of the third song, I leaned over and told my wife, “I thought we were coming to an acapella concert.” She replied with that incredulous look that she occasionally gives me and said, “They are an acapella group”. Only then did I realize that the orchestra that seemed to be backing up the singers was in fact individual singers making different musical type sounds.
“Straight, No Chasers” is a group of nine men that sing without musical backup. They have been around for 25 years and are widely known for their Christmas repertoire. They started as collegiate friends at Indiana University where our oldest daughter, Catherine, went to graduate school.
Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, went to Washington and Lee University, where one of our favorite events was the acapella singing at the annual Parents’ Weekend. Various student organizations, including fraternities and sororities sang in Lee Chapel. We would arrive two hours before the beginning to get a good seat. The different groups of college kids were delightful.
I love music in a variety of ways. I still own the first three 8-track tapes I ever owned. I have numerous cassettes and 8-track tapes in my collection. Boxes of LP records are still played at our cottage at Compass Lake. I still own literally thousands of pages of sheet music for the piano and organ. Even today, I listen to YouTube videos of a variety of performances.
When I think back over time, I am reminded of those pure voices that soared with high soprano and blended with basses. I think of Martha Nell Spooner, whose descant of “Holy, Holy, Holy” brought tears to the most hardened hearts for generations at First Presbyterian Church of Donalsonville.
I heard the voice of Amy Jones Wells, who I had the pleasure of accompanying on Christmas Eve as she sang “O Holy Night”. It will forever be one of my memories of the season. I treasure the memories of playing the organ in duets with Jeanne Jones and Sarah Ann Keaton as we played the “Hallelujah Chorus” and various other Christmas Classics.
However, at the end of the day, it is the human voice, without any instrument, yet blended with different pitches and sung in harmonies that makes me appreciate the purest sound of all.
I have heard dozens of acapella groups of various talents and styles. They range from barbershop quartets, church choruses, and men’s and women’s ensembles. They all touch your heart and seek your soul.
Yet, occasionally you are honored to hear a group the expands your boundaries. A group of men, without any musical accompaniment, brought a sold-out audience at the Gogue Performing Arts Center to their feet, not once but repeatedly.
These men sang and danced and in doing so, touched the audience deeply, even unexpectedly so. The liveliness grew in the crowd as they embraced the unexpected energy and joy of music, made only by the voices of nine men.
The Gogue Performing Arts Center brings a wide variety of entertainment to its supporters. Who would have thought that perhaps the most popular performance of the year would be the vocal music of nine men? Without instruments. Singing in harmony.
The joy of the evening was unexpectedly simple, embraced by everyone at the sold-out performance. In a hall with perfect acoustics, it was the simple human voice that brought the crowd to its feet.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org