Posted by Stephen Smith on 03/09 at 12:33 PM
How many a cappella groups claim to be the “sexiest a cappella group in the universe?” How many a cappella groups have harmoniously sung the verse, “They’re climbing in your windows, they’re snatching your people up,” or have artistically explored the question of what tigers dream of when they take a little tiger snooze? The Pennharmonics’ performance last Friday for the SPA’s Noontime Concert Series was the first a cappella group I’ve seen since high school chorus assemblies. I was fully expecting a rigid, polite affair where energy and emotion is sacrificed for the sake of perfect pitch. However, with their modern song choice, stage presence, and vocal skill, the Pennharmonics prove that a fun, energetic, and contemporary a cappella group is actually possible.
The “Tiger Snooze” referenced above alludes to Ed Helms’ solo in the movie The Hangover, while the verse I quoted is from the popular auto-tuned Internet hit, “The Bed Intruder Song.” They ended their show with this viral ditty of Antoine Dodson, leaving the audience of around sixty people laughing. Spring Break loomed hours away at the start of their performance, diminishing the initial turnout. But once their voices filled the HUB, the crowd grew precipitously. The mixture of students, SPA organizers, and parents of Pennharmonic singers were treated to actual pop songs, in addition to hilarious pop culture songs. The first half of their hour-long set was comprised of all pop, starting with Rihanna’s “Disturbia,” and continuing with Sarah Bareilles’ “King of Anything.” They reached back into the mid-90s with Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose,” and even dipped into the country genre with Gloriana’s “Wild at Heart.” The group displayed innovation with their mash-up of “Love the Way you Lie” and “Airplanes,” which blended very well together, both in melodies and in mood.
While it is important to sound good as an a cappella band, it is equally important that the crowd has something to look at during the show. Luckily, the Pennharmonics had stage presence in abundance. They had choreographed moves to some songs, and for others, each singer was given free range to dance. In both cases, they did more than just stand in front of microphones and sing. It was obvious that each singer loved what they did. They had fun with their performance and let their passion for singing come through. Their “uniforms,” consisting of black shirts and shoes with dark blue jeans, portrayed the style of their club: a casual, yet classy, young, high energy a cappella group. The troupe let neither the ears, nor the eyes grow bored—a difficult and necessary goal for any band, but especially for vocal-only performers.
Technically, all the singers were very good, as they should be. An a cappella group is only as good as its weakest link. But what I especially appreciated about them was their ability to produce a full range of sound that adds layers of complexity. Dave Cinque managed the bass-line duties, while the role of drum beat-boxer shifted between Dave Lewis and Michael Murray. The group often sung harmonies and simultaneously layered lines building to nice crescendos towards the ends of songs. However, when they sung all together, like they did in “Coming Home,” the sheer strength and volume produced from their combined vocal output left the HUB a silent void after the echoes died away. As a unit, they performed very well together, creating a seamless sound behind solo singers.
As for the individual singers, they also performed excellently. I thought Brianna Post had the best female voice when she sang, “Kiss from a Rose.” It was soulful, on pitch, and strong. She nailed the vocal solo at the end of the song, and had a very distinct voice that could be plucked out from among her fellow Penns. Erin McCullough also had a strong female voice, taking Rihanna’s part in their “Love the Way you Lie” mash-up, as well as the solo for Mika’s “Happy Ending.” She had a deep vibrato and a nice set of lungs. She propelled her voice by using her entire body. Sometimes it washed out the mic, but it was evident that she could have filled the Sydney Opera House if she had to. Cory O’Brien had the best male voice, in my opinion. It, too, was strong, but had that intangible element of emotion worked into his pitch control that makes a good voice great. He never overdid his parts, but made sure they were not weak either. Kerry Brunner’s unique high vocals for “Sweet Disposition” fit the song perfectly. I also liked Michael Murray’s voice a lot, but it had a tendency to fade towards the end of some songs.
There were several hiccups during the show, including one right in the beginning, when one member showed up late to the show, running up to the stage in the middle of the first song. Luckily, apart from some apologetic smiles, her transition was seamless and it did not interfere with the song. Though they all sang beautifully, there was nobody in the group that rapped well during their “Love the Way you Lie” mash-up. A good rapping voice is very different from a good singing voice, and much harder to define, technically speaking. But while they sang the song very well, the lack of a strong rapping voice hurt the song a bit. During “Kiss from a Rose,” they were forced to restart three times due to an inability to hear a common key. I would attribute this to the poor acoustics of the HUB, which have plagued the last three Noontime performances I’ve reviewed.
All in all, the performance was still full of energy and can cater to a wide niche of music lovers in the State College area. Anyone who loves orchestral music can connect to the group’s musical proficiency, while the casual listener will know at least a few of the songs in their repertoire, no matter what genre the he/she prefers. They have a sense of humor to go along with their high energy, making it hard to leave one of their performances not in a good mood. If you missed them last Friday, fear not—they have a CD release concert coming up in a few weeks on March 19th, as well as an end of the year concert on April 23rd. Go see one or both of the shows. I highly recommend it.
Author: Stephen Smith
Bio: Stephen Smith is currently a senior English major at Penn State. In his free time, he enjoys playing Xbox, drumming, playing his guitar, and writing fiction. His favorite genres include alternative rock, emo, indie, metal, and most anything played acoustically. His favorite bands include Say Anything, Counting Crows, City and Colour, and Daphne Loves Derby.
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