A cappella used to be the kind of music you’d hear from a barbershop quartet.
But what you’ll hear Sunday, Nov. 20, at Centennial Hall is not your granddad’s barbershop.
When Vocalosity — the new a cappella ensemble created by “Pitch Perfect” music director and arranger Deke Sharon — hits the stage with the “ACA-Perfect Concert Experience,” the group will demonstrate just how versatile the human voice can be unencumbered by instrumentation.
“When people hear vocal harmony in some very powerful ways it reminds them that we are all in this together,” Sharon said last week, calling from a Broadway theater in New York where he is preparing the first-ever a cappella musical.
Sharon, who arranged the music for “Pitch Perfect,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Pitch Perfect 3,” set to come out next year, assembled a cast of 10 vocalists hailing from several TV vocal competitions including “The Sing Off” and “The Voice” as well as from Broadway. The troupe performs what Sharon describes as a history lesson of a cappella going back to Gregorian chants.
And he does it with a medley of Beatles songs: “Strawberry Fields” sung to a 1000 AD Gregorian chant; “Ticket To Ride” as a 1600s madrigal; “Yellow Submarine” as a 1700s Sea Shanty; and “Oh Darlin’ ” set to a doo-wop melody from the 1950s.
Sharon, who has arranged more than 2,000 contemporary songs for a cappella voice, then switches gears to Motown, stringing together a medley of popular hooks to create a love song. Musical theater? How about “Sound of Music” told as “West Side Story”? Add in some Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande and other popular artists, and you’ve got an afternoon of music that no doubt will have the audience singing along.
“You never know next what’s going to happen with the show,” said Sharon, who decided back in college nearly three decades ago that he would make a cappella his life and expand its place in popular culture.
“I told everyone, ‘I’m going to make a career out of this. I’m going to create festivals and networks and societies and publishing companies and albums and compilations,’ ” recalled the father of two. “And people were like, ‘You’re crazy.’ In fact my high school choir teacher told people, ‘He wants to create a tiddlywinks society and tiddlywink festival. The kid’s nuts.’ ”
To say he has succeeded is arguably an understatement:
- “Pitch Perfect” and the sequel grossed a combined $400 million-plus at the box office.
- A cappella talent contests have sprung up nationwide including the NBC reality show “The Sing Off,” which Sharon produced for five seasons from 2009 to 2014.
- In addition to his 2,000-plus pop songs arranged for a cappella, Sharon has dozens if not hundreds more in the works.
“I know this is wonderful and powerful, and I knew that if only people knew about it, it would grow,” he reflected, adding that his high school choir director eventually called him and apologized for not having faith.
Vocalosity is a diverse mix of vocalists of every shape, color, vocal style and ethnicity.
“I want 10 completely different singers from around the world. I want them to look and sound like the United Colors of Benetton,” Sharon said. “I want them to be as diverse as can possibly be in their size and their shape and their background and their race and their religion and everything.”
Sharon said the diversity allows the group to change its personality and dynamic with nearly every song.
“Each time we sing a different song and a different person steps forward, the sound and the style of the group can change, which makes for a far more dynamic performing arts show,” he said.