Camp A Cappella spreads harmony through harmony

Two concerts end the weeklong camp

Ensemble at Camp A Cappella

Joe Whatley, a Wright State alumnus and director of Vega at Chaminade-Julienne High School, directing an ensemble at Camp A Cappella.

It’s simply aca-awesome! Nearly 200 teenagers from all over the country are singing their hearts out this week at Camp A Cappella at Wright State University. Anywhere you walked in the Creative Arts Center, you could hear singing — and laughing to boot.

There was harmony in the music and harmony between students as they made friendships and shared their passion for singing without instruments.

Brody McDonald, who directs the a cappella ensemble ETHOS at Wright State, and Deke Sharon, vocal producer of “The Sing-Off” TV show, organized this unique contemporary a cappella camp on Wright State’s campus. The camp’s faculty included music educators, choral directors, successful composers and arrangers and award-winning singers from across the country, including the a cappella group Home Free.

Brody McDonald

Brody McDonald, director of Wright State’s ETHOS ensemble, organized Camp A Cappella at Wright State.

“What I love about this camp is we have a whole range of talents, all the way from 13-year-olds to collegiate-level people,” McDonald said. “As a music education institution, we are going to take you as you are and help you get to your next best self.”

McDonald also directs Kettering Fairmont High School’s Eleventh Hour, the first high school group to perform on “The Sing-Off.” As founder and vice president of the A Cappella Education Association and author of “A Cappella Pop: A Complete Guide to Contemporary A Cappella Singing,” he’s the perfect person to lead this camp. He is an experienced barbershopper with international experience.

Heralded as “The father of contemporary a cappella,” Sharon produces “The Sing-Off” worldwide and was arranger, on-site music director and vocal producer for Universal’s “Pitch Perfect.”

At Camp A Cappella, campers had the opportunity to sing in a choir of 200. “That’s very rare, let alone ‘aca people’ from all around the country,” McDonald noted. “How cool is that? I’m standing next to a guy from the other coast and we’re singing together.” Half the campers are from outside Ohio.

They also sing in small group ensembles, designed to mimic what happens on “The Sing Off.”

Ensemble at Camp A Cappella

Alex Phan, director of choral activities for the North Olmsted School District, leading an ensemble.

“When we do our final show, they’ll be on stage and they’ll have lights, they’ll have choreography and hand-held microphones” McDonald said.

And unique to this camp, singers got to choose two “aca-majors,” such as arranging music, sound, choreography, video editing and audio recording.

Camp culminates with two concerts

Home Free, “Sing-Off” season four winner, and Kettering Fairmont High School’s Eleventh Hour will perform Friday, June 27, at 8 p.m. at Wright State’s Apollo Room in the Student Union.

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The public is also invited to a free concert Saturday, June 28, at noon in the Apollo Room, where 10 ensembles and and Wright State’s ETHOS will perform what they learned at Camp A Cappella this week.

The a cappella singing movement may be taking the country by storm, thanks to the popularity of “The Sing-Off” and “Pitch Perfect,” but McDonald says it isn’t really new.

“A cappella music has always been around and will always be around, it’s just been wrapped up in different costumes or different styles,” he said. “Humans want to express themselves, so there has always been a group of people somewhere singing together,” including madrigals, street corner doo-wop, vocal jazz groups and barbershop quartets.

“Contemporary a cappella is just this generation’s version of singing popular music together,” he said.

McDonald called it a rebellion against the over-production of today’s music. “With a cappella, all you’re hearing are human voices and we all love human voices,” he said. “It’s the whole God’s instrument thing.”

Wright State music students

From left: Wright State music students Sara Lefeld, Alex Lindon and Monique Cooper helped with the camp.

Monique Cooper, Wright State music student and member of ETHOS, agrees.

“I love the intimacy and connectedness,” she said. “There’s no instrumentation behind you to distract. You have to be really engaged in what you’re doing to keep the audience involved and enthralled.”

She’s one of several Wright State music students who are pitching in as camp staff.

“They’re getting the full definition of music . . . what it feels like, what it looks like, what it sounds like,” said Sara Lefeld, a member of ETHOS who is studying vocal performance and occupational therapy at Wright State. “It’s incorporating all your senses.”

Alex Lindon, a music education major and camp staff member, said this camp is unique because it also offers classes such as arranging music, a personal interest of his.

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