By Madeleine Wattenbarger
Over the course of a school year, the stage of Germantown Friend School’s Loeb Performing Arts Center bears the weight of many a musician. Yet no event is so highly anticipated as A Cappella Fest, the annual showcase of close-harmony groups from around the area, headed by the school’s own GFS A Cappella.
Past performers at Fest have included Bobby McFerrin, Penn’s Dischord A Cappella and local group the Tonics. This year’s lineup included three high-school groups in addition to GFS—Springside’s Laurelai, Chestnut Hill Academy’s The Hilltones and Penn Charter’s Quaker’s Dozen—as well as two collegiate ensembles, the Skidmore Sonneteers and Penn’s Counterparts.
On Saturday, February 5, students, parents, teachers and friends filled the auditorium beginning about an hour before the show’s 8:00 p.m. start. Last year, A Cappella Fest sold out in a record six hours, and while this year’s addition of a Friday show may have calmed the usual frenzy for tickets, it didn’t lessen the turn-out: The room was packed.
Each group brought their own personality to the stage. Some performers snapped their fingers; other groups wielded glow sticks. While Penn Charter’s Quaker’s Dozen tended towards ironic humor, their dance moves a playful wink-nudge to the audience, the Skidmore Sonneteers opted for unassuming sweetness.
There were a few awkward moments. When Springside’s Laurelai began their cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” GFS students, aware that their school’s repertoire included the same song, nudged their neighbors quizzically. Both groups had distinctive takes on the ballad, however, and Springside’s delicate rendition contrasted with the vigor of GFS’s.
Penn’s Counterparts dealt with a similar coincidence by switching out a previously performed song. It was anyone’s guess, though, which piece they’d switched in last minute; all were stunningly polished. Eileen Cella sang the solo in a fiercely soulful version of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cry Me A River.” And the group’s cover of Jamie Cullum’s “I’m All Over It” showcased the talent of GFS graduate Joey Wallerstein ’09. Skidmore’s Sonneteers also featured two GFS alumni, Emma Case ’07 and Emily Soffa ’09, who sang together for Imogen Heap’s “Earth.” Their arrangement of Heap’s “Hide and Seek” replaced the song’s trademark eerie electronic sound with fresh, understated harmonies. Most impressive was the soloist for Jill Scott’s “It’s Love,” Lilly Merat.
While the Sonneteers featured the only female beat boxer, Penn Charter won the award for most creative use of beat boxing. They took on the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and in the middle broke it down with beat boxing and MTV-style moves.
GFS A Cappella’s choreography was both composed and hilarious: They started their set with Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” which showcased senior Ian McClelland’s comical hip-thrusting. Equally amusing was Charlie McClelland and Thomas Case, both class of ’11, rapping their way through the Flight of the Conchords’ “Tears of a Rapper.” The group had their sophisticated moments, too. Senior Lauren Ballester’s solo on “Valerie,” originally by Amy Winehouse, stood out as one of the most energetic and polished performances of the evening.
Chestnut Hill Academy’s Hilltones had their own moments of humor, particularly in their finger-snapping rendition of “Moondance,” the bluesy Van Morrison hit. The three soloists, seniors Tate Sager, Samuel Lane and Alec Rankin, were equally goofy and charismatic, and the group consistently charming.
While it’s tough to rival the prestige of some of A Cappella Fest’s past performers, this year’s singers outdid themselves in energy, talent and enthusiasm, delivering a night of soulful singing and lively entertainment.