Photo by Barry Braunstein Photography.
On October 19 and 20, Wellesley audiences were treated to a night of song and celebration in two sold out performances of the a cappella concert, Acatober. Every fall the Wellesley choral students and the four student-run a cappella groups, Acapella Anonymous, Inchordination, Ladies First, and Renegade Acapella perform with a guest artist in a high-energy concert.
“I am thrilled that Acatober has become such a spectacular tradition at Wellesley High School," said choral director Dr. Kevin McDonald. "This is my 15th year at Wellesley High School, and it is extremely satisfying to see how the a cappella program has quadrupled in student participation and become an overall comprehensive program that works on topics of vocal performance, ensemble management, rehearsal techniques, arranging, and much more.”
The special guest this year was the award-winning semi-professional group from Boston, Sound Off A Cappella. Dr. Kevin McDonald met this group two years ago on the WGBH television program, Sing That Thing, when the Wellesley High School select jazz ensemble, The Rice Street Singers, won the high school category; Sound Off was named the adult champion. What impressed Dr McDonald and the Rice Street Singers the most was Sound Off’s “philosophy of celebrating with others through song.” Sound Off went on to be the overall champions of the third season of Sing that Thing.
The Acatober concert was a wonderful opportunity for all of the a cappella groups to connect with each other and the audience as they shared their enthusiasm and talent for music with the community. Each night, the concert opened with Dr. Kevin McDonald directing the entire choral department’s singing of the National Anthem. The choral groups showed their amazing versatility as they sang pieces that varied from the beautifully poetic district audition piece, ”April is in My Mistress' Face" by Thomas Morley, to “Samba” by Daniel Bukvich, an upbeat imitation of a steel drum band combined with fun choreography. The combined group of singers in Concert Choir, Brooks Brothers, and Song Sisters sang “Wanting Memories” by Ysaye Barnwell and Sweet Honey in the Rock. What was truly extraordinary about these combined groups is that they did not have the opportunity to rehearse together until the day of the concert. The Rice Street singers continued with “Stone Soul Picnic” by Darmon Meader and the New York Voices, a beautiful blend of jovial bass and sultry treble followed by “Up the Ladder” by the Nylons with soloists David Kelley, Joseph Fantasia, and Sofia Ko. The audience then enjoyed the Keynotes' hauntingly harmonious rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and the heartfelt yet powerful performance of “Lonesome Road” with soloist Ryan Colone.
Dr. McDonald handed the second half of the program over to the student-run a cappella groups. This portion of the program was led by students Charlie Berger ‘20, Kevin Mahoney ‘19, Lydia Tusler ‘19, and Liliana Sydorenko ‘19, who introduced each group with slam poetry, breakdancing, and skits with clever wordplay. Brian McManimon’s top notch sound and dramatic lighting effects set the perfect tone for each set. Renegade Acapella started their program with gentle swaying and interesting dynamics in “Wouldn’t Mean a Thing Without You” featuring soloist Carter Gill. Renegade’s Eliza Rafter’s rich and soulful voice, along with the group’s fun and groovy choreography, was received with enthusiasm in “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley.
Inchordination was up next and soloist Kay Vanderwroot was confident and emotive as she belted out “Hold On We’re Going Home" by Drake, arranged by music leader Kevin Mahoney. Inchordination ended the set with a sophisticated adaptation of “Bad Bad News” by Leon Bridges, arranged by Katie Scholl, a Wellesley High School alum. Will Cohen-Pratt’s smooth and easy voice, reminiscent of James Taylor, provided the perfect contrast with the brassy harmony of the group.The all-female group, Ladies First, started their set with a dramatic arrangement by Sofía Ko of Madison Beer’s “Say It To My Face." Soloist Lindsay Heffernan rocked the audience with her powerful singing and Rachel Campbell kept the rhythm with her beatboxing. Their second song was “Wings” by Little Mix. Soloists Maria Batlle’s and Sofía Ko’s rich vocals were paired with stomping and transcendent harmonies in this upbeat number.
The final student group, A Cappella Anonymous, had a great blend of voices with notable strong bass in their performance of “Still in Love” by Thirdstory, arranged by Liliana Sydorenko and Lydia Tusler. A Cappella Anonymous proved the depth of their talent by featuring different soloists on the separate nights. “Still in Love” was soloed by Keleyia Rochelle ‘20 (Friday) and Emi Schneider ‘22 (Saturday), along with Nick Sydorenko (‘22) and Jackie Brummette (‘21). Their playful choreography in their second song, “Ain’t it Fun” by Paramore, featured the strong and confident voices of Grace Bida ‘21 (Friday) and Chloe Cohen ‘21 (Saturday).Sound Off Acapella finished Friday and Saturday concerts with two completely different sets of six songs. Group member Eileen O’Hare said that the group “always goes for a big Gospel sound,” and that they always try to bring in some “grit and soul” to their songs. Their talented soloists crooned and belted in dynamic arrangements that were soulful and moving. Friday night’s performance included an innovative arrangement of “I Want It That Way,” which showcased the beautiful blend of the groups’ voices. Jon Lavalley’s beatboxing kept the song upbeat while soloist Eileen O’Hara’s mesmerizing voice gave it a more jazzy feel.
Students were thrilled to see Kate Elmendorf, a former student teacher under Lauren Connors at the middle school, who wowed her former students with her fiery rendition of “In the Name of Love” by Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha. Saturday’s performances included stirring performances of “Rise” by Katy Perry, soloed by Patrick Dennen, and “Circular Road,” originally performed by Heathers, soloed by Megan Kettma and Diana Galeano.
In the words of Lindsay Heffernan, ‘19, one of the Ladies First leaders: “Being a part of a cappella has completely transformed my high school experience. There is nothing more rewarding than coming together with a group of amazing people to create something we’re proud of. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with, and I am so proud that all of our hard work paid off.”