Port High alum Alex Becker, now a singer with the nationally acclaimed UW-Madison a cappella group Fundamentally Sound, is coming back to his alma mater for a concert
Alex Becker is the first to admit he wasn’t exactly born to sing.
“Back in middle school, I wasn’t the greatest singer,” he said, referring to Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington. “I was just kind of average.”
Yet Becker, a 2013 graduate of Port Washington High School who is currently a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is still singing.
He is one of 16 members of the acclaimed, all-male UW-Madison a cappella group Fundamentally Sound, and next week he will return to his alma mater with his group to perform a Wednesday, Jan. 13, concert that will also feature Port High’s accomplished a cappella group Limited Edition.
The concert will be a homecoming for Becker, an alumnus of Limited Edition, and not far from it for three other members of Fundamentally Sound, whose ranks include four members from Ozaukee County.
“It’s kind of crazy there’s so many guys from Ozaukee County in the group,” Becker said. “We certainly didn’t plan it that way. It just happened.”
Austin Schopbach and Eric Schumacher of Grafton and Zach Zimmerman of Mequon are also members of the group, which they describe as a highlight of their UW-Madison experience despite the demands it puts on their already busy schedules.
“Being part of Fundamentally Sound is really the best thing about college,” Schopbach said.
For Becker, the road to collegiate singing began in middle school, where Ann Berchem, choir director at the time, saw potential in what Becker described as his unrefined voice.
“There must have been something about me that Mrs. Berchem saw,” he said. “She pushed me to do more and more music-related things.”
Port High Vocal Director Dennis Gephart saw the same thing.
“When I got to the high school, Mr. Gephart also pushed me a lot. He encouraged me to try out for Limited Edition and I never looked back,” Becker said.
More than anything, he said, his teachers helped him discover and foster his passion for music.
“I just love the sound of music,” Becker said. “It doesn’t matter what I’m singing. I just need to sing. I feel like I’m not complete if I’m not singing.”
That’s music to Gephart’s ears.
“Very few kids in middle school or even high school are naturally gifted,” he said. “As teachers, you look for the kids who are motivated to learn, who have the work ethic it takes, then you push them.”
Becker also benefitted from the fact Port High was a pioneer in high school a cappella music, which Gephart introduced to the school in 2001. Limited Edition has won the Varsity Vocals International Championship of High School A Cappella Midwest semifinal competitions four times and the international championship once.
“Wherever we went in high school, other groups, even college groups, were like, ‘You guys are so up-and-coming,’” Becker said. “It always felt like Port High was at the forefront of a cappella, which is just huge now.
“It’s really cool to think we made a name for ourselves in a cappella in this little town.”
Gephart said, “When we started, it was a challenge just to find enough groups to have a competition. Now, competitions are turning groups away.”
Becker said remaining involved in music has made his college experience that much more rewarding, not because he dreams of a career in music but simply because he loves it. In that way, he’s not much different than several of his fellow group members.
“A lot of guys in Fundamentally Sound aren’t music majors,” he said. “We’re just a bunch of guys who love singing and have an awful lot of fun doing it.”
Becker is majoring in mechanical engineering.
Schopbach, who graduated from Grafton High School in 2013, is a junior studying biochemistry and German. He plans to become a dentist.
Schumacher graduated from Marquette High School in Milwaukee last year and is studying accounting and history.
“It’s really great how we come from different backgrounds but together we are part of this group that makes some really cool music,” he said. “This is such a great group of guys, and to walk into a school of 40,000 people and be part of something like this right away is amazing.”
Amazing, but also time consuming.
The group, which is managed by students, normally practices six to eight hours a week and performs at least once a week, Becker said.
Fundamentally Sound is a competitive group, so as the International Championship of College A Cappella nears, the practice schedule will become even more aggressive.
But first, the group is going on tour as it does annually over the winter break. That tour will bring Fundamentally Sound to Port as well as other communities around the state.
“It’s going to be really fun performing at home with Limited Edition,” Becker said.
It will also give him a chance to perform on the same stage with his brother Nick, a member of Limited Edition.
Fundamentally Sound members said that despite the time commitment, being a member of Fundamentally Sound is an essential part of their busy routines.
“After a long day of studying and working, it’s great to be able to get together with a group of guys who love to do the same thing you do,” Becker said. “It’s really just such a blast.”
Fundamentally Sound and Limited Edition will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, in the Port High auditorium at 427 W. Jackson Street.
Also performing will be Armonia, Port High’s new extracurricular a cappella group.
The concert is free, but donations to benefit a local charity are requested.
Port Washington High School graduate Alex Becker (front) will return to the Port High stage next week as a member of Fundamentally Sound, the University of Wisconsin-Madison a cappella group that also includes Eric Schumacher of Grafton (behind Becker). Limited Edition (background), the high school’s a cappella group, will also perform. Photo by Sam Arendt