Port High to continue rich vocal tradition by hosting first-of-its-kind event April 5
Continuing to distinguish itself as a leader in vocal music, Port Washington High School will host Wisconsin’s first high school a cappella festival, which will include a public concert featuring a nationally known group.
The concert is at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 5, but tickets will go on sale in the high school office on Friday, March 7, and they’re going to sell quickly, Choral Director Dennis Gephart said.
“The 300 students participating in the festival already have tickets, so that leaves only about 400 more,” he said. “I think tickets will go fast. It’s going to be a great concert.”
At the heart of the festival and concert will be Arora (formerly SONOS), a vocals and electronics band from Los Angeles that appeared in the third season of “The Sing-Off,” the NBC show featuring a cappella competitions.
In addition to the five-member group known for its avant-garde harmonies and use of electronic effects, Port High’s vocal jazz ensemble Limited Edition and Redefined, a coed a cappella group of 17 students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will perform.
Last month, Limited Edition won a regional semifinal round of the Varsity Vocal International Championship of High School A Cappella for the fourth time in five years and will compete for the national championship in New York City on April 25. The group won the national title in 2010.
Gephart said students chose the name “Acapocalypse” for the festival, borrowing from a Greek term that means “a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of knowledge, a revelation, so a lot of people can see the influence a cappella has had and can have through our program.”
The concert, which will be preceded by a day of workshops led by Arora members for about 300 students and teachers from high schools throughout the state, is an opportunity to expose the public to the dynamic world of a cappella music, Gephart said.
“Vocal jazz has a history. It has rules,” he said. “There are very few rules in contemporary a cappella, which is what makes it so exciting. Just when you think you understand a cappella, someone redefines it.
“Our students are literally creating the history of a cappella.”
Arora has been at the forefront of the evolving contemporary a cappella movement, using electronic effects traditionally used to modify the sound of instruments to shape their voices.
“Contemporary a cappella artists have found a way to use things like pedals used with electric guitars to alter their voices,” Gephart said. “If I have an all-girls group, it may sound a little thin, but if I use an octave pedal, I can lower their voice by a full octave.
“We’re going to push technology at this festival, and we’re going to push the limits a little with Limited Edition.”
Gephart said he has worked with the Wisconsin School Music Association for more than a year to plan a festival intended to foster an interest in a cappella music.
“A lot of teachers are a little reluctant to embrace a cappella. They need a push, which is why the festival also includes classes for teachers,” he said. “We’ve had a cappella in our school for a long time. Once people see it, they get hooked.”
The event will be financed by festival registration fees and proceeds from concert ticket sales, Gephart said.
Any proceeds from the festival will be used to help pay for the cost of Limited Edition’s trip to New York in April. The group will be selling T-shirts at the festival and hopes to have a CD available, Gephart said.
General admission concert tickets are $20.
The high school office, 427 W. Jackson St., is open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.
Image information: LIMITED EDITION’S Brian Arvai was center stage during the Port Washignton High School group’s first-place performance in the Varsity Vocal International Championship of High School A Cappella regional semifinal competition Feb. 8 at Port High. The school will host a state a cappella festival and concert on April 5. Tickets for the concert go on sale Friday. Photo by Sam Arendt