Review: BarberSoc’s “Tonal Recall”
WORDS BY CAMERON YOUNG
Sydney University’s A Cappella society gave us a real smash with their first semester concert at the Seymour Centre last week. Their “Tonal Recall” program showcased the immense talents and versatility of their three premier groups: “The Accidentals”, “Pitch Please” and “Duly Noted” – whose cringingly good names were as satisfying as their singing chops and colour-coordinated accoutrement. The concert marks the sixth year the society has been performing. The breadth and diversity of their set and their ability to pack the house is quite impressive – especially when comparing to other performing societies who have greater resources and experience at their disposal.
The barbershop genre has a long history dating back to the early 1900s and relies on four-part vocal harmony (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) instead of instruments to create music. Despite the popularity of movies like Pitch Perfect and groups like The Idea of North and Pentatonix, barbershop and a cappella music still lies on the fringes of the mainstream. This is partially due to the sheer difficulty that comes with performing it. There are no instruments to hide behind, leaving vocals highly exposed. If pitch or tempo is even slightly deviated from, the music can quickly become jarring and fall apart.
BarberSoc has been able to overcome these challenges in a spectacular fashion. They have constructed a diverse recital set, bringing their style in line with contemporary tastes. Songs like “No Scrubs” and “Fireflies” got the crowd going as they were current enough to feel familiar but with enough barbershop panache to add a layer of originality. These contemporary works were proficiently counter-posed with more traditional songs like “Singin’ Acapella”, paying homage to barbershop’s historical roots. One of my personal favourites was a cover of “Beautiful”, led by the vocal stylings of Larisse Moran. This performance was so emotionally captivating that I think the audience had a collective flashback to a simpler time of midriffs, boot-cut jeans, and flip-phones.
There were some musicality issues throughout the night in terms of intonation, which were especially prevalent at the beginning of the concert and during the opening songs of some of the groups. This was most likely a matter of confidence rather than inexperience, as nerves constrict the diaphragm, strangle the notes and lead to weak and pitchy vocals. These issues, however, were generally minor and fixed by the next song, as the performers began to loosen up and have a little fun. Once everyone began to look to one another, smile, dance, and listen, the difference could instantly be heard with their passion and love for music shine through as their harmonies locked into place. Special mention goes out to Jeremy Kindl, who arranged the majority of the evening’s music. His mature and skilful composing prowess played to each groups strength, allowing them to produce a rich and consolidated tapestry of melody, harmony, and rhythm.
It was also a nice surprise to see BarberSoc do something different by introducing a handful of small ensembles derived from members of their three main groups. After seeing many societies attempt to beat a dead horse year in and year out by replicating the exact same formula for each concert, I was delighted to see this society take a risk and try something new. It not only provided a chance to showcase some of the sensational individual talents of their groups, but additionally provided something fresh for audience goers who had seen their concert before. I might even go so far to challenge the society to take another risk – by writing a song specifically for their group instead of relying solely on covers. This will help to continue fostering the exceptional talents within this emerging performance powerhouse.