You never know when that tap on your shoulder is going to come. We’ve been watching you for a while, they say, as you look around bewildered. No, this isn’t a Skull and Bones initiation. It’s a cappella.
The Vineyard Sound have been delighting Island ears since 1992. From June to August they can be found wearing their trademark look of shorts, oxford shirts, ties, and sandals or boat shoes at various churches and private events around the Vineyard.
Auditions are rare. Typically, former members select new members from their college a cappella groups and invite them to join the Vineyard Sound. Though the group started with members from Wesleyan, Skidmore and Connecticut College, they have expanded to other schools across the Northeast and Midwest. This year’s group is made up of five returning and five new members.
The group’s characteristic sound doesn’t just magically appear when the boys throw on their khakis. A tremendous amount of work is required to make their voices blend seamlessly. The rehearsal schedule is constant. “It’s very intense at the beginning,” said Garth Taylor, the group’s business manager and a singer in his second year with the group.
The Vineyard Sound rehearses for six hours a day during their first two weeks on the Island and four hours a day on the weekend.
“The first few weeks, when we were rehearsing for six hours a day, that started to take a toll on my voice,” acknowledged Ben Jacobs, who is in his first year singing with the group. Rehearsals continue all summer at a more relaxed pace to accommodate performance schedules, but still maintaining an attention to detail that belies the casual manner of each performance.
For example, in the kitchen of the house all ten boys share for the summer hangs a big yellow poster. On it are the songs the group is learning or has learned. For every bit of progress they make, the song gets another letter. Once they have the song perfected, it finally gets its full name spelled out on the wall, rather than the maimed version that hung before. At the time of the interview, Ordinary People was only missing its final e.
When you have 18 years worth of songs to choose from you can mix it up. While the beginning and end of each show is typically the same, Good Old A Cappella as an appetizer and usually Signed, Sealed, Delivered, as dessert, the middle changes constantly. Their repertoire includes songs as varied as Walking in Memphis, Vincent and Lonesome Road. Mr. Taylor hopes the group will learn 35 to 40 songs by the end of the summer.
“Songs that actually impact someone, I find that really cool,” said Steven Yu, who is in his first year with the Sound.
The group has been such a staple for 19 years that according to Mr. Taylor, before each show when the group asks if anybody has seen them before, most of the hands go up. John DePalma, who is in his second year with the Sound, says that the Tuesday night shows in Chilmark are the most intimate and garner a lot of regulars.
All the group’s members are either currently in college or have just graduated. As much fun as they’re having singing on the Island this summer, most are unsure if they’ll return next summer.
“I hope not because I’d like to have a full-time job,” said Mr. DePalma. His sentiment was echoed by most of the other boys, except Rory Diamond, who enthusiastically answered, “Yeah, I think I would definitely come back. This is way more fun than a real job.”
Mr. Diamond is a voice performance major at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. For him, singing with the Sound is a break from Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Handel.
At the moment, though, what happens next year with the current members of the Vineyard Sound is not a major concern. For now signed, sealed, delivered, they’re yours.
The Vineyard Sound’s summer schedule includes performances on Mondays at 8 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Church, Thursdays at 8 p.m. at the Federated Church in Edgartown, and Fridays at 7 and 9 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. For more information and a complete schedule visit vineyardsound.org.