For 22 years now, the Vineyard Sound has taken their singing talent to venues and street corners all over the Island, singing tirelessly throughout the season. This year though, the a cappella group took it up an octave. On June 14 they performed on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“We’re an Island act and that’s where our heart is,” said Ethan Underhill, the group’s business manager and one of its tenors. “In the past we have been presented with opportunities to sing on Cape Cod, we have sung in Maine and North Carolina. We have covered a little bit of distance, but nothing to this point, at this grand of a scale.”
Like every great opportunity, the show brought with it stress and nervousness. It was the biggest show they had ever performed, and because the singers attend different colleges and universities around the country, they only had six days to prepare together. This year’s group includes four returning and six rookie singers.
“We only had six days to get ready for this concert and six days to get to know each other and build trust with each other,” said Cody McDonald, who is returning to the group this year for his second season. “It was really cool to jump into something that special. It was a great time.”
In just a short while, the group needed to master the song repertoire and develop the flare that transforms a great song into a great performance. While this dynamic often develops and shifts over the course of the summer, this year the group had less than a week to find their groove.
“People enjoy the dynamic of the 10 of us on stage together as much as they enjoy the music, so it was really cool to watch that natural dynamic manifest over the course of six days as well as the music,” said Mr. Underhill. “The dynamic is sort of a residual effect of the music itself.”
While the Vineyard Sound is a familiar sight around the Island, at the Kennedy Center they faced the added challenge of singing to a crowd that didn’t know what to expect. Unlike on the Island where most of their audience has watched the group grow for years, in D.C., they were singing to a crowd who for the most part had never heard of the Vineyard Sound. At the beginning of the show, the boys asked the crowd if anyone had ever seen the Vineyard Sound before. Of the some 600 people in the audience, less than half raised their hands.
As happens at shows around the Island, the Vineyard Sound was joined on stage by several alumni from the D.C. area. Although the Vineyard Sound changes with each new member, the group has maintained many of its values and even song selections over the years.
Despite the obstacles and added pressure, the Vineyard Sound lived up to their reputation, adapting their show to the more serious environment without compromising their energy or humor. And now, with the Kennedy Center performance in their rearview mirror, the group is going into the 2014 summer season with a little extra confidence and momentum.
“We had to put in a lot of effort to pull off that show and it ended up going so well,” said Ben Jacobs, who graduated from Wesleyan University this year. “That’s such a nice product to have come out of, with everyone’s hard work preparing for it. That was definitely a big motivator at the beginning of the summer.”
After the performance, the group reconvened at the residence of one of their alumni, Garth Ross. Mr. Ross is the vice president of community engagement for the Kennedy Center and he presented the Vineyard Sound to its board of directors.
And then, long into the night, the singing continued with current members and alumni bringing a bit of Island flavor to the nation’s capital.
For a complete list of engagements this summer around the Island, visit vineyardsound.org. For a full calendar of Island events, visit eventsmv.com.