Silver Chord Bowl at Smith wows sellout crowd of 2,000

Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — A sellout crowd of 2,000 alternately stomped and clapped to edgy hip hop, then relaxed into soothing crooning and popular tunes Sunday afternoon at Smith College’s John M. Greene Hall for the 29th Silver Chord Bowl, a collegiate a cappella performance and beloved Northampton pre-Super Bowl tradition hosted by the Northampton Arts Council as the kickoff to its “Four Sundays in February” series.

The crowd’s enthusiasm for the instrument-free style of singing was summed up by Andrew MacMaster, 20, of Tufts University’s Beelzebubs, as he revved up the crowd between songs: “You could’ve spent today preparing for the Super Bowl or something stupid. Instead, you came here, to listen to people make music ... with their mouths.” The “Bubs” were one of six a cappella groups from area colleges, including Northampton’s Smith College Smithereens. Opening the show were the Northamptones, Northampton High School’s group.

Mayor David Narkewicz was on hand as master of ceremonies and to introduce the performers, singing the Northamptones’ praises as “our homegrown team” and bragging on their behalf like a proud father about their high-profile gig singing the national anthem at Fenway Park last summer.

The Northamptones took the stage to hearty applause, opening with the Police’s “Roxanne.” The dozen members twisted and hunched in a loose huddle, boys in the back making bah-do bah-do sounds as female lead Jenny Davis sang in a clear, powerful voice. In their closing number, “Words,” vocal percussionist Liam Andrews-Bancroft elicited big cheers as his cheeks sucked in and out to a masterful clicking sound a little like the rhythm of a sputtering engine trying to turn over.

Beau Flahive, NHS’s choral director, noted that the Northamptones, begun in 2000 at student request, do their own arrangements, taking an original song and converting it for a cappella.

Next on stage were Berklee College of Music’s Pitch Slapped, a high-energy co-ed group dressed in black, white and flashes of silvery glitter. For the opening number ,“Moves Like Jagger,” lead singer Nathan Hartono had fun showing his own moves, wiggling his butt with back turned to the audience through a fast-paced build-up. The group bounced along seamlessly together, at times appearing like people caught up in a frenzy on a dance floor.

The pace was then shifted into a lower gear by the University of Connecticut’s Rubyfruit, formed in 1999 and one of seven a cappella groups on campus. Dressed in soft pinks and black, the all-female group first soothed the audience with “Mercy” and “Wonder Wall,” ending with a more energetic mash-up of Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” sandwiched in between Ellie Golding’s “Lights.” The response took on a revival-like feel as fellow performers, now in the side aisles, called out their approval and swayed to the music.

Rubyfruit’s Laurel Filek was modest about her group’s inclusion in the show: “We’re humbled by the other groups and really excited to have been invited to be with this caliber of performers.”

The show took a turn back to high octane with Tufts University’s Beelzebubs, the nation’s oldest all-male a cappella group and self-described as “stylistically diverse.” True to their motto, “Fun Through Song,” they slid onto the stage in a hodge-podge of red pants and suit jackets, issuing a challenge: “We’re going to have a blast up here, so we want you to have a blast down there, yes?” After the audience roared back its “Yes!” the group launched into a bouncy “Magical Mystery Tour,” a bending and swaying cluster, arms outstretching and fingers pointing.

The pace was driven further uphill with their second number, “Everybody Talks,” the collective energy such that it seemed possible the group would lift off like a rocket.

The audience was given a chance to catch its breath with their closing number, “Alison,” a slower-paced, earnestly performed tune with a harmonious doo-dah background.

Also performing were Yale University’s Shades of Yale, Northeastern University’s Nor’easters and Smith College’s Smithereens.

Before the show, all were treated to soup and salad in the basement of Edwards Hall by Arts Council volunteers. Giovanna Diaz, 19, and Molly Thibodeau, 21, both of the Smithereens, felt fortunate to have a crack at performing. “They rotate the members every five years, so I’m lucky to have gotten into this rotation,” said Thibodeau, standing among fellow performers chattering excitedly in the steamy basement.

There was a mix of ages in the audience, looking relaxed and happy to be out on a day that finally delivered a reprieve from the pinching, single-digit weather. Grace Schiaffo, 13, was encouraged to come by her friend, Kerry Holroyde, 14. “I like how it’s different from other singing groups,” said Holroyde. “I just love listening to it.”

Also enjoying the show were Sarina Hahn, 14, with her friend Galit Sarvet, 17, who said: “It’s awesome, the energy, the enthusiasm.” Referring to Berklee’s Pitch Slapped: “I loved the way they kept going up in their octaves. I want to take singing lessons now. I want to go sing!”


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