Plymouth State University’s a cappella groups recently stepped out in style as the opening acts in a concert headlined by Five O’Clock Shadow, a Boston ensemble hailed by MTV Online as “the number one vocal pop band of the new millennium!!” An evening performance at the historic Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH, was preceded by an intimate on-campus workshop.
University groups include Vocal Order, a lower-voiced group of tenors and basses, and Mixed Emotions, comprised of altos and sopranos. “These are student-led groups, I’m lucky enough to be the advisor,” says Program Coordinator for Music Education Harmony Markey. “To hear them in the workshop and then make the adjustments musically that Five O’Clock suggested made everything that much more alive. There were some really magical moments and the performance was spectacular.”
Mikayla Colburn ’22 and Aidan Lamont ’23 are both majoring in music education, a calling they share with Five O’Clock Shadow’s Caleb Whelden. “Caleb had so much wonderful feedback for musicality, for performance, to make the group sound more unified, and to make the performance super interesting and entertaining to listen to,” says Lamont. “Then to see them perform that later that night and get a chance to do that ourselves as well was a wonderful experience.”
“It was phenomenal,” agrees Colburn. “They took each piece that we did and broke it down and talked about the nitty-gritty details. They talked about movement for one piece, because it had a little bit more of a beat that we needed to be moving a bit more with, and on another piece they talked about dynamics, making sure we were being softer on parts we needed to be softer on.”
The feedback and energy of a live audience is tremendously meaningful to performing arts students. “Last year, when COVID really hit PSU, it was especially difficult on our a cappella groups,” says Lindsey Brunelle ’23, a music theatre performance and theatrical dance contract major. “There were no events for us to sing at, we could hardly meet as a group, and just barely were able to perform our final concert. This year has been completely different in the best way possible.”
Christian Simpson ’22, a music theatre performance and acting major, provided the solo for Vocal Order’s rendition of “Beggin’” by Måneskin. “In rehearsal that song tends to feel a little tense because it’s higher for me in my register, but on stage with lights and sound, it was just a whole different experience and it felt really free,” he says. “Especially having an audience there and being able to bounce off of them—as a group it felt like our energy was dialed up to eleven!”
Students got to try sophisticated technologies that enhanced their vocal talents. “They definitely opened us up to ideas we had never thought of before,” says Grace Gilbert ’23, a music theatre performance major. “For my voice part I’m the lowest female voice, and they put this sub-octave effect on my microphone. You could hear what I was singing in the octave I was singing it in but you could also hear another voice that was an octave below.”
“I felt like a rock star, going out on stage with a mic and special effects and singing some awesome music with my group,” says Brunelle. “It gave me and the others a chance to see what our hard work could lead to, what we could aspire to be.”
The opportunity came about thanks to Marybeth Bentwood ’94 of Brand Elevation Communications. A skilled practitioner with years of major market experience to her credit, Bentwood is back in Plymouth and promoted the Laconia engagement. She reached out to Markey, a friend, and a connection was quickly forged.
“Harmony recognized this as a great opportunity and facilitated its successful execution,” says Bentwood. “The students’ performance skyrocketed from their master class rehearsal with Five O’Clock Shadow in the afternoon to the stage that night. You could feel the students’ energy and excitement, learning from professionals and then applying it to their performance. Connecting them felt like both giving back to PSU and paying it forward to the next generation of performers.”
The concert was presented by We Care of Temple B’nai Israel of Laconia, and net proceeds helped support services provided by the Bridge House, a homeless shelter and veterans support center.