CHAMBERSBURG - "A cappella" translates to “in the manner of the chapel” in Italian, and refers to singing without any instrumental backup. In modern days it was generally performed in typical barbershop quartet, doo wop, or glee club style—that is, until Rockapella hit the streets of New York in the early 1990s.
Rockapella had the ability to stop New York City commuters dead in their tracks to witness riveting performances which added a contemporary twist to the age-old musical style. Known as the progenitors of contemporary a cappella, Rockapella has influenced shows like NBC’s "The Sing Off" and movies like "Pitch Perfect."
The revolutionary group is coming to Chambersburg's Capitol Theatre at 7 p.m. on April 22 with their raw singing talent. Today’s line-up includes Scott Leonard (high tenor), Jeff Thacher (vocal percussionist), Steven Dorian (tenor), Calvin Jones (tenor) and Ryan Chappelle (bass). The group travels internationally, entertaining audiences with little more than their voices.
“People have a hard time believing it’s just us making all of that music. It’s still those same elements that make modern band music: percussion, bass, melody and harmonies,” said Leonard.
Leonard shares a story on how Rockapella went from street performing to singing for audiences around the world. “When we performed on the streets of New York we did it for fun and money and we collected business cards. There was no social media back then, so we sent out information about the group on vintage postcards, via snail mail.”
Before long, PBS came calling, explains Leonard. “They asked us to be the house band on this game show, so it eventually became a big deal,” Leonard said, referring to the popular children’s geographic game show, “Where in the World is Carmen Santiago?”
Television opened a few doors to the music world, but initially record companies viewed the group as little more than a novelty act, according to Leonard. “I sang in Disneyland in Japan for a few years, so I took Rockapella to Japan where we were quite popular and we still go there every year,” he said. Eventually, record producers stateside began taking notice, and today the group lays claim to multiple award-winning albums.
The band has evolved over the years into what it is today. “In the early days we had props and it was about the shtick - today we’ve taken it into more of a classic R&B soul direction and there is a lot of sensory excitement going on. You’ll hear hits like you’ve never heard before and we do a lot of original music as well.”
Sheri Wachenheim has been a fan since the early ‘90s and keeps a keen eye on the Rockapella schedule. “My best friend and I try to sneak a night out to see them every few years,” the New Jersey resident said.
“They do not take themselves too seriously and they actually enjoy being goofy and interacting with their intimate audiences. They totally get that music is not just enjoyable to our ears, but can be enjoyable as we experience the story of a song, or the bashfulness of an unsuspecting girl (even a grandma) pulled on stage to be serenaded,” said Wachenheim, adding that the group’s “tight acrobatic harmonies are unmatched.”
Leonard said the group is familiar with Chambersburg, having performed at the Capitol Theatre in 2013. “We love Chambersburg because it’s like that quintessential Rockapella American town. We love the feel of old vintage theaters in America’s small towns and we enjoyed our tour of Olympia’s Candy Kitchen last time we were there; it’s a wonderful place and we can’t wait to return,” he said.
When you go:
7 p.m. Friday, April 22
Capitol Theatre, 159 Main Street, Chambersburg
Adults $32, seniors 60+ $27, students $20
Buy tickets at www.thecapitoltheatre.org/liveshows.html, or call 717-263-0202.