Think of Rockapella, the enduring-yet-hip vocal group to make its Toledo debut this weekend, as a human jukebox.
Five guys, five distinct voices, five creative personalities, all converging into a compelling, multilayered sound, tight as a new pair of Lycra pants, that brings to life music from many decades, including this one.
Rockapella — Scott Leonard, George Baldi, John K. Brown, Steven Dorian, and Jeff Thacher — will bring their holiday show to the Stranahan Theater at 8 p.m. Saturday, the third event in the Toledo Symphony KeyBank Pops series.
“We love the holidays,” said Leonard, the group’s most senior member and its resident composer and arranger.
Rockapella, which typically performs without instrumental backing, will share the stage with the symphony. Resident conductor Jeffrey Pollock will be on the podium.
“This will be the first time we have done a holiday symphony show,” Leonard said by phone from his Tampa home.
Toledo’s is only the second orchestra with which Rockapella has performed. The first was the Boston Pops. They were invited once and now are frequent guests with the esteemed ensemble.
And while their many concerts tap the group’s deep well of polished songs — their repertoire ranges from the theme to Carmen Sandiego, that popular 1980s kids’ geography quiz show which established Rockapella’s sound nationally, to traditional cover hits from the 1960s through today.
What makes this group stand out from other acappella vocal ensembles is their “drummer,” Thacher, who is a walking, talking, singing drum machine. In contemporary terms, he’s a beatboxer, creating the full range of percussion sounds with his mouth, tongue, teeth, hands, vocal cords, and other parts of his throat.
Thacher, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, pioneered the use of throat mikes to pick up sounds which otherwise would be literally swallowed up. To watch him in action is to believe there is a secret trap set hidden behind a nearby curtain.
Rockapella’s holiday show includes “The Little Drummer Boy,” which must definitely star Thacher, who joined the group in 1993, two years after Leonard.
Still, each performer brings special elements to the mix, Leonard said.
“George Baldi has changed the art form of acappella bass,” said Leonard of the only singer in the group who’s not a tenor.
Typically, he explained, the bass includes lots of percussive sounds to add accent to the group’s sound. But Baldi gives forth more of a walking bass, “more counterpoint, so we fit in more words,” added Leonard.
Dorian is the newest member, having joined in 2010 after Rockapella discovered him through a nationwide search. He’s a singer and songwriter based in Nashville. Yes, he’s a tenor, as is Brown, who became one with Rockapella in 2004.
Leonard says that after much experimentation, Rockapella settled on the unusual voicing — no baritone — because “The baritone couldn't sing high enough, and the tenors couldn't sing low enough.”
As for Leonard, an Indianapolis native who got his degree in vocal performance from the University of Tampa, his high tenor voice soars into the stratosphere.
“I'm the one who sings like a girl. I have a freakishly high voice,” Leonard said, comparing his range to that of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Steve Wonder, and Michael Jackson."
Rockapella's fifth member, Brown, brings fancy footwork to the mix, along with his fine tenor.
“Oh, baby! do we do choreography,” said Leonard. “Choreography and staging is part of our show.” And that's when Brown draws focus. “John K. Brown is a really great dancer. He’s a great tapper,” Leonard said.
In Toledo, Rockapella’s program will feature Leonard’s arrangements of sacred and popular Christmas songs, from “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” and “Rudolph, The RedNosed Reindeer,” to “O Little Town of Bethlehem/I Have a Little Dreidel” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
The Toledo Symphony Orchestra will open both program halves with other seasonal music. And, if the audience asks avidly enough, maybe Rockapella will do a rendition of its luminous original holiday song, “Peace on Earth.”
Tickets for Rockapella Holiday are $24-$64 at www.toledosymphony.com or 419-246-8000.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.