By Drew West
DASSEL, COKATO, MN No instruments. No backing tracks. No problem.
Vocality, an award-winning a cappella group, will bring their unique barbershop quartet performance to town Saturday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Dassel-Cokato Performing Arts Center.
The group includes Tony Blackwood, a 1991 Dassel-Cokato graduate, as well as Tom Matchinsky, David Boyd, and Jay Althof.
“We’re all really looking forward to it,” Tony said. “We have a lot of people say, ‘When are you going to do something closer to the Twin Cities?’, because often we’re going to Chicago or Green Lake or even Mississippi to do a show . . . I’ve been trying to get us in here for a number of years, so I’m really excited to go.”
Building the team
Vocality was formed in 2007, after the group met each other through an organization known as the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Tony had known Tom from a local men’s chorus called the Great Northern Union, and Tony was previously in a quartet with David that won the district championships in 2003.
Meanwhile, Jay had just parted ways with another quartet and was searching for a new opportunity.
“Quartets kind of come and go,” Tony said. “We’re a little bit rare in that we’ve been together for so long . . . but we have a lot of fun together. When we’re not singing, we’re laughing.”
The group’s composition is slightly different than the standard quartet, which generally features a lead, tenor, baritone, and bass.
Instead, the group consists of three tenors and a bass, with Tony, Jay, and Tom alternating lead, while David sings the bass line.
Regular appearances at competitions throughout the years have earned Vocality several accolades, including a first-place finish in 2007 at a district competition for the Barbershop Harmony Society.
The group also earned a second-place finish in 2013 at the regional Harmony Sweepstakes Competition in Chicago, an event focused on performance and innovation that features groups of 3-10 people performing a 10-minute set featuring any style of music.
Despite their success in competitive circles, the group continues to evolve and reassess their goals.
“Competing is no longer our main objective,” Tony noted. “Our focus now is finding music that people know and love, and making our own twist on that.”
The group continues to improve and diversify their musical repertoire by hiring coaches and arrangers from around the country, although a large portion of their music is now arranged in-house by Jay.
Profits from concerts are often funneled back into the group to pay for these coaches and arrangers, as well as any recording fees, outfits, or additional expenses.
The latest recording project for Vocality, which will be their fourth album, is focused on newly arranged music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, with a few current songs to be included as well.
“What we’ve realized is that our target audience consists of people our age and older,” Tony explained.
“Singing songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s really resonates well with people, and we like that music, too.”
However, the divide between audience age and musical preference is not always so clear.
“We’ve been doing ‘Demons’ by Imagine Dragons for about a year and a half now,” Tony said. “What’s interesting is that we did it to appeal to the younger crowd, but we often find that people our age and older come up to us and say ‘That was our favorite song of the show!’”
Vocality is set to debut at least one new song at the Dassel-Cokato show, with a second song currently in the works.
Musical selections will range from classical barbershop quartet tunes and gospel music, to songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and today.
The show itself is comprised of three sets of seven or eight songs with a short break in between each set, offering an interactive and engaging experience for audience members.
Connecting with the crowd is important for any performance group, but it has a truly special meaning to the members of Vocality.
“Often after a show, we’ll have people come up to us and say, ‘You know, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that song,’” Tony recalled. “As a result of those kinds of comments, we continue to do the kind of music that we think people recognize and relate to . . . That’s one thing we really enjoy, spreading music and memories for people.”
Tickets for Vocality’s show are just $15 for adults and $7 for youth (reserved seating for both). Call (320) 286-4120 or visit www.dc.k12.mn.us/pac to order.