BY TOM LAVIS
When Rockapella takes the stage for the Winter Jazz concert, don’t look for any musical instruments.
Other than a pitch pipe, the five talented musicians will use only their voices to deliver a one-of-a-kind performance titled “Motown & More.”
Winter Jazz will be presented at 7:30 p.m. March 22 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on Pitt-Johnstown’s campus in Richland Township.
Jeff Thacher, the vocal percussionist for the group since 1993, said the country has a hunger for an exciting, live, vocal performance that has “more choreography than The Temptations.”
To get the appropriate sounds, Thacher said he uses the same muscles a trumpeter would use.
“It’s like playing a trumpet for 21⁄2 hours,” Thacher said. “Rhythmically, we lean more toward pop direction, and we have had to bring our A-game each time.
“The increased popularity of a cappella has diversified audiences and seems to have made people realize that the genre goes beyond the stereotypical college singing groups,” Thacher said.
He credits television shows like “American Idol” and NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” for the genre’s recent success.
Rockapella opens a window on practically the whole history of vocal music – from vintage Mills Brothers through jazz and rock to current hip-hop.
“We’re making every bit as much music as the whole ‘Glee’ chorus – but with only five guys,” Thacher said.
The contemporary pop vocal phenomenon, known for its astonishing live performances and its five-year stint as the house band on the PBS kids’ game show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Rockapella delivers an unparalleled performance.
For anyone who has watched television, they are also the voices for the Folger’s coffee-commercial jingle.
Along with Thacher, the current Rockapella lineup features Scott Leonard, high tenor; George Baldi III, bass; John K. Brown, tenor; and Steven Dorian, tenor.
“People often marvel that it’s just us making all of that music,” Thacher said.
The group uses all the same elements that modern bands use to make music, such as percussion, bass, melody and harmonies.
Thacher revealed that his beginnings as a vocal percussionist were inauspicious, to say the least.
“When I was a kid, I made sounds for my toys and the things I made from Legos,” Thacher said.
“My family is pretty musical, so it was a short hop from there to hearing drums on the radio and copying those.
“It was never something you would think you could make money at.”
Rockapella has released 20 albums during the past 20 years, its most recent being “Bang.” After sold-out national tours year after year, including sold-out performances with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra, Rockapella guarantees that each of its concerts will deliver an unrivaled and joyful musical performance.
“Motown & More” pays tribute to the music of Motown with matchless versions of hit songs from The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and more.
The concert will include other Rockapella favorite songs, like The Temptations’ “My Girl”, “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” The Jackson 5’s “Stop The Love You Save,” and “Dancin’ Machine.”
Prior to singing in Johnstown, Thacker said the group was about to board an airplane for Perth, where it will board a cruise ship.
“We’ll sing on the open ocean until we get to Indonesia,” he said.
“We will get off the ship and fly to Japan for a two-city tour.”
None of the founding members are still in the band, but as each of them retired, Thacher said, they were able to strengthen the group as they handpicked the replacements.
“The last singer we replaced was in 2009, and we received more than 100 applications and narrowed it down to 10 finalists before making our choice,” Thacher said.
The cost of the performance only is $39 for adults and $10 for students. VIP premium seats cost $75.
VIP tickets include the performance and a post-concert reception at the arts center that includes hors d’ouevres, beverages and a meet-and-greet with Rockapella.
Proceeds benefit the Blackington Endowment, which provides funding that enables the arts center to present artists throughout the season.
“The endowment sustains programming every year by offsetting costs and holding ticket prices down to an affordable price for our patrons,” said Michael Bodolosky, Pasquerilla arts center’s executive director.
“It has enabled us to bring in higher quality, world-class shows like “Cats,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ’’ with Ruben Studdard, “Hairspray” and Sally Struthers in “Nunsense” at affordable prices.”
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 269-7200 or 800-846-2787 or online at www.upjarts.org.
If you go ...
What: Winter Jazz 2013.
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Richland Township.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 22.
Tickets: Arts center box office or call 269-7200.
Cost: $39 for adults and $10 for students. VIP premium seats cost $75.
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