Across the United States, the population of post-collegiate a cappella groups has grown significantly in recent years, through a combination more and more alums of college groups seeking to carry on the music; the support network offered via The Contemporary A Cappella League; and, of course, the success of The Sing-Off, Pitch Perfect, and the like inspiring musicians to continue their involvement in a cappella when they leave school or come back to it after a prolonged absence.
And then there is The Voice of Rock Project.
Originally founded in 2010 by Stephen Gale, The Voice of Rock Project currently consists of six members, only one of whom sung a cappella in college. They’re mixed gender and way-post-collegiate group (three members are over 50). Don’t let the demographics fool you into thinking this is an “oldies” or “doo-wop” outfit, though. On the contrary, much as the group name suggests, the group is all about rock and roll.
On the decision to focus on this genre of music, Gale said, “I love it [and] I believe it represents a niche.” In addition to offering the group a unique subsection of a cappella in which to thrive, Gale noted that singing rock “can also engage a listener who might not otherwise be interested in a vocal group.”
After several changes in membership, the line up seems to have solidified now to the point the group had its initial public performances this past October.
Despite what might initially appear to be a dearth of experience, The Voice of Rock Project has never purchased an arrangement; Gale has put together most of the groups arrangements himself, in addition to pulling on work from Mark Sarto, whom Gale sang with in the past, and whom he identified as a mentor in the arranging process.
More recently, Gale has arranged collaboratively with the help of the only seasoned collegiate a cappella member, Antonio Endriga. Gale noted that Endriga has crafted “solid, recognizable tunes … for 20 years. He also has an ear for color, details added to completed songs which enhance both handling of syllables and entertainment impact. Coming at the process from these directions is providing the balance necessary for complete presentation package.” The current group lineup that executes these arrangements also includes music teacher Luc Dicus, seasoned doo-wopper Andy Martin, and arts career success coach Wendy Keilin.
Gale has adopted a unique approach to putting together arrangements. “I think a foundation of easily recognizable work is critical to connect with the audience,” he said, but went on note that he also values the creativity of “a higher level of artistic expression.”
Gale took us behind the scenes to talk about one particular example of his creative process—arranging Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” “I derived a meaning and visualization (from the loss of my mom) that varied slightly from the song’s author but required an entirely different sound from the original version to communicate … the chords remain similar to … the original, but the presentation of the chords was more driven by the meaning and feel I sought to convey. I love the original, I just had something different to say.”
Gale went on to explain that he prefers “blended voices as opposed to individual singers replicating instruments.” To put a finer point on it, Gale discussed the artistic decisions that a cappella groups can make better serve their talents, even if it means diverging from the original track. “I think, for instance, that if an arrangement includes a short guitar jam with which your vocalist strives to imitate the sound of a guitar that you end up sounding like someone singing along with the radio. In general I feel one is better off treating that solo in a way that celebrates the human voice. We sound different from instruments and should revel in that!”
In complement to these principles, Gale also noted the value he places on diversifying from “a singular arrangement model. For example I think if every song you do is a person on lead, 3 on the chord and a bass providing the pace it will not take long for your songs to start sounding redundant. “Reaper” would stand out because its sound is unique. “Werewolves of London” perhaps because the bass takes a verse. Harvest Moon because a second song is woven into the lyrics by the chorus. I think an audience that is more challenged to predict the sound of the next song is a more engaged audience.”
When The Voice of Rock Project takes its arrangements, they bring all of the verve of a much younger group. Gale cited the group’s motto: “Too old? I don’t think so.” He went on to say, “Our oldest member is in his upper sixties. He asked if I thought he was to old to join our group. I told him I hope not, I'd just dropped $300+ to see Roger Waters - who was born the same year!”
With a healthy dose of creativity, and the spirit of youth at its helm, there’s little doubt The Voice of Rock Project will continue challenging convention and doing classic rock proud for years to come.
You can check out some samplings of The Voice of Rock Project’s sound below: