Barbershop is back at Schenectady County Community College.
The quartet known as Out of Time has not only brought the a cappella singing style back to the campus, but the members were recently named winners of the 2018 VSA International Young Soloists Competition.
It’s an international competition celebrating the talent of young musicians with disabilities, which rarely names ensembles as winners. The group was awarded $2,000, two days of intensive professional workshops, and a chance to perform on the Kennedy Center Millennium stage in Washington D.C. later this month.
For Mark Evans, an assistant professor at SCCC School of Music, the win reflects how far the group has come in a matter of months. Members Bobby Frazier, Devin Canavally, Burke Herrick and Christian Gomez first got together in 2017.
“Mr. Evans started a barbershop quartet a long time ago, but it never took off,” Frazier said. But he saw potential in the four of them and the students (who are all in the music program) decided to try and see what would happen.
At first, it was tough to come together; to blend harmonies, to work on their choreography and to juggle classes on top of that (hence their name “Out of Time”).
“Not all of us were very motivated [when we first got together]. But then at the beginning of this year for some reason, we just had this fire under our butts,” Frazier said.
They got together as much as possible (usually two times a week) and really worked on barbershop classics like “Java Jive,” “Mr. Sandman” and “Goodbye My Coney Island Baby,” and newer songs like “When She Loved Me.”
Their blend got better, they perfected their pitch, but they also just started having fun with it. What was once work or practice became a release.
“Working with each other and bonding with each other really does help the sound come together. It shows visually and auditorily,” Canavally said.
They started performing at any and all college events during the fall of 2017: from open house to luncheons. Then they performed around the Capital Region, at libraries, community events, and even broadcast over WGY.
“Probably the most gratifying thing is seeing how much fun the audiences have,” Gomez said.
Their audiences are usually surprisingly diverse when it comes to age.
“You have the older crowd who is like ‘Wow, that’s a very old school sound that brings me back,’ and then we do newer songs which draws in a [younger] crowd,” Canavally said.
“We’re bringing back [that] style. Nowadays, you don’t see a bunch of twenty-year-olds getting together and singing stuff like this,” Frazier said.
But, even with their busy performance schedule and cultivated talent, the VSA competition felt like a leap.
“I had tried out for this competition two years ago and I didn’t make it,” Herrick said. But he wanted to try with Out of Time. They polished and recorded three songs to send in and played the waiting game for a few weeks.
When the final verdict came in, it was a surreal moment. In some ways, it was the culmination of months of hard work, but it was also a mark of why being passionate about what you’re doing and who you’re working with pays off.
“I think [it’s important] that disabled kids can come together in a musical environment and show the world that we can change the world through all these different mediums. Through this endeavor, I’ve grown with these guys and I can certainly say that I’ve loved every step of it,” said Herrick, who has a disability.
The quartet now has the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. later this month for a two-day intensive workshop filled with professional development activities, rehearsals and roundtable discussions with music industry professionals. They’ll be working with a barbershop coach while they’re there and they’ll give a performance on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. on May 30, along with the three other musicians who were honored with the award.
The group said they’re not nervous about it, just excited.
“I’ve never been to Washington D.C. let alone performed on that huge stage,” Frazier said.
Unfortunately, the group won’t be able to continue next year, as three of the members are moving to other music schools. It’s part of the reason why their success story is remarkable: they were able to click and grow their sound, confidence and stage presence within a very short time frame.
“Their choreography, their performance [and] the way they paint the text is awesome,” Evans said.
As a send-off, they’ll be giving a performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 22 in the Taylor Auditorium at SCCC. They’ll be joined by SCCC a cappella club Totally Pitchin' and the Bobby Pins quartet Vintage Harmonics.
They’re also planning on getting together for performances throughout the summer and having reunion shows as time goes on.
“I’m not ready to let go of this group,” Canavally said.
For more on the show visit sunysccc.edu.
To stream their performance at the Kennedy Center Millenium stage visit kennedy-center.org/video/upcoming.