Local group thrives in new age of a cappella music
Jun 05, 2017 10:53AM ● Published by Tori LaRue
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It may be a new day for a cappella music.
Current pop culture trends have steered the vision of a cappella groups away from barbershop quartets and toward singing groups that master the art of creating instrumental sounds with vocal chords.
A cappella group Pentatonix has more 13 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 240 million views of its most popular video. Yet another film in the “Pitch Perfect” series about a collegiate a cappella group will hit theaters later this year, and the “Sing-Off” competition series for voice-only musicians lasted for a five-season run.
And while all of this is unfolding on a national and international level, the trend of producing music—percussion, harmonies and melodies—all using human voice techniques has trickled into the local scene, too. While local group Herriman Harmonyx predated some of the pop culture a cappella icons (it’s been around since 2011), it has benefitted from the new era’s buzz.
“Community members have seen it more mainstream, and there’s kind of been this trend, so more people are receptive of the music we are doing,” said Harmonyx member Don Allphin.
Occasionally, locals will recognize Harmonyx members in the grocery store or other public venues and offer compliments, which Harmonyx members said is rewarding. The group, whose 10 members are from southwest Salt Lake County—mostly Herriman, Riverton, South Jordan and Taylorsville—is a volunteer-based. While it is sponsored by the Herriman Arts Council, the performers do not make money for their performances.
Deb Taylor, who’s been with the group since it started, said the recent popularity of a cappella groups has brought the Harmonyx an influx of song requests.
“I get a lot of people from our community reaching out and saying, ‘I think the Harmonyx need to do this song’ or ‘I would love to hear you do this one or do that one,’” she said. “We get a lot of requests from things they have heard, whether it is Pentatonix doing it or just another any song that they maybe haven’t heard as an a cappella song. We try to make that happen when we can.”
Heightened interest in contemporary pop a cappella has increased the demand for a cappella arrangements, according to Allphin, making it easier to find music parts than it was in previous years. Still, it’s not possible to find ideal 10-part arrangements of every song. That’s where Brent Rindlisbacher comes in.
Rindlisbacher, a Harmonyx veteran, has created numerous a cappella arrangements for the Harmonyx. The modest musician said his arrangements are “always greeted with mixed reviews,” but his fellow group members disagree.
“Brent’s songs are the hardest, but they turn out amazing,” Harmonyx singer Liz Cox reassured him. “They are just very technically difficult.”
Upon request, Rindlisbacher has been working on an arrangement of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” which the singers will perform at the Fort Herriman Days festival June 24 at their usual time—just before the headliner performs.
In the weekly rehearsals leading up to the performance, other members of the group have helped Rindlisbacher edit and tweak the complex composition here and there, getting it ready for showtime. But what some call weekly rehearsals others call “weekly goof-offs.”
“Most of us, I think it is safe to say, have attention deficit.,” Taylor said. “We are all over the place. Liz is really good. She has been our music director for just over a month, I think, but she keeps us on track.”
Cox responded to Taylor’s comment.
“It’s good because I used to teach junior high choir, so I’m really good at keeping people under control,” she said, as four others in the group laughed in agreement.
And even though the group’s “craziness” keeps them from concentrating from time to time, it’s also what makes their performances memorable, Allphin said.
Allphin still remembers when Herriman Harmonyx performed at Taylor and Rindlisbacher’s workplace for Christmas a few years back. The group had created a holiday-themed script, and Allphin played an elf and wore tights to look the part. In addition to wearing costumes, the group invited the company CEO and COO to dance with them on stage.
Interacting with audience members and bringing them up on stage is something that sets Herriman Harmonyx apart from other musical groups, according to group member Nate Bartlett. In the choir’s main concert each year, its Valentine’s cabaret, the members try to get the audience to participate in the show, he said.
The Valentine’s cabaret is what prompted the creation of the Herriman Harmonyx eight years ago. Julie Reed, a former Herriman Arts Council member, had a vision of organizing a city-sponsored romantic date night for couples around Valentine’s Day, so she hosted rigorous auditions for an a cappella choir that would perform at the event.
The three-hour auditions required sight reading, along with solo and group singing. Taylor admits to being intimidated by the other female competitors. Coming from a musical instrument background, she said she was doubtful about making the cut.
Rindlisbacher expressed similar memories about the audition.
“There were only five guys auditioning, but there were only four parts,” he said. “I was so nervous I couldn’t even stand it.”
But he and Taylor made it through the audition and into the group despite their own insecurities.
Several years after those initial auditions, Reed moved, but Herriman Harmonyx group members decided to keep the group alive without a director.
“We still do the cabaret every year, but we’ve changed it a little bit from her original vision of romantic and sweetness to a kind of crazy comedy with lots of satire,” Taylor said.
The valentine’s cabaret takes on a new theme and a self-written script each year. This year the cabaret was based off the TV sitcom “Gilligan’s Island.” The 2016 valentine’s cabaret titled “Night of the Loving Dead” had a zombie apocalypse theme. The storylines weaves songs from many genres into one story.
The newest member of Herriman Harmonyx, Jeanette Herrera, who joined the group in late March just missed the Valentine’s cabaret but merged into the group in time for its April 4 “Star-Spangled Banner Performance” at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City. She said the experience brought back memories of singing all over the world with choir and musical theater groups more than 17 years ago.
The soprano has a bachelor’s degree in music dance theatre from Southern Virginia University, but she said she gave up all a cappella and musical theater style singing about 10 years ago when she became a single mom.
“I gave up musical theater just because you need to commit like three months in the evening at a time if you are going to do a professional show, and I just couldn’t do that for my babies,” Herrera said.
Herrera has continued to get her music fix by contributing lead vocals to her band Rhythm Addicts, which performs at bars, corporate events and weddings, but she said she’s grateful to return to her music roots by singing with the Harmonyx.
“I think what makes us unique is because we bring all the party right here in our body, so these men, they do the percussion,” she said. “We do everything, so we don’t have to bring the drums and guitar—they are all of that. They are the rhythm section, and it is just beautiful. I think there is an element that no other band can have.”
Several other Harmonyx members also expressed their gratitude that the community group gives them an avenue to share their talents.
In addition to Allphin, Rindlisbacher, Taylor, Cox and Bartlett, other Herriman Harmonyx members are Andy Rasmussen, Hilary Bagley and Andrea Taylor. The group is currently looking for a tenor voice. Interested persons may contact Allphin at 801-400-7172.