A Cappella Fest warms a winter night

If rivals locking in competition calls up images of high stakes battles on the grid iron, then the annual A Cappella Fest at Germantown Friends School may take you by surprise.

Every year in February, students, parents and alums crowd the Loeb Performing Arts Center for the event as if it were homecoming weekend. Last year, tickets sold out in just six hours.

“Since GFS has no football team this is kind of the highlight of the GFS social season,” said Mary Ann Case, who has been organizing the multi-school event for the last four years.

On Saturday night, GFS hosted the Chestnut Hill Academy Hilltones, the Springside Laurelei and the Penn Charter Quaker’s Dozen as well as groups from Skidmore and the University of Pennsylvania for a singing throw-down that may be unique in the area.

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The groups, especially the local schools, practice all year to beat each other on stage in harmony and humor. The audience cheers and laughs its way through a solid three hours of music as students sing, hum, whistle and beatbox popular songs from artists such as Jill Scott, No Doubt and Justin Bieber.

There are no prizes on this night except bragging rights, though some of the clubs compete throughout the year in other venues. “It’s really sort of a musical sharing more than anything else,” Case said.

A troupe can scarcely get through a set without some form of choreographed humor. But while good humor and fun is the aim of the night, Case admits there is a high value placed on performing in one of these groups.

Three out of four of her sons were on the squad for GFS. But for the one who didn’t quite make the singing grade, “that is still a sore subject,” she said.

The Germantown Friends’ group doesn’t compete during the school year. Yet a cappella has become so much a part of school life that the alumni events every June feature past a cappella members who come back for a mass performance of the Duke Ellington Jazz standard “Mood Indigo.”

In the slideshow above the CHA Hilltones perform “One Day.” Photos of the CHA Hilltones, Springside Laurelei, Penn Charter Quaker’s Dozen and the GFS A Cappella by Patrick Cobbs. Sound courtesy of Tadashi Matsuura/George Blood Audio.

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