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Fans packed the house for local high-school A Capella ‘Olympics’ at GFS

Caroline Grace was talking about the keys to success Saturday night at the 17th annual Germantown Friends School A Capella Festival. A senior leader of the Penn Charter Quakers Dozen, she said the secret weapon is a teammate with naturally perfect pitch.

“We don’t even need a pitch pipe,” she said, waiting nervously behind the stage. “This is our Olympics, if you will. We just kind of come out here every year and show our stuff.”

A packed room saw Grace’s group’s stuff, as well as that of the GFS A Capella team, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Hilltones and Laurelei at an event locally known as the Grammy Awards of high-school A Capella.

For Grace, it was her last time performing before college, but she doesn’t expect to give up A Capella anytime soon.

“I definitely want to keep up music in my life,” she added.

Allen Drew, a Mt. Airy community church pastor and a Chestnut Hill native, has led the GFS A Capella group for 10 years. He described what sets the genre apart.

“It can cross all sorts of different lines. You can do classical. You can do jazz. You can do just about anything,” he said explaining that the teenagers learn how to harmonize and even some arrange their own music. “We had a group tonight do like a techno thing. There’s something about singing together in a group that really bonds people.”

The performances

GFS performed favorites like Mumford and Son’s “Little Lion Man,” along with traditional medleys. The group raised $10,000 via two nights of performances and CD sales last year, money that goes towards performing arts at the school and pays for the next years’ recording sessions.

Laurie Clark, whose daughter Emma is a GFS sophomore, said that most people don’t realize their A Capella group seniors actually conduct their fellow singers.

“That’s a huge component, directing your own music and not relying on a professional,” she said.

Jack Treatman, whose son Reuben performs with the Chestnut Hill Hilltones, snagged a front-row seat for the performance to take video. He said the audition process is a tough endeavor.

“It’s been a quest of his for a few years,” said Treatman, who loves A capella for its simplicity. “A Capella is very real, there’s no ornamentation. It’s just from the soul.”

Guests like Penn Off the Beat, a singing group from the University of Pennsylvania, and New York jazz vocalist JD Walter rounded off the night.

The GFS A Capella group was nominated for a number of Contemporary A Capella Recording Awards for their new release, The Blue and White Album. They are in the running for Best High School Album and Best High School Solo thanks to Johanna Velasquez’s “Dr. Feelgood” rendition, among others. The winners will be announced April 1.

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