A set of pipes over a se­ries of tubes

Pasatiempo - - On stage This Week - Michael Wade Simp­son

Hollywood true story: Lana Turner was spot­ted sip­ping a soda at a drug store in Los An­ge­les in 1937 and be­came a movie star. In­ter­net true story, 2008: years af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, a mem­ber of an all-male a cap­pella sing­ing group from In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity posted a video of the group’s 1998 per­for­mance of “The Twelve Days of Christ­mas” on YouTube. Seven mil­lion view­ers watched the video that De­cem­ber, in­clud­ing an ex­ec­u­tive at At­lantic Records who quickly signed the en­sem­ble. Straight No Chaser, the group, soon recorded a best­selling Christ­mas CD and has been tour­ing ever since. “We went vi­ral,” said Char­lie Mechling, one of the singers, in a re­cent phone in­ter­view. “It bog­gles my mind.” The group per­forms at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Mon­day, May 10.

While Straight No Chaser has had a few TV ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing a PBS hol­i­day spe­cial, the group’s suc­cess con­tin­ues to be fed largely by the in­ter­net. You can lis­ten to the singers’ mu­sic or buy it on­line. You can read their tour blogs or send a mes­sage on their web­site, be­come a fan on Face­book, read Twit­ter post­ings from all 10 mem­bers of the group, visit their MyS­pace page, watch their videos, pur­chase a ring tone for your cell­phone, or buy tick­ets for their shows.

Mechling re­ports that of the orig­i­nal mem­bers, now in their 30s, six are full-time tour­ing mu­si­cians (four dropped out to raise fam­i­lies or con­tinue other pro­fes­sions). Four re­place­ments were se­lected from more re­cent in­car­na­tions of the In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity group by the same name — the un­der­grad­u­ate Straight No Chaser en­sem­ble is now a tra­di­tion at the school. Mechling worked as an ac­tor. One mem­ber was a field re­porter for a tele­vised Chicago news pro­gram; oth­ers worked for Sprint, Snap­ple, and banks. “We’re like broth­ers,” Mechling said. “It’s a gru­el­ing sched­ule, and it’s hard for me to be away from my wife a lot. And some­times we fight. But ev­ery time we get up and spend two hours on­stage, all the frus­tra­tions go away, and it makes it all worth­while.”

Bar­ber­shop and doo-wop are pop­u­lar mod­ern forms of a cap­pella mu­sic, but as demon­strated by the ul­tra-smooth stylings of Straight No Chaser, 10 men can cre­ate a sound that is an or­ches­tra in it­self. And judg­ing from the suc­cess of vo­cal ge­nius Bobby McFer­rin’s new al­bum, VO­CAb­u­Lar­ieS, which reached No. 1 on the Bill­board Con­tem­po­rary Jazz chart, a cap­pella is clearly in.

Straight No Chaser’s name is taken from a Th­elo­nious Monk stan­dard. In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity, known for its mu­sic school, didn’t have a tra­di­tion of a cap­pella groups like many of the Ivy League schools back East. A stu­dent, Dan Ponce (still per­form­ing), started the group as an out­growth of the Sing­ing Hoosiers choir, in the hopes that a cap­pella groups would be­come a part of the mu­si­cal fab­ric of the school. Lit­tle did any­one know it would be­come a ca­reer.

With a Twist, the ti­tle of the group’s newly re­leased CD, is an apt de­scrip­tion of its ap­proach to mu­sic. On one cut, the group com­bines the Ja­son Mraz song “I’m Yours” with the rhyth­mic ver­sion of “Some­where Over the Rain­bow,” pop­u­lar­ized by Hawai­ian singer Is­rael Ka­makawiwo’ole. The Si­na­tra clas­sic “You and Me and the Bot­tle Makes Three” is com­bined with the Bey­oncé hit “Sin­gle Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” The new CD is a “good mix,” Mechling said, “with clas­sics as well as hits from the ’ 90s.” Barry Manilow even makes a guest ap­pear­ance on the Straight No Chaser ver­sion of his song “One Voice.”

Mu­si­cally, the sound is smooth and well blended, with soloists who could be Amer­i­can Idol stars. Theirs is a unique blend of old-fash­ioned

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