Troy Horne Returns To The House Jacks!

On August 10th, legendary a cappella group, The House Jacks, bid farewell to Deke Sharon (founding band member and acaEVERYTHING) and Elliott Robinson (bass). Faithful supporters were stunned, but amid their shock and well wishes for the departing, rose another chatter…WHO WILL BE IN THE NEW LINEUP? Wait no longer, as the first *new* member to be added to the ranks is none other than TROY HORNE!

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If you have been a long time supporter of The House Jacks, you know that Troy is, in fact, not ‘new’, but rather ‘returning’ to the group as bass. If you are new to The House Jacks, Troy has a rich musical background, contagious positive spirit, and we want to give you the opportunity to get to know him better.

TK: Hi Troy! I am so thrilled to see you back with The House Jacks! However, for those not familiar with you, how long have you been singing/what are your early singing experiences?

TH: Okay! Starting off with the FIRE!! I like it! I like it. So okay…How long have I been singing? I have been singing for over 30 years. That is longer than most of the folks that are reading this have been alive! CRAY!! CRAY!! My early experiences were mostly in church and in talent shows and stuff like that. Nothing too fancy. It was a great way to learn how to engage with an audience. I love it when you are able to create a connection with the people who are listening. I think that that is why I continue to sing and perform. For me it is all about connecting with people.

TK: So true! Sometimes it’s easy to just focus on a perfect performance and overlook making a real connection to the people who are listening. Did you study music in any capacity in school?

TH: I studied music in school and really loved the experience. I would say that it was a really great way to learn and become disciplined; however, schooling is not the end of your learning how to be a performer. It is only the beginning. It gives you more tools to add to your toolbox, but you still have a lot of learning to do once you leave there. A LOT!! :-)

TK: I love that you recognize that there is always room to grow, especially in terms of performing. Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to sing professionally?

TH: Yes. I was really lucky! I knew from the first time that I sang in front of an audience that this is what I was meant to do. I still remember being around 8 or 9 years old standing in front of our church congregation and being able to hear my heart. I could actually hear it in my head. That is how nervous I was. After we finished singing, people stood to their feet and applauded for us like we were the Beatles or something. I was hooked.

TK: Yes! I can only imagine how it feels to have crowds of people so moved by what you do on stage. How did you initially become a member of the group? Did you know someone who knew someone? Or?

TH: I was auditioning for a show at Disney. I think it was Aladdin (or something) and one of the casting people asked if I would be interested in being a part of this a cappella group that they were putting together. I said YES because that is what you say when someone asks you, “Hey would you like to sing for a living?” I walked into this room filled with some AMAZEBALLS singers and was totally intimidated. Deke was the director and coordinator of the group. (I LOVE ME SOME DEKE!) Anywho, we hit it off and later when a spot opened up he asked me if I would like to be a part of a group that he was in called The House Jacks. Like I said before, I did what you do when someone asks you, “Hey would you like to sing for a living?” Haha!

TK: Had you heard of The House Jacks before then? Had you been a fan?

TH: I didn’t really know of the Jacks at that time. I just knew of Deke and if he was a part of it, I knew that it was going to be the real deal. That dude! He is something!

TK: That is for sure! What years were you a part of their lineup?

TH: It’s all a blur. I was a part of their lineup for a few years before doing RENT (*YES, he is referring to RENT on Broadway! Check your Playbills!) and then a few years after RENT and now I am back for a threepeat. I just really like what we do as a group! I can’t wait to shift the idea of what a cappella is yet again. We have some surprises coming. It’s going to be goooood. Little known fact: Did you know that I was a member of Home Free for a minute? Those guys are also so fun! Chris, Adam, and Rob were the only ones in the group at the time. Love those dudes! Shout out to Rob L…”Learn About It”….it’s a Home Free thing… you wouldn’t understand. :-)

TK: Speaking of RENT, how did you land a role in it? Had you done other Broadway shows? Off-Broadway?

TH: It was a very interesting “Come to Jesus” moment. I was sitting in my car reading ‘Backstage West’ and I saw an audition for RENT. I had never seen the play, never heard of the characters, or anything, but something inside of me said “Hey…if you go to this audition you will get the part.” Actually I talk about it in our new podcast. I will let you know when it comes out and what we name it so that people can find it. It’s a long story, and I think hearing Austin and John banter in the background as I tell it is much more interesting than me just talking about it now. So in a couple of weeks, we will put it up on iTunes. (*As a faithful RENThead, I CANNOT WAIT for this podcast. Keep your eye out for its release!)

TK: A hot topic in a cappella right now is original music and The House Jacks are known for their original songs. Were you among those who wrote for the group? Do you have a favorite song that you wrote?

TH: I was writing songs for the group at that time. One of my favorite songs is ‘Storybook’. It is a song about how love between all people a boy and a boy, a girl and a girl, or a boy and a girl are to be celebrated. It was my little musical celebration of love between people.

TK: We all need to celebrate love more often. Do you have a special memory that you love about being a House Jack before?

TH: Two words: HAR GOW! There is a place near Deke’s house that served it. I really loved walking with him to get some. Great talks happened during those walks.

TK: It’s always nice to reflect on cool moments from past experiences. Is there one thing you remember most from that time, touring, etc.?

TH: Almost staying in a hotel that was owned by a guy whose parents were proudly a part of the Nazi movement. AWKWARD! I have stories for days about touring with the Jacks, but that was the craziest moment of my life. Needless to stay we stayed somewhere else.

TK: I’m glad to hear that you found new accommodations! I cannot even imagine how awkward that must have been. Wow. Have you continued with music since then? What types of projects/work have you done?

TH: I have! I am currently working on a music subscription program of all original positive music called the Whole Music Diet. It’s online at Wholemusicdiet.com (Shameless Plug!) Did you know that when you listen to music that eight parts of your brain are activated? Music has been used to help lessen depression and even decrease pain during surgery. I think that we have been led to believe that it is just entertainment, but it is really so much more. My vision is to help people overcome, or at least lessen, their fear, depression and anxiety through music. I want to make happy making music.

TK: Music can truly transform a person. There are numerous stories about its healing benefits. Having been away from the group for some time, what made you decide to return?

TH: I wanted to be around people making music. I really wanted to create more high quality music with great musicians. I was very honored to be notified of the possibility of singing with the Jacks again.

TK: Well, I for one, am SUPER excited to have you back with The House Jacks! Finally, what can both returning and new fans look forward to with the new lineup?

TH: Originality and a high level of artistry. The new guy…(I think that you are doing an article with him later so I won’t spoil it)…is one of the SICKEST SINGERS IN THE WORLD and it is effortless!

For more fun from Troy (and to hear his awesome voice), keep your eyes peeled for The House Jacks’ podcast that Troy mentioned earlier. Also, stay tuned for the announcement of the other new member. Be sure to follow all of the The House Jacks’ social media sites (fb/Twitter/IG: TheHouseJacks) to keep current with all of their news and some fun contests.

The House Jacks: Pollinating the Aca-universe

Last night, The House Jacks announced that founding member Deke Sharon is leaving the group, as is bass Elliott Robinson. Deke formed the group in 1991 and has shepherded it through many iterations while consistently pushingdeke the boundaries of recorded and live a cappella music.

The House Jacks are an iconic group, but not the kind that rests on its laurels and cruises along playing the greatest hits. The band has many exciting plans in store for the future, which will include two “new” yet-to-be announced members. This is why we have decided to go all in on a series of features and interviews, our very own “House Jacks” week here at Acatribe and in conjunction with Acafanbase.

This first piece has been in the works for many months.  When The House Jacks released their album Pollen last fall, I was blown away. A compilation album with some of the best groups from across the globe is exciting, but one where a pillar of the community like The House Jacks collaborates with those groups to write new songs is even better. I sat down with John Pointer in December to discuss the creation of the album, and then decided to go one step further. I reached out to members of all 10 collaborating groups featured on the album. The reason this piece has not gone up sooner is simple: it’s difficult to get in touch with people scattered across five continents. If not for the band’s announcement last night, I might have waited longer to hear back from the four remaining groups.  Instead, I am pushing on to offer you a look inside the making of the first international collaborative album of original a cappella music.

 

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For more than twenty years, The House Jacks have been ahead of the curve. If you listen to their recording of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir today, it sounds pretty cool. If you listened to it in 1997, when it was released on their second album Funkwich, it was mind-blowing.  Layered textures, big booming Bonham-esque drums, and fuzzy distortion are commonplace in recorded a cappella now. In 1997 they were from another galaxy.  

“Studio tricks,” you might say, “big deal- they’ve worked with a brilliant engineer (Bill Hare) for most of their albums.” My response would be this, this, this, and this.  See you in about 30 minutes, or far longer if you search “House Jacks requests” in YouTube.  The group has been performing its patented request improvisation medley for years, and it is fun (though far from perfect) every single time. It’s a bold move from a group of musicians confident enough in their skill and showmanship to allow themselves to be vulnerable onstage.  I have never seen another group even try it.

There’s your proof that the House Jacks have been innovating for quite a while. Last fall, they released Pollen, an album which features 10 songs performed, recorded, and essentially co-written with 10 groups from 5 different continents. This struck me as a brilliant extension of the group’s quest to not only push the boundaries of recorded a cappella music, but also to take a cappella into the future. Online collaborations are not brand-new (Peter Hollens, for example, has been putting out collaborative videos for years) but the idea of a premier band creating music with some of the best international groups is truly revolutionary.

I reached out to John Pointer, baritone/tenor/beatboxer extraordinaire, and he agreed to sit down and discuss the process. What followed was a 2.5-hour discussion about the group’s history, the process of recording Pollen, and some possibilities for the future.

 

I then followed up by emailing each of the collaborating groups, eventually hearing back from members of Cadence, The Idea of North, BR6, Postyr, Maybebop, and MICappella with their thoughts on the process and the album. Continue reading…

Acappella the Musical: A Journey Worth Taking

The world seems to be moving awfully fast these days. News is old almost instantaneously, “friendship” can mean nothing more than the click of a button, and the medium by which we experience simple joys has shifted from our eyes to our screens, from watching, absorbing, and embracing an experience to capturing, tagging, and sharing it.  Acappella, playing now at the New York Music Theater Festival, explores the road back from this rapidly-evolving cyber-immersion, as reflected through the journey of a fictional church and gospel singer turned pop star.  That the show tells its story through just human voices, sung and spoken, is not a gimmick but an endorsement for the power of two people sitting in a room talking or 4 people standing on a stage singing, connecting on the most basic of levels. In fact, it is this mode of musical delivery, a cappella music, which most effectively engages the audience during the 90-minute production.

The vocal music comes in three varieties: solo/duet numbers, dialogue-based or supported ensemble numbers, and the distinguishing point in the show, a vocal band serving as the pit orchestra.  The first two are standard in musical theater, so it is the vocal band-as-orchestra which stands out.  Sometimes, the band is onstage providing context for narrative while backing up a character.  Other times, the band serves a traditional pit orchestra function, providing music while the set pieces are changed or while a character enters or exits.  On Sunday, the band was consistently strong, with arrangements rooted in soul and gospel, but also in doo wop.  Evan Feist, music director and sound designer (more on that in a moment) has crafted simple, effective harmonies from the deep catalog of music produced by The Acappella Company.  His arrangements should please traditionalists with full, accessible chords, but also appeal to those seeking something more intricate with moments like the ringing reverse belltones near the end of the first act.  One of the emotional highpoints of the show, the R&B-flavored “War With Myself,” is a little bit loose with some of the sparse backing parts but the goal, of allowing the powerful lyrics and soloists to connect without distraction, is well-conceived if a little tenuous on Sunday.

Feist also serves as sound designer, a role which undoubtedly involves the difficult task of managing 14 separate wireless microphones.  As I was told in my interview with Executive Producer Greg Cooper and Author Vynnie Meli last week (read it here!), the group was just beginning the sound check process a few days before opening night.  Considering that very short adjustment period, the sound was pretty good on Sunday. A soprano in the vocal band was too loud at times, and a few of the middle voices were occasionally muddled, but the lead characters came through clearly, both in dialogue and in music.

So, as the a cappella writer, I’ve covered the basics of the music. Two more quick points on that topic. First, The Acappella Company is usually a Christian music quartet (otherwise known as “Acappella”), and their inspiration clearly derives from a strong faith-based source.  As Cooper correctly assured me, however, the show does not feel like a “church” or “praise” show, at least not in any exclusive sense.  Harmonies like these are universal, whether the words have religious or secular meaning, and Vynnie Meli’s book manages to broaden the story’s appeal without excising the undertones of faith and hope.  Second, the performers in the show are outstanding.  Tyler Hardwick, as lead Jeremiah, has a bright, soaring tenor which is neither brittle nor strained.  Anthony Chatmon II offers a compelling contrast with his earthy, resolute baritone.  The show’s experienced backbone, featured as both a quartet and as comedy relief, includes the immensely talented Broadway veterans Cheryl Freeman and Virginia Ann Woodruff, former Drama Desk nominee Miche Braden, and the outrageous Darryl Jovan Williams. The group’s performance of “Old Time Gospel” is a rollicking good time and one of the musical high points of the show. Simply put, Acappella is an unconditional success on the musical front.

Now, I don’t claim to be a theater critic but I will do my best to articulate why this could work as a long-running staged production, but not without a little revision and polish.  Despite Meli’s best efforts to take a collection of pre-existing, loosely related music and craft a moving and engaging story, there is still work to be done (as I’m sure she would agree).  To begin with, the story is a little disjointed and even confusing early on. There is not enough time invested in creating the backdrop for Jeremiah’s rise, including his relationship with Simon. The two were, we are later told, “Black-Eyed Peas in a pod” from the time they were young, but the vast majority of this narrative comes after the fact and is largely told through the embittered viewpoint of Simon, who comes across as a bit one-dimensional.  There may well be external factors such as show length and source catalog which will make introduction of additional character development a challenge, but it is a challenge worth tackling in order to give the story a better arc and a more nuanced portrayal of both Jeremiah and Simon.  This is important, particularly since their relationship depicts the dichotomy at the core of the story, with Jeremiah’s wandering and superficial career taking him further every day from the simple acceptance of self which Simon purportedly claims to have achieved.  Despite Simon’s claim, he bristles from the moment he learns Jeremiah is back in town until his final lines walking away from Jeremiah in false triumph, and a little less might go a long way here. Other than that, there are also a few creaky transitions, some attributable to the music and others to the book, which still need to be ironed out.

The story succeeds in the bigger picture with the help of Aunt Leona (Freeman), Mary (Woodruff), and the irascible and hilarious Mrs. Sanders (Braden).  The trio, joined occasionally by the charming Mr. Turner (Williams), bring a light and welcome respite from the heavy drama of Jeremiah’s return to town.   More importantly, the show works because the music is inspired, the performers passionate, and the journey relatable.  The show’s tagline, “A musical about finding your own voice,” is hardly exclusive to the context in which it is portrayed here, and it is one which most audiences will find familiar and accessible.

In our prior interview, Meli conveyed her early hesitation about joining the team for a jukebox musical.  However, she has successfully avoided the potential pitfall of creating a disparate, incoherent story and instead honed in on a narrative which comfortably bridges the gap between the faith-based gospel music and a coming-of-age tale with broader social and personal themes.   There’s no question in my mind that a fully-developed and broadly appealing musical is inside Acappella if she and the rest of the creative team can polish a few of the rough spots, flesh out the characters a little more, and clean up some awkward transitions. Acappella is better than I expected, but with the right development it can be everything an audience looks for in a night at the theater: a relatable story told with drama, humor, and some terrific music.  Here’s to hoping the show continues to find its voice.

The Long Journey Behind Acappella The Musical

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Greg Cooper smiles a lot. The executive producer of Acappella, an entirely vocal musical show opening its weeklong run at the New York Musical Theatre Festival Tuesday, July 7, leans back at one point, lets out a hearty laugh, and talks about how this 12-year journey to get the show made has been a “pleasurable torture.”  The phrase harbors no negative connotation because it is delivered with a big smile and because it is clear that Cooper’s experience getting here has paralleled the show’s tagline: “a musical about finding your own voice”.  It is also apparent that he could not be happier with what is happening, regardless of any obstacles he has faced along the way.

In 2003, Cooper heard about the success of MAMMA MIA! (a tribute to the music of Swedish pop group ABBA) and the surge of other jukebox musicals which flooded New York City’s theater scene and he immediately thought of the extensive catalog of music produced by The Acappella Company and its founder, Keith Lancaster. Lancaster formed and sang with the Christian vocal quartet Acappella in 1982, and he still advises the group along with several other Christian vocal groups. Lancaster and The Acappella Company have been prolific, producing dozens of a cappella albums over the past 25 years, and Cooper describes that catalog as the “music of my life.”
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2014- The Year in A Cappella

**Yes, this is going up way later than I typically do the annual review. You have my heartfelt apologies and a sincere promise to get the 2015 review up in January, 2016. If you want to help out with these types of posts (or any other types of posts), I could always use some help. Just email me at dave@acatribe.com.

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While it seemed like nothing could top 2013 in terms of the expanding global reach of a cappella music, 2014 found ways to do precisely that. Pentatonix once again led the way with some remarkable achievements in their quest for mainstream pop relevance, Peter Hollens was signed to a Sony record label, and The Sing Off continued to create a variety of new and amazing offshoots.

We begin, of course, with Pentatonix.  A comprehensive list of the performances, appearances, and other relevance would be impossible (for me), but let’s review a few of the most noteworthy items. We begin, of course, with record releases and sales. In May, the group was signed to RCA Records.  As with 2013, they released a new pop music EP (PTX Vol. III) and a Christmas album (That’s Christmas to Me). The first reached number 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart and with 46,000 sales in the first week, but it was the latter that truly exploded. That’s Christmas to Me hit number 2 on the Billboard 200, was one of only 4 albums to go PLATINUM all year (the other 3? Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, and the Frozen soundtrack).  It was the highest-charting Christmas album by a group since 1962.  The global superstars of a cappella have nearly 8 million followers on YouTube and close to 900 million views.

Ok, welcome back. So, PTX sold a lot of records. What kind of opportunities does that bring with it? Just a few things like…

 

They were interviewed on CBS, featured in articles on Huffington Post, called social media superstars by Parade magazine, and so much more.

Their 2015 is off to an amazing start with sold out shows around the country and announcements that they will appear in this year’s Pitch Perfect 2, be opening on tour for Kelly Clarkson, and are rumored to be working on an album of all originals. Their meteoric ascent continues to astound.

Nothing else in 2014 a cappella news compares to the Pentatonix story, but here’s what else was noteworthy.

Noteworthy Recordings and Releases

The House Jacks released an album, “Pollen,” in which each track features a collaboration with a different international a cappella group.

The Swingle Singers released the first of two new albums on the way, “Weather to Fly.”
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