Amid the screams of the teenage girls in the audience, the YellowJackets, an a cappella group from the University of Rochester, brought the crowd under the spell of its sweet harmonies and charm last Friday at Niagara Falls High School.
The show was full of energy and personality. The group proved to be as versatile as the distinct voices fusing together to create the effect of the absent band. They tackled the traditional barbershop quartet with ease while preserving its sweet taste and later put Adele to shame with a heartfelt performance of "Someone Like You."
A prominent part of the University of Rochester, the YellowJackets was founded in 1956 by Dr. Ward Woodbury Jr. as a men's glee club. In the 1980s it progressed to its current form of a cappella singing. The group gained nationwide recognition from its performance on the third season of NBC's "The Sing Off." The group finished in seventh place, competing against 16 other a cappella groups.
The YellowJackets often travel to schools, educating chorus students on the importance of music in school and in life.
Last week's workshops at Niagara Falls schools were especially exciting for the group and the students as Michael Pittman, a signature member of the ensemble, is an alumnus of Niagara Wheatfield High School. A 2009 graduate, Pittman is studying international relations and Spanish at the University of Rochester.
Pittman was in his element, providing a strong voice to the overall show but also singing primary roles in the barbershop quartet and providing the audience with a simply spot-on performance of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," complete with upbeat dance moves and audience participation. The whole auditorium seemed to absorb his energy, producing a show full of excitement and free of any dull moments.
The atmosphere of the show was set by the relationship of the members, who encourage and support each other on and off the stage.
"When we get into the group, we always have a talk about how we just got into this big, special thing, and how we just joined, in every sense, a brotherhood," Pittman said. "We always hang out together, we eat together. If we want to go studying, we invite each other to the library to go study. We do a lot of fun stuff together."
The group becomes a prevalent part of each of its members' lives, with practice three times a week for three hours, along with performances.
"We spend almost every day together," Pittman said.
The group travels widely during the summer months. Past trips included visits to Europe and Africa.
"It was one of the most amazing experiences, partly because we were in Africa, really helping people, and the other part because I was spending it with people that I love, I was spending it with my brothers," Pittman said.
Pittman's advice to other singing groups includes "go out there and have the best time that you can, not many people get the experience of being able to sing in front of other people and it's really an exhilarating feeling to go up there and just really sing and put yourself out there. I would say just have the best time you can."
To summarize his experience at Niagara Falls High School, Pittman said, "It was an honor being able to perform at Niagara Falls High School and all the other schools in the district; it was just so much fun and is definitely something I am going to remember forever. It really was a great spring break, so just thank you to everybody!"
Elaina Marino is a junior at Niagara Falls High School.