Raising voices in song to help the homeless

Jasper a capella 3

The snow flurry on Sunday afternoon caused the temperature to drop a further several degrees, but inside the cozy and well-lit Whittier Room of the Friends Meeting House there was a concert going on. It was the third annual “Harmony for the Homeless” concert, an a cappella concert to benefit the Swarthmore Friends Meeting’s “Cooking for the Homeless” program. The concert was well attended, with more than 50 people in attendance. Many were senior citizens living nearby Swarthmore College and are also part of the charity program.

The concert was hosted by the Trolley Stoppers, a quartet based in Media. Dressed in vests of four different colors, the quartet first brought us Sentimental Journey by Doris Day. Their rendition morphed the originally jazzy feel into a more upbeat and welcoming touch, which was a good way to start the concert.

Their second song was Oh Shenandoah, a traditional American folk song dating back to the early 19th century. The harmonized orchestration of their different voices made this sentimental and nostalgic song a delight to listen to. They also sped up the tempo to give this song a blend of melancholy and liveliness.

Their third song was a creative adaptation of The MTA Song by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. Similar to the original song, The Trolley Stoppers’ rendition also served a purpose – to protest against the traffic circle in the Chester Road. Borrowing the chorus from the original song, they changed the lyrics “He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston” into “He may ride forever around the Chester circle.” Expectedly, this song was so well received that almost everyone present sang along with them, turning Whittier Room into a big karaoke hall.

Followed by The Trolley Stoppers was Chaverim, the Tri-College, co-ed a cappella group with members from Swarthmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr. Aiming to bring music from different cultures and traditions, Chaverim brought to us three songs of diverse origins. Their first song was a new version of Seikilos Epitaph, a Hellenistic Ionic song in Phrygian octave species and the oldest complete melody in the world. Though a short piece, Seikilos Epitaph by Chaverim was well-rendered. The performance featured harmonized, fluctuating vocals, which unified to produce a celestial sound.

Their second song was Sympathique by the Greek band Pink Martini. Bouncy and spirited, this song was led by a female vocalist, with other vocals that mimicked several instrumental effects, such as saxophone and whistle. Their last song was Pakkanen by Rajaton. “Pakkanen” is a Finnish word that literally means “Frost” or “Cold,” so the sound of gusty wind created by the vocalists seemed to suddenly bring us to the frigid Finnish winter. The gusty sound was soon replaced by the upbeat chanting, which offset the nippy coldness. Beautifully choreographed, their performance was exotic and unique.

Followed by Chaverim was Sixteen Feet, the all-men a cappella group from Swarthmore College. Unlike the previous two groups, Sixteen Feet performs popular music of all kinds. Their first song was a new rendition of soul classic Wonderful World by Sam Cooke with a younger feel. Their next song So Sick, a pop hit by Ne-yo, showed their strengths in beat-boxing and rapping, marking a completely different style with the other two previous groups. Their third song was Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye, also part of their Valentine’s Day’s repertoire.

For the end of the concert, The Trolley Stoppers sang another three songs. Their rendition of And So It Goes by Billy Joel was less sentimental but more soothing than the original due to the well-played harmonies of their vocals. Emily Remembers, originally by Shirley Eikhard was nostalgic and sad, with tenderness and calmness in singers’ voices. The last song of the day, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, originally by Neil Sedaka, rekindled the spirits and ended the concert in a very joyful note.

The concert was generally well-received by the audiences, as the three different groups provided a wide range of music genres that catered to the different taste of the audiences. Lisa Burgenland, from Media, shared her favorite group with me.  “It was wonderful. It was great. I really like the group with international songs, they were really great. The Swarthmore group had a really good popular song. “They were wonderful,” said Lisa. Lily Burgenland, Lisa’s daughter, a high school student from Westtown School, said “Each group presented different take on a cappella, the classic harmony, the international, and then the modern, I like everything. I think it is a good idea to bring people together for a good cause.”

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