A great Grapejam

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The Friday evening in the midst of midterms and before the long-anticipated spring break was a popular time for many Swatties to take a break and chill out. They could be found at a fun concert, spending a few moments with friends and loved ones, before diving back into piles of economics graphs or chemistry formulas. Last Friday, Sixteen Feet and Grapevine invited the whole campus to an a cappella concert called Grapejam to bring to the audience some of their most popular songs.

The concert started at 9 p.m. in the crimson-walled Alice Paul main lobby. Even though the information of the concert was not officially posted in the Reserved Students Digest, the promotion of the event based on Facebook and word of mouth brought a turnout of nearly 200 people. Five minutes before the show, many people had already secured prime spots in the lobby, some sitting on the comfortable couches, some leaning against the railing of the stairs and some looking down from the second floor.

The show started with Sixteen Feet’s rendition of “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe, the spinoff group of New Edition. A song in the style of New Jack Swing, it was beautifully arranged and performed. Their rendition of the song was mostly faithful to the original version, but the arranger of the song, Kenny Ning ’14, added a short section of jazz harmony into the bridge, making the final product unique to Sixteen Feet.

Their second song was “Stay” by Rihanna. Ning said that his arrangement of the song was largely inspired by the remix version by Branchez Bootleg from YouTube.  As for most ballads, the beginning of the song was slow, and transited into an aggressive trap style in the middle. “We just added more aggressive background parts, as well as a lot of repetition of sections. We also added beatbox with a hip hop/dance feel”, said Ning. The ending of the song, similar to the beginning, returned to the slow tempo.

Their third song was “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men. A groovy, over-the-top, emotional song, it was arranged by a graduated member of Sixteen Feet and has been part of their repertoire for a long time.  The classic was followed by “Cry Me A River”, famously covered by Justin Timberlake. A funk and R&B song about a broken-hearted man, it underwent little alteration. Some interesting syllables were added to simulate the original sounds.

Grapevine brought to the audience three songs of three different genres. Their first song was “That Don’t Impress Me,” a country pop song by Canadian singer Shania Twain. Grapevine kept most of the original arrangement, its simplicity and catchiness, and made some apt changes to the lyrics to make it more Swarthmore-related. For example, they changed the original lyrics of “Okay, so you’re a rocket scientist” into “Okay, so you’re an engineer,” “Okay, so you’re Sixteen Feet,” and “Okay, so you’re van-certified,” to which the audience responded with an eruption of laughter.

Their second song was “The Call” by Regina Spektor, the theme song for “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” The voice of the lead, Claudia Romano ’17, was flawless. Together with the harmony, her vocals made this performance very solemn and emotional. Their last song was “Little Lion Man” by London folk quartet Mumford & Sons.  In contrast to the original male version, the female version, led by Sophie Miller ’16, involved more belting, expressing a different type of sadness and determination.

Sixteen Feet returned to the stage after “Little Lion Man” and performed “Yesterday,” one of the Beatles’ greatest hits. Different than any other songs that night, this was an ensemble piece without a soloist. It constituted of four vocal parts: bass, baritone, tenor one and tenor two, all of which were beautifully weaved together and produced a harmonious performance. Their last song was “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder, which is a traditional song for Sixteen Feet.

When I asked Ning why the two groups had a concert in the midst of midterms and before spring break, he said that the collaboration between Sixteen Feet and Grapevine has been held for a long time, and they wanted to “revitalize the tradition.” They wanted to have the performance before the break so that they could begin preparing for their next concert. They chose to have the performance in Alice Paul because it is less formal and brings the audience closer to the performers.

The concert was generally well-received by the audience. Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15 said, “As usual, both Grapevine and Sixteen Feet charmed us with their irresistible charisma.  The atmosphere at Swat’s a cappella concerts in general is always intimate and happy because of all the support from the audiences.  Audiences made up of so many friends and loved ones makes it difficult for a group to perform any less than their best.”

Heidy Wang ’14 said, “I really liked the performance today. I like both groups. It’s great because for the longest time they’d never had this kind of collaboration. I’m really excited.” She also praised them for having prepared more places to sit for the audience this year. “There used to not be this many chairs and sofas. It was hard to find a seat; people were sitting on the floor. The venue this year is more nicely done. And that’s really nice.”

When two such gifted groups collaborate, there may never be enough seats. Swinging between energized sounds and melancholy crooning, Sixteen Feet and Grapevine managed to show off a wide variety of emotions in their music – along with an extraordinary amount of talent.

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