By Alexis Allen
With Vocal Point”s nine male singers, matching shirts and ties, upbeat choreography and sold-out concert halls, the only things missing are their instruments.
The student-founded a cappella group jams its way into the de Jong Concert Hall with its annual campus concert this week, marking the 10 anniversary of the group”s adoption into the School of Music.
“They had done such good work as a club that we decided to recognize that work and give them a place in the curriculum and recommend that they represent BYU as an approved touring ensemble,” said K. Newell Dayley, associate vice president of undergraduate studies and the chair of the Music Department when Vocal Point joined the School of Music in 1994.
BYU students Bob Ahlander and Dave Boyce founded Vocal Point in September 1991 as a private project, and they approached the school”s administration for support. Dayley said the project”s unique educational value impressed him from the beginning.
“I”ve always loved student initiated educational activities,” Dayley said. “There was a lot of initiative. They were doing their very best to achieve a high level of performance, and we all could see that they could benefit from a more formal approach. So that was our motivation to give them some assistance because they were working so hard.”
Ten years later, Dayley said Vocal Point”s core commitments haven”t changed despite its ever-changing cast.
“Because it”s so small and depends on the personal talents of the members, that group changes almost yearly,” Dayley said. “It”s really never the same. But there are some things that have always stayed the same, and that”s spontaneity, humor, a high level of performance skill, surprising and enjoyable repertoire, and a constant desire to communicate with an audience.”
But even with all this praise, Dayley said audiences have to hear Vocal Point to believe it.
“If you haven”t heard them, hear them,” he said. “If you have heard them, go back again. They”ve changed.”
Saturday”s Vocal Point concert in the de Jong Concert Hall is another opportunity for audiences to get a taste of Vocal Point.
The group”s repertoire includes rock, country, pop, jazz, R&B, spiritual and other musical styles. Much of Vocal Point”s music was originally intended for intricate instrumentation, but Vocal Point members adapt the pieces to suit their a cappella genre.
Vocal Point”s appeal to a specific audience was one of the things that set the group apart from the start, said Edward Blaser, director of Performing Arts Management.
“No question, Vocal Point fills a niche,” Blaser said. “It”s a general-appeal, small group that requires almost no equipment, and no instrumental backup, so they just go to places other groups can”t. And they have humor in their shows more than other groups. We just didn”t have a group that had that combination before.”
The Performing Arts Management office promotes and books performances for 18 BYU groups, including Vocal Point. Blaser said the office gets performance requests from all kinds of presenters, and Vocal Point”s versatility makes them a great match for any audience.
“They”re just fine young men who just know how to represent the school and the church and a cappella in a great way,” Blaser said. “So whether it”s an elementary school audience or a group at an old folks” home, they”ve done a very good job in crossing those boundaries.”
Blaser said strict BYU attendance requirements limit Vocal Point”s touring schedule. He said the rules are simply a trade-off for official BYU affiliation.
“We have more requests for Vocal Point than we can fill,” Blaser said. “That”s a nice situation to be in.”
Blaser said the premiere a cappella group receives a majority of its requests from schools because of its assembly program, but Vocal Point”s concert venues are ultimately as diverse as its members.
Seating 1,411 people, BYU”s de Jong Concert Hall is one of Vocal Point”s largest venues, Blaser said.
The group also has prominent locations in its schedule. Vocal Point will perform for Salt Lake City”s New Year”s Eve celebration as part of the Temple Square in Concert series, and the group will sing the national anthem at the Dec. 1 Utah Jazz basketball game.
“How do you get bigger than the Delta Center?” Blaser asked.
Vocal Point performed at almost every major venue for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games at the invitation of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. The group also sang at this year”s Campus Home Evening with President Cecil O. Samuelson and his wife, Sharon. Conventions, corn mazes and conferences-Vocal Point does them all.
The group also has a history of competitive success. The group regularly travels to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., for the annual International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Vocal Point beat out 108 groups to earn a spot at the 2002 finals in New York City, making them one of the six best college a cappella groups in the nation.
Vocal Point”s success on and off campus does a lot for BYU”s image, said Dale Monson, dean of the School of Music.
Monson said Vocal Point”s unique grass-roots beginnings reflect the group”s impact on BYU.
“It tells you something about the nature of the group, its origins,” Monson said. “I think it has a lot to do with school spirit and popular appeal. What it means for the university, that”s certainly a lot of it. It”s designed to address what people want to hear.”
The group”s adoption into the School of Music was highly unusual, Monson said, but its financial success is one reason the group continues to receive support. Vocal Point”s ticket sales cover the group”s expenses.
“There are only a few groups that we sponsor and support,” Monson said.
Vocal Point”s adoption also reflects the School of Music”s core values, Monson said.
“The idea about what our goals are is really quite diverse, including things like Vocal Point,” Monson said. “That isn”t a major, per se, but sponsoring these kinds of activities reflects in many ways, I think, the diversity of who we are.”
“Nine guys who love music”
What”s it like behind the scenes of Vocal Point?
A whole lot of fun, said second-year member Kevin Buskirk, a graduate student from San Jose, Calif.
“It”s great,” he said. “There are nine guys who are just great guys who love music and it”s just lots of fun. After sitting through hours and hours of somewhat tense and difficult classes, it”s nice just to go and sing with them. It”s kind of my fun for the day.”
With more than eight hours of in-class rehearsal a week and 15 or 16 shows each semester, Vocal Point”s time requirements make it sound like a choral boot camp.
But Buskirk said his stint with Vocal Point is all about having a good time and entertaining audiences.
“I love performing,” he said. “I love working hard on music, making it sound really good and then presenting it before people and having them like it too. If we can make people happy then we”ve been successful.”
Behind the Music: Vocal Point”s 2003-2004 Program Hits
* “Son of Man” from Disney”s “Tarzan”
* “Calling All Angels” by Train
* “Unbelievable” by Diamond Rio
* “Primarily Vocal Point” (primary songs medley as sung at BYUSA”s Campus Home Evening)
* “Everlasting Love” by Carl Carlton