Review by J. A. Di Bello, photo by Carol Montana
BETHEL, NY (October 10, 2015) — One is fortunate to search and thankfully discover that elusive combination of qualities that stimulate the aesthetic senses. The visual, the aural and the aroma are on occasion inadvertently in close proximity and thus complementary. Such was the combination of circumstances on Sunday, October 4, as the Shandelee Music Festival continued to celebrate its 22nd season.
The Festival teamed with Bethel Woods Center for the Arts to present “An Afternoon of A Cappella,” featuring the Princeton Nassoons. The qualities that stimulate were in place: the vocal expertise of the Nassoons, the scent of a crisp, pine-scented autumnal air graciously teamed with the allure of the slightly tinged foliage of an immaculate Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
As Fall begins to display her splendor, The Event Gallery at Bethel Woods provided the ideal location for an equally appealing celebration of the season by Princeton University’s Nassoons. It was during the most celebrated Weekend in 1941 that the University’s Nassoons were initiated and officially recognized at the Glee Club Concert. Reportedly, the Nassoons’ interpretation and presentation of a Spanish composition made popular during that period by Xavier Cugat, excited the crowd to such an extent, that an encore was immediately demanded .The music in question, “Perfidia,” is a passionate lament detailing the pains and torments of infidelity. The interpretation with its racy lyrics and multi-part harmonies remains the signature piece of the Nassoons to this day, 74 years after a noteworthy performance at the Princeton-Yale Weekend.
The presentation at Bethel’s Event Gallery began with a brief and well prepared introduction of each Nassoon member. A diversified group of talented young men with academic concentrations ranging from finance and history to music and engineering was eager to present its enlightened interpretation of vocal selections. The assortment ranged from well-known renditions of classic Beatle’s material, i.e., “Please, Please Me” to the American folk classic of “Across the Wide Missouri.” With particular attention, it was tenor Andrew Helber who with heart-felt emotion led the others “cross that rollin’ river.” With perfection Andrew demonstrated acute vocal agility and muscle memory. In addition to superior performance abilities, Helber is familiar with the origins of the folk classic, quickly pointing out as printed in the program, the classic is widely known as “Shenandoah.” And the question becomes interesting to determine if Shenandoah refers to the Native American Chief of that name or the spectacular Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. “With so many variations in accepted and recorded lyrics, it can go either way.”
An additional standout found in this exceptional vocal group is Duncan Waldrop, also a tenor, whose wardrobe for this performance was that of a “tattered orange and black tiger,” the symbolic mascot of athletic teams representing Princeton University. He stood in direct contrast to his colleagues, with their neat, attractive white shirts and blazers. While offering comic relief through limited smatterings of improv, Duncan is the man with the pitch pipe! He’s the team leader who calls the signals, determining pitch and tone in addition to the critical element of timing. When vocalists are questioned about the characteristics of successful members, it is often noted that a cappella groups have to be perfect, everything is focused on perfection. It is frequently called “OCD singing, because nothing can ever be off.”
An afternoon of perfection was brought to an appreciative= conclusion with two well-known and widely loved a cappella favorites: “Over the Rainbow” featuring Andrew Helber as the solo tenor and, as one might expect, a moving rendition of the group’s claim to fame, “Perfidia.”
It can be said, without hesitation the presentation at the Bethel Woods Event Gallery was an enjoyable and stimulating exhibition of the art of a cappella. The Shandelee Music Festival is to be applauded for recognizing the legitimate place of a cappella performance in its music repertoire.