DeKALB - What started out as something simple has grown into what many call the experience of a lifetime.
In 2004, choir director Travis Erikson decided to form a boys a cappella ensemble at DeKalb High School, with the goal of convincing boys to join choir. Calling itself Fly Check after an essential pre-performance ritual, the ensemble of six singers grew quickly.
“It has become very popular,” Angel Smith, an associate with the DHS music department, said.
“When you get on stage, it’s like being in a different world,” sophomore Matt Petersen said, adding that singing a cappella is “the most fun you can have with your mouth.”
Seeing how much fun the boys were having, Erikson said a group of girls wanted to form their own ensemble. The Grace Notes formed in 2006.
Both groups perform at community functions, but when it comes to competition, Erikson said it made sense to merge the groups so they don’t compete against each other. In 2010, they merged to form Enharmonic Fusion.
“Sometimes we feel we mimic ‘Glee,’” senior Carlie Hayes joked. “It’s fun and it’s awesome.”
Enharmonic Fusion’s only competition is the Varsity Vocals International Championship of High School A Cappella Midwest Semifinals, which DHS hosted last Saturday for the fifth consecutive year. The winner there advances to the national championship at Lincoln Center in New York City.
This year, the DeKalb team took third. Individually, Nelle Conley placed first as soloist.
Smith said the team will now send in a video of their performance in hopes of winning a wild card berth.
DHS has competed in nationals four times. Fly Check went in 2007 and 2008, when they finished third, while Enharmonic Fusion went in 2010 and 2012. In 2010, Enharmonic Fusion placed fourth. According to a press release, the group has been recognized by the Illinois State Legislature and was a featured performer at the 2009 Illinois Music Education Association conference.
Hayes said “there are no words to describe” going to New York City.
“It’s like getting to go with your best friends,” senior Shelby Small added.
The group was so caught up in the experience last year, Small said they burst into song in various places, like the subway. “We just sang to the people of New York,” she laughed.
Due to the growing popularity of a cappella, students now have to audition for Enharmonic Fusion.
“I tried out for madrigals as a freshman, but I didn’t get in,” sophomore Olivia Johnson-Smith said. “Then I tried out for Fusion and got in. That was pretty cool.”
“Obviously, your skill and technique impact what you can do,” Erikson said. “Technically, if you can sing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ you can do this.”
In a normal week of the season, which runs from January through spring, Petersen said they will rehearse two to three nights, but met every night for the last couple of weeks to get ready for the semifinals.
“You have to work together to make the sound you want,” Johnson-Smith said, adding that it’s important everyone make the rehearsals. “If you don’t have everyone, it’s not going to sound the same.”
“I don’t really leave the building before 9:30,” Petersen said.
Although he would prefer to have an even mix, Erikson said Fusion has 13 girls and 9 boys this year, which affects the sound “a little bit.”
“You have to make sure the sound is balanced so one doesn’t affect the other,” he said. “We have more female soloists than in the past.”
Last year, there were 32 members, which judges told him was too many.
“It’s more of an issue on how you organize them on stage,” he said. “We have to make a creative presentation.”
For their three-song, 12-minute performance, Erikson said they look for songs throughout the year that are appealing and present a balance of style. Erikson said they try to use popular music, unlike some groups that focus on spirituals or show tunes.
“You can do classical music, but the judges probably wouldn’t appreciate it,” he said. They also won’t sing any Aerosmith songs, he added, mainly because they don’t have anyone right now who can sing them.
“If the audience is more familiar (with a song), they get more into it,” Smith noted.
“There’s a lot of harmonies,” Small said. “It’s not always about words; it’s sound.”
Hayes added that the group uses a lot of facial expressions to emphasize the music.
“We’re involving our bodies in the music,” Petersen said.
Besides the music, one of the big draws of the group, Erikson said, is the camaraderie it develops.
“We’re in two different totally friend groups,” Small said of Hayes, “but we’re best friends.”
“Singing will bring you together,” Hayes said.
Next fall, Hayes will attend Florida Palm Beach Atlanta to study forensic science. Although the school doesn’t have an a cappella team, school officials have already told her she can start one if she can get eight other students interested.
Besides Erikson and Smith, the students wanted to thank a former student, Hana Green, for all her work with Fusion.