Vocal Point: Singing Through Life

  Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 29 October 2011
 

BYU’s Vocal Point combines perfect pitch with energetic dance moves and humor to push a cappella beyond traditional boundaries.

Article Highlights

  • Vocal Point is Brigham Young University’s premier a cappella group.
  • Watch them weekly on NBC’s The Sing-Off.

“Our theme was, ‘We’re going to conquer the world with happiness.’ I think we did a really good job of that with the music we picked and how we were able to interact with people.” —Tyler Sterling, baritone

“The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet; they break forth into singing.” (2 Nephi 24:7)

They come from three different countries, speak at least seven languages among them, and can hit notes ranging from a low B to sounds that are hardly a note at all.

But despite their differences, when you put the nine men of Brigham Young University’s premier a cappella group Vocal Point together, their voices blend to create a harmony of vocals-only music.

And since their participation in the most recent season of NBC’s reality show, The Sing-Off, where some of America’s best a cappella groups compete, Vocal Point has become the focal point of more and more people.

At a recent concert at their stomping grounds—BYU—student Ari Strickland commented, “They’re the perfect blend—they’re fun and they bring the Spirit, and whatever it is that they’re doing you always walk away feeling happy and uplifted. You can’t not smile while they’re on stage.”

Another concertgoer, Christine Craven, agreed: “Vocal Point has the potential to do great things with what they’ve been given. Without going out and preaching the gospel, they are spreading the gospel through their singing.”

Singing on The Sing-Off

A popular music group at BYU since it was begun 20 years ago, in 1991, Vocal Point was competing earlier this year at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella—which the group won in 2006—when two producers from The Sing-Off who were in attendance encouraged them to try out for the show. (Tenor Jake Hunsaker won best soloist, and Tanner Nilsson won best vocal percussionist at the competition.)

Tenor Ross Welch said the group sent their audition tape in, and in June they got their answer.

“When I first got the phone call that said, ‘You guys will be participating in The Sing-Off’… I was like, ‘Really?’” said group veteran and tenor McKay Crockett. “I wanted to text all the guys, but I couldn’t because I was shaking.”

Appearing on national television is a new milestone for the group, which is made up of current BYU students. This means the actual membership of Vocal Point changes fairly regularly as members graduate or transfer schools. They weren’t sure what to expect, but they were excited to compete.

“We went kind of braced for a fight,” said tenor and percussionist Keith Evens. “We were ready to stand up for our values and to maybe have some push back, but it didn’t happen.”

When the members of Vocal Point were uncomfortable with some song choices, NBC accommodated them. “They respected our willingness to stand by our beliefs and our morals,” Brother Evens said.

From the moment they began filming in July of this year, their days—except for Sundays, which they took off—were packed with choosing songs, arranging them, learning choreography, and memorizing the song arrangements.

“It was amazing to see that as we focused on what our actual goal was on the show and we worked to strengthen each other and everyone else, that we did have the energy to keep going. We learned so many things about what you can accomplish when you’re on the right mission,” said bass singer Robert Seely, who is regularly called on to sing a low B.

As they performed pieces ranging from their high-energy rendition of “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail” to their crooning of the rat-pack classic, “The Way You Look Tonight,” both the judges and the audience were charmed by their clean looks and clean sound.

“Our theme was, ‘We’re going to conquer the world with happiness,’” said baritone Tyler Sterling. “I think we did a really good job of that with the music we picked and how we were able to interact with people.”

The show will conclude on November 28. Audience voting opens after the top three groups are announced at the conclusion of the November 21 show.

Behind the Scenes with Vocal Point

They say the experience hasn’t gone to their heads.

“We don’t think of ourselves as anything but a bunch of college guys who are friends and [sang] on a show,” Brother Evens said, noting that it was humbling to see such a show of support from fans around the world.

“We have a lot in common, especially being LDS and our beliefs,” said baritone and percussionist Michael Christensen, but “we’re not just people that sing together. We’re all really friends. When we’re not singing together, we’re hanging out together.”

A healthy dose of humor also brings the group together. “Never take us too seriously, except when we’re singing our hymns,” Brother Evens said.

What makes them a little different from other a cappella groups, though, is … “We’re Mormon!” said Brother Evens.

In addition to incorporating a greater volume of dancing into their performances, what also set Vocal Point apart is that before and after every performance, the nine members of the group would pray—often inviting the vocal arrangers or coaches to join—and they regularly held devotionals together.

“We would forget that the cameramen were in the rehearsal room catching us praying,” Brother Evens said. “But I think that’s where the effectiveness, for us, of prayer came. We were [praying] constantly. … Those moments when we asked for help, when we asked for strength—those prayers were answered.”

When the group faced struggles both on and off the stage, their camaraderie and their faith sustained them.

“All of us had something that we had to work with and something that we had to ask for help with from someone with more power than we had,” Brother Hunsaker said. “To know that everyone was going through something similar brought us closer together.”

Brother Seely agreed. “There were multiple times when I was ready to say, ‘It’s too much. I’m done.’ And the Lord reminded me that I can do it, I just have to have my focus in the right spot. … If I focus on the Lord and the things that really matter—things that are going to last beyond today—that’s when I can feel the Spirit and have that strength to keep going.”

Changing Keys, Changing the World

Catching their breath after competing on The Sing-Off, the members of Vocal Point have returned to their normal lives—college classes, homework, family and roommates, jobs, and concerts in and around their hometown of Provo, Utah. That doesn’t mean they didn’t leave an impression, though.

“People have asked us, ‘How is it that you can be missionaries and share the gospel by singing pop songs on a reality television show?’” Brother Crockett said. “And I think that the cool opportunity that we receive is not necessarily sharing our beliefs like, ‘This is what we believe,’ but it’s sharing the light that comes through living the gospel.”

“Music is a really powerful tool … to help people feel something and to recognize that what they’re feeling is the Spirit,” Brother Christensen said.

With millions of viewers tuning into The Sing-Off weekly, Vocal Point is confident that someone, and hopefully many, were inspired by their voices.

“One thing that we really like to focus on when we perform is … who we’re singing for and what they need,” Brother Evens said. “That’s why we pray before we do our concerts. … And it really makes a difference in our performances.”