Breakwater A Cappella Is Stopping Us in Our Tracks
Early afternoon is a quiet time on Teel Campus. Students work in their classrooms, most visitors have come and gone, and we settle into the peaceful hum that eventually comes each day. But once in a while, something happens that draws us out. There’s a voice. And then another. We peek our heads into the hall and see ten students in the rotunda, singing their hearts out as the warm acoustics amplify the sound. It’s Breakwater, our Upper School a cappella group, and they are bringing popular harmonies to Severn School that stop us in our tracks.
Sing It and They Will Come
During his second year as Visual and Performing Arts Chair, Mr. Rob Redei developed the a cappella group, along with Treble Choir, to encourage more participation in choir overall. In the year since, the group has almost doubled in size, up from six performers to ten, and with the excitement surrounding their performances, we expect that growth to continue. Breakwater’s repertoire of popular music is an undeniable hook, but Mr. Redei emphasizes that their success springs from the integrity of their approach.
“It’s not just about singing fun music to get kids involved. In all of our groups, we perform music that has depth and honesty. If you do that and you do it well, more kids naturally want to join. We approach pop a cappella songs the same as any piece. We ask ‘What’s the message? What do we want the audience to feel?’ There’s no less artistry in singing Alicia Keys than Eric Whitacre. Just like adults, students want to feel like they are doing something that moves people, something that matters.” — Mr. Redei
Check out a couple of clips!
Behind Every Song
One of the unique aspects of a cappella at Severn is how the group chooses which songs to perform — it’s all based on the soloist who will lead the song. The process is organic, a conversation between that student and Mr. Redei.
“We don’t choose songs, we choose soloists. If a student wants to lead a song, they record themselves singing and send it to me. I listen to hear if it works for their voice and sounds authentic and real. If it doesn’t, I’ll suggest some alternatives and we go back and forth from there. The point isn’t to make their voice fit a song. It’s to help them choose a song that's right for their voice.” — Mr. Redei
Mr. Redei arranges each piece based on the student’s intial recording. The idea is that when Breakwater performs, they are expressing their own interpretation rather than copying the original artist's style. Once the soloist has chosen their song, the whole group begins the process of creating a unified sound. They listen to how the soloist articulates each vowel and consonant and how they employ dynamics and phrasing. The supporting singers mimic that style so that every note melds into a cohesive work that conveys the right tone and emotion. As of this winter, the after-school singing group has put together four compositions and aims to have ten by the end of the year:
“Sweet Annie” by Zak Brown
“My Boy” by Billie Eilish
“Valerie” by The Zutons
“If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys
Tapping Into the Musical Community
Outside of his work at Severn, Mr. Redei is a professional arranger and composer, working with a cappella groups of all ages from around the country. Last year, he took Breakwater to compete in SingStrong!, an a cappella festival in New York. And this year, he invited the University of Delaware group, the MelUDees, to workshop with our students. Mr. Redei brings his breadth of experience to Severn’s doors, opening up a creative outlet for our student performers while adding to the overall strength of our music program.
More On the Way
Breakwater has wowed audiences with performances at Teel Campus Open House, morning meeting, and Revels. They are set to perform at the annual Upper School Spring Concert and plan to stage another show for our students in the coming months. And if you hear some distant harmonies as you walk around Teel Campus, follow that music. It's worth it, we promise.