While many members of the Bates community were celebrating St. Paddy’s Day at various events, this past Saturday evening I found myself in the Peter Gomes Chapel listening to some fantastic a cappella music. I was there to listen to Owlmen, a joint concert between the Bates College Deansmen and Vassar College Night Owls. When both groups came out of the practice area and took their seats, audience members murmured about the splashes of green replacing the typical black-and-white Deansmen tuxedos.
The Deansmen opened with a tried-and-true classic “The Walk,” a song narrated by a man as he breaks up with his girlfriend. John Thayer ’18 lead the group through the sassy ballad. The group shifted gears to the Fleet Foxes song “Mykonos” with Patrick Nelson ’18 taking the solo. The group deftly navigated the change in genre from their doo-wop beginning to the indie-pop hit.
As the Vassar College Night Owls took the stage, a leader introduced the group to the Bates audience. They are one of the oldest all-women a cappella groups in the U.S. (rivaled by the Smith College Smiffenpoofs) and previous members include Meryl Streep. They continued their history of jazz vocals with the song “Sexy Silk” originally performed by Jessie J. This sultry introduction set the mood; the group would continue their bold attitude throughout the 4-song set.
Their next song, “Saving Ourselves for Yale” is a play on history between Vassar and Yale; apparently, years ago Yale University reached out to Vassar and asked to merge schools. Vassar politely declined the offer, and both institutions eventually became co-educational. As the title suggests, the song is about women who would like to marry Yale graduates and is sung by both the Night Owls and an all-male a cappella group from Yale (The Whiffenpoofs).
The group changed genres in their third song with Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” This emotional jazz tune shares the story of a turbulent breakup and consequent fallout.
The Night Owls ended their set with the mesmerizing song, “Plain Gold Ring” by Nina Simone. This song shared the story of a woman in love with a married man. While the story and lyrics were not particularly exciting, the Owls created a dazzling soundscore. When the soloist sang her sad story, the rest of the group produced a shimmering vocal backdrop that entranced audience members. The effect was dizzying.
After the Owls finished and bowed, the Deansmen came back onstage and completed their four-song set with other Deansmen classics, “Shenandoah” and “Army.” The folk song “Shenandoah” shares the emotional daily struggle of living during the United States’ early expansion period as French fur trappers explored west of the Missouri River. In particular, the song tells the story of a sailor who falls in love with a Native American woman but never fulfills his heart’s desire. John Thayer ’18 sang the solo in the sad story.
The group switched gears for the next song; Ben Folds Five’s “Army” was an energetic pop song about a young man’s struggle to find purpose in his life. Soloist Justin Demers ’18 sings his heart out while the group performs goofy choreographed dance moves that tell the relatable story.
Both groups chose set lists that demonstrated a wide variety of performance ability, however, I was left wishing for more. I am an avid a cappella fangirl and longed for a longer set list than the short eight songs presented. For the next show, I can only hope for a longer performance and more time listening to the music I love.