Andrew Lloyd Webber, Billy Joel and Johnny Cash might not seem like the usual suspects on a choir concert program. But for the Northwest Repertory Singers, the eclectic combination they’ll sing at Tacoma’s Mason United Methodist Church on Saturday – along with popular a cappella quartet The Coats – is all part of getting back to their roots as a choir that sings all sorts of music and collaborates with other people.
“When we started, we tried to do all genres of repertoire,” said director Paul Schultz, who founded the choir 10 years ago. “We also wanted to do collaborations, and we did.”
The first group they collaborated with were The Coats. What started 12 years ago as an a cappella men’s vocal quartet of University of Washington students has gone on to release seven albums, win awards and tour the country to belt out their pop/rock/jazz combination at campuses and festivals.
Schultz remembers two of them as students at Rogers High School in Puyallup, and first booked them for his choir when he heard them sing at a choral retreat.
“They’ve matured so much since then,” he said. “Their arrangements have gotten much better, and Keith, their high tenor, has one of the most amazing voices I’ve heard.”
At rehearsal Monday night, second tenor Jamie Dieveney coached the choir through songs the two groups will sing together: Michael Smith’s “Agnus Dei” and Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” plus “The Rhythm of Life” from the 1969 musical “Sweet Charity.”
The combined set will follow a couple of sets sung by the four men in The Coats, which Deiveney says will include original songs and covers of the likes of Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel, The Temptations and Electric Light Orchestra.
“We started as choir singers, then explored different things you can do with the voice, like beat boxing and all that other a cappella stuff,” Dieveney said.
He said the group is loving the chance to sing with a bigger choir: “The opportunity to do something with more voices makes it more powerful,” he said.
And the rest of the NWRS program is just as eclectic, ranging from “Les Misérables” and “Wicked” medleys to a John Rutter-arranged spiritual to one of the “Songs from the Auvergne,” French folksongs originally arranged for soprano and orchestra in 1930.
“We hadn’t done any Broadway for a while,” Schultz said. “It’s a little out of our comfort zone – I have every age from 25-75 in that group, and some people have primarily classical backgrounds.”
Singing and dancing their way through a semi-staged version of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls,” the choir didn’t look at all discomforted. In fact, they seemed to be having a blast, humming and crooning away with well-articulated gusto behind soloist Dustin Damonte as he hammed up the part of Nicely Nicely Johnson faking a dream to get the Salvation Army off his gambling back.
“Remember, you’re all gamblers,” Schultz reminded the choir. “You’re all thugs.”
Finished, they segued into a run-through of the ethereal “Le Baylre” folksong, completely at home with either style.
“I don’t treat popular music as any different from Bach or Beethoven,” Schultz said. “You still need pitch, rhythm, articulation.”
And the choir doesn’t need to change sound to belt out Broadway versus Beethoven’s Ninth, he said.
“I always started by asking everyone to sing with their best soloistic voice,” he said. “It’s not the same as when I was young, when (conductors) would model (the sound) on the St. Olaf or Westminster school. My philosophy is I have a bunch of singers and I want them first and foremost to sing.”
Which, it seems, is exactly The Coats’ philosophy, too, and why all the singers in Saturday’s concert are having a blast simply singing.
“We have a common love for vocal music and harmony,” Deiveney said. “And an understanding of the hard work that goes into making it beautiful.” ‘An Evening with the Coats’
Who: Northwest Repertory Singers perform with The Coats a cappella quartet
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with a 6:30 p.m. lecture
Where: Mason United Methodist Church, 2710 N. Madison St., Tacoma
Information: 253-265-3042, nwrs.orgRosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/arts