by Mary Beth Ray
Few people would associate the duties of an advisory neighborhood Commissioner with a title like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” But a recent rehearsal of the Singing Capital Chorus of Washington, DC and the Dukes of Ellington was no ordinary ANC event.
By way of background, as chair of the Van Ness Vision Committee of ANC 3F, I have been working hard to establish a “Music at Van Ness” series. The series began with our fabulous jazz concert by UDC’s Jazztet at Acacia Bistro in November. We continued with caroling on Connecticut Avenue in December, with musical talent from St. John’s College High School and University of Maryland.
As a result of the Forest Hills Connection coverage, we were contacted by Bill Carroll of the Singing Capital Chorus, who invited us to a very special rehearsal last week in the basement of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at 4900 Connecticut Avenue.
The evening began with warm up exercises, sort of a musical standing yoga series. With the very first do-re-mi-fas, I knew I was in for a treat.
The Singing Capital Chorus has been around since 1945, and some of its members have been there from the beginning. Members range in age from their mid-20s to the senior member who is a spry 97. The group sings a cappella and specializes in a barbershop quartet sound, although they also sing Tin Pan Alley and modern show tunes. According to their website, the barbershop style of four-part a cappella singing has its roots in 19th century African-American harmonizing, drawing on centuries of traditional African chord and rhythm structures.
They were joined in this rehearsal by The Dukes of Ellington, high school students at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts. They sang with comparable talent, discipline, and enthusiasm, but the mostly teenagers brought a lively vibe that both contrasted and blended perfectly with the older voices. The quality and precision of their singing hints at their rigorous training, dedication, and outstanding leadership.
Each group performed a few songs separately. But the real fun began as each group taught the other a couple of songs. The students ranging in age from 14 to 18 showed incredible focus and ability to sing songs from a bygone era, including the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk.”
The Dukes of Ellington taught the Singing Capital Chorus “I’m Gonna Ride the Chariots in the Morning Lord” and the two groups sounded as though they had been singing together for years.
By the time they performed “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from Disney’s “The Lion King” as the evening’s grand finale, everyone was feeling the love.
We’re working on getting both groups for a Van Ness performance. If you are interested in making a donation to cover costs related to these musical events, please email me at [email protected].
And in the meantime, you can experience your own private concert with a barbershop quartet-style Singing Valentine. The Singing Capital Chorus is available for hire on February 13th and 14th to help you woo that special someone, or maybe just to brighten your office. They will also deliver red roses (for a fee)! Visit their website, singingcapitalchorus.org, for more information.