Rockapella celebrates the season at George Mason University Center for the Arts with "A Rockapella Holiday" featuring numbers from the ensemble's recent Christmas album. Scott Leonard, the high voice and spokesman for the group, has been promoting his love of the human voice since 1991, when Rockapella became the house band for the PBS television show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"
Upon graduating from singing harmony in high school, Leonard entered the University of Tampa and continued singing part-time at Disney World in Orlando. That experience led to a job singing in a rock band at the Tokyo Disneyland, learning Japanese and meeting his future wife, who also performed there. During his stay in Japan, he made many recordings and soon regarded that country as his second home.
More than two decades after arriving in New York and answering an audition ad that same day for the PBS show, he is the leader, composer and arranger of the group comprised of tenors John K. Brown and Steven Dorian, bass George Baldi and vocal percussionist Jeff Thacher.
"I pride myself on adding something special to our holiday show every year," Leonard said. "We have music for everyone, with several new versions of 'Rudolph' and other Christmas favorites, songs for Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and 'Auld Lang Syne' for the new year. Audiences especially love to hear our doo-wop version of 'Silver Bells.' We try to make every single song distinctive. Our newest arrangement is 'Angels We Have Heard on High,' a very special number that brings nostalgia, warmth and the edginess people expect of Rockapella. It's the show-stopper.
|A Rockapella Holiday|
|Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax|
|When: 8 p.m. Friday, 7:15 pre-performance discussion at Grand Tier III|
|Info: $24 to $48, youth through 12th grade half-price; 888-945-2468; cfa.gmu.edu|
"To make certain our music has outstanding rhythm, we've used a vocal percussionist since 'Where in the World,' when we had snap and clap but no drums. I remembered that vocal percussionists were used in Japan during the early '90s, so we began working with one in New York. Our current vocal percussionist, Jeff Thacher, adds powerful, athletic sounds. We sometimes go back to the old four-voice sound, but always return to him to help people in the audience snap and clap."
Rockapella's appeal to all ages contributes to its longevity. The ensemble tours around the world annually to concert halls and regularly performs in theaters and colleges in this country. Leonard especially enjoys entertaining during the holidays because it brings back the feelings he had as a kid.
"I grew up watching the Boston Pops on PBS, so when we performed with them last year, I couldn't believe we were actually singing 'Sleigh Ride' and other songs with the orchestra that took me back to my childhood," he said. "The Christmas songs feel like coming home."