Game of Tones

Semi-Toned is a group of Exeter University students whose a cappella group that a BBC television talent contest. They will start their North American tour in Kerrville on April 6.

April 5, 2017–As someone who can play eight instruments but can’t sing a simple nursery rhyme tune so you’d recognize it, I am enthralled with a cappella groups. Maybe it’s polyphony envy, that ability to hear and match vocal harmonies.

The newest sensation on this scene is a group of college kids from England. With typical British humor, they call themselves Semi-Toned. During the week, the 12 lads are fulltime students at Exeter College. On weekends and holidays, they tour the country and the world as the hottest a cappella singing group in Great Britain.

In anticipation of their show at the Cailloux Theater on April 6, I was able to do a Skype interview with their Tour Manager from his dorm at Exeter.

“It is really bizarre,” said Henry Edwards. “We spend weekends playing around the UK, then on Monday go back to Exeter along with everyone else. It’s a different lifestyle. Most students don’t get to go on TV or tour America.”

The group gained acclaim from winning The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain–one of those “Got Talent” type programs on the BBC. Suddenly the young men were the darlings of young girls, 30-somethings, and dowagers.

“The most common phrase we heard was, ‘Aunt Libby loves you,’” Edwards said. “Now we have fans as young as 7 up to people who are 90 and in wheel chairs, tapping along and loving it.”

What they love is their multi-threat stage show. The young men do all their own musical direction, choreography, and sketch humor.

The current show is called Sing Theory, and takes the audience through songs from the 1960s up to today. The hour and a half show includes skits, dancing, humor, and lots and lots of a cappella singing, a style growing in popularity. Edwards noted five years ago they were one of the first a cappella groups at Exeter. Now there are eight on campus.

A cappella is massive and getting bigger and bigger,” Edwards said. “All vocals, even the ‘electronic noises’ are made by us. We’ll sit in a room and experiment with sounds.”

Semi-Toned is an autonomous, amorphous entity. The makeup of the group changes as students arrive and graduate. They must audition to get in. Then they rotate positions, taking on roles such as musical director, business manager, tour manager, and publicity officer.

“It’s a rolling system. Every September we lose around 4-5 people and gain new ones. We are like a snake, shedding our skin and starting with a new group every year.”

While the core team takes the lead, every member has an equal say. Anyone can arrange, choreograph, and do the musical direction. This year, a 5-month member brought in two arrangements.

Edwards joined a year and a half ago, and still can’t quite digest it all.

“The weirdest part is that we are still fulltime students at Exeter,” he said. “It is not what I expected when I came to university, but now I could not imagine doing without it.”

Although they have toured the U.S., this will be their first time in Texas. What are they anticipating most? The food.

“We’re really excited to make our way over and explore the ‘real’ America,” Edwards said. “Some of the group are especially excited about Tex-Mex food, which we have been told is incredible!”

Details:

Semi-Toned–a group of Exeter University students who won BBC2’s The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain–will kick off their North American tour with a concert at Kerrville’s Cailloux Theater on Thursday, April 6, 2017, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.caillouxtheater.com or by calling (830) 896-9393.