A cappella group finds harmony through hard work

Photo: Lindsay Breslin

Eleventh Hour performs at an a cappella concert.

By Josh Strange, Entertainment Editor

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Albums on iTunes, performances on multiple network TV shows, and gold medals in state, national and international competitions have earned this ensemble recognition across America. Not bad for a high school a cappella group.

Eleventh Hour, which has existed at Fairmont since 2000, has been so successful that it’s easy to overlook the amount of effort and number of hours that a variety of teen members have put in over the years.

Fairmont Choir Director Brody McDonald said the idea for a small choral group came about because the traditional choirs were sometimes too large to be accommodated in performances around town. “People from around the community would call me for entertainment,” said McDonald. “But they didn’t have enough space for the full choir or show choir. So I created the group just as an octet to perform.”

The name came about when only 11 students tried out for the intended octet. McDonald saw no reason to only cut three people from the group, so he just kept the 11 members. In addition, the members were all selected at the last minute, so one of the singer’s parents thought up the title Eleventh Hour.

The group has featured a number of teens over the years, and the number of performers is not static. This year’s group consists of seven students. Sophomore Libby Groll, junior Katie Moore, and seniors Sam Bodary and Aaron Gouge are all new this year. Junior Rachel Keathley and seniors A.J. Breslin and Holly Gyenes are the three veteran members.

After several years in existence, the a cappella group is no stranger to performances. They have performed at ACDA Nationals, OMEA competitions, IMEA shows, the 2012 World Choir Games (where they took a gold medal), Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and of course NBC’s the Sing-Off. Along with these big-name venues, they consistently perform around the Dayton and Cincinnati area.

Although they harmonize nicely on stage, however, the singers admit that spending so much time together practicing and performing can sometimes create tension. “We can get on each other’s nerves,” said Moore.

With a majority of this year’s group being rookies, it took a while to find their style. “At the beginning of the year, there was a huge identity crisis,” said Gyenes.

Added Breslin: “It took a while for us to understand each other.”

The group members unanimously agree that their sound is smaller this year in comparison to last. Groll and Moore have “indie-like” voices, according to their fellow members. This creates less of a large wall of sound. The bass and drums, aka Gouge and Bodary, had to take time to adapt to the environment.

“It was difficult to adjust to my role because I had no idea how much input I would have,” said Bodary. “In Fusion, I simply beat-boxed. But now I have much more input.”

Gouge had never even sung with a group before. And yet, he is well-respected by the other singers. “We haven’t had a bass like Gouge in years,” said Breslin.

McDonald said he thinks a lot of students are intimidated about trying out for the prestigious ensemble. However, according to members and McDonald, it just takes a good work ethic and the sound will follow.

“I would like to see more people come out and audition. People see the final result of what Eleventh Hour can do and they think they can’t do that,” he said. “But really it just takes an innate singing ability and a drive to do it.”

Becoming a member of Eleventh Hour is a process. First, everybody who auditions is auditioning for both Fusion (the alternate a cappella company) and Eleventh Hour. For the audition, students trying out must sing a solo piece from three different time periods. If they get called back from this, they sing an Eleventh Hour arrangement from the past. If the student is admitted, the real work begins.

Commitment is a large factor in being in the group. Practices take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays for three hours, after school every day for 20 minutes, as well as other miscellaneous rehearsals throughout the week.

“You got to be willing to work and have a willingness to succeed,” said Gouge.

Music for Fairmont’s top a cappella crew is arranged by former members such as Chris Ott and Bryan Sharpe, as well as professional arrangers. They have recorded six albums over the years. Eleventh Hour even has its own equipment for recording so they can tape themselves and cut CDs independently.

The newest CD, Turn the Beat Around, is $15, while every past CD (Evolution, How Sweet It Is, Decade, Electrify and Like Clockwork) is $10. However, the first five CDs can be bought for $40. They can be purchased in the Music Department Office or on iTunes, but according to Gyenes, “Hard copies are cooler.”

McDonald is understandably proud of his Eleventh Hour members, past and present, but he also understands the hard work behind the scenes. “People overestimate the glamour,” said McDonald. “They say Eleventh Hour gets to do all these cool things, but they don’t realize the amount of hard work these kids put in.”

Hard work, indeed. But for the members of Eleventh Hour, it’s a labor of love.  “We love what we do,” said Gyenes. “And we love performing.”