Successful a cappella group exchanges ideas with aspiring artists

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Photo: Brittany Peckham

A Cappella group The Exchange performed as the headliner for Aca Fest this year at Saturday night’s show in Trent Arena.

The recent a cappella fest held here in Kettering brought attention to The Exchange, an American vocal pop group who performed on NBC’s “The Sing Off.” The group just finished traveling the world performing and after their long journey, they stopped by Kettering to give advice to ambitious high school aca (a cappella)  groups. Although they’re very successful now, the roots of their coming together caused them to start from scratch.  

The Exchange currently has five members that all bring a different background to the group, all from different states. Aaron Sperber, Tenor 1 of the group, is from Rochester, N.Y. and grew up as an instrumentalist. Before a cappella, he was a cellist and then he went on to study voice and opera.

Tenor 2, Alfredo Austin, grew up in Newark, Delaware and started a cappella in college. He made “bumper music” for “The Sing Off” before wanting to make a group of his own.

The Bass of The Exchange, Christopher Diaz, is from Newport News, Virginia. He was a Co-host for “The Sing Off” until he joined a group.

Beatboxer Richard Steighner, was raised in Denver, Colorado and eventually competed against Moore and Sperber on “The Sing Off” before grouping up with them.

Baritone of the group, Jamal Moore, is from Augusta, Georgia and was brought into singing through church while later studying opera. He met Sperber in college which got him interested in a cappella.

Each of the current members were somewhat involved in seasons three and five of “The Sing Off.” Throughout these seasons, Diaz decided he wanted to make a group of his own after being a coach for separate groups on the show. Sperber and Moore were already in a different group, named The Yellow Jackets, with each other and Diaz recruited them from there. Austin came into the mix because he  was known around the set of the show as someone who made “bumper” music. Sperber recruited Steighner as their vocal percussionist after competing against him that same season.

Everybody wants to do the thing they love the most and a cappella surely is the heart and soul of The Exchange. The reasons for why groups sing in this unique way may vary, but for this group, it’s all about the people and each other. “I think it’s the human element,” Sperber said. “It’s the sense that you are there without anything in between you and other people.”

The lack of instruments and technical devices, besides microphones and speakers, allows for more individual responsibility per singer. Being able to connect to the crowd almost comes as second nature for aca singers because of this.

Like any new thing having to be started from scratch, The Exchange started with nothing except for the hope and dream that they could be successful.  “We started with no website, no set list, no anything, no name even,” Austin said. “You just really have to dedicate yourself to the whole idea of knowing that there’s going to be failures, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Exchange has been successful without a doubt but that didn’t come without challenges. Sacrifice comes in many different forms but when it comes to being an aca pop sensation, relationships can be one of the biggest hindrances. “Inherently in life, when you choose something, you’re not choosing something else,” Sperber said. “If we choose each other, the five of us, we might be choosing to not have a holiday with our family or to not go to your best friend’s wedding.”

After a few years of practice, dedication, and sacrifices, The Exchange was invited to headline at this year’s annual Kettering National A Cappella Festival. The festival invites scholastic groups from all over the country to attend the weekend long event while learning tips and techniques from other groups including ones that are widely known like The Exchange. The festival has been going on for many years now and each year the attendance to the event continues to grow and many new groups across the nation come to participate.

It’s no mystery that this festival is fun to attend but it also seems to help aspiring groups and artists with their careers in an environment that is full of encouragement and enthusiasm. “The fact that there isn’t a competition is really special I think because it means that everybody is coming here because they want to come, in a culture of learning, sharing, exchanging even, if you will,” Sperber said.

Kettering has been known as a great environment for musical education and the aca fest adds to this prestigious characteristic. “This region is a place where the parents are supportive, the staff are supportive and there’s a musical community, there’s a culture of music here,” Diaz said.

The Exchange has traveled all over the world so they do have a pretty reliable opinion on places that are good for music and on places that helps others with their music. The crowd this year was ecstatic to see all the performers and all the while, the performers were just as excited to see the crowd. With interactive songs and volunteer opportunities, the festival definitely captured the attention of all that attended.

Hard work and diligence is the key factor to leading a successful life. When it comes to a cappella though, it’s more than just knowing how to sing.  “I think the hardest part [of being in a group] is not just a cappella, that’s a skill that can be learned,” Steighner said.  “It’s about the attitude that you come to it with, which is something you have to control.”

Holding your fellow singers not only accountable, but also in a high regard is very important to having a successful career according to the group. The Exchange has clearly displayed that hard work and dedication can bloom into a realm of success. 

In order to keep up with the group, their social media platforms are @exchangevocal. Merchandise and event information available on their website, www.exchangevocal.com. All of their music is also available on iTunes as well. For more information on the Kettering National A Cappella Festival, visit www.acafest.org.

 

View Friday night’s performance featuring Musae here.

Take a look at Saturday’s auditorium performances and workshops here.
Check out Saturday night’s Trent Arena show featuring The Exchange here.