Pitch Perfect: A cappella to be served ‘Straight No Chaser’ to Chautauqua audience

Straight No Chaser

Jessie CadleStaff Writer

A cappella is making a comeback.

In a world of the technically enhanced, society still has a fondness for purity. Raw talent takes the Amphitheater stage tonight in the form of 10 male voices who make up the a cappella group Straight No Chaser.

“I love seeing audience reactions,” said tenor Ryan Ahlwardt. “I love providing something that, in a way, allows an escape from daily realities.”

Straight No Chaser returns to Chautauqua at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Originally a college a cappella troupe at Indiana University formed in 1996, the founding members gained global fame when a YouTube video of their 1998 rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” — infused with “I Have a Little Dreidel” and “Africa” — exploded with popularity in 2006, years after their college graduation.

The original video that landed the group with a recording contract with Atlantic Records now has more than 14 million views, and the reunited group of college friends has released three albums. A fourth album will be released this fall.

The current group is comprised of five of the original founding members and five members who were part of the group a few years later, such as Ahlwardt. No one in the group believed Straight No Chaser would continue to perform together after graduation; they merely worked to keep the college group alive, and it still exists on campus to this day, Ahlwardt said.

“Success fell in all of our laps,” he said. “It’s been four years, and we haven’t looked back since.”

The group touts a set that ranges from classics to contemporary pieces appealing to kids and adults alike. The singers often mash songs together, like in “12 Days of Christmas,” and perform many covers dabbled with a few original songs.

Though they are known for their Christmas work — two of their three albums are Christmas music — they don’t often pull out their Christmas songs in their August performances, Ahlwardt said.

Though he didn’t want to give away their complete set list, he revealed the group will perform a movie theme music medley that he is incredibly excited to perform.

“It’s very tongue in cheek,” Ahlwardt said. “We’ve added lyrics to them … and we act out scenes.”

Unlike typical straight-laced a capella groups, Straight No Chaser’s performances are lauded for their comedic elements. The group’s name yields from college drinking days, the purity of the group’s voices sans instruments, and Thelonious Monk’s 1967 album bearing the same name.

Ahlwardt doesn’t know what sparked the latent success of the group, nor does he know what has made shows like “The Sing-Off” and “Glee” suddenly become popular, but he is excited to ride the wave.

“It’s made show choir, even though it’s geeky and nerdy in a way, cooler than it used to be,” Ahlwardt said. “We’re not the reason behind it, but it’s cool to see it happen.”

And tonight, the group that never thought it would perform together after graduation — many members went on to day jobs unrelated to music — comes to Chautauqua.

Straight No Chaser performed at Chautauqua during the middle of last season and loved the crowd, Ahlwardt said.

“When we got off stage, we told our manager, ‘We have to come back,’ ” he said. “I really felt like all of Chautauqua was at our show … the energy was almost palpable, and we’re really looking forward to getting back to that.”