Vineyard Sound: A Martha’s Vineyard music staple since 1992

Vineyard Sound: A Martha’s Vineyard music staple since 1992

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The Vineyard Sound — the all male vocal group made up of singers from colleges all over the country — kick off their summer season of performances tonight, June 16, with a show at the Federated Church in Edgartown at 8 pm.

If you can’t make it, not to worry, the 10-member group will make an impressive 60 appearances around the Island before the members return to their various schools. This schedule makes them the hardest working group of musicians on the Vineyard.

The group, whose members vary every year, as some graduate and are replaced by younger collegians, have been a staple of Island summer entertainment for 19 years. Formed in 1992 by a group of 10 friends from three east coast colleges — Connecticut College, Skidmore College, and Wesleyan University — the Vineyard Sound now includes singers from eight different schools from around the country. The roster remains at 10 members. This year, exactly half are returnees, the other five new.

Summer schedule

On the first of June, the members, some of whom had never met, moved into a rented house in West Tisbury and started a grueling rehearsal schedule. They have been practicing for six hours every day. After their first performance, the rehearsal time will gradually decrease. The group, which started out singing on street corners and in local restaurants, now performs a series of weekly concerts at venues in three towns.

On Mondays, they can be found singing at the United Methodist Church in the Campgrounds in Oak Bluffs; every Tuesday they perform at the Chilmark Community Church; Thursdays and Fridays will find them in Edgartown at the Federated Church and St. Andrews Church, respectively. Two annual shows — July 30 at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs and their final Island appearance at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on August 21 — have become popular additions to the Vineyard’s summer event line-up. The members often promote their shows with informal street corner performances prior to their evening shows.

On top of this full-time schedule, the Vineyard Sound performs at weddings and other private functions on the weekends. They also volunteer their talents throughout the summer, singing at Windemere, the Edgartown Senior Center, and Camp Jabberwocky. It’s unlikely that one could spend a summer on the Vineyard without encountering the group of clean-cut young men in their standard preppy uniform of khaki shorts, pastel dress shirts, and ties.

The music

The Vineyard Sound repertoire is composed of everything from jazz standards and contemporary pop songs to children’s music and indie rock. Musical director Spencer Hattendorf is responsible for the arrangements and making the final decisions on the material but all members are encouraged to make recommendations. The common denominator is that the songs all feature a vocal range, which the young men, a mix of tenors, baritones, and basses, deliver expertly.

This year, the group will revive some of the standards from previous years. They will continue performing their most popular tunes such as Mark Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder, and add a few new numbers such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations and James Taylor’s “Lonesome Road.” Says the group’s business manager, Garth Taylor, “‘Southern Cross’ [Crosby, Stills and Nash's hit song] has been in the group the longest. When we have alumni in the audience they come up and sing with us.”

The Vineyard Sound has a loyal fan base. “We have people who turn out for every show,” Mr. Taylor says. “Every show feels new because the audience is very energetic. We have a lot of patrons who come back every year and we’ve met a lot of amazing people. It’s really exceptional how well the Island has received us.”

While some members work at part-time jobs, Mr. Taylor notes that it is possible for the men to support themselves on their performances alone. In 2009, the Vineyard Sound became a federally recognized, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. A board of directors, made up of former members, is now working on a fund to help the group run itself, according to Mr. Taylor. Still, each of the members is required to make an initial investment to cover expenses before income from the concerts, whose admission prices are suggested donations of $8; $5 for children.

Ten men living, practicing, and performing together could translate into discord by summer’s end but, surprisingly, harmony reigns — both in concert and in life — with the Vineyard Sound. “I would say that this year in particular the bond is really strong between the members,” Mr. Taylor says. “It’s almost unreasonable how well we get along. The other day it was raining and we played hide and seek in the house. We play card games together. It’s absolutely a really close group. It makes me really happy that as a business manager I don’t have to play peacemaker.”

Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.