M-PACT Makes Impact on Van Buren Choral ProgramThursday, December 12, 2019 12:32 pm
By BENNETT HORNE
Van Buren School District News
The a cappella group M-PACT lived up to its name and billing Tuesday at the Van Buren Fine Arts Center, striking a chord with the members of the Van Buren High School Choir during the day and the audience that attended its concert that night.
The six-member group from the Los Angeles area, hailed as “one of the best pop-jazz vocal groups in the world” by the San Francisco Chronicle, performs almost entirely without the accompaniment of instruments. Tuesday night’s lone exception was a beautiful version of the Christmas classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” performed as a duet with one member singing and playing the bassoon and another playing the piano.
Many members of the group have some kind of teaching background, thus the group’s priority of making time for mini-workshops with students in cities where they perform. “They came in for about half the day and worked with our kids,” said Van Buren High School Choral Director Tyler Morris. “They sang a couple of songs with our choir students, then our choir students got to sing a couple of songs for them and they worked with our choir. That was really cool to get to see that.”
Jeff Smith, the group’s elder statesman, tenor and beatbox performer, said the reason for incorporating teaching moments into their visits is simple. “We all remember what it was like to be sitting in high school, loving music and not necessarily knowing how to make it play a part in our adult lives,” he said. “We knew we wanted to continue to stay in music and I think we all had an experience where someone or something inspired us to stick with it. Because we all have experienced that in one way or another we hope to be able to impart that on young music students now who are sort of figuring out what they want to do with their lives.” Smith is an officer in the Army Reserves and the Conductor of the 300th Army Band in the Los Angeles area. His parents are from Pine Bluff and he grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He said he has been through Van Buren many times, referring to it as “the halfway point between home and grandma’s house.” The other members of M-PACT boast equally impressive musical resumes:
- Drew Tablak, the group’s soprano, is a voice teacher and vocal coach and a member of the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet at the Disneyland Resort.
- Jamond McCoy, the baritone, is a music teacher at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Anna, California, and a church music director.
- Aaron Schumacher, the alto, directs a semi-professional community choir near Los Angeles.
- Andy Degan, the tenor, is considered the group’s most prolific arranger. His arrangement of the song “Stay” won a 2018 CARA Award for Best Jazz Song.
- Tracy Robertson, the group’s bass, recently performed as a background singer at the Hollywood Bowl and has performed with Michael Buble on BBC television.
The variety of musical backgrounds resulted in an enlightening experience for the Van Buren students. “They talked about what it’s like to be a professional musician and the time it takes to do that and how if you want to do it there are jobs out there for you,” said Morris. “It was incredible. The fact that our students get to see professional musicians that have played worldwide on some of the biggest venues and they get to come here ... they talked about how beautiful and wonderful our facility is and our students get to sing in this same facility. It’s a cool thing that our students get these experiences.” Smith said, “Not all of these students are going to be professional musicians of course, but we hope to at least inspire them to make music a part of their lives on into adulthood whether they choose to do it professionally or not.” He added that the m-pact members were impressed with the facility the Van Buren singers get to call home. “It’s a privilege to be here and to have a great facility like this in Van Buren is really fantastic,” he said. “As soon as we walked in the door we knew we were working with pros. We’re happy we can be a part of it.”
The Van Buren Chamber Choir opened the concert with PDQ Bach’s rendition of “Good King Kong,” which will also be included in the group’s free concert Friday night beginning at 7 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center.
“Clearly they’re in good hands,” Smith said of the Van Buren High School choir members and Morris. “The growth of the program itself certainly speaks volumes because kids want to be a part of something that’s high quality and when they recognize quality music coming from that program it’s going to attract more students to be a part of that. He’s doing a great job. We heard the chamber choir today and they are very musical and very well prepared.”