High Stakes for Low Key

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High Stakes for Low Key

In case you missed it, we took our third crack at the New York City regional round of Harmony Sweepstakes this past weekend at the Miller Theater on Columbia's Campus. After much deliberation about what songs would best exemplify the "Low Key sound," we settled on two contemporary barbershop numbers, "Blackbird" and "Go the Distance," which we feel extremely confident singing, and which hold some of our most exciting and resonant chords. For our third tune, we settled on a cover of a cover -- the Huey Lewis version of Curtis Mayfield's "It's Alright." The way we figured it, if we were comfortable and having fun on stage, those vibes would be communicated to our audience, and we'd put ourselves in a good position to compete.

We didn't imagine that when it was all said and done, we'd be awarded first place in the competition, much less that we'd be voted "audience favorite" and perform an encore for the acappella enthusiasts of the greatest city in the world. The encore came as a total shocker, and as we ran through the tunnel of the hugely talented six competing groups on the way back out to the stage, Mike blew the pitch for Boyz II Men's "Thank You," a song which many of us had internalized as 90's babies. It was a surreal night, and our excitement will carry into the month of May, when we get our shot at the national competition which will take place in San Francisco and will include the winning groups from all across America.

It was a good sign that the biggest turmoil we had pre-show was whether or not to force our bass, Mike, to go pick up a pair of suspenders. In the end, maybe it was the straps holding us back in the past -- or maybe the outcome had less to do with our outfit and more to do with the sheer amount of time we've spent rehearsing, performing, and harmonizing with each other over the past three years.

We're tremendously proud to take this step as a group, and we're looking forward to using this victory as a springboard to keep Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs imbued in great music and good cheer. Below is a video playlist of our entire set from the performance. Keep on the lookout for Low Key as the weather gets nicer and the vocal chords get warmer.

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The Modulation of Low Key

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The Modulation of Low Key

 

 

To say we've come a long way since opening for an Elvis impersonator and singing for burgers at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Birmingham, Michigan would be something of an understatement. Since our inaugural gig and the fateful road trip that ensued, Low Key has grown into a NYC institution. 

 

We've had the opportunity to sing for surprise marriage proposals, wedding ceremonies, birthdays, corporate events which enabled us to don the apparel of our favorite 'Top Gun' characters, and maybe best of all, for unsuspecting folks on the street corners of Little Italy, SoHo, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Long Island.   

 

We've also gone through two iterations of the National Harmony Sweepstakes Competition, and are looking forward to flexing our vocal muscles at an upcoming audition for NBC's "The Sing Off." We're especially excited to share our brand-spankin'-new Bruno Mars Medley and our oft-requested rendition of Pharrell's "Happy." Both arrangements were penned by Ben Wexler, our own proclaimed Patron Saint of Acapella, and alumnus of both The Sing Off and the Yale Whiffenpoofs. 

 

Though Low Key we may be, we also ascribe to the idiom, "work hard, play hard." Or in our case, "sing hard, then rent a house in the Catskills and continue to sing hard 'round the fire pit by the lake." 

 

Look out for new blog posts, video recordings, and exciting news as Low Key continues to imbue New York City and its surrounding environs with harmony and good cheer. 

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So Much To Say

remember that DMB song?

no..

How about remember when Low Key competed in Harmony Sweepstakes 2014?

Still no..

Well, we didn't do a very good job telling you about it here in the "News" section. And Dave Matthews stopped making good music in '98. So you're excused on both accounts.

Better freshen up on your mid-nineties yodel-rock for next time .. 

F'realdoh, it was an esteemed honor to share the Miller Theatre stage on Columbia's campus with our old buddies and last year's champs The Rainbows. We hiked up our pants, strapped on our suspenders, and sang acapella music into microphones. There were even moments when we moved in similar ways at similar times! 

We also debuted our version of Pharrell's "Happy," compliments of our own Ben Wexler, aca-mastermind and arranger extraordinaire.

Needless to say, we crushed it, even if the judges would have preferred our crush content lower. You'll find a take from last week's rehearsal below, where we crush it one more 'gain, for crushing's sake. But first, and also for crushing's sake:

  • Crush Little Baby, Don't Say a Word
  • The Crussian Revolution
  • Crimea River

All crushing aside -- we're positively budding to bring some fresh harmonies to a backdrop which begs no augmentation: spring in New York City.

Deal with it NYC, we might be Low Key but we just can't help ourselves.

See y'all out there.

(pat)

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American Idol: Mamaroneck?

How do you say it anyway? MamaroNECK...MamaRoneck...MaMAroneck? In any case, we had a gig there -- a 70th birthday party for the lady of the evening, Diane. This one required a brief jaunt on the Metro North, which made for good rehearsal time and a bit of the ritualistic "passing of the flask." When we arrived at the station, 40 minutes from home base, two black cabs sat awaiting us.

Unable to contain ourselves, the Mamaroneck Song which we had thrown together at Grand Central spilled into the cab, much to the delight of our driver, Dexter. We knew this was a cool cat from his laid-back 'tude and his fetching blue fedora. But when he asked if we knew the old doo-wop tune, "So In Love," things got interesting. Dexter hopped onto the lead, albeit a few steps higher than we're accustomed to singing the doo-wop ditty. But we followed his soulful croon dutifully, and it was glorious. (He even nailed the lyrics which have eluded Will for the better part of two years now). We slapped and shook hands after the short ride, and even asked Dexter to join us for the gig, but alas his "work" took precedence. Little did we know, the cabbie on the return trip wouldn't require an invitation. 

The gig itself was fantastic. We annihilated a glorious antipasti spread. We made the most of the open bar, and per the usual, Mike made friends with the tenders of said bar. We severely depleted the cookies and cannoli before the partiers ever caught a glimpse of the dessert trays. Somewhere between the revelry we managed to sing two sets, one contemporary, and one doo-wop, for Diane and her charming family and friends. 

Not to gloss over the gig itself, but we must hasten to the story of the second cabbie. When I think of the name "Dominic," I think now think two things: Kindergarten Cop, and an impossibly rich Mamaroneckian baritone. This guy was the latter. When we arrived at the train to take us back to the city, Dom physically left his car, ignoring the calls of his CB radio, to come stand in a cold man-circle and serenade us with old standards in shockingly robust tones. Eventually we landed in common ground and ran through a version of "Going to the Chapel," the footage of which was happily captured. When it was over, Dom left us with some words of wisdom, asserting that music is the language which truly binds us all together.

We rolled back to Manhattan for a nightcap and an improvised tune with a rollicking Irishman, who confessed he was supposed to go meet his girlfriend 3 hours ago. The fateful lyric that resounds with me goes, "I don't know where I'm going but I know that I'm here/ I spent all my money on whiskey and beer."

As seems to happen more often than not, the most cherished memories associated with a gig are made up of the people and places that become peripherally involved. It is a wonderful phenomenon which shall henceforth be known as the "Low Key Effect." Put seven gentleman songsters in suspenders, embolden them with spirits and a little something for their stomachs, toss them into society -- and see what happens. Video below.

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Singing for the Songstress

Back in the spring, Low Key had the opportunity to sing for opera great Martina Arroyo inside of a charming apartment on Manhattan's West Side. The event was a "micro-gala" in support of Ms. Arroyo's foundation which is in place to give opportunities to aspiring young opera singers. We knew it was a big deal, but we weren't privy to the magnitude of the woman we had the job of singing for. 

The gig went off without a hitch -- we sang our barnburner Disney tune, "The Distance" before hearkening back to the 1950's with our rendition of "In The Still of The Night." The performance brought tears to the eyes of the iconic diva, which is a memory that will not fade quickly. She was gracious and tender in our exchange with her afterwards. She asked questions about our lives and how it is we got together in the first place. We could tell she was a diva by the way she moved, the way she spoke -- she had that indescribable "it" factor. But for the duration of our time in that apartment, Ms. Arroyo made it very clear that she genuinely cared about what we had to say.

Just last night, the same Ms. Arroyo was honored at the Kennedy Center for her lifetime of achievement in the realm of arts and humanities. She sat alongside Billy Joel, Herbie Hancock, Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, DC.

It makes one wonder: what business does a bunch of acapella goons who get together to sing over a six-pack on Sunday nights have crooning for this national treasure?

The answer lies in the music. When you share music, you share a piece of yourself. It is a gift that asks no reward, because you love giving it. Low Key isn't breaking racial barriers or sending talented youths to school -- but we are sharing our love of singing, of music, of harmony, with the people around us.

And we may never be honored at The Kennedy Center (you never know), but whether it's helping some guy propose to his girlfriend in the boxing ring where they train on Saturdays or accompanying a wedding ceremony for some darling folks from across the pond, we get an active role in proliferating joy.   

Congratulations, Ms. Arroyo -- you deserve the recognition not only for your personal successes and contributions to the artistic community, but because you embody the goodness and wholeness that all people should aspire to.

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Something In The Air.

Recent trend in Low Key gig requests -- nuptials. Weddings, rehearsal dinners, ninja proposal performances -- they're flying in the door. I guess it's that time of year, as gents look out to next Spring and Summer, and start ponying up for those carats that every lady imagines floating above their fourth finger.

And to be honest, it's been a blast so far. Singing for a crowd at a bar, or as ambiance at a corporate event, or even in someone's honor mid-presentation or at a birthday are really fun and exciting, but nothing really compares to seeing the tear ducts spring alive on a lucky lady as she stammers out a surprised "homygodyes" to her suddenly kneeling companion.

If you haven't seen it already, we had the good luck to be asked to play the part for Alan and Alex at Columbus Circle a few weeks back (apologies for tough to hear sound -- but the moment's poignancy is aptly embodied by the woman screaming in the background as the surprised lady watches her groom-to-be pulling a particular box out of his pocket.)

And more recently, we had the honor of being the entertainment at Ken and Rebecca Romeo's wedding out in New Rochelle. We broke out two new songs, including Jason Mraz's "Won't Give Up" as Rebecca began her fateful walk down the aisle, and the Pentatonix version of "Love You Long Time" at the cocktail hour, and even took a crack at taking some requests from the crowd -- one very happy couple got serenaded by a newly created version of "Lady In Red", solo'd by Adam Zamora, and on-the-spot-arranged by Ben Piper.  No video from the wedding yet, but a look at the header will show you a beautiful bride flanked enthusiastically by the group.

Doesn't she look happy!

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How Far We Have Come

Today is the birthdate of Low Key's website, and the first day of the rest of the group's life. And as we sit here in the aftermath, gently admiring our new creation as it screams and kicks its way into existence -- as its eyes adjust to the new light, the first hits begin to stream in, the first names drop into the mailing list, it's really quite fun to look back on the process that led us here.  

Because this has been coming for years. This began when Sam, and Ben, and Mike, and Josh, and Adam, and I, completely separately from one another, began singing in pre-school, elementary school, high school, the shower. We've all come together through song and the joy of music, and we've put something together that we are quite proud of. We began singing for free -- heck, I think we had to pay for stage time at some venues, without the prospect of reimbursement.  Our first serious performance required a drive from NYC to Michigan, where we performed alongside a fake Elvis Presley (the meager proceeds covered beer, gas, and some munchies). A few short years later, we've risen towards the top of NYC groups, placing third in our first competition (the NYC Harmony Sweepstakes), performing with top notch musical ensembles such as Sung Jin Hong's One World Symphony, and lining up corporate gigs with significant companies companies such as Nokia and Fieldpoint.

This website is just the next milestone in this group's existence, and from where we stand, the future looks bright and sounds amazing.

 
-Will

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