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Ball in the House set to rock Cabin Fever Festival

Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Boston-based group Ball in the House is not your typical a cappella band, founding member Jon J. Ryan said. While many people may associate noninstrumental vocal groups with the bygone era of barbershop quartets dressed in silly outfits, this five-piece band more closely resembles a contemporary pop group, he said.

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Courtesy Of Ball In The House
Courtesy Of Ball In The House

"We know there is a misconception out there," Ryan said. "They should think they are going to see a pop-soul-R&B band that just happens to not use instruments. It's a subtle distinction, but what we find is there is a lot of 'schtick' out there."

Ball in the House is scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14, at the ANB Hall as part of the second Cabin Fever Festival sponsored by the University of Alaska Southeast and the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council.

The band has evolved since its inception nearly a decade ago into a five-piece group that now consists of Ryan providing vocal percussion, Ryan Chappelle bringing the bass, Dan Szymczak adding baritone, and Dave Guisti and Aaron Loveland each singing tenor.

"The band is just five guys, five voices. That's really the best thing to describe us," Chappelle said. "It's just five guys singing soul-pop-R&B with no instruments that's trying to simulate the sound of a full band by using only our voices."

Szymczak, Guisti and Loveland share the lyrical duties on the songs, while Ryan and Chappelle blend a unique mix of vocal talents to simulate a multitude of sounds that can be mistaken for musical instruments.

"I don't really consider myself a bass vocalist, more of a vocal bass, because I work hand in hand with Jon, our drummer, in creating the rhythm section," Chappelle said.

"I don't beat box to show off, I consider myself the drummer of the band," Ryan said. "I just happen to do the beats with my mouth instead of with a drum kit. But my job is the same as a drummer in a band."

The band does not necessarily see itself as merely an a cappella group, Szymczak said.

"We are an a cappella group, but we think of ourselves as a regular band and producing our music without instruments is more coincidental than it is the point, if that makes sense," he said.

The band has used its collective talent over the years to earn a formidable reputation as one of the premiere a cappella groups in the country. Ball in the House has recorded five studio albums, performs roughly 250 shows a year, and has opened for and performed with such acts as Cher, Jessica Simpson, Blondie, Smokey Robinson and The Temptations.

The band also is known for its collaboration with Kraft Foods for a national ad campaign for the dessert topping Cool Whip. The band contributed the catchy a cappella music behind nearly two-dozen national radio and television commercials over roughly six years.

"It was basically a once in a lifetime lucky strike," Szymczak said.

Loveland said the band records almost exclusively original songs, but did record one cover song for its 2007 album "Granite Ave." The band has evolved through a number of lineup changes and matured in its song writing abilities over the years, he said.

"I think that throughout the years, the style, or the content, of the music has changed a little bit from your typical love-scenario-type things - boyfriend-girlfriend songs - to what we consider more substantial lyrics," Loveland said. "Your emotion changes of what you have to write over time and over experience."

The band feels it is important to provide a diverse and entertaining show that crosses all age barriers, Szymczak said.

"Our demographic is anywhere from 4 to 94," he said. "We have audience members of all ages, of all different musical tastes, all different walks of life, and it is pretty rewarding for us to feel like we present a show that is enjoyable to any of them."

It is also exciting and rewarding to see families walk away from the show having clearly enjoyed their time together at a Ball in the House concert, Szymczak said.

"Hopefully that has an impact on families in a positive way, and hopefully we can have an impact on communities in a positive way as a result of that," he said.

The Ball in the House concert is the highlight of the second Cabin Fever Festival that includes roughly 30 events, workshops and exhibits between March 13 and 17 to encourage people to "get out into the daylight" after a long Alaska winter, UAS student and festival coordinator Ariel Rolfe said.

"The purpose of the festival is to get people excited about the springtime, by having opportunities to get excited about going out and doing things," she said.

Ball in the House will be holding two workshops while in Juneau, one on music collaboration and another on the music business.

Interacting with the children in the communities it visits is one of the mainstays of the band, Loveland said. The band often works with choruses, after-school programs and community centers to teach kids how to perform and find a positive and artistic way to express themselves, he said.

"It's a really cool way for the students and kids to kind of get some experience performing in a professional setting," Loveland said.

The band members said people should not focus on the a cappella aspect of their music, but rather come to the show to see a unique type of music that is fun for the whole family.

"We really try to have a nice eclectic blend of tunes for the whole audience to enjoy," Chappelle said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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