Most new teachers begin the school year with the crunch of leaves under their feet. Ray Wolfe, however, experienced a different type of first day as choral director at Liberty-Benton, taking over in the middle of the school year in January 2014. His ‘first day’ was a snow day and school was cancelled!
Wolfe’s first weeks were marked by tackling the musical play being staged by his high school students, and it was his directorial debut. When that wrapped, he had a moment to breathe and to pose a question to his students: “Is there interest in forming a pop acapella group?”
The Group’s Inception
“To be honest,” says Wolfe,“some students were very excited because they knew exactly what I was doing and others had no idea what to think because they hadn’t heard of a pop acapella group.” In other words, some had seen the 2012 film, “Pitch Perfect,” and some had not.
Streaming a scene from the original movie, or one of its two sequels, is the quickest way to become familiar with this unique type of chorale group. With no instrumentation, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone voices bring new life to familiar pop hits across the decades of charted music. Liberty Benton’s pop acapella group was born in fall 2014.
Trained to Lead
Having performed with a pop acapella group at Ohio University and the show choir at Van Buren High School, Wolfe wanted to “give L-B choir students the opportunity for something extra.” He hoped the choral extra-curricular group would “keep kids interested.”
A brain-storming session with the initial members resulted in the group’s name, Fermata the Blue. The name is a play on the pronunciation of the musical term “fermata” which means to sustain a musical note or rest beyond its stated value.
After over five years of performances, most of the LB community is better acquainted with the sweet sounds of Fermata the Blue’s musical style. This year’s group has 28 members, with seven voices covering each of the four musical parts. The group rehearses after school for about four hours each week.
A Soprano’s Perspective
“Being in Fermata the Blue is worth the time for me because I absolutely love to sing. And almost as much as I love to sing, I love making friends and being social. So this combines my two loves into one”, says Avery Ayers, 18, this year’s student representative of the group.
Her favorite performance piece this year comes straight out of the 1980’s–“Take On Me” by A-ha. The group’s performances are divided into a fall season and a spring season, with rehearsals suspended for the production of the annual winter musical. “Normally the kids run everything during a performance,” says Wolfe. “They introduce music and soloists, play starting pitches and count songs off.”
At Center Court
Ayers praises Mr. Wolfe for “how patient he is” with FTB’s members. That patience has afforded him some exciting memories, including the group’s performance of the national anthem for a packed house during the 2016 Boys’ State Basketball Finals in Columbus. The group also performed at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, which they visited during the band and choir’s New York City trip in 2017. While singing “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” by Dolly Parton, they enjoyed the amazing acoustics and “cool ring-back” of the large sanctuary. It ranks high on the list of highlights of Wolfe’s career.
From A-ha to Elvis
Wolfe could see the group participating in acapella competitions in the future, but has no specific plan for taking that route. His main goal is to keep enthusiasm high so that eighth graders will be excited to become freshman and replace each year’s graduating seniors. For now the group mainly keeps to school performances including an annual fundraiser benefiting all music at L-B. “A Night of Notes and Noodles” — a cabaret experience accompanied by a pasta dinner — takes place each fall, produced and overseen by assistant director, Julia McCullough.
See a Performance
To enjoy Fermata the Blue’s 14 male and 14 female voice-blend, look for Findlay’s Spring Art Walk schedule (the first weekend of May) or make plans to attend the Spring Music concert at Liberty-Benton on Tuesday, May 5, at 7:30pm.