Being new to the art of a cappella, I’ve found that there are a lot of essential skills required in order to have a successful group. There are the musical aspects, involving a rich blend, contrasting dynamics and an overall sense of direction in each piece. These tools help create compelling music worth listening to, but that’s not the only reason Strong Auditorium was packed on Saturday night: the audience not only wants to experience the sound but also to be able to join in on the fun.
That said, the Midnight Ramblers are masters of infectious energy. The show began with the group running up onstage, hitting the audience with an intense jolt of sound, energy and awesomeness. It opened as an instant dance party with “Uptown Funk,” infused with charisma from every single member of the group, especially junior Tom Downey, who did an equal amount of dancing and singing that was hilarious to watch. It even inspired rhythmically-challenged people, such as myself, to go and dance with them.
Ten minutes later, the audience was captivated with the soulful ballad, “Take Me to Church,” featuring a powerhouse solo from freshman Charlie Aldrich. His vocal presence had an authenticity that reminded me of Billy Joel. The soulful theme continued with impressive vocal percussion in “Superstitious,” featuring a solo from senior Joe Thimbodeau, who sounded exactly like Stevie Wonder. Throughout the night, the group’s solid blend successfully supported every soloist in reaching their best vocal potential.
The guest, all-female a cappella group, SUNY Fredonia’s Some Like It Hot, offered a quietly compelling contrast to the Ramblers’ mostly upbeat set list. Their rendition of “All of Me” had a fantastic blend and chilling dynamic contrasts. The soloist sang with utter conviction, and the musical and emotional connection between the group and soloist was very apparent.
But then there was a quick return to the climactic high-energy. The Ramblers began a traditional Hindi song, and then UR Bhangra burst out onto the stage, smiling, dancing and providing an amazing surprise. It was one of the smartest collaborations I have seen yet.
And although the night was undoubtedly fun, there were a few heartfelt goodbyes that needed to be said to the group’s seniors. Senior David Keener, who has, according to junior Ben Icenogle, “[o]ne of the strongest falsettos we’ve ever had in 17 years,” undoubtedly proved this. His solo work in “Something” from a Beatles’s medley was a beautiful tribute to his eight semesters in the group. It was a very moving moment that was genuinely experienced by every single audience member. Senior Andrew Melchionna’s solo work on an arrangement of Maroon 5’s “Sugar” showcased his amazing falsetto and stage presence. Key scholar Cody Civiletto’s solo work, in a great, energetic arrangement by sophomore Ben Hall, of “Let’s See How Far We’ve Come,” showed his impressive vocal range that will undoubtedly be missed by the group.
But one of the best team efforts of the night was featured in Thibodeau’s solo work in an arrangement of Styx’s power rock ballad, ”Come Sail Away.” It not only showcased Thibodeau’s vocal power, but also had strong support from the group. The piece began serenely and majestically, and then evolved into a powerful, all-encompassing sound with great blend and dynamic contrasts.
At the conclusion of each goodbye, each senior Rambler was enveloped in a huge group hug, and then I realized something:
The Ramblers are so much more than their amazing sound. They are an invaluable support system to one another: they are brothers.
Their group emphasizes what a cappella should be. It’s a selfless team effort where each member puts their heart and soul into every song, but never forgets to engage the audience, support their fellow members and, of course, have fun. And even when Rambler alumni staged a mock battle of the alumni song, “Kiss Him Goodbye,” at the conclusion of the show, their connection to the group still remains. They never seem to forget what it means to be a Rambler: to just be yourself.
Kibler is a member of the class of 2017.