You’ve seen them at their weekly concerts around the Cape or strolling along a Cape Cod Main Street launching into song. They are the 10 young men who make up the a cappella group Hyannis Sound. And you’ve always wondered about them.
Let’s get a few pertinent, or perhaps impudent, questions out of the way.
Who are they? College students and recent graduates from around the country who audition to be part of the troupe. Some members return every year, keeping the cohesion of the group.
How much do they practice? A lot.
Where do they live? In a summer share in Hyannis. Location? Secret.
Those snazzy preppy duds? Donated from their sponsors: Puritan Cape Cod and Vineyard Vines.
Payment? About the same as a standard summer job, according to one member.
The 2017 song repertoire? Secret. You have to attend a show to find out. Hint: songs by Michael Jackson, Madonna, Sting and the Police.
What do they look and sound like? Here’s a recent video.
Now that those questions are out of the way we can proceed with our interview with Ryan Laforest, one of the returning members of the troupe. Laforest lives in Boston and just graduated from Berklee College of Music.
Laforest is an enthusiastic third year Hyannis Sound member. “I think what I like best about being in Hyannis Sound is it’s a very tight-knit community: all the guys in the group, the alumni base, the people who come to the shows. It’s friendly and it’s a really good time,” he said.
The process to form the group for the coming summer starts months earlier, in January or February, when members of the group find out who is returning and how many new members they need. That’s when they put the word out for new members.
College-age guys attending any college around the country can submit audition videos that include singing and talking. Getting into Hyannis Sound is a very competitive process. Typically just under 100 guys apply for a handful of slots.
From those videos, members of the team from the previous year choose 20 to 30 applicants to come to a live audition that takes place in Boston over a weekend in March. The audition includes a solo song, as well as learning a new song and singing it with the group. The interview includes questions about their college years. “We get to know them and at the end of the weekend, we select the number we need,” Laforest said.
The new members need to be the same vocal range, baritone or tenor, of the member they are replacing but beyond that, the group ends up unique every year because of the new voices.
“It’s a really different mix of personalities. Each group is musically different as well as personality wise,” Laforest said.
The entire audition process is run by members of the previous year’s troupe, as well as some alumni members who show up to help.
Those who are auditioning need to be in college but those who have graduated can return to the troupe. Members typically range in age from 19 to 24.
This year, the youngest member of the group just turned 20 and is a rising junior in college. The oldest is a returning member who is 23 and graduated from college last year.
“The factor of all of us being in college bonds us in a way,” Laforest said.
During the course of the summer, the guys manage all their own booking, scheduling, publicity, business and other logistics.
The business manager and musical director from the previous summer, who are co-leaders of the troupe, choose the new leaders to take over those jobs.
Hyannis Sound keeps up a rigorous performance schedule for the three months of their summer on Cape Cod.
They perform every night, either at a public concert or a private affair with two days off, one in July and one in August.
Their first show this year was on June 6. The final show is Saturday, August 19.
“We love it. It can be a bit taxing on our voices, singing every day. But we all have fun. It’s really a great time. We make a lot of memories,” he said.
The strain on voices typically happens at the beginning of the season when the rehearsals are most intense—six hours a day.
“People are not used to singing every day and they start to lose their voice,” Laforest said. “They bounce back after awhile.”
After they begin performing, the rehearsals go to four hours a day.
They all live in a rental house near Main Street in Hyannis where the group has been living for the past nine or 10 years.
A portion of the money they earn from performances goes toward the rent for the house.
Laforest said almost every participant has been in an a cappella group at their school or in their community, so the singing style is not new to them. But many of them have never been to Cape Cod.
Being in the troupe, singing in different towns on the Cape, gives them a chance to explore the peninsula. “We perform everywhere on the Cape,” he said.
In choosing their songs, the troupe thinks of their audience and a wide range of ages. “We like to make sure we cater to ages 5 to 95,” Laforest said. That means you might hear a Burt Bacharach or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons song thrown in with more current pop hits. The music spans pop, rock, R&B, and even choral.
Hyannis Sound performs Mondays at the First Congregational Church in Falmouth at 7pm; Tuesdays at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham at 7pm; Thursdays at the Dennis Union Church in Dennis at 7pm; and Fridays at the Hyannis Federated Church at 8pm. Tickets are sold at the door, $15 for adults and $10 for children under 10 and seniors over 65.
On other days, they perform an assortment of private gigs, as well as additional public performances.
While praising all the venues, Laforest said his personal favorite is the Dennis Union Church because “it’s a beautiful church and the community is so welcoming.”
Prize for best acoustics, he said, goes to St. Christopher’s in Chatham, because the high vaulted ceilings make the voices of the singers really ring.
To advertise their weekly gigs, they typically go to the Main Street or a restaurant near the church where they are performing about a half hour in advance and launch into a couple of songs for passersby.
A cappella groups, particularly those with college-age performers, are often known for their sense of humor and Hyannis Sound is no exception. Laforest said they don’t plan the comedic elements but it comes out of the closeness of the group—“being in the moment and seeing what happens.”
The arrangements of the songs are done by members of the group and every year there are different members who have the skill to arrange songs for the troupe.
This year is unusual in that there are six members who can arrange music, rather than the usual two or three arrangers.
“A lot of people love to arrange. We have a bigger repertoire and can learn the songs quicker,” he said.
It’s no coincidence that each year’s repertoire is unique. They try not to do any song the group has done in the past.
“It’s always a new set every year,” Laforest said. They also try to have songs from different decades every year, typically spanning from the 1950s to the present.
Townsend Belisle founded Hyannis Sound back in 1994 picking 10 guys to be a part of the troupe. Over the next 23 years, the formula has stayed essentially the same and alumni have stayed involved through social activities. The group holds an alumni show every August where they bring a troupe from the past to perform with the current group.
Some alumni fell in love with Cape Cod because of their experience with the troupe and live here still. Those alumni typically enjoy getting to know the new members of the group.
For Laforest, it is that bond that he enjoys most. “It’s really getting to make music with nine other guys who become my best friends over the summer,” he said.
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