December 5, 2019
There is an in-joke involved in the name of the Fort Wayne a cappella group Smooth Edge 2. After I tell you about it, you will be in on it, too.
When the vocalists were trying to figure out what to call themselves, according to ensemble member Jeff Barnett, someone suggested Smooth Edge, because the group is smooth around the edges.
Another member objected, saying they couldn’t call themselves that because that was the name of his high school jazz group.
The high school this person attended is in Iowa.
Given the distance of Iowa from Fort Wayne and the low likelihood that the name had been trademarked by the high school, it seems that there was little danger for the Fort Wayne choristers in making official use of Smooth Edge.
“Of course, no one — including the members of Smooth Edge — remembers that Smooth Edge existed,” Barnett said.
Nevertheless, they came up with a waggish solution to their nonexistent dilemma: Smooth Edge 2.
Holiday season staple
Smooth Edge 2 will perform as part of the annual C2G Christmas show on Dec. 14 at C2G Music Hall. The C2G Christmas Show has become one of the more distinctive holiday season staples in these parts.
Hosted by Mike Conley, who performs in jazz standards mode with his group The Beef Manhattans, the C2G Christmas Show has become an annual opportunity for aficionados of Christmas music and of local musicians to see Yule standards rendered by some of Fort Wayne’s most popular bands and singers.
This year’s line-up includes Smooth Edge 2 (of course), the Kyle Haller Band, Alyssa Enright, and the Sunny Taylor Band.
Smooth Edge 2 is the only professional, contemporary a cappella group in Fort Wayne, Barnett said.
“If there’s another one, we haven’t met them yet,” he said.
Talking his way in
Barnett grew up in Waco, Texas, loving vocal music.
“I started singing in choirs in elementary school and got serious about it in high school,” he said. “I entered a lot of competitions which eventually led to college scholarships.”
Barnett majored in music at Baylor University with vocal emphases, but his educational and occupational paths gradually forked toward the technical side of the music business. A job at Sweetwater Sound brought him here in 2001.
A few years back, Barnett was in his car listening to Meet the Music, Julia Meek’s local musician showcase on WBOI.
Smooth Edge 2 was the featured act.
“I got home and got on their Facebook page,” Barnett said. “And I sent them a rather desperate message saying, ‘You have to allow me to audition for your group. And even if you don’t let me join, at least let me run sound for you.’
“They invited me to a rehearsal and gave me some music to learn,” he said. “They haven’t asked me to stop coming.”
The Christmas season is the group’s busiest time of year. Smooth Edge 2 usually does more than a dozen shows and appearances.
Ask people to recount a Christmas a cappella tune and some would cite “12 Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser.
Others would say “The Christmas Can Can” by the same group.
Smooth Edge 2 does both songs, thanks to the generous acquiescence of Straight No Chaser. The famous a cappella group even sent Smooth Edge 2 sheet music.
“One of the nice things about the a cappella community is that it’s small enough that we’re all pretty friendly,” Barnett said.
Of course, adapting a cappella songs from one group to another is more complicated than just sharing and reading sheet music. Unlike a rock band, an a cappella group can’t learn a new song over a weekend.
Smooth Edge 2 is comprised of four male singers, four female singers, and a vocal percussionist. So an arrangement of a song that was written for 11 male singers is not going to do the group much immediate good.
“We get requests all the time, ‘Can you come to our wedding reception and sing this one particular song? It’s in two weeks,’” Barnett said. “What they don’t understand is that we have to write an arrangement and learn an arrangement. We have to memorize it and perfect it. The whole process from idea to stage, minimally, is four months. If we’re rushing.”
Barnett said Smooth Edge 2 starts rehearsing for its Christmas shows in August.
Can’t Beat the Beatboxer
Regarding that “vocal percussionist,” the members of Smooth Edge 2 didn’t know they needed one until he proved himself indispensable.
“Our vocal percussionist/beat boxer is a drummer and music educator,” Barnett said. “He came up during intermission and said, ‘Guys, what you do is great but you don’t have a drummer. I make weird noises with my mouth. You have to let me into your group.’
“And we said, ‘OK, Kevin. Go back to the bar and have another beer.’ And he said, ‘No, no. Let me show you.’ And he just went off and beatboxed for eight measures. And we were all like, ‘OK. We rehearse on Monday night. See you there.’”
Smooth Edge 2 will do only a short set as part of the C2G Christmas Show. If you want a full draught of the group’s Christmas music, plan to attend the group’s “annual Christmas bash” on Dec. 21 at Welch’s Ale House.
But at the C2G Christmas Show, patrons will get a concentrated dose of the group.
Barnett said Smooth Edge 2 enjoys participating in the C2G Christmas show for many reasons, one of them being the chance to expose their music to new listeners.
“It’s always a pretty good crowd because it’s people who didn’t know we existed,” he said, “because they came to see Mike Conley or Alicia Pyle. It’s not the same faces we see at our other shows.”
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