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Dear Abbeys Turn 20

A cappella group’s anniversary show tomorrow

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It’s hard to ignore the yelps and whoops heard at almost every Dear Abbeys concert. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, BU’s only all-male a cappella group has achieved a loyal fan base, not just on campus, but around the country. Shows are often sold out or standing room only, thanks to the energetic and dynamic talent the ever-changing cast of 13 singers brings to the stage.

Since its inception in February 1992, the singers have performed in venues from Alaska to Hawaii to San Francisco, New Orleans to Texas to New Mexico. Along the way, they’ve released eight albums, making them a growing force in the national a cappella scene.

Tomorrow night, the Dear Abbeys will mark their 20th anniversary with a performance in Morse Auditorium. The show coincides with the release of their new album, Proclamation, which includes covers of songs by Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Lada Gaga, and James Taylor.

“Each collegiate group offers a unique and special spin to a cappella music,” says the group’s current media director Jason Kaplan (COM’12). “For us, whether we’re singing for my mom in her living room or 30,000 people in Fenway Park, we always keep energy levels up and immerse ourselves in the music. And being a group of 13 men, this usually means awkward dance moves, lots of sweat, and a level of audience engagement that lingers long after our shows end.”

The group’s repertoire includes songs as varied as Rihanna’s “S&M,” the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” and Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man.” They write all their own musical arrangements. And their schedule is grueling. In addition to performing more than 100 times a year, the group also meets twice weekly for rehearsals.

When the Dear Abbeys were formed in 1992, BU didn’t have an all-male a cappella group. A cappella, which means “in the manner of the chapel,” is a term originally used to describe church music composed for unaccompanied voices, but now is used to refer to any vocal music performed without instruments. Founded by Cooper Olson (COM’93), Jamie Kirkpatrick (COM’93), and Brian Reichelt (COM’95), the Dear Abbeys differed from other a cappella groups by singing just pop music—no show tunes.

In the video above, the Dear Abbeys perform Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” in 1994.

Olson, now creative director and copywriter of his own Los Angeles–based PR and advertising agency, says he got the idea for the Dear Abbeys when friends at schools like Columbia University joined popular campus a cappella groups. He enlisted the help of BU friends Kirkpatrick and Reichelt and together they “decided to navigate the waters of forming a group at BU, which was never easy for one minute,” Olson recalls.

They chose the name Dear Abbeys in honor of the person who helped them navigate the process of establishing their group as an official club, Abby Borodach (CAS’86), then the director of the Student Activities Office. Today, she is better known on campus as Abby Elmore, wife of Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87).

The Dear Abbeys began to compete in 2002. Just three years later, they won the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) competition—the equivalent of winning an a cappella Grammy—and began earning a national reputation.

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The Dear Abbeys with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, after singing at his Boston Homecoming party at the House of Blues in 2011. Photo by Logan Lumm

Here in Boston, the group has sung at Fenway Park, TD Garden, and the House of Blues, where they performed with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

While performing at BU is their priority, Kaplan says, the group regularly engages in community outreach projects. “We have sung at elementary, middle, and high schools, and engage with students in any capacity,” he says. “At high schools we promote BU, and we try to use our craft to spark positive change.”

The Dear Abbeys’ outreach also includes performances to benefit local charities. This Sunday, they will appear at A Cappella Palooza, a benefit for the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, at Agganis Arena. The show will feature the Dear Abbeys alongside musician Ben Folds, a celebrity judge on NBC’s hit music show The Sing Off, and a cappella groups that have appeared on the show during the past three seasons.

Prior to tomorrow’s anniversary show, current and 60 former members of the Dear Abbeys will get together for a preshow barbecue. They’ll also have a chance to swap stories and share memories at a cocktail reception after the concert. The performance will be especially bittersweet for the group’s three seniors: Kaplan, Steven Oranges (SMG’12), and Daniel Taylor (ENG’12).

Olson is not surprised that the Dear Abbeys are still going strong, he says, but its success has exceeded his expectations. “That was the dream exactly, to create an institution, like these other groups I would see then,” he says. “I never dreamed they’d win the ICCA title, or be the first college group to figure out how to have their music on iTunes, or have a live streaming broadcast of their concert on YouTube, or tour New Orleans. They’ve figured out how to do all that on their own. They’re little multimedia moguls, and successful beyond my wildest dreams.”

20th_Anniv_Poster

Kaplan says current members deeply appreciate the many Dear Abbeys alumni who have helped the group get where it is today, either by offering advice, booking gigs, or providing help in recording their CDs.

“We’re a group of guys, and at first you might think that guys aren’t able to sing,” says Kaplan. “If you’re debating whether or not to attend tomorrow night, forget about the anniversary and forget about the Abbeys. Come for an experience that’s uniquely BU. Come to hear great music. Come to see 13 guys sing their hearts out. It’s raw. It’s real, and at $5, it’s quite a bargain.”

The Dear Abbeys will perform Saturday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Morse Auditorium, 602 Commonwealth Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Their new album, Proclamation, will be available for sale (cash only). Tickets are on sale at the GSU Link today, Friday, April 27, for $5 each. Tickets at the door will be $6. Find more information here.

11 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

11 Comments on Dear Abbeys Turn 20

  • A Cappella Fan on 04.27.2012 at 10:10 am

    Great article, but it left out a number of other events that are happening on BU’s campus the SAME night/weekend.

    Here are some more A Capella options:

    In AChord Presents: The Morning After (Friday @ 7:30 in KCB 101)
    https://www.facebook.com/events/385061171525637/

    The Boston University BosTones Present: BosTones Night Live (Saturday @ 6:30 in PHO 206)
    https://www.facebook.com/events/286081664811168/

    The Boston University Treblemakes Present: TREBS GLOW IN THE DARK (Saturday 7:30 COM 101) https://www.facebook.com/events/206070669506530/

    (Not A Capella but still AWESOME) Slow Children at Play Presents: The Second First World War ( Saturday @ 8 in Tsai)
    https://www.facebook.com/events/264890610272300/

    • Amy M Laskowski on 04.27.2012 at 10:18 am

      Thanks for these. I also added them to our Weekender article, which is a lineup of what’s going on at BU and around Boston this weekend!

    • Really? on 04.27.2012 at 3:57 pm

      Let these guys have their moment. They work hard!

      • acappella singer/fan on 04.27.2012 at 4:41 pm

        LOL. and so do the other 7 acapella groups! They never seem to get much of the spotlight.

        • A Cappella singer/fan 2.0 on 04.30.2012 at 2:48 pm

          This is silly. I’m from one of the other cough-14-cough A Cappella groups on campus, as well, and this pettiness is… again, silly. These guys work hard to not only perform well, but to also get word out about their accomplishments and events. All I can say is “kudos” to them for their success in both.

          Great job this weekend, Abbeys! Was so great to hear you all again. Also, HUGE congrats to Tommy and Kyle on their beautiful engagement.

    • Honestly... on 04.27.2012 at 4:38 pm

      I mean, seriously? It’s not every day an a cappella group reaches a milestone like a 20th anniversary!

  • Dear Abbeys Fan on 04.27.2012 at 11:00 am

    Congrats Dear Abbeys! 20th Anniversary is quite an accomplishment.

  • Anthony L. on 04.27.2012 at 12:44 pm

    Congratulations to all of the members of the Dear Abbeys, past and present! I can’t wait to get back to BU to see these guys perform tomorrow! Good luck guys!

  • Angela on 04.29.2012 at 10:28 am

    Congrats Dear Abbeys!!! You guys coming to my high school in New Orleans helped make my decision to come to BU! Can’t wait to be on campus next fall and see you guys live again!!

  • DA MAMA on 05.01.2012 at 10:09 pm

    WOW!!!!
    What an extraordinary show!
    HUGE KUDOS, to everyone…
    Sweet!
    Congrats to Tommy and Kyle, wonderful performance ;)
    Just a perfectly FANTASTIC and magical night!
    You ARE the BEST!
    I love you all!

  • Reggie Jean on 05.08.2012 at 5:49 pm

    Loved the “Old School” Dear Abbeys. Jamie, Maxwell. They used passion, humor and had great voices. Good to see the legacy continue. Congrats!

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