- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

NEW YORK | Imagine this: By day, you’re a typical businessman, working 9 to 5. Your nights and weekends, however, are spent sharing a stage with nine other guys just like you — performing a cappella in small venues while recording an album under Atlantic Records.

That was the double life for the members of Straight No Chaser, an a cappella choir of 10 men who formed in 1996 during their college years at Indiana University.

They say their pursuit in music was experimental at first. Dan Ponce even jokes that they got together because they “wanted to sing to sorority girls.”

“It was an interesting balance for that first year,” says Mr. Ponce, who formed the group, which performs with eight of its original members.

In college, some of the men studied music, but not all of them. Others focused on mathematics, journalism or biology, among other subjects.

“We were … connected because we all loved a cappella singing,” Mr. Ponce says.

The group first caught attention when the chief executive of Atlantic Records saw its rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” on YouTube. It has been viewed more than 10 million times.

Once signed, the group recorded a Christmas CD, “Holiday Spirits,” released in September 2008. It followed that with another holiday album, “Christmas Cheers,” which has a studio version of “12 Days” and was released last month.

“Our first album is your more traditional, gather-round-by-the-fire, relaxing, very soothing album,” member Seggie Isho says. “‘Christmas Cheers’ is where you loosen up your tie, and it’s the party album.”

More than just creating CDs good for stuffing Christmas stockings, the singers hope to be played on iPods off-season, too.

While on a North American tour, which wraps up this month, the group is performing hit songs from the Billboard charts as well as holiday tunes. In August, it released “Six Pack,” a six-song EP with covers ranging from Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” The group also says it’s working on a pop album to showcase how it can be more than a “Christmas comedy act.”

“Some of us have been concerned that people will only think of us as Christmas group, and that’s not the case at all,” Mr. Ponce says.

Crossing over to Top 40 radio with an a cappella sound and style will be a challenge, but one the group says it’s ready to face.

“A cappella music still has yet to really cross to the mainstream where we can be on a Top 40 radio station,” Mr. Ponce says. “That’s bold. I think we can do it, but we gotta go with baby steps.”

The singers say they won’t end up disbanded like many musical groups.

“We fight like brothers, we make up like brothers, but at the end of the day. there really is a strong friendship and camaraderie that you don’t see in a lot of modern pop groups,” Mr. Ponce explains. “We weren’t put together by Atlantic Records, we weren’t put together by Simon Cowell … we just did this ourselves.”

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