- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

The new year is fast approaching, and New Year's Eve makes a good time to get reacquainted with some old musical friends. Whether your tastes run to family entertainment, raucous revelry, or a low key evening spent under the lights at the venerable Birchmere, New Year's Eve has something for everyone.
"We use the crowd as an instrument to play off of" says Michael Briscoe, who as part of the a cappella group Reverb will be performing on New Year's Eve as part of the First Night Alexandria celebration. "It's the energy of the crowd that keeps the performance up to the level we're satisfied with."
A large part of the energy is thanks to Reverb itself, a high-concept, high-energy a cappella group that has been thrilling audiences since 1991. The Washington area enjoys a long tradition of a cappella music, from doo-wop groups like the Orioles to the idiosyncratic stylings of newcomers like Da Vinci's Notebook. Reverb, which draws on African, gospel, folk, blues, and jazz traditions, adds a fresh, interpretive voice of its own to the mix.
Part of that freshness and appeal comes from the kind of music they sing.
"Gospel is a very important part of what we do," says tenor Russell Jeter III. "Take a song that we do, 'It's Not Far Away.' When we sing that song we try to show its energy and meaning. It's not just about singing words."
Of course, singing words with a certain style is the essence of a cappella. But for Reverb, the roots of the sound run deeply into the past and into family.
"I feel like I've been singing forever," says baritone Christopher Hunter, who joined Reverb in 1992. "My mother and sisters have sung quartet music for thirty or forty years now. I grew up surrounded by music."
Tenor Michael Briscoe, the group's newest member, says that music was in his blood "from the beginning." In fact, it was while he was singing as part of a church choir that he was "discovered" by the other members of the group.
In founding member Steve Langley's household it was his father and his six uncles who sang a cappella music, both sacred and secular. Tenor Russell Jeter's mother put him up in front of a church audience when he was just 5 years old.
"I would say that there's a spiritual foundation that shines forth in our group," Mr. Briscoe says. "Audiences seem to embrace what we have to say."
Since September 11, even the more familiar songs have taken on new meaning, says bass Victor Pinkney.
"We have always sung 'I'm So Blessed,' " he says. "But since September 11, that song has become one of my favorites."
Increasingly, it's a favorite with audiences as well.
"Even though most people have never heard it before, they end up singing along," says Mr. Langley. "That's when you know you've gotten through to people."
Over the years, Reverb has performed throughout the east coast and toured in Africa. They were featured at the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival and have been heard at the Takoma Park and Glen Echo folk festivals as well as at the Kennedy Center.
Early this month they performed the Star Spangled Banner before a Philadelphia Eagles football game. And the new year finds them working on a new album to showcase what they do.
But pride of place, members say, goes to the time they spend in the community. The group often takes their music to community centers and elementary schools as part of Jeff Campbell's Hungry for Music program.
"We get them dancing in their seats," Mr. Langley says, laughing. "But the best thing is that children get to see positive African American men giving something back to the community."

Meanwhile, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the group that has brought New Orleans jump band jazz into the 21st century, is slated to play the National Millennium Party at the Grand Hyatt at Metro Center.
And finally, those looking for a quieter, gentler New Year's Eve have only to make their way to the Birchmere, where the Seldom Scene gears up for its own celebration. The bluegrass band mixes traditional tunes with country, pop, and folk songs, and their gigs at the Birchmere are the stuff of legend.


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