Vocal music ranging from the song-stylings of a Broadway star to traditional mountain music to the bombastic rock of Queen are some of the highlights of this year’s Virginia Arts Festival, in addition to its usual strong classical music offerings.
They are all vocal cousins, along some branch of a sprawling family tree.
Queen, the rock band, starts one of its best-known songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with what sounds like barbershop harmonies. Then the 1975 song, which was reignited by the 1992 film “Wayne’s World,” shifts into sections of rock and even opera, said Brody Dolyniuk , who sings the part of lead singer Freddie Mercury for a lavish evening of Queen’s music.
The band’s sharp musical turns will be evoked through “Music of Queen: A Rock Symphony,” set for May 22. Brody joins a tribute band backed by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra to recreate Queen’s layered sound.
Mercury, who had golden pipes and a mighty range, died in 1991. None of the original band members will be part of this evening. Brent Havens of Virginia Beach created a similar “rock-symphonic celebration” of Led Zeppelin, and is behind this project, too.
“Even the best medieval groups would appreciate these songs, and some of the arrangements,” Dolyniuk said
Years before Queen brought elements of barbershop and opera into the same song, Leonard Bernstein incorporated rock, jazz and Broadway styles into his “Mass,” bending the traditional Catholic form to accommodate many genres. The work premiered in 1971 at the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
“This is a theatrical work that takes place in the context of a mass,” explained chorus master Robert Shoup. “It is not a real mass.”
The piece’s “street chorus,” consisting of 14 congregants, sing in rock, jazz and Broadway styles.
“A lot of our singers come from a Broadway perspective that is fairly audible,” Shoup said.
Think “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and follow that thought to Kelli O’Hara. The Broadway star performs May 29 with Rob Fisher, a celebrated, Norfolk-reared music director.
Two other vocal offerings from decidedly different traditions take place this weekend.
Ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle will take part in “Music From the Crooked Road: Mountain Music of Virginia” on Sunday at the Roper Performing Arts Center in Norfolk. She’ll be joined by other bluegrass and oldtime performers from her neck o’ the woods.
LaPrelle, 22, created her own major – Southern Appalachian traditional performance– while at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Her storytelling songs go back hundreds of years, she said, and came from the British Isles.
The nine-singer Cantus performing at Old Dominion University on Monday, will venture into sacred harp singing, an oldtime tradition that evolved alongside LaPrelle’s ballads.
Aaron Humble, one of Cantus’ singers, said the singing style is “full bore, unbridled. Some of it may be close to shouting,” Humble said.
Sacred harp runs counter to Cantus’ signature sound of beautiful, soaring harmonies. “We sing in multiple parts and make sure everything is aligned and locking up, to create the brilliance and the overtones,” he said.
Overtones create that thrilling, warming hum heard in barbershop quartets, a buzz you can almost feel in your body.
Something like those thunderous handclaps that led Queen close to shouting in “We Will Rock You.”
Teresa Annas, (757) 446-2485,