“Every young child likes to make noises constantly and drive their parents insane,” said Andrew Berkowitz, vocal percussionist of Six Appeal, which will perform as the host group Saturday in Olympia at the Pacific Northwest Harmony Sweepstakes. “Vocal percussion is nothing but making weird noises but to a rhythm and in tempo and with singers.”
Saturday’s event, presented by Masterworks Choral Ensemble, will feature short sets by five groups aspiring to be this year’s Pacific Northwest winners, plus an extended set by the Minneapolis-based Six Appeal.
The sextet won not only last year’s Pacific Northwest completion but also the top honors nationally, and as a result, Berkowitz of Minneapolis is now a professional beatboxer. He and the other men of Six travel nationally performing, competing and teaching about the joys of a cappella singing.
“A group of this caliber doesn’t come by very often,” said Masterworks director Gary Witley. “To have a national winner come around is not an everyday thing.
“When Six Appeal won our regional competition and I sent the information (to) the national people, I said, ‘I think we’re sending you the national winner,’” Witley said.
Six Appeal formed when the members were students at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and has continued to develop from there. The group does a wide array of material including arrangements of familiar tunes as well as originals.
A few of Berkowitz’s favorites are arrangements of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” along with his own “On Your Love,” which won best original song at the regional and national Harmony Sweepstakes last year.
Of Gaynor’s empowerment anthem, he said, “the audience really likes that one, too. They never expect six guys to do that.”
Besides an extended set by Six Appeal, Saturday’s show will include 10-minute performances by each of this year’s five hopefuls, which include first-time competitor Shot in the Dark from Seattle along with returning favorites Rezonate, Strangers in Harmony, The Uptown 4 and Bodacious Ladyhood, which took second place last year.
Although a cappella has become better known in the past few years thanks to TV shows such as “Glee” and “The Sing-Off,” and although beatboxing can be learned via YouTube videos, people are often startled by Berkowitz’s job. (He does sing lead vocals on some tunes, but about 95 percent of the time onstage, he’s impersonating a drummer.)
“It does stick out,” Berkowitz said. “People are singing, and then there is this guy making drum noises with his mouth. We still have audiences where people stare at me because they don’t believe I am making those noises. It’s something they have never seen before.”
Pacific Northwest Harmony Sweepstakes
What: Reigning national champion Six Appeal will perform at the a cappella singing competition’s Northwest regionals, presented by Masterworks Choral Ensemble.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia
Tickets: $26; $16 students and seniors; $13 youth
Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org, mce.org