Cherry Hill High School East vocal group preparing to tackle newest challenge

Stay Tuned to perform at Disney show in North Jersey on Feb. 15.

Students in Cherry Hill High School East’s a cappella group “Stay Tuned” gathered outside the theater on Jan. 28, prior to rehearsals as the opening act for Disney’s DCappella, in Morristown N.J. on Feb. 15.

Cherry Hill High School East boasts a regionally known performance program, and another feather in its cap has been its a cappella group, creatively titled, Stay Tuned.

They are a fairly new creation, having been founded during the 2012–13 school year. East music teacher Heather Lockart originally formed the group through a combination of the school’s male and female a cappella groups.

Due to the persistence of its performers, Stay Tuned has been selected to perform the opening act at Disney’s DCappella national tour show at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Friday, Feb. 15. The Sun caught up to Lockart and her dedicated pupils at the high school on Jan. 28, as they prepared for the show.

“I’m going to give total credit here to Kate Harding, this is her first year in Stay Tuned. One day, she said there was a thing we can do … on Instagram … where we can post a video of a little snippet of a song and be in the running to be chosen to be the opener for DCappella,” Lockart explained.

“And I was like, ‘what the heck is DCappella?’ And she said it was Disney a cappella, and everybody was like ‘whoa.’ I said OK, go ahead and do it. They came, they dressed all nice and sang, they posted it, all themselves. I really didn’t have anything to do with it. And then, a couple weeks later, I got an email that said we had been selected.”

Lockart admitted the successful reputation and positive image Stay Tuned has maintained — along with some special help — might have had something to do with its selection.

“We have always provided quality music. People know that and can trust that. Then I came to find out later on … I was talking to Deke Sharon (whom she described as the “father of contemporary a cappella) that we were chosen for the DCappella thing, and he said ‘I know,” and I asked if he chose us, and he said he didn’t but he was excited that we were chosen. It all comes full circle in this small world.”

Lockart revealed Disney told the group to submit three songs, and they would be told at an unspecified time in the near future if that submission was good enough or not. They got the go-ahead with little time on-site to prepare.

“It’s gonna be weird. We have to do a 15-minute soundcheck. And then we wait, and then we perform. Hold your breath and then perform in front of thousands of people,” she said.

Whether performing in front of Lockart to hone their craft during rehearsals, hitting the stage to thrill the locals, or taking on fellow schools, the bonds that are formed among members and the group as a whole is key to cohesion.

Junior Jackson Feudtner, in his second year with the group, feels like he’s part of a family. He said being close and connected to his peers produces a sense of comfort and a sense of expression that comes through in his singing.

Senior Arianne Martin, who has spent three years in Stay Tuned, said she’s drawn to a cappella because of its adaptability to different types of music. She also values the bond with different people each year and to be able to create a very specific sound each year. Third-year participant, senior Kevin Naddeo, said the diverse musical backgrounds of the group and the exposure to different music creates a unique vibe with each group each year.

Though veterans of numerous local and state competitions, the Feb. 15 Disney event will be the first time Stay Tuned will perform in front of a live audience of so many spectators. The venue’s capacity reaches just over 1,300.

The group flirted with national stardom, having been featured in the winter of 2016 on a Lifetime reality television show entitled, “Pitch Slapped.” The show detailed Stay Tuned and another high school group, Highland Voices, as they competed against each other in the late spring and early summer of 2015.

It afforded Lockart and her charges the opportunity to work with Sharon. While his time spent with Stay Tuned was the highlight of the show for most of the students as well as their leader, Lockart acknowledged how her perception of the medium changed drastically due to the group’s involvement.

“Reality TV is so unrealistic, it’s not even funny. I was a junkie until that experience when I saw how much of it was already … how the pathway was already paved. It was worthwhile because we got eight solid weeks of working with the a cappella man himself, Deke. And I wouldn’t have changed that for anything, because the knowledge they got during that time was unbelievable, and for me, too.”

When pressed on whether she would have Stay Tuned endure another TV-related journey, the answer was one you might not expect.

“Always. There was good, bad, ugly, beautiful moments in that whole experience, and yes, because no matter what, you will learn something,” she added.

For more information on Disney DCappella, visit dcappellalive.com. To purchase tickets for the event, visit MayoArts.org.