Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Virginia Gentlemen: Keeping it Classy

The Virginia Gentleman gave a rousing performance to nearly eight hundred spectators during their Family Weekend concert. The all-male acapella group sang for over two and a half hours, performing a broad range of songs from five decades. The squeaky-clean performance, combined with their famous bow ties, emanated an image of a classic “old school” singing group. The concert was strongly gendered, as indicated by their song choice, outfits and even their name. Their old school image and song selection contributed to a hetero-normative performance. Both the “old school” and hetero-normative messages are not fully reflective of the group’s membership, creating a minor tension between the group’s stage presence and their lives offstage.

According to a fourth year in the group, the VGs think that they are a “classy, old-school group with an expansive repertoire.” This image is fitting for the oldest acapella group on grounds with a “rich tradition of musical excellence and camaraderie” ( ). While their name itself alludes to a masculinity of the past, the performance was also gendered in their dress and song choice. For the concert in Old Cabel Hall, a stunning and classic concert hall, they performed in crisp suits and blue and orange bow ties, thus embodying their gentile name. Their attire hearkened back to a time when the University student body was made up of all white, mostly upper class males who attended class in coats and ties. Despite the allusion to U.Va’s past, the group is more diverse then the name and image imply; several members are African American and some members do not fit into the “preppy, old school” stereotype by any stretch of the imagination.

The Virginia Gentlemen sang a range of songs, covering artists such as The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra. Several of the songs included themes of romance with women. Their rendition of “Brandy,” originally by Looking Glass, had the soloist singing lines about a beautiful young woman who would make a good wife. A swoon-worthy version of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” was complete with winks to females in the audience. The concert concluded with the crowd pleasing “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel, a tune about breaking up and making up with the song’s namesake. Overall, the song selection had a hetero-normative connotation, which contributed to the group’s “old school” masculine image. Once more, their image conflicts slightly with their actual membership; even though their songs seem to imply it, not all members consider themselves heterosexual.

The Virginia Gentlemen could be considered cross over artists, since they performed songs from several genres in a different style. Their family weekend show featured acapella arrangements from country, hip-hop, rock, rhythm and blues, pop and rock and roll songs. The audience, made up of students and their families, seemed equally entertained by each song, regardless of its genre. The VGs seem to be able to take a song from every genre and make it sound classy, clean and family-appropriate.

Much like other styles of music discussed in class, U.Va. acapella is a male dominated musical style. Although there are many incredibly talented all-female and co-ed groups on grounds, all-male groups such as the VGs are by far the most popular, regularly selling out concert halls and booking gigs literally around the world. While rock became a male-dominated space in part because of its technical nature, the male domination of U.Va acapella can not be explained in this fashion. Although acapella does demand precise vocal control, it does not include any instrumental knowledge. It is difficult to say why all-male acapella groups draw bigger crowds at the University, but the VG’s concert certainly exemplified this phenomenon. The show included an intermission featuring several songs by an all-female group. Although just as vocally talented, the female group did not earn nearlyas much enthusiasm from the crowd as did the men in bow ties.

The Virginia Gentleman's Family Weekend concert crossed musical generations and genres. The group's attire and song selection established a gendered image that alluded to a masculinity specific to white, upper class, heterosexual males. Although parts of their image refers to the University's past as a white, all-male school for "gentlemen," the VGs are, in actuality a diverse group who continue to be a favorite of hundreds of adoring fans.

Check out the links below for some past performances by the VGs:
"Hey there Delilah"
Another crowd favorite, Angel is the Centerfold
One of my personal favorite performances: LoveStoned

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