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Review: Clef Hangers deliver an emotional, passionate spring concert

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The Clef Hangers, an a capella group at UNC, perform at Sunset Serenade on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.

I recently had the pleasure of witnessing UNC’s oldest a cappella group, the Clef Hangers, perform their spring concert in Memorial Hall, and I have to say — I think I’ve just witnessed the greatest rendition of “Africa” by Toto I’ve ever heard. 

The Clefs displayed their talent with expertly arranged compositions courtesy of Music Director Scott Gilliam, along with engaging choreography and some unbelievable solos.

The Clefs sounded better than ever on the big stage. You could tell that their intense and frequent rehearsals had paid off — two weeks of daily six-hour sessions. The sound engineering was also fantastic; each Clef had their own microphone that allowed for every layer, from the percussion to the soloist, to be heard. 

An early standout in the show was the aforementioned “Africa” cover. 

Clef veteran Brady Leger dominated the stage during each chorus as he displayed his operatically-trained voice. In the final chorus, bass singer Graham Conway stepped up and contributed an enchanting falsetto accompaniment, shocking the audience.

This was followed by one of the more emotional songs in the set. The Clefs huddled together under rose pink lighting and fog while Leger belted out an unbelievable cover of “All I Ask” by Adele. The subtle rasp in his voice as he appeared to reach deep down for the final chorus sent chills down my spine. My friend turned to me during the song and asked, “Why isn’t this guy famous?”

The next few songs were much lighter and allowed for some more creative solo switch-offs and choreography. “Carolina in my Mind” by James Taylor is a classic Clefs cover, and “Take it Easy” by Eagles was super cool to hear in a cappella. Freshman Grant Bergeman killed it on the Eagles solo as the layered, atmospheric harmonies filled the room. 

At one point, the performers brought up a handful of Clef Hanger Alumni, some of whom had graduated up to 40 years ago, to sing an old Carolina fight song.

“Blank Space” by Taylor Swift and “Stick Season” by Noah Kahan were weaker points in the setlist for me. The vocal performances and arrangements were solid, but I find the songs themselves too commercial and poppy.

I was surprisingly pleased with the Khalid mashup, which I had been skeptical of after spotting it on the playbill. Freshman Robbie Dwortz had a fantastic solo, among great performances by Clefs President Imani Chabikuli and freshman Ja'Khari Bryant. Breaking down each of the three songs to shorter, minute-long performances resonated well with the audience. 

One of my favorite parts of a cappella performances is getting to see members switch roles between percussionist, soloist and bass. 

I kept imagining what that would be like with a typical band: imagine if the drummer in a band got up and started singing while the bassist whipped out a solo on the keys. These little dynamics are things you won’t see in a typical band performance. 

Not only did they kill it on-stage, the Clefs did a great job of providing context and background throughout the concert. Through senior recognition speeches, brief anecdotes and the skit-based, "Impractical Jokers"-inspired intermission video that they played, the audience learned more about the Clefs and the history of their group.

Chabikuli started off the senior recognition speeches with a playful speech about senior Dries Raets, who followed it up with a great solo of “5 Leaf Clover” by Luke Combs. It was hard not to feel emotional seeing him perform for the last time after four years with the Clefs. 

A few songs later, Gilliam gave some emotional words about senior Leger. He talked about their personal relationship, along with Leger’s impact on the group.

Leger and Gilliam shared a hug, then lined up for Leger’s senior solo — one I have struggled to keep out of my head since the concert. He started singing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” by Elton John and George Michael with absolute passion and dedication to mastering every note.

Then, halfway through, Leger casually announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, my dad!” as his dad walked on stage holding a microphone. And damn, can his dad sing. He boasted the voice of a veteran soul singer as he duetted with his son on stage.

Seeing Leger perform for the last time on stage with his father was an absolute gutwrencher. Everybody erupted into a standing ovation as Leger hugged his dad before he walked off stage. 

A lingering theme throughout the show was the future of the Clefs, and how each year provides new challenges for the group. After seeing the impact that seniors Raets and Leger have had on this crew, along with the undeniably talented class of first-years, I can confidently say that the Clefs will be back next year, better than ever.

You can stay updated on the Clef Hangers via their website clefhangers.com and their Instagram @clefhangers.

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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