OTTUMWA — Tonic Sol-fa will be bringing almost 20 years of a cappella excellence to the Bridge View Center Saturday evening. The instantly recognizable sound and award-winning music begin at 7:30 p.m.
Tonic Sol-fa began at St. John's University with Mark McGowan, who sings baritone, and lead vocalist Shaun Johnson. Shortly after forming, the two auditioned for a local entertainment agency, which helped jump-start the group's performance and appearance schedule. Tenor Greg Bannwarth and bass Jared Dove joined soon after, completing the quartet.
They began performing at fairs and festivals, which forced them to set themselves apart early in their careers. All of Tonic Sol-fa's music is performed with no background music, just a tambourine and a shaker. Their four-part harmony is what makes them unique and exciting. Crowd participation and getting everyone involved in the performance give them the opportunity to connect with the audience in a way many groups can't.
"It was the one thing we needed to do from the very beginning — figure how to get people to pay attention to us. At a fair or festival, there are 50 million things going on, so why should they choose you over the midway or something such as that? But when they come into the area and hear other people laughing, they hear the music, and they want to know why they're having so much fun in there," Bannwarth explained. "It had to be that way from the beginning out of necessity, but we were having such a good time, we said 'Let's keep it.'"
Together the group reached national prominence with appearances on NBC's Today Show and in Newsweek magazine. Along the way, they shared the stage with a number of recognizable performers including Jay Leno, Jeff Foxworthy and Lonestar and were part of Garrison Keillor's 30th Anniversary celebration of A Prairie Home Companion.