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PITTSBORO, N.C. — There’s Quincy Jones or Sean “P. Diddy” Combs — and Matthew Hanson, the Northwood High School choral director, who, in at least one way, warrants mentioning in the same sentence as the aforementioned music producers, all of them with a knack for getting a group of singers to hit the right notes.
“There’s definitely an art to that,” Hanson said.
Five years ago, Hanson shaped a group of Northwood students into an a cappella ensemble. They called themselves Pitch Please. Last year, those singers won the N.C. High School A Cappella Competition. That earned them the state title. Pitch Please peaked again, repeating as the state champ on their home stage at Northwood on Feb. 4.
The state competition was organized by the North Carolina Association for Scholastic Activities (NCASA), a nonprofit, school association that promotes the academic excellence of the state’s students through scholastic competition.
Northwood is at the top of the standings for the NCASA Scholastic Cup for similarly sized schools. Areas of interest such as a cappella music and Quiz Bowl are among the 23 categories the NCASA uses to determine the best high school in the state. Among North Carolina’s larger schools, Northwood has 185 points. The closest competitor is Myers Park High School in Charlotte with 120 points. Hillside High School in Durham has 100 points. The NCASA will announce the winner of the Scholastic Cup during its annual meeting May 8 at Simon G. Atkins Academic and Technology High School in Winston-Salem.
It was just last year when Pitch Please started competing. Humbly, Hanson acknowledged his role in the group’s success.
“I take credit for starting the group and, I guess, maintaining it,” Hanson said.
But Hanson, who puts his touch on the contemporary songs Pitch Please sings, insisted that the hardware the group is procuring is the byproduct of his students putting in as much work as he does.
In 2012, some students at Northwood were expressing interest in singing but couldn’t fit it in their class schedules. So Hanson established Pitch Please as an after-school group that became a collective of singers who rally around microphones the way athletes come together on ball fields.
“You see it out on the sports field,” Hanson said.
It’s also seen in unflattering ways on reality shows and in documentaries about singing groups fizzling when agendas get mixed, Hanson explained.
“One person’s enough to shake up a group of 16,” Hanson said.
There are 17 members in Pitch Please. The group fluctuates between 16 to 18 members from school year to school year. Graduation creates maybe five or six openings in the ensemble each year. Hanson said it’s the contemporary songs he works with that helps attract roughly 50 Northwood students during auditions for Pitch Please, and there’s room for only a handful of them.
At the Feb. 4 state competition, Pitch Please’s Andrew Bonomolo was distinguished as the best male vocalist, and Christopher Keesor was the best percussionist. Pitch Please also earned first place for having the best choreography in a set of songs that included “Man in the Mirror,” “Cathedrals” and “I Was Here.”
The members of Pitch Please are: Emerson Batsche, Sarah Beck, Jacob Buster, Randall Dowdy, Heather Drake, Jessica Goodman, Savannah Her, Ali Knowles, Connor Lewis, Sydney McGee, William Ramos, Brenda Ruto, Olivia Somers, Hannah Urbas, Timmie White, Bonomolo and Keesor.
Former Pitch Please members are pursuing degrees both in music education and composition.
Pitch Please has been selected to appear with other ensembles from all over America in “Total Vocal” by noted producer and arranger Deke Sharon. That production will take place in April. The venue will be New York’s Carnegie Hall.