Music, laughter, and five European men will fill the stage of College Baptist Church this Saturday.
The Olga Vocal Ensemble will be performing Feb. 11 at 8:00 p.m. as part of the college’s Performing Artist Series. The group was founded in 2012 at the Utrechts Conservatorium in the Netherlands, and two years later, they recorded their first album of songs which ranged from jazz to oldies, pop to classical.
In addition to a wide variety of music, Olga is also known for adding humor to their performances.
“We like to keep the concerts light-hearted. Not all of our songs are funny, but when they are funny, we try to make the most of it,” Philip Barkhudarov said. “We do a lot of talking during our concerts, we introduce our songs, we introduce ourselves; we like to make jokes and make fun of ourselves. It kind of breaks the ice with the audience.”
The ensemble is comprised of five men who hail from all over Europe: Bjarni Guðmundsson, tenor; Jonathan Ploeg, tenor; Gulian van Nierop, baritone; Pétur Oddbergur Heimisson, bass-baritone; and Philip Barkhudarov, bass.
The ensemble will also be hosting a master class for students in Howard Music Hall Feb. 11 at 11:00 a.m.
“We’re preparing a couple a cappella pieces with the men of the big choir to perform and be coached by the men of Olga,” Music Director James Holleman said. “It’s a shared experience of the students.”
This shared experience can be used a common knowledge reference point when an ensemble is struggling later in the year, Holleman added.
Although only men will be participating in the master class, all students are welcome to watch.
“I’m excited to hear them,” said sophomore Tom Ryskamp, who sings bass in the Chamber Choir. “They’re professionals; I really want to hear them. I think it will be really cool to be singing for them.”
Hearing from experts is exciting, Ryskamp added.
“It puts your own talent in perspective,” he said. “It gives you a goal. You think, ‘These are the great people. If I want to be great, I need to be like them.’”
In the master class, Olga plans to work on tempo, tuning, breathing, and blend with the student choir, Barkhudarov said.
Barkhudarov cites harmonizing as a special challenge in a cappella, or unaccompanied, music.
“In a small group, one person per part, you can never just sit back and cruise along,” he said, noting the absence of an instrumental accompaniment as a base to work from. “Every one of you has to be there 100 percent of the time.”
Although Olga has toured before, this is their first time touring in the U.S.
“Personally, I’ve never been anywhere near Michigan,” said Barkhudarov. “I’m very curious. I think there’s a strong choir culture there, as far as I know.”
Traveling so much together leads to a more intimate ensemble, Barkhudarov said. Being with each other all the time, compared to a larger choir, leads to a lot of inside jokes. These jokes can help add to the humor of their shows.
One such joke is their mascot, a red kettle called Ketill Olguson.
“Ketill is a real Icelandic first name, and then Olguson means ‘son of Olga,’” Barkhudarov said. “We discovered Ketill in the library of the Utrechts Conservatorium where we all studied, when we were filming our first promo video. Most of the video was improvised, and at some point Pétur picked up this red kettle and carried it around during some scenes.”
They then started taking the kettle to concerts, and it was eventually donated to them by the library.
“We like the playfulness of it,” Barkhudarov said.
Their audience does too, he added, and that’s what really matters.
“We have a good time together anyway, and when we’re on stage we have a good time together,” he said. “The audience sees that. If we’re having a good time, they also have a good time.”
To find more information on the Olga Vocal Ensemble, find them on Facebook or go to www.olgavocalensemble.com.