As precise and fine-tuned as the globe-trotting a cappella quintet The Real Group is, rehearsing sometimes for hours almost daily even when not touring, members care far more about connecting with listeners than with sheer excellence.
“We go onstage not to show people how good we are,” said Morten Vinther, the 31-year-old youngest member and baritone of the group that has sung for crowds as large as 60,000. “Our goal is to experience the music with the audience.”
The Sweden-based performers — considered international pioneers with a cappella vocal jazz, pop, classical and other styles — will allow a local audience to experience The Real Group’s best material Saturday at The Commons. The two-hour concert is part of the act’s 30th anniversary tour that will include a medley of material from the group’s catalog and from what Vinther called “songs from our own curiosity.”
That could include anything from a good, jazzy version of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” to Nordic folk music — all done with a choral vocal blend making the five-person group sound much larger.
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“People often try to put us in a box,” Vinther said, speaking by phone from his home in Sweden.
Those people might have an easier time with pigeonholing if the ensemble sang only in English and not in Swedish and Norwegian. It’s often all the more confusing that the group will readily jump into contemporary tunes such as Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time” or the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
Why? Because, well, they want it that way, with ample room for spunk and spontaneity.
At some concerts, they take crowd requests, not only for tunes, but the styles listeners want them wrapped in. At one performance, on demand, they offered an off-the-cuff presentation of The Beatles’ classic “Yesterday” — done with a spicy, salsa beat.
Funny? Yes. Serious music nonetheless? That, too. Real serious, you might say.
The quintet formed in 1984, when its original members were students at the Swedish Royal College of Music and were inspired in part by American vocalist Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”), who has since become a Real Group fan. Vinther acknowledged that few internationally touring groups specialized in a cappella then.
Most recently, a cappella ensemble Pentatonix’s Feb. 8 Grammy Award performance has been hailed by some critics as a watershed moment for the growing popularity of the organic approach. Yet, for four decades, The Real Group has attracted an audience ranging from college vocal jazz students to plain old everyday hardliners of harmony.
“We have the most amazing audiences in the world,” Vinther said. “It’s wonderful that they so beautifully embrace the music.”
Columbus’ Bogdan Minut serves as director of music ministry at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, which booked the group as part of its mainstream music series. Minut saw the five singers perform in Cincinnati last year.
“They’re just so phenomenal,” Minut said. “I was blown away from the first moment they stepped onstage.”
Minut especially enjoyed how members interacted with the audience. So far, he’s gotten phone calls from vocal music students in several states planning to attend the local performance.
Vinther mentioned that he still can relate well to music students devoted to a cappella.
“I was pretty nerdy about all that early on,” said the former pop and rock singer and fan of mainstream acts such as Stevie Wonder and Peter Gabriel.
Vinther laughed about the fact that, despite all the group’s rehearsals, sometimes a missed note or entrance still surface in concert. He’s uncertain how much listeners notice.
“Remember that our bigger, overall concern is communication.”
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Who: The Swedish-based a cappella act The Real Group, performing jazz, pop, classical, folk and other styles. The performance is part of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church’s mainstream music series.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.
Tickets: $25, available at St. Bartholomew, Viewpoint Books and therealgroup.se.