ELKTON, Md. — When a visiting group of musicians visited Immaculate Conception School in Elkton, Md., on Nov. 18, the students had a ball. More specifically, a Ball in the House.
Ball in the House, a five-member a cappella band out of Boston, entertained and educated the student body at Immaculate Conception with an hour’s worth of R&B, soul and pop songs, plus a little more. They talked about working toward one’s dreams, and they invited aspiring artists to sing along with them. The music also had several of the teachers tapping their toes and clapping along with the rhythm.
“We are very, very lucky guys to do what we love,” band member Dave Guisti said. “Every day you get to do what you love is a good day.”
Ball in the House has been touring — more than 200 shows per year — for two decades, but this iteration has been together for about six months, said Jon Ryan, the group’s beatboxer. He and Guisti have known each other since they were in the Boston Boys Choir.
The group delivered a music lesson that included explaining the parts of a song. Harmony, they said, holds a group together.
“You probably use harmony all the time and don’t know it,” Guisti said. Working together on a school project is harmony, he continued.
“When you work together as a team, you can do great things,” Ryan added.
Ryan spent a few minutes showing the students how Ball in the House uses technology to their benefit. He adjusted the bass and other settings on a mixer to demonstrate the effects those changes had on a human voice being filtered through the mixer. Emma Farris joined the group to step on a bass pedal.
Singer Wallace Thomas talked about his songwriting process.
“If you have stuff going on in your head, in your heart, you can write music,” he told the students.
Several students raised their hands when Thomas asked if they wrote songs. The emotions that went into those songs included happiness and confusion.
“All these different emotions make for great songs,” Thomas said, and the same also goes for short stories and poems.
The five members of Ball in the House did not keep the stage to themselves. They invited a few students up to join them, and Nathan Schall, Isabella Troyan and Justin Marcos made their a cappella debuts. The trio delivered performances that earned them hearty applause from their fellow students and teachers.
Thomas also gave a short history of a cappella music. The phrase itself is from Italian and refers to church music, which was thought to have been sung without accompaniment. In the late 1800s, spiritual music was transformed into blues and gospel music, he said, and Ball in the House performed a short examples of each.
Barbershop quartets became popular in the early 20th century, and doo wop followed in the 1950s. Contemporary a cappella covers all musical genres.
The hour concluded with a question-and-answer session, and the students were prepared. The band said it took a lot of practice to make their music sound as good as it does.
“When we’re away from each other, we have homework, just like you,” Guisti said.
Another student asked if they ever run out of breath trying to hold notes. Monty Hill, the tenor, said the answer is yes, but music lessons come in handy.
“The classes teach you how to properly (hold notes), he said.
Guisti said the group had a particularly tough time when performing at high altitudes.
Guisti concluded the event by stressing the importance of an education in the arts and encouraging all of the students to get involved in them. He also encouraged them to get involved in their churches, as the members of the band are.
“God is the sixth member of the group,” he said.