FORMED in 2014, the Charlestones have been bringing musical joy to audiences for several years throughout the southeast.The male vocal group is comprised of local singers who all performed professionally prior to joining together, and they quickly formed a creative bond and friendship that led to their unique union and special sound.
Before they come to town for a show at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah, we spoke to singer Todd Monsell about the group’s beginnings, how they choose their set list, and living in a city that encourages art.
How did you all come together and decide you wanted to form a vocal group?
Todd: We've all been professional singers on some level for a long time. All of us have sung in churches as section leaders, some have done jazz work, and we all happened to be attending the same church. I'm the Director of Music at a church called St. John's Lutheran, and two of the guys were singing in my choir. The fourth one joined the church and was not singing in the choir, but I heard he had a great voice.
One Sunday I was looking to get a men’s group together to sing an a cappella men’s piece, and I realized it was a bit too difficult for the group I had. But I had an idea to get [this group of guys] and we had a pretty good sound, so we quickly realized it was something that we wanted to do for a long time.
Did you have a sense of what kind of songs you wanted to do from the start?
Todd: Well, a couple of us have a background in barbershop. I did it in college. But we decided we didn't want to limit ourselves to that style, because there are a couple of rules that go with it.We wanted to blaze our own path. We really do try to sing in about as many vocal styles as we can.
We do a concert where we do everything from country to musical theater, to patriotic to pop. And this concert that we’re doing, ‘Love Is in the Air.’ we’ll be doing quite a few styles - jazz, pop, Broadway, Renaissance, and country. We like to have something for everyone.
So how do you go about arranging these songs in the Charlestones format?
Todd: Fortunately there's a lot out there already - we get our arrangements from various sources, and sometimes perform them as is. Other times we purchase an arrangement and we kind of rearrange it. Two of us in the group actually do our own arrangements, so a couple of pieces we'll do in Savannah are my arrangements. "How Deep is Your Love," the Bee Gees classic is one of the pieces we'll be doing as part of our 'Love on the Silver Screen' set featuring songs from movies.
Charleston is a really musical city, and just very encouraging of the arts in general. Why do you think art has been able to flourish so much there?
Todd: That's a really good question - I think having the Spoleto festival has been huge for the arts. It's really encouraged and given a voice and venue to a lot of local talent. Literally every day there are huge concerts and theater and art installations. I think absolutely the arts are flourishing in Charleston, from choral groups to theater groups.
There’s so much going on in the arts scene. I just think that having such a beautiful, historic city that has so much natural culture has fostered this environment, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.