When Rockapella performs at the Ridgefield Playhouse, the only instruments the group members will bring to the holiday concert are their voices. So when Jeff Thacher needs to “drop a beat,” the vocal percussionist will pick up a microphone instead of drum sticks.
“It's not quite the same as beat boxing,” Thacher said, describing the technical difference between performing as the percussion section of an a capella group. “To people who don't look deeper into, it's hard to tell the difference. But a vocal percussionist is more part of an ensemble while beat boxers as a role tend to be soloists.”
Thacher joined Rockapella in 1993 while the group was a regular part of the PBS children's game show, "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" It was based on a series of educational computer games of the same name. Producers initially called for only four singers, so Thacher didn't appear in the television cast until the fifth season though he had been in the group for more than a year.
Thacher said Rockapella got offers to record a children's album after "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" wrapped in 1996. The group members decided they would follow their own path and create music for a wider audience.
“We are about as quintessentially an 'indie' group as you can get,” said Thacher, who added that the group is “still here, still alive.” They have produced a few albums and kept their product thriving through the Internet.
Thacher's specialty as the vocal percussion for the group was a relatively new concept when he joined Rockapella. Beat boxers were known in the hip-hop community and rap scenes but not in traditional collegiate or professional a capella groups.
The path to vocal percussionist began almost accidently for Thacher, making sounds and beats here and there as a kid. He said most people at one point or another toy around with vocalizing rhythmic sounds. To become a vocal percussionist, though, requires more effort.
“You have to practice constantly,” said Thacher. “You really have to be someone who loves trying to create sound effects.”
Thacher will join his group members for A Rockapella Holiday at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Friday, Dec. 9. A holiday album of the same name as the performance is available. Tickets are available at the playhouse's website.