Incorporating the sound of a Gregorian chant into an a cappella arrangement of “Wild Thing” is as unconventional a move in the world of a cappella music as the Tone Rangers, the group who produces this creative interpretation of the classic rock song.
Founded in 1986, the Tone Rangers have
been one of the more enduring all-male a cappella groups in D.C. These eight men work as lawyers, lobbyists and techies by day and form a hard-working and award-winning ensemble by night. They are very much committed to their professions and music, yet they always manage to schedule some time for pizza and beer during rehearsals.
This ensemble tries to veer from the mainstream sound of a cappella by adapting songs to reflect their creative and artistic personality rather than simply mimicking the sounds of a song, said Gil Keteltas, a founding member and the business manager for the group. What Keteltas describes as their signature song, “Wild Thing,” starts out as a Gregorian chant, morphs into unusual rock ’n’ roll and ends in surprising vocal pieces. Many of their other songs similarly incorporate different forms of music.
“The goal is to have some element of surprise,” said Mike Beresik, a lobbyist in the District and a third tenor for the Tone Rangers.
The group usually performs 30-minute sets, at minimum, and incorporate some comedy routines into their performance. “We’ve been labeled the Capitol Hill group not only because we all work in the area but also because we do a lot of political humor,” Keteltas said. The jokes are constantly changing, but they do have one common routine — a parody of NPR’s “All Things Considered” that represents a setting for them to present jokes on recent political happenings.
Initially composed of alums from Cornell’s a cappella groups, the Glee Club and the Hangovers, the group is now a mix of Cornell and Yale graduates as well as one Brown alum, all of whom sang in college. According to Keteltas, 13 members have left over the years because they’ve moved away, but the ensemble has stayed consistent for the past two years.
The strong alumni networks associated with Cornell’s Glee Club and the Hangovers as well as Yale’s Whiffenpoofs, among other Yale groups, helped create the foundation for the Tone Rangers. They have formal auditions but the group is not looking to expand beyond their eight members right now, said Beresik.
In 2002, the Tone Rangers won the Mid-Atlantic Regional Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival, an annual competition in the District. As a result, they were one of eight groups that went on to participate in the national competition in San Francisco.
Though the Tone Rangers have demonstrated they are talented and serious about their music, they are comedians on and off the stage and are ultimately involved in the ensemble for the pure enjoyment of the music and the social outlet. “We work hard when we’re working. But we have fun when we’re done,” said Beresik.
Keteltas and Beresik recounted times when aspiring Tone Rangers proved during auditions that they were too serious for the character of the group and uninterested in the fun activities, such as their weekly ritual of pizza and beer at rehearsals. Keteltas described their level of commitment as a “professional hobby,” but both Keteltas and Beresik emphasized the importance of maintaining their relaxed attitude as a part of the Tone Rangers’ implicit goal of having fun.
The group has performed at a variety of venues such as The Birchmere in Alexandria, and Jammin Java café, a more intimate setting in Vienna, Va. These have been two of their favorite places to sing, but Beresik says they still like to randomly perform on the street sometimes to maintain versatility.
The Tone Rangers have also hosted a fundraiser event that attracted 400 people and featured groups from Yale and Cornell. The proceeds from the event went to local college scholarship foundations.
Keteltas and Beresik said that there is no real significance or history to their name. “It’s the least bad of the awful puns [that are used to title a cappella groups]. It has a Western connotation that just isn’t accurate,” Keteltas said. “Most people grimace when they hear the name.”
“But they remember it,” Beresik said. “And that’s what counts.”
The octet is currently recording their second CD, which is due out in the fall. In the meantime, they will host Arlington’s A Cappella Festival at Lubber Run Park Amphitheater on July 24.
The Tone Rangers maintain a sense of humor about what Beresik describes as their “bizarre” involvement with a type of music that is traditionally associated with college students, but there is also an implied feeling of passion for their music and their group when Keteltas and Beresik describe their experiences.
“There is nothing to hide behind; no drums, no guitars, etc. It’s just you and your audience,” said Beresik about performing a cappella music. “It requires a level of confidence with what you’re doing, and this group has that.”
More information on the Tone Rangers is available on their Web site, https://www.tonerangers.com.