A capella group Tonic Sol-fa takes the stage at B.J. Haan

Katie Ribbens — Staff Writer

As the sunny day gave way to crisp, biting night, scattered groups of people gathered in the B.J. Haan Auditorium like bees to honey. The honey?  A chance to see the a capella group Tonic Sol-fa as they stopped at Dordt on their tour.


As the lights dimmed and a hush fell over the crowd, anticipation was thick in the air. Children nestled between parents and grandparents.  And then, every heart in the crowd dropped as a trickle of elementary children walked through the door. As they jostled for position on stage, the audience shifted restlessly, and murmurs flew through the crowd. Did they say the children were performing Tonic Sol-fa songs? More rustling as they checked the pictures on the programs. No, it definitely says Tonic Sol-fa. The 6th graders from Sioux Center Arts sang through 3 songs in soft, sweet voices before they exiting the stage and ran to their seats. The crowd didn’t have to wait long before the four members of Tonic Sol-fa took the stage.

Since the release of their first album in 1997, the quartet has released a multitude of songs using only their voices as instruments. While Tonic Sol-fa—named after notes on a scale—has always consisted of four members, the people filling those 4 roles have fluctuated. Currently, only one founding member still sings with the group: Shaun Johnson, who sings tenor. Greg Bannwarth, Jared Dove, and Theo Brown fill the remaining roles of tenor, bass, and baritone respectively.

Their choice of music knows no bounds as they transform well-known songs into their own covers, varying from Christmas music to country. Tonic Sol-fa has also released several original songs.

Though the crowd was sparse, the group didn’t let that stop them from giving a stellar performance. They opened the night with an original song, “Where Does the Money Come From,” quickly followed by “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

Each member was different and play off each other well. Johnson engaged the crowd by cracking jokes and asking interactive questions. Bannwarth and Brown held a friendly competition onstage and encouraged the audience to vote with their cheers. Dove kept his sunglasses on throughout the performance and assumed a casual stance on a stool, reflecting a love for jazz. During their performance of “El Paso,” everyone sitting in the pews began to sway. The energy was palpable both onstage and off.  The relatively small audience allowed a personal feel with Tonic Sol-fa; perhaps the low attendance worked in their favor, for they won the audience over as friends.

The quartet was far from stationary, adopting new formations for each song and sometimes shifting throughout. Each member was given a time to shine; the lead role appeared to be fluid. From standing, to sitting, to dancing around, the group crafted a performance enjoyable for every age.

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