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Chromatics History


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Based in: Greenbelt, United States.

In early 1993 Anne Raugh and Steve Leete decided to try their hands at forming a contemporary a cappella group. They hand picked the first singers mainly from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's Music and Drama (MAD) club, of which both Anne and Steve were prominent members. This 12-voice a cappella chorus went by the name The OK Chorale. Both Steve and Anne were great examples of the coexistence of science/technology know-how and musical ability in the same brain. In fact, once the OK Chorale was in place, Anne quickly got up to speed as an a cappella arranger, and is now known throughout the a cappella community as an arranging whiz!

The OK Chorale's first performance was a lunchtime concert at Goddard in June 1993. When a soprano spot opened up, Karen Smale and Padi Boyd first met on the night both auditioned, and both got in! Alan Smale came onboard after a memorable gig at which our bass at the time never showed! Additional voices Angie Russo, Deb Nixon, Paul Kolb and Lisa Kelleher came onboard when several members took jobs out of state. Over the next several years, the OK Chorale went through the typical a cappella teething troubles, trying on many styles, losing and gaining members, and even enduring the name change to "The Chromatics." But we did change it in time for our big debut at Camden Yards singing the National Anthem for the Orioles! Quite a few people have asked how we came up with "The Chromatics." In our geeky tradition, we chose a word that had both music and science connotations: the chromatic scale (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, etc.) and the chromatic colors (the colors of the spectrum). Little did we know how this presaged our future marriage of music and science in AstroCappella!

Co-founder Raugh departed in 1995 and has kept busy as music director at many DC-area theater productions and in other local theater roles. She also founded her own sheet music publishing company along with Deke Sharon (of House Jacks fame).

In early 1996, John Meyer joined in the fun, and the group became more active in the local a cappella scene. (The group was still a bulky 10 members at this point!) We quickly realized that John brought great song-writing skill to the group and so we added John's original tunes to the repertoire, and kindled our dream of releasing a CD. The Chromatics did lots of local performances: Atlantic Region Harmony Sweepstakes, Baltimore Inner Harbor street performances, Kennedy Center Millenium Stage, Bowie Baysox mini-concerts, and Goddard and Greenbelt concerts. The year was rounded out nicely with a performance at the White House's annual Candlelight Tours.

In 1997, the AstroCappella idea was born, and with it some new Chromie songwriters. In 1997-98, the AstroCappella project took the Chromatics to Palm Springs, Orlando, and Las Vegas even before the CD was released! We met with educators who would use the songs in their classrooms to teach science and math. Recording of First Light and AstroCappella proceeded simultaneously in 1997-98 and 1998 saw the release of both CDs. It's doubtful we'll ever try to release two CDs in one year again!

Co-founder Steve Leete's growing family and frequent travel to Houston to train astronauts took him away in late 1998, leaving the group with no original members. Angie Russo departed in early 1999 and is now a very active member of the Capricio Catch Club. In 1998 and 1999, the group focused on a few astronomy-based, high-profile events, resulting in some brief coverage on CNN, and some not-so-brief (two full songs) on PBS's "Live from the Sun" educational videos.

John Grunsfeld's hand In 1999 and 2000, the group pushed for fewer, but higher-profile, performances, taking third place at the Atlantic Region Harmony Sweepstakes, making a splash at the Washington Folk Festival, Annapolis First Night, and starting our annual tradition of holiday concerts at the Greenbelt Arts Center. 1999 even saw our first AstroCappella disk fly on the space shuttle! The year 2000 was marked with the production and release of Unwrapped, a CD of holiday music which was nominated for two CARA awards (best Christmas CD and best Christmas Song - "Silent Night"). Josh Schwartz joined the Chromies as our amazing temporary tenor while Paul was unavailable in late 2000 and early 2001.

In 2001, we spent quite a bit of time in the recording studio. AstroCappella 2.0, released in September, is a multimedia CD ROM chock full of songs, videos, slide shows, games, puzzles lesson plans and activities. AstroCappella 2.0's ditty "A Little Bit of Rock" was nominated for a CARA award in the Music for Children category. In 2001, the Chromies performed at the National Air and Space Museum, and began infiltrating the folk scene.

In 2002 we continued our performances at folk music venues and at many Maryland Borders Bookstores. In spring and summer we said sad farewells to Paul Kolb, whose job conflicted with rehearsals, and Lisa Kelleher who was simultaneously blessed with a big promotion and a new baby boy. We recruited tenor Barry Mahaffey to replace Paul and the group was down to six members, exactly half the size of the original OK Chorale.

The year 2003 began with 3 Wammie (Washington Area Music Award) nominations (it was an honor...). We got some strange press as the anonymous focus of an RIAA cease and desist letter and were played on the BBC's Radio 4. We toured the Southeast (Alabama & Tennessee) where we sang for astronomers and students (and a restaurant full of people along the way). We discovered that even though we spent several days together in cramped vans we were still speaking to each other at the end! We intended to release a CD of Chromie originals, but instead released Mixed Messages, a mixture of live, studio, holiday, science, and cover recordings. We're still saving our all-original material for another recording. Maybe in 2004....

... Or not! In 2004, we were nominated for another WAMMIE, and we expanded our horizons to science fiction conventions and got some more radio time on BBC4, and press in Popular Science magazine. We sang at the Harmony Sweeps again. The Swift Song was featured at the National Space Centre in the UK and High Energy Groove formed the basis of a new planetarium show narrated by Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols. Of our local concerts (DC, MD, VA and NY), fully half of them were astonomy-based performances. John's big project, MESSENGER, and Padi's project, Swift, were both successfully launched by NASA. The extra workload on two of the Chromies meant that touring and recording took a back seat this year. We did have a short retreat in October and decided that this is a good thing, especially if you can find a hotel with a pool and spa!

2005 brought more WAMMIE nominations (for the group and for Mixed Messages) but with the usual outcome... it was an honor to be nominated... We got some press from Nature magazine in response to our educational poster at the American Astronomical Society meeting. We returned to our efforts on the next CD... Yes, the same one we were working on in 2003. If it weren't for these day jobs... In the fall, we travelled to Shreveport, Louisiana, and performed something like a dozen times in 5 days (whew!) at the Red River Festival and various educational venues including the LSU-Shreveport campus and the wonderful SciPort Museum.

After doing all three of the major local science fiction cons in 2005, we gave them all a miss in 2006, but continued to sing for geeks like ourselves at the Air & Space Museums (including Space Day) and other science-related venues and parties. Recording still continued - finally in earnest!

Recording on "Committed" was completed in 2007 and the CD was officially released in August. Earlier in the year we continued to perform at science-related events and locations and also did a few performances at cafe venues. We closed out the year with a Christmas-Eve morning radio performance on WBAL.

In 2008 and 2009, the Chromatics seemed to split the years between science-heavy events like science fiction conventions (Philcon, Balticon, Farpoint) and science events (Air & Space Museum, Hudson River Museum, Maryland Science Center and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and some music festivals (SingStrong, Washington Folk Festival) and other concert series (Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, 333 Coffeehouse, New Deal Cafe). 2009 was the International Year of Astronomy, and the Chromatics supported that event by writing a song for hire, "Shoulders of Giants", released on the CD of the same name in late 2008.

The first half of 2010 was devoted to recording the latest Chromatics CD, "Wassailicious", which was released in July. The second half of the year promised to be quite busy, with performances outside the DC area... in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut... as well as performances closer to home.

1999 - Mid-Atlantic Harmony Sweepstakes 3rd Place Winners

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