World-Renowned 'Swingle Singers'
Feature Greeneville's Sara Brimer
On The Road Since 2009, She Stars At NPAC
BY VELMA SOUTHERLAND
Saturday evening's show by the internationally recognized Swingle Singers of London was not your usual concert -- and not just because a Greene County woman is part of the group.
The lobby of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center was swarming with people before the show and long after the third encore and standing ovations ended.
Many in the approximately 800-strong crowd were there to see a local woman who is living an astonishing, adventurous life.
Former Greenevillian Sara Brimer is one of the seven young people blessed with voices which they push to the boundaries of vocalization every day -- sounds most folks don't realize are possible for human beings to achieve.
Saturday evening kicked off a short U.S. tour that will take the group to Chicago, but mostly to North and South Carolina.
Attempting to describe a show by the group is a difficult-to-impossible challenge, especially for a non-musician.
First, the Swingle Singers are an a cappella vocal group, using no musical instruments for accompaniment. However, instruments were "heard" Saturday evening -- despite none being played. That's how remarkably the singers have developed their individual voices.
Some songs were in English, others not, and some had no language beyond the universal language of music.
The vast range of selections included a number of original songs developed by the group, a beautiful "Clair de Lune," the Beatles in a mishmash of "Blackbird" and "I Wish," and Beyonce's "Single Ladies," in which the four Swingle men performed Beyonce's dance in the background as the three women sang, and the Appalachian ballad "Poor Wayfaring Stranger."
Because Brimer was singing for her hometown, naturally she was featured throughout the show.
Her voice and dramatic abilities had the audience chuckling in the "Diva Aria" from the movie "Fifth Element," which she performed immediately after intermission.
Brimer herself adapted it for the Swingles, as she calls the group.
The song, which is taken from an opera by Donizetti, begins in Italian.
That's no problem for Brimer to sing as she studied opera at East Tennessee State University. The Swingle version has Brimer making the "techno" sounds that were machine-produced in the movie.
On Saturday evening, she was first featured on just the third number of the show, when she and Oliver Griffith, of the United Kingdom, portrayed lovers in "Gemiler Giresune," a Turkish folk song about lovers being separated.
Her third major feature was in Nick Drake's "Riverman."
BRIMER AS A TENNESSEAN
Brimer is the daughter of Bill and Beth Brimer of Chuckey.
During several of her teenage years here, she was a student at Greeneville High School, performing in Kathy May's chorus at GHS and Marilyn duBrisk's Actors Coming Together shows at Tusculum College.
Then she graduated and enrolled at East Tennessee State University to study music education, expecting to spend a career teaching Tennessee children how to sing.
It was during her senior year that her golden opportunity arose, and she leapt at it.
Against what she considered impossible odds, she was selected to become part of The Swingle Singers. Since then, she has been touring the world, living in London, and otherwise doing what she loves.
"It's a parent's dream. I'm just so tickled to be able to share her ... with everyone," an exuberant Beth Brimer said after the show, waving her hand to indicate the large crowd milling around in the auditorium.
In the lobby, the seven Swingle Singers were seated behind a long table signing autographs, and the local girl, who arrived at the table with a security escort, was receiving hugs from people she knew in her Before-Swingle-Singers life.
Many of the approximately-800-strong audience had gone to school with Brimer, both at GHS and ETSU, and some had even taught her.
That was one of the biggest surprises for Brimer, she said -- "that people from my past that I didn't expect would keep up with me still" would be in the audience.
"I kind of expected it to be really loud and crazy, but I was really stunned by the support shown by the people from Greeneville, family and friends ... I was really overwhelmed."
BIG LOCAL FAVORITE
The audience numbers for Saturday's show were different from the average attendance at NPAC this year.
Tom Bullard, executive director, provided the figures: There were 813 tickets sold, and 423 of those were from Greene County. In other words, 52 percent of Saturday's audience was local.
This year, he said, NPAC audiences have been averaging 70 percent out-of-towners. Attending Saturday's show was a block of 60 students from May's choral department.
Knowing she would be performing for people who have known her for such a long time was "nerve-wracking" for Brimer, she said.
"I was so nervous. I haven't been that nervous in a long time. It's fun performing for people you don't know, but when you're performing in front of an audience that knows you really well, it's very nerve-wracking.
"You want to do it just right for them, but they're going to love it no matter what you do -- so it's a weird mix."
Being on stage in front of that supportive crowd was "amazing, kind of dream-like," she said.
ON ROAD SINCE 2009
Brimer said that she normally has been able to get "home-home" to her parents' house two or three times a year ever since she started working with the Swingles in January 2009.
When the group has a U.S. tour, she tries to slip into Greene County a few days before the beginning of the tour to visit with her family.
This time, for this tour, the entire Swingles group actually visited at the Brimer home -- a situation which suited her parents, as Mama Brimer had been wanting to have them all visit.
It left her "exhausted," she announced on Monday in a happy voice.
The Swingles were taken by Bullard from Greeneville to Knoxville. He said that he had enjoyed the group and wanted to show them some "Southern hospitality."
BACK ON THE ROAD
They had a performance Sunday on the University of Tennessee campus, then, on Monday, drove to Durham, N.C., for their next show. They have a vocal festival scheduled in Raleigh.
When they leave the U.S., they will go to Dubai, then South Korea.
In a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun on Monday afternoon, during the drive to Durham, Brimer reflected on her hometown show.
"I can't thank people enough for coming out and showing that incredible, amazing support," she said. "It really was just dream-like. I loved it."