- This is Poly
There is nothing quite like the joyous sound of beautiful harmonies. Poly events and performances are always made more special by an appearance by the Blue Notes. They might come out on the gym floor before a basketball game to sing the national anthem or perform a classic Frankie Valli song at the Spring Vocal Concert.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Blue Notes, our a cappella ensemble for students who identify as male, which was founded by Harold Theurer ’13 and other students under the direction of Dan Doughty, Director of Music.
In honor of this milestone, watch a special anniversary video that features current and past members of the Blue Notes!
Want more Blue Notes? Watch the Blue Notes 2013 version and a medley of songs (including some audience participation) on YouTube.
“It’s incredible that we’re already celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Blue Notes,” Theurer said. “Time certainly flies!”
In December 2011, when Theurer approached Dan Doughty about the possibility of creating an all-male a cappella group, Doughty “embraced the idea with open arms,” Theurer recalls. “To this day, I’m grateful for how incredibly supportive Dan was of the concept from day one. It’s because of generous educators like Dan that students are able to explore creative possibilities and take full advantage of the opportunities that Poly has to offer.”
“The following month,” Theurer remembers, “I contacted a number of students in the performing arts and pieced together a 10-person ensemble. That semester served as a pilot of sorts, and we debuted as an unofficial opener for the 2012 Spring Concert, singing Elton John’s ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ and The Turtles’ ‘Happy Together.’ The crowd reaction was wonderful, and thereafter I began receiving quite a number of emails from students inquiring about how they could audition.”
“During the 2012-2013 school year, we conducted our first auditions, expanded the group, introduced the group’s trademark varsity jackets, and had our first ‘official’ performance in the 2012 Winter Concert,” Theurer said. “For that concert, we performed a piece titled ‘Holiday Medley,’ which the group collectively arranged. It incorporated elements from the collegiate a cappella scene, such as beatboxing, which had not yet made an appearance at Poly—and it was a hit!”
“Harold Theurer is one of the most impressive, mature, and organized people I have had the opportunity to work with,” said Doughty, “and, as a junior in high school, he was no different.”
“When he approached me with the idea to form a new group,” Doughty continued, “he had a plan already well-formed, with music chosen and a list of people he wanted to encourage to join. Soon after we began, he had posters of the group made, a music video to promote the group, and immediately set the standard for excellence.”
“The excellent music-making and community-building were established right away and have persisted ever since,” Doughty said. “The group’s specific sound and style started to solidify in the fall of 2012 when we auditioned and welcomed new members, who were excited about the buzz surrounding the group. At that time, Harold first proposed the Blue Notes jackets, now an iconic look for the group, and it was our first opportunity to use the creativity and talents of the group to arrange a song. In a very collaborative way, the group created a mash-up of Beyonce’s “Halo,” The Maccabeat’s “Candlelight,” and Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” The performance featured choreography and was a huge success, establishing the group as a fun, high-level music ensemble.”
Original members of the Blue Notes, who were part of the debut performance at the 2012 Spring Concert, included: Ben Smith ’12, Anthony Vaccaro ’12, Phillip Lawson ’13, Kuvonn Richardson ’13, Nick Safian ’13, Harold Theurer ’13, Youssef Ben-Farhat ’14, Connor Pisano ’14, Andrew Giurleo ’15, and Billy Langdon ’15.
“In the early days of the Blue Notes,” Theurer said, “when we were still trying to determine the group’s ‘voice,’ so to speak, the group had the creative liberty to select our repertoire and sing what we found to be new, interesting, and exciting. This was the basis for some of my favorite moments in the group, and I have many fond memories brainstorming song options with Dan during those two years.”
Nick Safian ‘13 joined the Blue Notes as a junior during the group’s inaugural year in 2012. “In contrast to other groups I was in at Poly, which already had well established cultures, traditions, and structures,” Safian said, “it was a lot of fun to work with Mr. Doughty and the other guys to build the group from scratch. I think we all felt a sense of ownership–setting the vibes, goals, traditions, etc. It’s awesome to see that it’s still going strong 10 years later. Big props to Harold Theurer for getting it started and to Mr. Doughty for keeping it going!”
Andrew Giurleo ‘15, who had worked with Mr. Doughty in Young Singers and Tower Singers throughout Middle School, joined the Blue Notes in the spring of the 2011-2012 school year when he was a freshman, after working with Mr. Doughty in Young Singers and Tower Singers throughout Middle School. “Blue Notes was many of our first times in an a cappella group, so for me it was an exciting new way to think about singing,” said Giurleo. “Singing is a pretty vulnerable act in itself, but singing without an accompaniment is even more so. Without other instruments to rely on, training your musical ear and listening to your fellow vocalists were even more important than usual.”
Giurleo recalls one of their first performances in which they sang “Happy Together” by the Turtles and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” from Lion King. “Even though I’m a baritone now,” Giurleo said, “I still remember the Tenor 2 part of both songs! I remember thinking that it was strange and cool that everyone in the room was sitting silently and listening to us vocalize together. It felt like a culmination of the work we had done all semester.”
“You could tell that Mr. Doughty was really excited about the idea of the Blue Notes and went above and beyond to make it happen,” Giurleo continued. “For the semester that I was in the group, we all met in the choir room after the late bus left so that it wouldn’t conflict with other after-school activities. Even though he had been working all day and often all evening, Mr. Doughty was energetic and patient with us. The fact that Blue Notes has endured for a decade is a testament to Mr. Doughty’s excellence as an arts educator.”
Giurleo has gone on to pursue a career as a singer and a songwriter, and released an EP in March. “None of the work that I have done so far would have been possible without the support of music teachers like Mr. Doughty and Mr. [Christopher] Benvegna, who strived to push my creative boundaries and foster my creativity,” he said.
“When I think back on my time at Poly,” Zach Kimmel ’17 said, “my experiences singing with the Blue Notes are genuinely among my fondest memories.” He continued, “I remember first seeing the Blue Notes perform when I was still in Middle School, and I knew pretty immediately that it was something I wanted to do as soon as I was old enough to participate. I was so excited to join, in fact, that I auditioned as early as I possibly could: while I was still in the eighth grade.”
As a senior, Kimmel was elected by the group to be president of the Blue Notes. “It was really important for me to cultivate a balance between excellent musicianship and performance with camaraderie and friendship,” Kimmel said. “The Blue Notes took our music and our performance seriously, of course, and I would often support Mr. Doughty’s efforts to run a smooth and effective rehearsal, but it was equally important to me that the group genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and was able to connect and form relationships through a shared love of music.”
Kimmel served as a guide and role model for younger members of the group. “It was really rewarding to me that I was able to support them not just musically, but also serve as a source of advice or guidance when it came to Poly’s academic culture, balancing arts and sports with schoolwork, or navigating social life. I was lucky enough to have several role models from the Blue Notes guide me through Poly, and so I relished the opportunity to be that kind of guide or mentor for the underclassmen who followed me.”
“The longevity and the success of the Blue Notes over the last decade is, without question, a testament to Mr. Doughty’s vision, energy, and, above all, his deep commitment to and belief in the success of his students.”
“Although the students might be the ones on stage,” Kimmel said, “the Blue Notes is nothing without the direction, energy, and spirit of Mr. Doughty. From finding suitable arrangements and running long rehearsals to teaching a group of teenage boys their respective parts—not an easy task— Mr. Doughty’s commitment to and genuine love of the group was boundless. Something I particularly admired, and continue to admire, about Mr. Doughty is his support for student creativity and student initiative. Several times during my four years in Blue Notes, one member would suggest that the group do a mash-up or a medley of two songs that, on the surface, had little or nothing to do with one another, both in terms of content and in terms of melody, tempo, etc. Nevertheless, if a student had an idea, Mr. Doughty ran with it. He always encouraged us to keep developing our own musical ideas, however far-fetched the medley might be, and would take time to work with any student who showed excitement or interest in music to develop skills and a musical ear. The longevity and the success of the Blue Notes over the last decade is, without question, a testament to Mr. Doughty’s vision, energy, and, above all, his deep commitment to and belief in the success of his students.”
“It would be impossible to pick just one Blue Notes memory [as my favorite], but one song that I will never forget was our Holiday Chapel performance of ‘Snowman,’ with Eddie Hayes ’16 rapping a winter-themed spoof of Drake’s 2015 hit ‘Jumpman.’”
“So, perhaps more than anything else,” Kimmel said, “the Blue Notes was the defining experience of my entire Upper School career. The fact that my Blue Notes experience was so enriching was a primary reason why I continued with all-male a cappella even after I went off to college.”
“Each year,” Doughty said, “the ensemble takes on a different character based on the unique composition of students, and each year is special. I am always proud of the group’s performances and have a few favorite songs that stand out in my memory—that original holiday mash-up, Hozier’s “Work Song,” “Hey Ya,” “The Parting Glass,” “Home,” just to name a few— but my favorite memories are centered around the rehearsals, the time spent with this special group, and witnessing the friendships and community that is created.”
Cooper Flinn-Beane ‘23 is a current member of the Blue Notes and joined when he was a freshman in fall 2019. “Participating in Blue Notes has been a great experience for me,” Flinn-Beane said, “as I’ve been able to grow my abilities to sing in a group, to balance and blend, to listen to other parts, or sometimes learn other parts, but most of all, to have a fun time. My favorite memory would be our late night rehearsals before either the Winter or Spring Concert. We’re usually strapped for time, and most of us, quite frankly, don’t have the piece memorized. But somehow, by some miracle, after those one and a half to two hours, we manage to pull it all together. Just goes to show, some oreos, maybe a slice of pizza or two, and Mr. Doughty can really make a group come together.”
“It is such an honor to shepherd students on their journey as performers,” Doughty said, “from less-experienced or timid singers to group leaders and soloists. Through skill development, time, encouragement, the support of their peers, and the confidence gained through ensemble performances, I have seen countless students move to roles in the spotlight, and every time I am filled with pride.”
Congratulations to all of the members of the Blue Notes (and Mr. Doughty) for helping the group achieve this 10-year milestone.
We look forward to many more years of Blue Notes performances!