One of the first things Potomac native Derek Smith did after his arrival at Oxford University was to start an a cappella group. Now, that group will be making the transatlantic trip and performing at Potomac Presbyterian Church as part of a “Take Back the Colonies” tour.
Smith graduated from Churchill, where his interest in singing really started, in 1996. “I started up a barbershop quartet,” Smith said. The group, called the Overtones was started by Smith and some of his friends from choir “It was pretty well received,” he said.
He moved on to Harvard, where he continued to sing. “I did the Harvard glee club as a Freshman,” he said. He then moved into a mixed group — one that has both men and women. “I would say that collegiate a cappella is really on the rise in the states.”
The group has more than 20 songs in their repertoire — ranging from songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Beach Boys. “Each show, we’ll pick about a dozen of those,” he said.
This will be one of Smith’s last tours with Out of the Blue — he leaves Oxford this year. His singing skills will now move to another Ivy League school. “I start at Yale Law in the fall,” Smith said.
Once he started his graduate work as a Keasby scholar — similar to a Rhodes scholar — Smith wanted something else. “After three years, I kind of wanted to try something new,” Smith said. So he founded “Out of the Blue,” an all-male group, by himself. “The first year, I was just holding auditions by myself.”
By the second year, the group had grown to 14 members. Since its inception, it has had members from eight different countries, and has toured in both the UK and U.S. “It wouldn’t be here without him,” said Ben Sparks, a member of Out of the Blue. “He has a remarkable amount of determination and drive.”
The show at Potomac Presbyterian, Smith’s church when he lived in Potomac, will be the first time the group performs in front of his old friends.
“We’re excited and happy to be able to do it,” said Kerry Stoltzfus, pastor at the church. “We’re always happy to provide support to any of our young people.”
The group will also be performing at a Washington Wizards game, the Empire State Building, and The Plaza Hotel in New York. “I’m really looking forward to it,” Sparks said.
The show may not be what many people expect from an a cappella group. “We do vocal percussion and solos — It’s definitely not a choir,” Smith said.