When Terry Tamm left the United States to spend his junior year of college studying at Oxford University, he imagined the exotic travels that he would have.
“I thought I was going to spend my spring break traveling around Europe — France, Switzerland, Greece,” said Tamm. “Instead, I’m coming home.”
Tamm arrived in the United States on Tuesday, March 20, and he brought with him the only all-male a capella group at Oxford. Tamm, a junior at Williams College in Massachussetts, joined the group, Out of the Blue last fall.
“Acting has always been my main skill,” said Tamm, who has done theater at Williams and who was a mainstay in Churchill drama productions before he graduated in 2004. “I had always wanted to do it and I had auditioned [unsuccessfully] a couple of times back at Williams.” His three-round audition at Oxford went far better, and he was one of eleven chosen from a pool of nearly 100, said Tamm.
During his auditions Tamm knew the group would be coming stateside for it’s sixth American tour and he was prepared to abandon his previous travel plans.
“The chance to do a gig like this with a group of singers like this… I jumped at the opportunity,” Tamm said.
It was only after he got into Out of the Blue, though, that he learned that the group’s origins were close to home. Derek Smith, a 1996 Churchill graduate, founded the
group while attending graduate school at Oxford in 2000.
“You come half way across the world and you join a group started by someone who lives five minutes away from you,” said Tamm. “It’s one of the weirdest, small world experiences ever.”
Smith said another local graduate from Quince Orchard High School has been in the group as well.
“That we’ve had three kids from Potomac is definitely kind of weird,” said Smith. Smith attributes the coincidence to the high level of education in Potomac and the growing popularity of a capella.
Smith said that he has been singing most of his life and was in a barbershop quartet at Churchill and took part in Churchill’s Showstoppers productions. When he went to college at Harvard University he joined a coed a capella group there too.
“When I went to England for [graduate] school, I had done [coed] groups and I wanted to try something different,” said Smith. That was when he discovered there were no all-male, university-wide a capella groups at Oxford. So he started his own.
The reaction when people heard Out of the Blue in concert was always positive, but getting people to the concerts was a struggle at first.
“It took a while to get going, but then it really took off,” said Smith.
By the time Smith finished his time at Oxford in 2002, the group had had its first U.S. tour.
“It was a big leap of faith on our part,” said Smith. “International tours are a big deal, especially for a group that had only been around for a year and a half.” The tour was a success and they have been back every year since. The group has also toured throughout the United Kingdom and in Scandinavia. Smith does not sing with the group anymore but remains active in an advisory role.
The group will sing Sunday at Potomac Presbyterian Church, their third time playing there since they began touring in the United States, the last time being in 2005.
The group will head from Potomac to New York City and then through several colleges and universities in the Northeast before heading back to England on April 8, said Smith. The group sings a mixture of songs by new artists like The Killers and older artists like Tom Jones, said Tamm, and typically tailors its performances to the audience’s taste.
“Sunday’s show will probably be kind of mellow with a bit of edginess,” said Tamm.
Both Smith and Tamm say that the tour in their hometown will be meaningful for them.
“I’m very happy the tradition has continued,” said Smith.
“This has been… amazing,” said Tamm. “Nothing could possibly top this experience.”
— Aaron Stern