A cappella group YellowJackets creating a buzz for good

05:00 AM, Mar 24, 2013

Fairport native, UR senior and YellowJackets president Ross Pedersen, center, joins the YellowJackets in a performance at the GEM (Genuine Education Matters!) Expo at Fairport High. (SHAWN DOWD/staff photographer)/

Written By Story by Caurie Putnam

If you go

Concert for a Cure — YellowJackets 2013 Spring Show
When: 8 p.m. April 5.
Where: Strong Auditorium on University of Rochester’s River Campus, 897 Wilson Blvd.
Cost: $15.
For tickets:
Crush Cancer Concert with: YellowJackets, Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Three Miles Lost and Fairport High School’s FAC.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 12.
Where: Fairport High School, 1 Dave Paddock Way, Perinton.
Cost: $15 ($10 in advance).
For tickets: Email metzler@rochester.rr.com.
To get United We Sing:
The album based on the YellowJackets’ experiences in Kenya includes “We Are the World,” “African” and “Wavin’ Flag.” It is $20 (with free shipping) at jackets.org.

The University of Rochester YellowJackets in 2009 set out on a goodwill trip to Kenya.

The trip changed the lives of the a cappella group members. Their desire to tell the world how music can bring about global understanding and good was a driving force behind the group making the cut to appear on NBC’s The Sing Off.

The whole experience on The Sing Off brought a new purpose in life to all of us,” says Ross Pedersen, a senior at UR and president of the YellowJackets. “It gave us a national platform, and we are still using it to do good.”

Now the group has released United We Sing, the album based on the experience, a documentary is in the works and the music goes on. Aaron Sperber and Jamal Moore, now graduated, have formed an a cappella group that is touring the world.

And the YellowJackets this spring have some new causes close to their hearts. By April 11, they want to raise $10,000 for Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance.

Friedreich’s Ataxia is a rare and incurable neuro-muscular disease. UR senior and Pittsford native Sarah Gelbard watched her best friend, Laura Ferrarone, suffer from it. Laura’s sister, Sara, also suffered from the disease and passed away at the age of 26. Gelbard found an ally in YellowJacket Galen Dole, whose younger sister, Marlise, also has the disease.

Like Sarah, I have watched someone I love lose her mobility and confront hardships that no one should have to confront — all with the sunniest of dispositions,” Dole says.

So proceeds from the YellowJackets’ spring concert on April 5 will go toward the cause. So will money from the sale of limited-edition YellowJackets T-shirts and online sales of the group’s cover of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong to Me.” Gelbard and Dole also created a page on the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe.

The group on April 12 is holding a Crush Cancer Concert at Fairport High School, where Pedersen and member Luke Metzler went. A silent auction with donations from fellow alum Philip Seymour Hoffman, Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach, the Yankees and others will be held that night as well. All will benefit Golisano Children’s Hospital and the Blake Cognata Scholarship Fund.

The YellowJackets are also continuing to support the Mbaka Oromo Primary School in Maseno, Kenya, and an after-school a cappella program at the City School District’s World of Inquiry School No. 58 that they founded after The Sing Off, where they made it through seven rounds before being eliminated.

We are so honored to give a voice to some of the younger generation in Kenya and hope that this album will open doors of support from as many people as possible around the world,” says Jamal Moore, speaking from Australia, where he and Sperber are performing with their a cappella group, The Exchange.

We have found that music, and a cappella music in particular, is an outstanding tool to not only bring cultures together, but to build something of your own design,” he says.

Sperber, a Pittsford Sutherland graduate, had two ambitions when he started at UR — to be a professional musician and a diplomat. He has been able to do both through the YellowJackets.

We never thought a little college a cappella group trying to learn a bit more about the world and hopefully make a couple kids smile in the process, could reach so many people,” says Sperber, who is producing and expects to release a documentary on the YellowJackets’ experiences this summer. “We never thought so many lives could be touched.”

The Exchange also has its roots in The Sing Off. Other members are Richard Steighner, who competed against the YellowJackets as a member of the group Urban Method; Chris Diaz, a producer on the show; and Alfredo Austin, one of the show’s recording artists.

Wherever the group performs, members make it a point to reach out to children to promote school participation through music.

As Jamal and I venture around the world with The Exchange, we carry all the love and experience that is United We Sing,” Sperber said. “Everywhere I go, I do not take it lightly that I am not just representing myself, but all those who have helped me and my teammates to have these wonderful opportunities. Most of those people are in Rochester.”

Seven current YellowJackets, like Pedersen, that performed on The Sing Off are still students at UR.

Others, like Christopher Young, have graduated but remain in the area.

Young is working on a graduate degree in education at UR and substitutes in the Webster Central School District. Students ask him about his experience on The Sing Off.

It’s really exciting to see kids get so excited about music,” Young says. “Not every kid will grow up to be a professional musician, but if music can be a part of someone’s life, it’s a wonderful thing. It brings people together.”