(Editor's note: Really, it was a thing to behold: I sat in the auditorium at Webster Groves High School with nearly a thousand fans many of the squealy, teenage girl variety for the final concert of the year, and I was utterly speechless. Here were 14 seemingly painfully hip high-school boys, belting out a cappella renditions of everything from doo-woppy "In the Still of the Night" to Dave Matthews' "Say Goodbye"...and being cheered like rock stars. It was perhaps the nearest experience I've yet had to The Beatles, circa 1964.)
Fliers taped up all around the school read simply: "Can you sing? Are you male? Do want hundreds of girls screaming for you? Audition for A-Men!" What teenage boy, with a reasonable amount of singing talent, or really no talent at all, could turn that down? I, for one, did not turn that down and the A-men Experience was by far the best out of many experiences during my sophomore year at Webster Groves High School.
A-Men is officially a club, but in reality, it's a legacy. This legacy is that of the only high school a cappella group in the St. Louis area. Eric "stick a fork in him he's" Dunn started A-Men in December of
1997. Dunn is not only the musical director of A-Men, but also an almost-father (if you see him, congratulate him), a die-hard Maryland fan and the best math teacher at Webster High. He sang in a collegiate a cappella group and brought his love for the music with him when he moved to St. Louis. Since the birth of A-Men, the group has managed (somehow) to put out five CDs since 2000, which just keep getting better every year. We'd like to think so, anyway...
One thing I forgot to mention is that this was my first year in the group, and getting into A-Men was like getting invited to a yearlong party where I mingled with the theatre stars, class clowns, football greats and social giants of my school not to mention everyone there could sing, and sing well. (Although I was new, I was elected the secretary of snackage, a huge honor.) Every Monday and Thursday we would gather in a circle in Dunn's classroom around the old piano (which needs to be tuned like the bathrooms need cleaning), and learn the simple notes to the songs that would elevate our group to the status of some kind of high school legend by the end of the year and the release of our CD.
And the fliers don't lie. The monstrous hullabaloo that greeted our first performance with True Men almost knocked me over. (A-Men was graced this year by joint performances with Truman State's True Men and Washington University's Pikers. In the past the group has also performed with Chapter Six.)
An essential factor of A-Men that is often overlooked is our fans. The students of WGHS (chiefly the female population) are avid supporters and without them, A-Men wouldn't be any fun, not to mention it wouldn't exist. Although our fans are supportive of all the members, I was particularly fortunate this year to have such creative and dedicated friends. Three of my closest friends headed up BGF, or Ben's Greatest Fans. I'm totally serious. (I should mention that the first fan club for an A-Men member, the ZFC, was started in 2003 by the loyal friends of Zach Towers, who is the real McCoy when it comes to great looks coupled with great talent. Luckily, he and I are close friends. He is an incredible singer and his fans are really rather kind so there was quite a bit of cross cheering for both of us by the ZFC and BGF.) Anyway, by the time our first performance rolled around there were 15 girls in the audience cheering for me to beat the band, with handmade signs, shouts, and to top it all off, brand new hot pink t-shirts that the girls themselves made, reading: "Ben sings, We scream. We are his ultimate fans!"
Step back for a moment and consider this kind of attention paid to one 16-year-old boy on stage in front of 500 people. To say the least, my mother was afraid that my head would not fit through the door. Being the reasonable young adult that I am, however, I took it with a grain of salt and I did not have a slight spring to my step when walking through the halls from then on.
The end of the year A-Men Extravaganza is by far the most looked-forward-to concert of the year. The week before, we released our CD, which we spent countless hours recording, mixing and mastering to perfection. The free concert itself is held in the Jerry R. Knight Auditorium at WGHS, and it's packed to the brim. We had 800 people attend our Extravaganza this year. The concert is the last live showcase of our entire assortment of a cappella songs, as well as skits, A-Old-Men (the alumni effort), eating contests (competing for autographed CDs), our annual movie (think VH1, Real World, MTV), and topped off with the alumni of A-Men joining the group for the final singing of "Cecelia," with the high-school-revised sanitary lyrics of "making LUNCH in the afternoon." My brother, who made his own Ben Fan shirt, came up and sang with me.
The Extravaganza was the perfect way to end an incredible year with an incredible group of guys. My experience is one that I will remember with great pride and lots of laughing. A teenage guy could not ask for a better way to spend a school year, singing his heart out.
Benjamin Walker will be a junior at WGHS next fall and he plans to continue his hard work as secretary of snackage.