For John-Michael Erlendson and Elana Steingart, it’s hard to fathom how far they’ve come in just over a year, since the two have been leading the a cappella singing group Countermeasure.
It was in June of 2010 that the newly engaged couple brought their idea to composer and conductor Aaron Jensen.
Erlendson and Steingart wanted to fulfil a niche that they felt was untouched in Toronto’s music community – a singing group that was more committed than a community choir, yet casual enough that nobody involved had to quit his or her day job.
Now, the couple, along with Jensen and his wife, has brought together a group of 14 artists. They have performed at private events, jazz festivals, the Queen’s Plate, and have even made an appearance on the Food Network, performing a jingle during an episode of Recipe to Riches.
Countermeasure has also received much acclaim, including from Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies, who called the group “awesome.”
The early success of a community group like Countermeasure should come as no surprise considering the popularity of music reality shows, as well as the television high school musical drama Glee, which can be credited for making glee clubs cool again.
“I would say that shows like Glee have been a huge positive force for a cappella and for Countermeasure,” Erlendson said.
“J-M [John-Michael] and I are actual Sing Off fanatics,” Steingart added, referring to NBC’s reality TV show that features a cappella groups competing for a Sony Music recording contract and $100,000.
“Glee has had a significant effect on promoting the a cappella genre, for both good and evil. As soon as a tune is on Glee, the collegiate a cappella groups go into overdrive learning those songs. But Countermeasure has always been kind of a response to the collegiate a cappella culture, providing an alternative to those kinds of approaches and sounds,” Steingart said.
“Glee is to a cappella what [the] Indiana Jones [series] is to archeology: it is both wildly inaccurate and wildly popular. It might bring people into the scene, but it’s loaded with a lot of misunderstandings.”
Steingart confessed that she wasn’t brought up in the world of music. Focused on her studies at United Synagogue Day School in Toronto and later, at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, she didn’t have the opportunity to get involved in a music program.
But when she began her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto Steingart discovered Varsity Jews, an a cappella choir based out of the school.
She instantly fell in love.
“What I love about a cappella is that all you need is your voice and your ears and other people,” she said. “As long as you have a good support net around you that’s happy to teach, you can learn it and become a musician. It’s an amazing way to learn about music that doesn’t require any theory background.”
Erlendson on the other hand, said music has been pumping in his veins all his life – even before he was born.
“Both my parents are musicians,” he said. “My mom and dad were folksingers in a band, so before I was even born I was just a fetus listening to their music… When I was born, I was in this culture that appreciated music and I took it as part of a way of life.”
He played piano and drums throughout his childhood and went to Bayview Glen – a small private high school in North York – because he felt the school choir would give him the opportunity to expand his vocal knowledge and skills.
Eventually, his knowledge and passion for music led him to Varsity Jews, through which he and Steingart met in 2006.
At the time Steingart was in a long-term relationship. But when she became single in 2008, Erlendson’s real pursuit for her began.
“He wooed me as hard as he could for an entire year before I felt ready to date him without any possibility of it being corrupted by rebound syndrome,” Steingart said. “We got together after the March 2009 Varsity Jews spring concert and have been literally inseparable ever since. We are totally an a cappella couple.”
The two are planning to wed next year.
As for the future of Countermeasure, Erlendson and Steingart hope to continue to build on the success the group has had so far. They’ve recently applied for a grant that would fund the recording of their first album.
They’re also constantly looking for opportunities that will allow them to showcase their talent throughout Canada and abroad.
Countermeasure will be performing holiday concerts Dec. 10 and 11 at the Green Door Cabaret in Toronto.
“I like to talk about a cappella as the only post-apocalyptic art form,” Erlendson said.
“If everything blew up and there was nothing but zombies roaming the streets and humans huddled in a little room, you could still sing.”
For more information about the group, visit http://countermeasuremusic.com/.