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Capital Hearings Sing Simply for the Joy of It

Informal A Cappella Group’s Gigs Include Birthday Parties, Marriage Proposals and Even Roller Derbies

Courtesy Edward Hoover
The Capital Hearings a cappella group performs almost anywhere they’re needed, including Eastern Market.

While several hundred lobbyists sat calmly listening to Members of Congress talk about the importance of federal arts funding last week, Dileep Srihari’s heart raced. His only thought: “I hope they don’t arrest me.”

Without warning, the 32-year-old former Hill staffer leapt to his feet and began to sing “America the Beautiful.”

Across the room, a man dressed like a waiter hoisting a tray of danishes joined in. Another man in a cowboy hat began to sing as well. By the time they reached “purple mountain majesties,” more than a dozen had joined in.

Once again, the Capital Hearings had stolen the show. The Washington, D.C.-based a cappella group has a history of hijacking attention by singing in unconventional settings.

On Tuesday, the setting was Arts Advocacy Day. Srihari had talked with the event’s organizers about the musical surprise ahead of time, but to keep it under wraps they had not notified the Capitol Police. Fortunately, they didn’t mind.

It wasn’t the first time Srihari’s 13-member group had staged an unusual performance.

Compared with traditional 100-member choirs where singers don tuxedos and gowns, the Capital Hearings — or “Caps,” as they call themselves — are a bit offbeat.

The group includes professional singers who have recorded CDs with the London Symphony Orchestra and performed at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony and the Capitol’s July Fourth “A Capitol Fourth” concert.

But the Caps are nothing like Washington’s more traditional symphonic choirs.

For one, their song selection sets them apart. Although they dabble in classical music for formal gigs such as cocktail parties, they branch out from Thomas Tallis-type hymns. Instead, they blend jazz and pop music, performing Billy Joel’s “Lullaby,” the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” or the Beatles’ “Yesterday.”

Mike Rowan, who sings bass, joined the group for that very reason. He missed performing modern music, something he did often in his college glee club. And during his first rehearsal with the group last fall, the Caps started fiddling with an a cappella version of Michael Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.”

“That hooked me — I sing that song in the shower,” Rowan said.

Because of their diverse repertoire, the Caps’ gigs tend to be less concert hall, more backyard barbecue. The group debuted at a cocktail party hosted by the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy last July. They serenaded beside the pool in 100-degree weather.

Their performances since then have been just as avant-garde. Flash mobs aside, they’ve performed at Eastern Market and birthday parties for middle school kids. They caroled for the nurses’ holiday party, intensive-care patients and families in the surgery waiting rooms at Washington Hospital Center.

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