Last fall, Robert Hutchens, the executive director of Clayton Center for the Arts, went on a talent scouting mission to Norfolk, Va. Scores of artists and/or their representatives had come to an expo called the Performing Arts Exchange to shop their wares.
In the exhibition hall, magicians, acrobats, classical cellists, mariachi bands, symphonies, ballet companies, even a Tibetan sand painter occupied row after row of booths. And during the hours when the exposition hall was not open, many of the artists were performing showcases in hotel rooms and nearby theatres.
After hours of listening to earnest pitches, watching video clips of Swan Lake, being the sole audience member for classical pianists and comedians, the Clayton Center talent scout was exhausted and was headed for his room. As he passed one of the small dark showcase venues, he heard something that caught his ear -- daring harmonies with a rhythm section adding a variety of syncopated sounds for accompaniment.
He couldn’t quite pass it up. He wanted to pass it up. He wasn’t sure that he had any judgment left…and yet, in the endless hours of being pitched and entertained, he had heard nothing like this group. It reminded him of the smooth, suave sounds of Manhattan Transfer, but with an rhythm and blues punch. He glanced at the poster on the easel outside the room. It said “Ball in the House.” He went in.
There were five young men, moving around the cramped performance space with the fluid moves and blended voices of a doo wop group. But where was the drum section? It was dark. Maybe the trap set was in the corner? After his eyes adjusted, Hutchens realized there were no percussionists. Taped? Hutchens then realized that the percussion section was one of the performers, making the sounds with his mouth.
Hutchens sat and listened until they were finished. “You guys have got to come perform at the Clayton Center for the Arts.” They were certainly open to the suggestion.
The band has gained national exposure by opening for such stars as Cher and Jessica Simpson, appearing on America’s Got Talent, and The Today Show, and performing the background music on Cool Whip commercials. The Boston Globe has said of the group: “Ball in the House has everything you would expect to find in a successful pop/rock band…the one thing it doesn’t have is instruments.”
“Ball in the House will be at the Clayton Center for the Arts on Friday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Clayton Center box office, by calling 865-981-8590 or online at www.ClaytonArtsCenter.com.