“Luck,” the Roman philosopher Seneca said 2,000 years ago, “is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Four student-musicians learned that lesson recently when they received an email out of the blue from a talent agent.
“We thought it was a joke at first,” says Chase Philpotts ’09, ’10, who sings bass in On Tap, a cappella male quartet. “Then we clicked on the link at the bottom of the message.”
The link led to Life at Sea, the Web site of Landau Music Inc. After communicating with Michael Landau, On Tap’s singers—Philpotts, John Rodgers ’08, Kevin Jacobs ’10 and Jacob Schwartz ’10—signed a contract to perform on the Celebrity Infinity, a nine-year-old, 2,000-passenger cruise ship.
On July 2, the singers sailed from Seattle on a voyage that will take them up and down the west coast of Canada and the Alaska Panhandle; to Mexico, the Panama Canal, the Caribbean Sea and Florida; and then to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay along the coasts of South America.
On Jan. 16, they will fly home from Valparaiso, Chile.
Years of training, and an assist from YouTube
The meeting between On Tap and Landau was not completely serendipitous. Landau was surfing YouTube when he discovered one of the channels where On Tap has posted videos of its performances.
And in a sense, the students had spent their entire Lehigh careers preparing for this moment. Each has sung in the Lehigh University Choir, a mixed ensemble of 60 voices that has toured much of the world; the Glee Club, a men’s ensemble; and the Melismatics, a mixed a cappella group. In addition, Schwartz directs A Whole Step Up, a men’s a cappella group.
Three of the singers in On Tap carry double majors. Philpotts holds a B.A. in product design and a B.S. in marketing. Jacobs studies music and electrical engineering, and Schwartz studies architecture and electrical engineering. Rodgers, who earned a B.S. in bioengineering in 2008, is a graduate student in mechanical engineering.
On Tap formed in 2007, after the singers heard a performance by Vocal Spectrum, winner of the 2006 International Barbershop Quartet Contest.
“They were amazing,” says Philpotts. “We thought we could do this too and decided to give it a shot.”
The group’s styles span contemporary rhythm and blues, doo-wop, Motown, barbershop and glee club. Schwartz, the musical director, arranges most of On Tap’s songs, but the other three singers have arranged several numbers, and Rodgers has composed several of his own. Their repertoire includes Billy Joel’s “Lullaby,” the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story II, which was arranged for the group by Philpotts’ brother, Brett ’06.
When work becomes fun
The group’s most popular song, with 65,000 YouTube hits, is “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” a ballad written and first recorded by the rock group Chicago.
“We decide what we want to sing,” says Philpotts. “This is a fun escape from our normal workload. But we work at what we do.”
On Tap has performed at meetings of the university board of trustees and the Bethlehem Rotary Club, and at Lehigh’s 2010 Commencement. They have sung for Best Buddies and they’ve helped Lehigh employees celebrate birthdays.
In May, meeting for 18 hours over two days at Philpotts’ home in Bethlehem, On Tap recorded its first CD, “First Draught,” which will be on sale during their upcoming cruise.
On the Celebrity Infinity, the group will perform two to four times a night, five nights a week, in the ship’s theater and lounges. They’ve memorized 50 new songs for the cruise.
“We thought Commencement would be our final performance,” says Philpotts, “then this fell in our laps.
“I don’t think we’ll try to make a career out of singing. We just enjoy doing it.
“But who knows?”