Berklee Vocalists Back New Kids on the Block at Fenway
Two weeks before New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) were to hold their sold-out August 6 concert at Fenway Park, student Emi McSwain got a message from the band’s musical director, Kevin Cofield B.M. ’03. NKOTB singer Joey McIntyre wanted a choir for his performance of “Please Don’t Go Girl,” and Cofield wanted to know if the Berklee a cappella group McSwain heads, Upper Structure, was available.
And while everyone in the group was interested, only four members were in town for the summer. So McSwain, a seventh-semester songwriting major, asked for a day to round up 16 singers. “It kind of turned into, like, a Hail Mary, texting every single vocalist that I'm trying to put together a choir.”
She pulled it off, and after only two two-hour practice sessions in a small on-campus rehearsal room, the newly formed group was at Fenway on Thursday for dress rehearsal and prerecording. (The choir’s performance was a blend of the Thursday prerecord and live ambient mics.)
For Cofield, the choice to use artists from his alma mater was an easy one. When McIntyre asked him if he knew any choirs in Boston, he said, “Why don't I just reach out to Berklee? They're right there...and we wouldn't have to vet it. We'd know that they'd all be really great singers, and so it'd be kind of a knockout for us. And he was like, ‘Okay, sure.’”
As part of onboarding the choir, Cofield had NKOTB’s choreographers send McSwain a video showing them how to move on the stage. She and the vocalists did what they could to prepare in the little practice room. “We talked it through, and I was like, ‘And now we’re standing still, and now we're walking,’ but we didn't actually get to march it out until the dress rehearsal,” she said.
There, Cofield said, they had maybe an hour on the Fenway stage to go over the final details. And though NKOTB doesn’t normally use a choir for this song, it wasn’t difficult to get the vocalists up to speed. In his 12 years working with the band, Cofield has had plenty of practice getting choirs dialed in quickly. Most of what he’s learned about this, and about every aspect of putting on a show, he says came from former NKOTB music director and Berklee alumnus Rob Lewis ‘94. “Rob taught me pretty much everything I know about musical directing,” Cofield said. A music production and engineering major, Cofield began working with Lewis in 2006 as a programmer and “Pro Tools guy” and later transitioned to the music directing role.
Cofield has been with NKOTB for each of their Fenway shows. Last Friday’s performance was the third time the group had appeared at the stadium, and Cofield says that these shows are especially meaningful for the band. “That's where they're from, Dorchester, and then Jamaica Plain is where Joe is from…[so] always the Boston gigs are very important to New Kids.... It's very sacred to them,” he said.
Performing at Fenway was also significant for McSwain. Being from the Boston area, she said, she had grown up at the park and spent much of her childhood watching the Red Sox play. “It's such an iconic and historical part of Boston, and even the idea of singing there was so insane to me. And then you throw New Kids in the mix, and it was so freaking crazy.”
The night of the concert brought her and the other vocalists a sense of both familiarity and excitement. “It felt so homey and everyone was super jazzed and so into the music. This was the biggest stage that definitely we'd all been on, and people were just over the moon,” McSwain said. She described how the vocalists ate at a nearby Wahlburgers (owned by actor and former New Kid Mark Wahlberg), how they got dressed in the away team’s locker room, and how the students took the “super-top-secret celebrity way to get to stage.” They felt, she said, like rock stars.
Being in front of nearly 40,000 people, McSwain said she could sense that “Boston's pride and love for the city was so clear and apparent, and some of it, that night, was directed at me and the vocalists that I was performing with. It was just a really powerful and uniting feeling to sing for the city of Boston, with New Kids, at Fenway, especially after a year without live music.”
Cofield, too, said the night was sensational. “Emi had everything go so smooth, it was amazing. It was really turnkey,” he said. “They just effortlessly had all their parts done. Even though we had them prerecorded, they still conducted themselves as if it was a full-out performance and everything was fantastic. It was great.”