By Tom Tolen /

The high school choir directors in both Brighton and Howell have earned a prestigious award as members of the vocal group TBD a Cappella, a professional men’s singing group in the Metro Detroit area. The group won the 2021 CARA, or Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards, Best Semi-Professional/Post-Collegiate Album for its effort titled “The Answer’s 42”.

CARA, an international organization, has been presenting annual awards for over 20 years to recognize excellence in a cappella music from all over the world. Past and current CARA award winners include Pentatonix, Take 6, The Swingles, and Voces8. The finalists were announced at the end of February, and the awards show was broadcast online last Sunday, May 2nd.

Phil Johnson, director of the Brighton High School Choirs, says he was stunned when he heard his group had won the award. He said neither he nor the group itself, had “ever been nominated, let alone won, a CARA award before.”

Besides Johnson, the other local member of the TBD a Cappella group is Brendan Closz, the choir director and vocal music teacher at Howell High School. Closz says he was “very shocked to get the award. In his words, “I never thought in a million years that we’d be nominated.” Closz says the award has been a big morale booster for him because with COVID, “It’s been a very difficult year.”

While a few of the members are music teachers at area schools, others are in private industry. Johnson says the group mainly sings pop hits from the “70’s, 80’s 90’s and 2000’s.”

The other members of the group are Northville High School choir teacher Brian Haverkate, Tommy Sklut of Middle C Productions, Chad Schon of Dort Financial, Ben Dennis, Facilities Account Manager at Team Facilities, and Ben English, owner of Munchkin Music Makers.

According to Johnson, Brian Haverkate - the co-music director of TBD a Cappella - deserves a lot of credit for the award since he submitted the entry. And he says Chris Brody, the Howell High School choir accompanist, did yeoman’s work in tracking, mixing and editing the songs in the album that comprised the entry.

A cappella is a Latin term for vocal music performed without instrumental accompaniment. He says the award is equivalent to the Grammy Awards in the commercial music world. But while only one Grammy is awarded each year for a Cappella Music, there were more than 50 CARA awards meted out this year.

TBD a Cappella’s entry was the first time the group had ever entered a contest of any kind. The group practices every few weeks, although the practices have largely been virtual since the start of the COVID pandemic. Johnson says the group members are “outstanding” musicians and singers and he can’t wait until they can get together in person again — something planned for May 18th.

Johnson says people who would like to get the group’s music can stream it free from Spotify, get it on Apple I-tunes or go to the group’s Facebook page.

Pictured left to right: Brian Haverkate, Brendan Closz, Phil Johnson, Ben Dennis, Ben English, Chad Schon.