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Singing with 'Sol': A capella group performing in Woodbury

Woodbury resident Greg Bannwarth has spent the past 20 years perfecting the use of his instrument of choice – his voice.

“It takes talent to learn any instrument, including learning how to work the human voice,” said Bannwarth,  a member of the nationally-renowned a cappella group Tonic Sol-fa. “The cool thing that we have found with a cappella is that it is so natural – there is no hiding what is happening up there.”

Bannwarth, and Tonic Sol-fa, will be bringing their talents to Woodbury on Oct. 4 when the group performs at the Loft Stage at 7 p.m.

The performance is being put on by Merrill Community Arts Center.

“We’re always so amazed in Woodbury how much talent we have in our community,” said Michelle Witte, executive director of the Merrill Community Arts Center. “We want to harness that and promote that and bring that out.

“There’s a lot of art right here, so you can get first rate entertainment in your own backyard.”

Bannwarth, who grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., first started singing at an early age.

“I’ve loved music ever since I had my first solo in second grade,” he said.

 It wasn’t until high school that Bannwarth was introduced to a cappella, though.

It was in high school that Bannwarth started exposing himself to different styles of music when he was introduced to a cappella through The Nylons.

Bannwarth said he was intrigued by the harmonies and how The Nylons used their voices that he recruited a group of friends and started his own a cappella group.

After performing at talent shows throughout high school, Bannwarth moved onto college where as luck would have it the other members of his a cappella group also attended.

Bannwarth and his a cappella group continued to perform in college until one day they group went to watch a touring a cappella group perform on campus – Tonic Sol-fa.

“I jumped up on stage and started talking to them,” he said. “I told them if they ever needed another member…”

As fate would have it, a couple years later one of the tenors in Tonic Sol-fa was leaving and Bannwarth was asked to audition.

He got the job. It was 1996.

“We hit the road and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Bannwarth said.

Tonic Sol-fa is made up “four voices and a tambourine” and has spent the past decade touring the country.

The group has been awarded numerous original song and album awards in pop, gospel and holiday genres, and has also appeared on NBC’s Today Show and Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

“My job is to sing the best I can,” Bannwarth said. “There are not a whole lot of jobs that at the end of your shift, people are clapping for you.”

Over the past five years, a cappella has received a bit of a resurgence through the  reality show “The Singing Bee” and the movie “Pitch Perfect,” which is about competing college a cappella groups.

“I don’t know what the impetus is for this,” Bannwarth said. “But, it’s all helpful to us.”

“It gets the capella sound out there to more people, so they’re willing to give it a chance.”

Even though this is Tonic Sol-fa’s first performance at the Loft Stage, Bannwarth has a relationship with Woodbury Community Theatre that dates back many years.

Bannwarth, and his children, are frequent participants of WCT’s productions, both on stage and with set design.

“It’s finally a chance for the people that I’ve met over the years to see what it is that I do,” he said.

As part of Tonic Sol-fa’s performing at the Loft Stage, the Merrill Community Arts Center will be holding a contest, on Oct. 3, to find a local a cappella group to open up for the group’s Oct. 4 performance.

Both Witte and Bannwarth said they are looking forward to next week’s performance.

“We really try to make it something that people would enjoy,” Bannwarth said. “There are a lot of different elements that go into one of our shows.”

 Tonic Sol-fa will perform at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Loft Stage. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at To compete for the chance to open for Tonic Sol-Fa, contact Michelle Witte at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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