The members of Sons of Serendip are no strangers to Nebraska despite being based on the East Coast.
The quartet got a good piece of advice a few years ago when their Nebraska audience made a dining recommendation to them after they announced they had tried Taco John’s for the first time during a tour stop that brought them through the Cornhusker state.
“We (had been) looking forward to trying Taco John’s for the first time because we didn’t have that from where we’re from,” recalled lead vocalist Micah Christian, a native of Randolph, Massachusetts. “Someone said, ‘you’ve got to try Runza, you’ve got to try Runza.’ So the next day we tried Runza.”
A classical crossover ensemble made of tenor, harp, cello and piano/keyboard, Sons of Serendip has made a name for itself thanks to Christian’s angelic vocals combined with the expert musicianship of his bandmates, Kendall Ramseur (cellist), Cordaro Rodriguez (pianist) and Mason Morton (harpist). The group seamlessly blends elements of all sorts of music into a kind that is unequivocally its own.
And they’re bringing their uplifting signature sound to town for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25, concert at the Nantkes Performing Arts Center, 2200 26th St. in Columbus.
“We always hope for an engaging audience and Nebraska has done that every single time. We’ve met so many wonderful people – everybody we’ve met has been so nice. The audiences we’ve performed for have been some of the best,” Christian said of the group’s Nebraska concerts in the past.
The local show will serve as the 2018-2019 season finale for the (Columbus) Friends of Music.
“We’re just thrilled to have them,” Friends Of Music President Mike Moser said, noting SOS’ experience performing on television and touring all over the place. “It will be a great show.”
Sons of Serendip is perhaps best known for becoming a finalist during season nine of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” and then reappearing earlier this year on the spinoff, “AGT: The Champions.” The latter program's format is similar to that of the main edition but features a variety of winners, finalists and other successful or notable participants from the American and other international editions of the “Got Talent” franchise.
Christian said he and his bandmates heard about the spinoff show last year and weren’t necessarily expecting an invitation due to the abundant amount of acts to choose from. So, he said, it was wonderful to have a chance to return to the show and perform for the judges and America.
“We were very grateful,” he said. “We were really honored to go back on stage and show how we’ve grown … It felt like a family reunion. We reconnected with a lot of the (show’s) producers and got a chance to see some of the acts we admired through the history of AGT.”
The group got its big break on the show initially during a 2014 episode, performing a soulful and rousing rendition of “Somewhere Only We Know” that received rave reviews from the judges and viewers.
Making that performance even more special was the fact it was only the second time Sons of Serendip had performed together for an audience. None of them had been looking to form a group until they collectively decided to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to audition for the NBC reality series as a unit. As their name implies, a series of serendipitous events brought them together (Sons of Serendip took their name from a 12th-century Persian tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip,” which is believed to be the origin of the word “serendipity.”).
“We all had our own separate journeys we were on and we kind of expected that to be the path we would follow,” Christian said of the group, which is made of two former teachers, a former music instructor and former attorney. “We did not expect this at all.”
Ramseur and Rodriguez grew up in North Carolina together, forming a friendship and bond over music. Years later, they reconnected at Boston University in graduate school, where they also met fellow BU students Christian and Morton.
All four men went through their own trials and tribulations that inspired them to join forces and take on an audition for the NBC show about a year-and-a-half after Christian graduated. They had a feeling they had discovered something special, but it was still just a decision they made on a whim and not something they were necessarily banking on.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We just put together a video and got a call back to audition in front of the judges,” Christian recalled. “We prepared very well – we rehearsed a lot, we did our best to prepare. The next thing we know we are in the finals. We were like, ‘how the heck did this happen?’”
Sons of Serendip finished fourth overall out of 10,000 or so acts in season nine, and despite not being crowned champion, the four men walked away with what Christian called priceless memories. Morton, in particular, has at least one good one involving judge and supermodel Heidi Klum.
“A highlight was the kiss on the cheek Mason got from Heidi Klum,” Christian said, with a laugh.
He said they didn’t get a lot of time with the judges on the show besides the audition, but he noted they came across comedian/co-judge Howie Mandel backstage a few times and that he was extremely friendly.
In the years since their first run on AGT, Sons of Serendip has found tremendous success touring the world and releasing three albums to date along the way. It’s still very surreal for the musicians.
“For us, this experience has been unique because we are getting to go out to parts of the country we would never otherwise see, and we’re meeting people we would otherwise never get a chance to meet,” Christian said. “We’ve seen some incredible sunrises and sunsets and so much beauty of the country. We’ve met some wonderful people … It has been a real blessing.”
The band is known for its mix of original songs combined with rearranged covers that take on a life of their own in that they sound nothing like their original counterparts. “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Never Can Say Goodbye” by The Jackson 5, “Yesterday” by The Beatles and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” are among the many that have received the SOS treatment.
“What we do as a core is we try to create beautiful music. That means rearranging a song or reinterpreting it so in a way the audience feels they’re hearing it for the first time again,” Christian said, noting nobody expects to hear a harp or cello on the Kansas hit. “I feel we try to add a little more extra beauty. Even with our original material, we’re trying to create things that are beautiful and make people feel good.”
Christian said all four members push and challenge one another when it comes to their music, which is why it continues to work. They’re able to do that because their friendship with one another is the foundation of the group, a benefit of not being manufactured post-formation. That, and perhaps shared musical influences like Yanni and Hans Zimmer.
“They can expect to hear a lot of songs they know, and maybe some songs they may not know, some original material. There will be storytelling,” Christian said of their upcoming Columbus concert. “We try to create a full experience for the audience. We’re creating a moment together. Every concert we experience always feels fresh.”
Tickets are $25 apiece, though people can also purchase a $50 season pass for the 2019-2020 season made of five shows and get free admission to the Sons of Serendip concert, Moser noted. Tickets/season passes can be purchased online at the organization’s website (concertassociation.net/columbusne/index.cfm), by caling 402-270-2255 or visiting Columbus Music, 2514 13th St.
As for dinner the night of the show for the guys of Sons of Serendip, it will more than likely be the Nebraska staple they’ve come to enjoy.
“We loved it,” Christian said of Runza. “So since then, every time we’re in Nebraska we have to get Runza.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.