Four Minutes, Four Questions: Chris Cross, Natural State of Mind

Four Minutes, Four Questions: Chris Cross, Natural State of Mind

It’s been 10 years since Deke Sharon’s “The Sing-Off’ introduced a capella choral music to the masses. In 2009, the NBC show had the highest ratings of any new, unscripted series on television.

“If what we’re doing right now seems unusual or new or that it’s never happened, it’s the way we’re approaching it,” Sharon told What’s Up! in 2015, the first year of the VoiceJam competition at the Walton Arts Center. “The instinct has been with us since the beginning of time. If you go back 50 years, that’s doo-wop. If you go back 100 years, that’s barber shop, but it’s really all the same thing.

“It’s my life’s work,” Sharon added then. “My passion and mission is to get more people singing and to spread harmony. When people sing together, they create bonds that are more powerful than any social forces are able to tear apart.”

This year’s VoiceJam competitors come to WAC from Missouri, Florida, Texas, Colorado, California, Michigan — and Jacksonville, Ark., where Natural State of Mind has been updating choral music as “a co-ed scholastic contemporary a cappella jazz, neo-soul and postmodern ensemble based out of Jacksonville High School” for the past four years. Director Chris Cross answered four questions for What’s Up! as his chorus prepared for VoiceJam.

Q. What is your group’s style like? Explain how that comes to pass.

A. The group actually began as a means to creating a contemporary alternative to its choral music program. The jazz genre was decided upon because it could easily fuse the myriad of genres our vocalists naturally possessed. After we branded ourselves as Natural State of Mind, we decided that for competitions we needed more up-to-date tunes to really be able to compete with the energy and drive of mainstream pop music, but we don’t want to sell out our style. It is here that we decided to take mainstream pop music and rearrange it with new and fresh jazz/soul harmonies with a postmodern vibe.

Q. What is the director’s role?

A. As director, I wear many hats, just all music directors do. We have to be the music director, production manager, business administrator, public relations manager, vocal director and music educator, to name a few. I am the vocal music and piano instructor at Jacksonville High School and oversee all vocal music activities including our other four award-winning choral groups. I also serve as the Arkansas representative for the national A Cappella Education Association.

Q. What makes your group good enough to be in this contest?

A. We are a collection of artists who believe in celebrating and showcasing authentic and organic music. While we participate in competitions, and would like to do well in them, we primarily use them as a means to share our stories through music. We believe our life and musical journeys can and must reach the hearts of people and impact their lives with hope, a sense of escape and healing. We believe that is conveyed in our music and why we have been blessed with the humbling opportunity to share our gifts on the VoiceJam stage.

Q. Can you talk about what you’ll sing in the competition?

A. We will be performing three songs in our VoiceJam set — our jazz, neo-soul arrangements of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” featuring Sing Texas’ Most Outstanding Vocalist Jaliah Pace; “Fix You/I Want It That Way,” featuring lead soloists Stefanni Walker and Haleigh Flowers; and “Lucid Dreams.” You can find versions of these performances from our Sing Texas competition set and other videos on Youtube.





WHEN — 7:30 p.m. April 6

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $19 & up

INFO — 443-5600,

BONUS — The group that earns the title VoiceJam Grand Champion will have the opportunity to attend the Vocal Asia Festival in Japan this summer.




Festival Events

Also included as part of the VoiceJam Festival are:

Kickoff Concert — With Hong Kong group Boonfaysau, AcaPeeps & the VoiceJam Varsity Singers, 7 p.m. April 4, Walton Arts Center. Free.

Headliner Concert — Featuring internationally renowned act The Edge Effect, 7:30 p.m. April 5, Walton Arts Center. $10 & up.

VoiceJam Workshops — 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 6. See for details. Patrons can attend all of the workshops with a VoiceJam combo pack for $30.

Categories: Music