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Social media share helps Kevin Lacey '21 land Chinese television performance

A Chinese television program took notice of the talent Kevin Lacey '21 and the other three members of the a capella group The 4 Tones, and brought them on air to sing — in Mandarin. 

Photo courtesy of Loudoun County Public Schools
Photo courtesy of Loudoun County Public Schools

Kevin Lacey '21 doesn't speak Mandarin, and before arriving at Elon University as a first-year student in late August, the Ashburn, Virginia, student had never left the country. 

But earlier this month, viewers of DragonTV of China tuned in to see Lacey and the other three members of the a capella group The Four Tones singing a traditional Chinese song recorded in a Shanghai broadcast studio. The performance was for a celebration of China's independence day, with The Four Tones joining musical groups from countries including the United Kingdom, Belgium and Cuba in the lineup for the special broadcast. 

"It was an amazing, crazy experience, and one I wouldn't trade for the world," Lacey said. "It was definitely unexpected, to say the least."

Lacey started The Four Tones with three friends at Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn during his junior year, with the group's repertoire initially including a single song — "In the Still of the Night." The a capella quartet realized during their senior year they needed to do more with it, and more performances — and more songs — followed. 

The aunt of Four Tones member Andrew Zheng, now attending Duke University, recorded one performance and posted it onto WeChat, a social media platform popular in China. That post led to a connection with DragonTV, and the invitation to perform for the outlet's independence celebration program, Lacey said. 

The Four Tones were brought to Shanghai for about 10 days, with a large portion of that time spent learning how to properly pronounce and sing the Mandarin words for the song they would perform. Lacey said among the foreign groups, The Four Tones were the only one from the U.S., and the only one with members who didn't speak Mandarin. 

Photo courtesy of Loudoun County Public Schools

"It was very difficult, and the language barrier was very apparent," Lacey said. "It wasn't anything that we were used to. But I said to myself, 'I don't know what any of this means, but I'm going to sing it like I know it.'"

Lacey said he was proud of how the group performed, though he noticed some in the audience who were thrown off a bit by the a capella rendition, since a capella singing is not common in China. 

At Elon, Lacey is continuing to focus on the performing arts as he pursues studies in musical theater. He learned about Elon from an alumnus he met who was performing on Broadway, and quickly made it his top choice after considering other schools with musical theater programs around the country. 

"It's almost like it was meant to be for me to end up at Elon," Lacey said. "Elon is now home for me."

Owen Covington,
10/11/2017 11:40 AM