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Archiv für August, 2009

How it began..

21. August 2009 Keine Kommentare

By Paul Smith, VOCES8

In 2005, when my brother and I started an a cappella ensemble with a group of friends that we’d been singing with since we were children, I didn’t think for a second that I’d be standing on stage at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing as a full house called for a second encore.  Nor did I imagine that we’d have a police escort to an autograph session after the concert where we’d be sat for the next 40 minutes signing hundreds of CDs for the audience members who wanted to practice their English! At least they gave us gold pens to write with. That I was with a group of friends and colleagues with whom I have shared so much made the event even more special.

That VOCES8 ( has risen so quickly and established a place in the a cappella world market is tremendously exciting for me.  It is, I’m sure, the result of a huge amount of hard work by a strong team of musicians, coaches, advisers and managers.  Our first visit to Beijing last weekend was a highlight in a year which has seen us make debut tours to the US and Africa, as well as continuing our busy schedule of concerts around Europe and in the UK.  We’ve just signed a 2 disc record deal with Signum, and future tours across the US, Europe and further afield promise many exciting times ahead.

Tobias, in his interesting blog, talked about the emergence of the a cappella market into the mainstream, and I only hope that he is right.  I think there is a lot of work still to be done though, and this is one of the reasons behind our decision to build a nationwide innovative education programme called ‘Hatch My Ideas!’ (  VOCES8 has spent the last few years not only growing as an ensemble, but building an education programme that aims to inspire the next generations of young people to fall in love with a cappella, with music and with being creative.  In the last year, VOCES8 has worked with more than 23,000 young people aged 5 – 18 across the UK (and taught many of them what ’a cappella’ means!).  By starting to offer singing opportunities to young people, often aged 8 and under, we want to inspire young people to begin their own journey of discovery into the world of music and, hopefully, into the world of a cappella.  Singing is such an expressive art form, and is so simple to start, but the very personal nature of using your own voice can often be scary for young people and, more worryingly, for the teachers in the classroom.  If a teacher is afraid to sing, you can be sure that his or her class will not be singing either! The work that we do aims to encourage teachers and students to find their voice and realise how much fun can be had through singing as a group.

The members of VOCES8 have spent the last few years receiving training on how to run workshops and encourage all people, regardless of age, how to relax and enjoy singing.  I firmly believe that we are able to share our talents with other people.  The caveat here, though, is that we must realise that having the talent is not enough to enable you to educate others.  You can only help other people understand how to develop their own potential if you are able to analyse what you do, how you do it and then, most importantly, apply that understanding to different models and structures that exist in other areas of our lives.

I have spent about 5 years developing a unique programme of work which incorporates skills and models from the worlds of business and sport and applies them to vocal, music and creative coaching sessions.  It always amazes me how much crossover there is between music, sport and business.  Good practice is universal, and success in whatever field is achieved with numerous common denominators.  Next month I’m running a course for engineers on how to develop good presentation skills, and as I prepare for this, I have no doubt that my experience and advice will be useful to them, despite the fact that I know very little about engineering!  As a cappella singers, we develop a very specific skill set, not unlike athletes, and in understanding and analysing our process by comparison with other successful models, we can learn new techniques to enhance our skill and understanding.  Similarly, once we have looked at other examples of success, we can learn how to analyse our own process so that, by exploring our work with professionals from business or sport, they are able to learn about themselves through analogies with our work.

Over the last 5 years I have been very lucky to work with an Olympic gold medal winner called David Hemery.  As a record-breaking athlete and leading figure in British sport, the insight and training he has given me has opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead of us.  I trust that, with ongoing dedication, passion and a vision for success, VOCES8 will continue to make friends across the world and set a benchmark as a truly excellent a cappella group.  We have much to aspire to, and that’s what makes this so much fun!

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Feels like heaven

13. August 2009 3 Kommentare

by Tobias Hug, the Swingle Singers

Take 6, The New York Voices, The Real Group, Rhiannon, Rajaton, Vocal Line, Jazzchor Freiburg, Gene Puerling, Phil Mattson…If you were to draw a picture of an cappella paradise, a vocal jazz heaven,  that would come pretty close to it! And yet, this was the line-up of an actual festival that triggered and inspired a series of new festivals all over Europe, yes all around the world.. It was the line-up of the 1st Vocal Jazz Summit! But not only were these groups performing, but they were actually staying in Mainz .. and they were teaching! A masterclass with Marc Kibble coaching with Peder Karlson, a scat lesson with Darmon Meader.. and then listening to the grandseigneurs of vocal jazz bantering on stage in the evening followed by a concert of Montezumas Revenge.. This festival was one of a kind. dozens of groups from all over Europe came to stay, to listen, to learn, to sing.. and to enjoy the company of the greatest groups on this planet.

I think everyone went away transformed.. and took the idea to their homelands.. the Real Group started their very own, wonderful Real Festival in Sweden and Amazing Voice in South Korea, Jens Johanson from Vocal Line initiated the Aarhus Vocal Festival (the first edition was actually before the 1st VJS), Cosmos took the spirit to the Baltics… Other, already established festivals thrived: The german festivals in Leipzig and in Hannover, Vokal Total in Austria and Solevoci in Italy – they have all have come to age and matured into prestigious, established festivals, developed their core audiences, grabbed a fair bit of media attention.. and ultimately spread the word of a cappella to the common man… many more festivals are springing up all over the place – and of course I haven’t even mentioned yet the homeland of contemporary a cappella, the USA.

We all know that cappella is cool – and fortunately, this has finally caught on. One of the reasons is that a cappella has finally come out of its niche.

An important step was to bridge the gap between contemporary a cappella and the choral scene. The two didn’t really connect until a few years ago (if you ignore the more choral a cappella groups like the Kings Singers).. Now contemporary a cappella groups are featured at every larger choral festival, be it Rajaton at Europa Cantat and the World Choir Symposium. Thus a large market has opened for a cappella groups.

Another avenue, another aspect of vocal music, that has boomed beyond belief in recent years, is the beatbox scene. Initially, beatboxing was purely a solo exercise, a way to show off how many crazy sounds and beats one could fit into 90 seconds… because the platform to perform these were the battles. The last decade has seen beatboxing going mainstream in pop music, but also a new generation of beatboxers has emerged: They can not only can drop amazing beats, but have a lot of other skills: they can sing, perform like a stand-up comedian.. and they are working together with other musicians ! UK beatboxers have been at the forefront of this: Killa Kela creating his R&B crew “Spitkingdom” which included MCs, DJs and singers,  Beardyman working together with “Flutebox” Nathan Lee and including visual artists like Mr. Hopkinson (, Shlomo creating his “Vocal Orchestra” with the Swingle Singers and collaborating with anyone from Bjoerk to Jarvis Cocker.. A cappella obviously has picked up on beatboxing.. Vocal Percussion is something featured now in most groups, but a cappella and “beatbox” as such hadn’t really embraced each other..yet!

So this is partly what this Vocal Jazz Summit is about – vocal percussion and beatboxing are a major focus. And the person who has been blending these two the most seemlessly is a humble bloke from Liedekerke, Belgium called Roxorloops. He also happens to be Belgian Beatbox Champion, came 2nd in the World Championships and is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential beatboxers worldwide. (Ask any beatboxer – he will have memorized several of Roxorloops’ routines. Ask the godfather of beatbox, Rahzel and he will tell you how he learnt from this young chap coming onto stage -

Apart from pursuing his solo carreer,  Roxorloops is also providing sound effects for a theatre company – and he beatboxes with a tremendous a cappella group called “Whitloof Bay”. Whitloof Bay’s sound has the warmth of the Real Group, their arrangements are uniquely original (you’ll hear a lot of french and quebecois songs) – and Roxorloops’ beatbox gives it a subtle yet driving rhythmical foundation that is unrivalled. It is to this date the best attempt to incorporate a beatboxer into an a cappella group. Roxorloops will also feature in the opening concert of the Swingle Singers. The Swingles have been working regularly in the UK with Shlomo but have also forged a close relationship with Roxorloops, who brings not only his beats but also his tremendous musicality to the groups classical as well as the more contemporary repertoire that is featured on the new release of “Ferris Wheels”.

So here are four reasons to attend the Vocal Jazz Summit:

The line-up: The Real Group, Manhattan Transfer, The Swingle Singers..
A stellar line-up that you won’t easily catch anywhere else. In addition you’ll see some of the most promising up-and-coming groups: norwegian “Pust” is one of the most original a cappella groups you’ll have heard in many years, Whitloof Bay personally blew me away when I heard them for the first time ! The last VJS was a major milestone/breakthrough for groups like Rajaton .. discover the next rising star..

The atmosphere
The Summit will feature afternoon concerts, a market place to meet other groups and professionals, the coachings.. You’ll have a chance to hang out with the performing groups, get their advice and meet like-minded groups and singers. The atmosphere is about sharing, learning and making music together. Listen to the Manhattan Transfer share their secrets as they let you in one of their rehearsals!

The beatbox:
In the 3-day workshop “Beatbox and Beyond” you’ll have the chance to work with four unique creative vocalists on beatboxing, vocal percussion,  rhythm skills, on improvisation, on exploring the sheer limitless possibilities of the human voice, as well as how to use those skills in a group context. (Roxorloops, Kevin Fox, Tobias Hug and french vocal enfant terrible Jerome Colloud will be teaching). Roxorloops will also perform his a cappella group “Whitloof Bay” and have a guest appearance with the Swingle Singers.

The coaching
For three days, you’ll be able to get coaching with all of these amazing groups: Janis Siegel (ManTran), Anders Jalkeus (TRG), Kevin Fox from the Swingles (ex-Cadence).. a unique possibility to learn the tricks of the trade from some of the most experienced and insightful folks around ! Your group will improve immensely!

I will certainly be there :-)

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1001 voices – 1001 channels – 1001 opportunities

12. August 2009 Keine Kommentare

(by Florian Städtler, translation of Vocal Blog Post #1)

When we’re talking about communication yesterday and today, I always remember the same picture. In its 25th anniversary edition, German marketing magazine Horizont showed an impressive photo composition: 1983 (the year of the magazine’s fouding) and a half-open walnut in the center of the the modest number of former communication channels print, tv, poster, radio and cinema. Further below on the same page it showed the picture (also in original size) of a human brain, the date 2008 and a seemingly endless list of communication channels: viral marketing, social community, ambient media, mobile tv, blogs, guerilla marketing, digital tv, guerilla marketing, call center, crossmedia etc.

What does the increasing number of channels mean for us, who dedicate so much time and energy to promote vocal and a cappella music? Is this development a curse or a blessing? Let’s assume, you’ve always been listening to cds, reading the (printed) paper, using a mobile phone, email and an mp3 player. Do you really need social networks, rss feeds and a smart phone as the Swiss Army knife of the digital age? Wouldn’t it be more consequent and more healthy to focus? And to admit, that it’s simply impossible to parallel send and receive on an endless number of channels?

Let’s not make things more complicated than they actually are.

Of course it’s not possible, to read a book while typing and sending a text message and at the same time zapping through 250 tv channels while listening to one’s favourite cd. It might be possible. But the results certainly won’t be satisfying.

Thus it needs filtering, making choices and decisions.

And that’s exactly what Vocal Blog does: Helping you to find the most beautiful and most interesting voices out of the vocal gobbledygook from all over the word. And making these voices accessible to experts, amateurs, professional musicians and fans.

We hope to be able to present guest bloggers, interviewees, special recommendations, insider tipps, reviews and the occasional look backstage. We want to create a platform for voices with meaning, for opinions. We want this medium to be a real opportunity for starting a dialogue about our topic a cappella and vocal music.

I’m looking forward to contributions by the “stars” of the scene, the up-and-coming and some hidden champions: Promoters, educators, sound engineers, who caught the bug of vocal music in whatever adventurous way one can imagine.

The web offers fantastic opportunities to broaden one’s horizon: A Cappella from Down Under, vocal coaching from L.A., vocal jazz from Moscow, vocal festivals from all over the world. And here’s where our trip begins.

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Pretty much like a vision

3. August 2009 Keine Kommentare

Pretty much like a vision

by Florian Städtler

Searching the (social) web for a cappella and vocal music communities, one might say that there’s already plenty of networking going on. There’s and national hubs like the German We got a plethora of facebook groups, newsgroups, sheet music shops and musical e-commerce. A cappella singers and fans have started to connect, network, inform and advertise via the new communication channels ever since the web began to change our lives in so many ways.

So what is the idea behind this still very young project Vocal Blog?

What made me think the world needs what I imagine to be an A cappella and vocal music networking hub of the future?

The simple answer is: I’ve started this project, because I’m curious. Curious, if it is possible to stretch the boundaries of a niche segment of the music market. Or, in other words: This style, that has always had a reasonable number of die-hard fans, friends and followers, can it become mainstream?

Making vocal and a cappella music mainstream could offer a whole new world of opportunities. Bigger audiences, broad media coverage, more concerts, better music education, more fun for the fans and more jobs for the business professionals.

So after having worked as a singer, promoter, booker and agent in the international music and vocal music business for almost twenty years, I felt it’s time do something pretty audacious. Yeah, and something that additionally might also be pretty helpful for my daily work.

That’s why the experiment now begins. Instead of extensive planning and a sophisticated strategy, this project is driven by one simple thing: Inspiration.
And these are nine potential ways, Vocal Blog could develop:

1. goes online (done)
2. vocalblog is micro-blogging on twitter (done)
3. surprise, surprise: there’s a Vocal Blog group on facebook (done)
4. Vocal Blog will use network meetings and big vocal festivals to bring the project into the offline world (starting with Vocal Jazz Summit Mainz/Germany in October 2009)
5. will invite guest-bloggers: great singers, renowned educators and long-term promoters to discuss, comment and tell stories
6. Vocal Blog is a truly international network, only accidentally based in the capital of the Black Forest
7. Vocal Blog is linked to all major a cappella hubs: Cooperation, not competition, is the credo of the digital native
8. Vocal Blog is not an internet concert billboard, advertising those who invest most time in their group’s and companies’ web pr. It’s about opinions
9. Vocal Blog is also about people, characters, talents, enthusiasm, emotions, efforts in the name of vocal and a cappella music
10. A decade ago an experiment like that would have been doomed before its start. Only the big players in the industry could afford to reach the masses by mass communication
11. WorldWideWeb and the young, so-called Web 2.0. is no garantuee for the success of the experiment. But it leaves a tiny chance to do something impossible

That’s pretty much like a vision, isn’t it?

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