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Archiv für Januar, 2011

London A Cappella (1): Teaching, Listening, Learning, Singing

26. Januar 2011 1 Kommentar

by Joanna Forbes-L’Estrange

Creative Workshop for student a cappella groups

presented by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange (singer, arranger, choral coach & former soprano/MD of The Swingle Singers)

Over forty members of various student a cappella groups (from Oxford, Cambridge, London and Birmingham) came together for a fun two hours of discussion, exploration of ideas, creativity and performance as part of the London A Cappella Festival 2011. My aim for the workshop was to show the participants how to be more adventurous and original when writing arrangements and putting together their set-lists for the annual Voice Festival UK competition. As a regular adjudicator for the competition I am always encouraging the students to expand their creativity but it occurred to me at the end of last year’s rounds that perhaps they needed more than encouragement; they needed to be furnished with the tools in order to do so. So, I was delighted when the Voice Festival invited me to deliver a creative workshop.

In order to think beyond a typical twelve-minute set comprising a medium tempo pop cover, a ballad pop cover and a fast pop cover to finish, I first encouraged the singers to think about where else they can find raw material apart from the current pop charts. They came up with folk songs, jazz standards, big band numbers, musical theatre, world music, old pop classics and classical music. We then discussed different approaches to writing arrangements, ranging from simple transcription to the more complex style morphs, medleys and “mash-ups” (to use the Glee terminology!)  I played them excerpts of recordings by professional a cappella groups including The Real Group, The Magnets, The King’s Singers and of course The Swingle Singers, each one illustrating a specific arranging technique. We then sang an arrangement I wrote for The Swingle Singers which combines two songs from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album: Because and You never give me your money. Despite most of the students admitting that they’d never heard the originals, they managed the arrangement brilliantly, creating an instant blend and quickly taking on board any rehearsal points I made along the way.

By this stage of the workshop, the students’ minds were buzzing with ideas and I could see that they were itching to get creative. I quickly familiarised them with the words, melody and harmonic structure of English folk song Scarborough Fair and then divided them up into four groups, making sure to mix up the singers so that they were working alongside people they didn’t previously know. The task was for each group to come up with its own take on the song, either a whole structure or just a groove, a musical idea, something original which would make the song their own. For about twenty minutes the students, all in different rooms, tried out their ideas until they came up with something to share with the others. It was wonderful to watch them working and being so free with their creativity and, best of all, the four approaches couldn’t have been more varied.

Group 1 gave us an upbeat drum-‘n’-bass groove; group 2 did a 5/4 Dave Brubeck-inspired version; group 3 created an Indian tabla rhythm and an improvised Bollywood-style vocalise, changing the lyrics of the second line from “Parsley sage rosemary and thyme” to “Cumin coriander and lime”!; group 4 presented us with a heady mix of vocal overtones, beat-boxing and fresh-sounding pop. I loved that, when asked to describe their creative processes, they replied, “Well, first he [pointing] came up with that and then she [pointing] sort of added that” etc – they didn’t know each other’s names and yet they had managed to work together and come up with a performance twenty minutes later! Judging by their comments afterwards, I think they surprised themselves by the quality of what they’d done. By the end of the night, many of the participants had also been to see The Real Group live; if that wasn’t enough to inspire their creativity then nothing will!!

I’m so looking forward to being on the judging panel for the Oxford regional and the final of the Voice Festival UK 2011 competition this spring. Who knows, maybe we’ll be awarding the Ward Swingle Award for Originality this year…

To all the students: happy creating; to The Real Group: thank you for continuing to wow us all with your incredible originality; to my beloved Swingle Singers: thank you for setting up the most amazing forum for a cappella which is The London A Cappella Festival.

Joanna Forbes L’Estrange

January 2011

For edited highlights of this workshop, see:

Thank you very much, Joanna for your workshop write-up – when I more or less bumped into you in the lobby at King’s Place, you seemed to be full of adrenaline, so excited how well the workshop went and how much the students gave back to you. Keep on doing this very important part of our campaign to promote the art form of vocal, choral and a cappella music: teach, listen, learn and sing everybody!

If you have ideas on educational topics and want to share experiences feel free to post your comments – let the community know how you teach, listen, learn and sing.

FSt/Florian, Vocal Blog

The SMAC Conference: Social Media Meets A Cappella

18. Januar 2011 Keine Kommentare

by Meg Alexander

SMACC is a three-day conference that fuses cutting edge media and evolutionary music. It hosts speakers from around the country who are building the foundations of a more connected world through their web based entrepreneurial endeavors. As society adapts to the digital revolution, it becomes ever more crucial for organizations and individuals to take advantage of emerging forms of communication. SMACC offers an opportunity to learn straight from the creators, how to best utilize these tools.

The SMACC team is comprised of students from Syracuse University and Rochester Institute of Technology a cappella, Public Relations, and Social Media organizations. These students have been working closely with Dave Sperandio and the CASA team, as well as Dave Longo from Sled Dog Studios, to develop an innovative, educational, and entertaining event.

Orange Appeal


The team is divided into two areas of expertise: social media, and a cappella. The a cappella team is a group of students who belong to groups on the two respective campuses. All of these groups (which include Eight Beat Measure, Groovestand, The Mandarins, and Orange Appeal) have established their reputation through ICCAs, various prestigious invitationals, and recognized albums. In fact, all 4 groups will be competing at ICCAs this year in the Mid-Atlantic region.

8 Beat Measure

The Mandarins

As a public relations student who loves a cappella and happens to want to be an event planner, I realized that there was a huge opportunity to combine these two innovative fields. Social media has the potential to launch a cappella even farther into the spotlight, to continue to propel the genre if used effectively. The principles that make social media so useful to a cappella make it essential for most small business or financially limited organizations to understand as well.

The history of a cappella music in the United States goes back about 100 years, with the founding of the Yale Whiffenpoofs in 1909. Since then, thousands of high school, collegiate, post-collegiate, and professional a cappella groups have sprung up across the US. A cappella music penetrated American popular culture in the 1980s, being featured in songs by The Nylons, Billy Joel, and Paul Simon. The 80s also brought the formation of possibly the most ubiquitous American a cappella group, Rockapella. The a cappella craze has slowly been building momentum since then, with the popularity of Boyz II Men in the 1990s and hit shows like Glee and The Sing-Off now in the 21st century. In addition, a cappella has produced some very famous alumni, such as singers Sara Bareilles and John Legend, and actors Peter Gallagher of “The O.C.” and Ed Helms of “The Office”.

A cappella, in the US, especially after this season of The Sing Off, has also grown in appeal, and is fascinating to people who may have previously never heard of it. Our team sees SMACC as an opportunity to help move a cappella forward by giving groups the tools to promote themselves, as well as an opportunity to bring the cutting edge of vocal music to the masses.

Our team is working to create an annual event that brings the international a cappella and social media scene to the Northeastern US.  It will be a weekend of innovation, collaboration, and creation with the opportunity to showcase the best of both fields.

The first conference will be April 1-3, 2011 in Syracuse, NY. For more information, visit

Are you into a cappella and interested in how you could use social media? Let us and the SMACC team know, what you want to find out and what should be discussed: Either here on the Blog or at SMACC. I’m looking forward about some enlightenment from singers 2.0!

If you are living in the German speaking countries, in France, Belgium or The Netherlands, you might be interested in Florian Städtler‘s seminar at the Kulturbörse Freiburg (also April 1-3) on the 1st of April, 11am Berlin time. The 2-hours workshop is called “Culture Marketing 2.0 – getting found by Google, Blogs & Social Media”. Check out anyway, it’s Europe’s leading meeting for music and stage productions, featuring more than 150 live showcases and an A Cappella Special with Acoustic Instinct, The Boxettes (German premiere) and Dutch vocal entertainment group Intrmzzo.

Backing for Bobby

4. Januar 2011 1 Kommentar

by Cæcilie Johansen, Aarhus/Denmark

In November 2010, Vocal Line was invited to sing together with Bobby McFerrin in two concerts in the Rose Theater at the Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York. Bobby McFerrin would perform the music from his new album VOCAbuLaries, and Vocal Line would be the backing choir of the world known artist! Here is my blog on the project that we in Vocal Line called: “Backing for Bobby”!

We received the Bobby-scores in October at a time when we had just finished our German concert tour, but there was no time to relax – we had to learn 5 pieces of music lasting 6-8 minutes each in quite short time. To our luck Roger Treece, who is the key driver of the VOCAbuLaries-project, invited himself to come to Denmark and rehearse with us for four days. Roger calls the project his “life project”, and his dedication is obvious in his enthusiastic instruction and the way he is so into every little detail of the music.

In Vocal Line, we usually study about 5 new arrangements a year, because we spent so much time on every detail and expression. Therefore, it was a big challenge for us to learn 5 new pieces of this length and difficulty in such short time. But we were eager to do a good job, and it meant a lot to us because of Bobby McFerrin’s exceptional status in the vocal world. We all agreed that this might be one of the biggest experiences in Vocal Line’s career. On the day of our departure a Danish News Paper posted an article about our collaboration with the world famous Bobby McFerrin – we were exited!

But we were also a bit nervous, that we wouldn’t make it in time, so everyone were looking through their scores while listening to the rehearsing (click-)tracks on their iPods on the bus to the airport. Our flight to Amsterdam was delayed, so we missed our flight from Amsterdam to New York. But we didn’t care: We entertained the waiting travelers at the Airport with our interpretation of Jason Mraz’ “Geek in the Pink”. Three hours delayed, we finally arrived at JFK Airport – jetlagged and tired. It was 11 pm in NY, so we went to bed as soon as we reached the hotel at 80th street. The first day of rehearsal was waiting ahead.

Roger Treece - the mastermind behind the "Vocabularies" project

I woke up early the next morning. It was 6 am in NY, but 12 noon in Denmark, so I was unable to sleep any longer and decided to watch the sun rise over New York instead – unbelievable, we were really there! After having had breakfast at a cosy Diner, we went to the Carroll studios, where we would be rehearsing for the next two days, and Roger introduced us to the American singers. Some of these singers are singing on the VOCAbuLaries album, and I remember being worried that the American singers were far more into the music than we were. But I could breathe a sigh of relief – the American singers were really really talented, but Vocal Line’s intense practicing paid off: We were the only ones able to sing all the music without the scores. The first test was passed.

Second test was how it would work with Bobby McFerrin, who we would be practicing with the next day. It was amazing to finally be singing with him, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed about his way of greeting us – he gave all the Americans a warm hug, but he didn’t really seem to notice that we had been traveling all the way from Denmark and had worked very hard to be his backing choir. But so what – I was still really excited about the next days’ concerts!

Bobby Mc Ferrin

The two concerts turned out to be very different. At the first concert, Bobby did some amazing solo parts between the choir parts and he really involved the audience in his unique way. At one time he had some people from the audience dancing on the stage, including an old man with Alzheimer’s, and this was very life affirming. Bobby sang together with the audience, and he had two of his children singing with him – fantastic! However, the connection between Bobby and the choir wasn’t totally there until the second concert, which was amazing. Bobby, Roger, the choir and the percussionists really made music together on the second night, and there were hugs and smiles everywhere after the show! Afterwards we had a great afterglow in the Big Apple together with Roger and some of the American singers.

After all the singing and dancing, most of us were very tired on the flight home the next day. But before we could get home to our families, we had to take a little trip to Copenhagen to participate in the television show “Aftenshowet”. In spite of jet-lag and no sleep, I think we managed to look quite good and sing quite well in those 4 minutes on the TV screen ;-)

Vocal Line

In 2010, Vocal Line has had the most hectic fall ever, but it has been filled with so many great experiences. Vocal Line is very proud to have had the chance and artistic level to share the stage with such great musicians as Bobby McFerrin, Roger Treece and the rest of the “VOCAbuLaries Group”, and we’re even more proud that Bobby and Roger has agreed to come to Aarhus and do it all again at Aarhus Vocal Festival in May 2011! 2010 has been a fantastic year for Vocal Line – I can’t wait to see what 2011 will bring!

Allright, aca-folks and vocal peeps, what’s your opinion on the “Vocabularies” project? If you’ve been among the chosen few to work with Bobby and Roger, let us know what’s your experience. I’m looking forward to your comments, reviews and reports.

Feel free to follow Vocal Blog on Twitter – it’s a fun way of getting connected and staying up to speed with the most innovative people aka tweeps in the vocal scene. Registering is VERY easy, so is following @vocalblog. And – if you haven’t done so, join the Facebook group for pictures, links, videos – all about a cappella, vocal and choral music worldwide. Thanks for joining the conversation, see you at London A Cappella, January 12-15 (I’ll be in town on the 12th – with The Real Group! -  and the 14th, I’d love to meet up if you’re around).