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Archiv für Mai, 2011

vokal.total 2011 – Europe’s top a cappella competition

30. Mai 2011 Keine Kommentare

Reinhard Pongratz (director vokal.total) interviewed by Florian Städtler (Vocal Blog)

The heat is almost on: From July 26 to 29 the best newcomers of Europe will compete at vokal.total 2011. This is an exclusive interview with the co-founder and director of Europe’s to talent showcase for vocal groups, Reinhard Pongratz.

Reinhard, the vokal.total festival has been around for quite a while. Tell our readers how it all began.

The Festival was founded by the Steirischer Sängerbund (Styrian Singers Association) in 1999 as a choir festival. The decision to become the first European competition event in the vocal music genre has made it as well-known and successful as it is today. Well, to be the first in a certain domain certainly helps.

As of today, the vocal.total competition is still working from the Styrian Singers Association headquarters building, but is an independent organisation with a unique profile and separate administration.

The competition is one of Europe’s most  renowned vocal, a cappella and beatbox events. Where exactly does it take place?

vokal total’s home is the city of Graz, Austria. The venue and central location of the festival is a cathredal built into a mountain. This “cave” of 20m x 12m x 28m garantuees both a fascinating atmosphere and an extraordinary acoustic situation.

The festival has grown throughout the years. Who are the people behind vokal.total?

Actually, there are still no full-time employees working for the festival. I’ve been working for vokal.total since 2000, when the actual competition was founded and I’m still working as a an IT teacher and part-time for the festival. And I’m still singing in a vocal group, vocal music is my love and my hobby.

But you are right, the workload is growing with every year of the festival. And in the weeks before the festival I’m working with a team that includes up to 20 colleagues when the festival goes ahead. And none of us is in it for the money, believe me!

Who had the idea of focussing on an all-competition event – did the Association ask you to do that?

No, it was mainly the idea of my predecessor, the late Baldur Heckel. I took over the organisation of vokal.total one year later, in 2001. In 2000 it was really small with just 8 groups taking part. But even then there were some great groups, for example the German maybebop, who were just starting their career back then.

Today the number of high-quality vocal groups is growing steadily. Are there groups who have won the competition and are still doing great?

Some groups have prevailed, other do not exist anymore. For those who are interested, you can look up the winners at our website www.vokal.at.

Tell us more about the competition itself – how does it work?

In the beginning there was only one category, but this was changed very soon. Currently the competition consists of four categories: jazz, pop, classical and comedy. The jury evaluates the performances according to clear rules and the three best groups are awarded with money and other prizes.

The contemporary vocal, a cappella and choral scene prides itself for being open and communicative, the singers love to share their music and their experience. How does this go with the character of a competition?

Our experience of more than ten years shows that a competitive event can be characterized by a friendly, cooperative and open atmosphere. In fact I found the event itself rather relaxed without any animosity. I think the very unusual venue, the hall in the Grazer Schlossberg, plays an important role in creating this harmonic and positive mood.

The winners are given the “Ward Swingle Award”, a tribute to the founder of the legendary Swingle Singers – how did that come about?

My former boss, the late Baldur Heckel came to know Ward when he was giving a workshop in Graz and took part in another workshop with his own group. From that time on, Baldur and Ward were in touch on a regular basis and when the competition took off in 2000, Baldur Heckel asked Ward Swingle to give his name to the prize of the competition – and the maestro said yes.

Now that more and more contemporary jazz & pop groups are looking for opportunities to present themselves to the public – what are the prerequisites to enter the vokal.total competition?

Many people think, only amateur groups can participate, which is not the case: Pro groups are allowed to enter the competition, too. However, there’s a limit to the numbers of singers in one group, which is 12. We decided so, because we want vokal.total to be a competition for vocal groups, not for jazz and pop choirs.

Of course, the quality of the musical performance is a criterion, when we choose the participants. And sometimes it’s difficult to assign a group to a certain category as not every style in vocal music and music in general is easily and clearly identifiable. It often turned out that it often were exactly these groups, that are very special. So we will probably never solve the “category problem” completely.

So we’re all looking forward to vokal.total 2011 – it’s an event worth attending for both singers and lovers of great music. Is there anything else, Reinhard, you want our readers to know?

Maybe it’s interesting that on the last day of the event, every participating group will get a free “feedback workshop” by a member of the jury, which most of the groups really appreciate.

For all vocal percussionists there’s one event , that’s a real must-attend: The “Emperor of the Mic” beatbox battle. For this event, our host Ivory Parker, invites the best European beatboxers to show their skills. Those artists receive personal invitations, the competition is not public.

One last little vokal.total story?

There are many wonderful stories, it’s hard to pick one out of more than a decade. Well, there’s actually one moment that has shivers running down my spine every time it happens: At the final party the participants gather at an elevator lifting hole that runs all through the mountain and sing together “spontaneously”. That’s a real highlight on the final day of the competition and an open-ended party.

You haven’t been to Graz yet? So it’s time to book your tickets now for a trip to the wonderful Steiermark region. You’re going to see the most talented young a cappella groups from all over Europe and meet the movers and shakers of the European a cappella scene. Well, yes, OK…most of them are very important.   (I’m going to be there, too… ;-)

If you want to tell the readers of Vocal Blog about your experiences with vokal.total or other competitions or want to write a blog post of your own, make your comment or send your article to info@vocal-blog.net. Thanks for joining the conversation!

Aarhus Revisited (3): Five A Cappella Video Greetings

by Florian Städtler

After a flood of enthusiastic AAVF (Aarhus Vocal Festival) status updates, an amazing collection of photos and a trifle of post-festival blues, it’s hard to add anything really new and important to what’s already been said about this year’s European vocal music highlight. That’s why I thought – why not let some Aarhus participants speak to you, my dear Vocal Blog readers? Fortunately I was able to shoot a few little videos of international guests, who came to Aarhus to sing, listen, learn and network.

By the way: Aarhus and all of the vocal, a cappella and choral people who met there, made the past days and weeks the busiest ever for Vocal Blog. So great to know more and more people come to read the blog on a regular basis. Thanks for sharing the blog with your friends and thank you very much for your comments. Some of you who posted their “Favourite Aarhus Moments” will be rewarded by a copy of the brandnew Postyr album!

So here we go, let’s see and listen to a bunch of great aca-people, saying hello from Aarhus:

(Don’t get confused by the animation at the start of some of the videos [Yes, Clare, I know that you're not a "Neues Projekt" ], which I simply wasn’t able to change in iMovie…will work on that ;-) …just had to get this post up, couldn’t wait any longer!)

Jussi Chydenius – Rajaton (FIN)

video message from Jussi

Clare Wheeler – The Swingle Singers (UK)

video message from Clare

Bill Hare – Bill Hare Productions (USA)

Bill with Jens Johansen (Vocal Line)

video message from Bill

Judy Fontana & Jonathan Minkoff (USA)

video message from Judy & Jonathan

Rogier Ijmker (NED), take 1

interesting video message from Rogier

Rogier Ijmker (NED), take 2 (featuring Joep Hoepstaken & Martin Schoenmaker)

ultimate video message from Rogier (plus Joep & Martin)

You can look forward to more video greetings by Ellen Bakker, Tobias Hug, Peter Martin Jacob, Havard Gravdal, Céline Morel, Constance Chouette and Thierry Lalo in another post, looking forward to your comments. And if you want to post a sentimental or funny video greeting to tell the aca-community how much you liked Aarhus, go to the Vocal Blog Facebook group, become a member and post your video message there.

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My 10 Favourite Aarhus Moments

10. Mai 2011 11 Kommentare

by Florian Städtler

On a train to Copenhagen Airport I simply wanted to keep some of the exceptional things that happened to me during my three-days stay at the Aarhus Vocal Festival by writing them down. Those who are member of the Vocal Blog group on Facebook or follow me on Twitter already got a slight impression, but here’s a bit more: “My 10 Favourite Aarhus Moments”.

1) Train Ride through Denmark
My trip to Aarhus went as follows: Shuttle bus from my hometown Freiburg (South-West of Germany) to EuroAirport Basel-Freiburg-Mulhouse in 45 minutes, departure 4:30am. Scheduled take-off 6:30am – due to technical problems at our destination Berlin-Tegel Airport, we actually took off at 7:30am. 4 hours changeover in Berlin, with probably the worst WiFi quality ever experienced on a European airport. The Berlin-Copenhagen flight was only slightly delayed so I made it to the 3.5 hours train ride from Copenhagen to Aarhus. And I realized again, that train rides are a nice way to get an impression of a country: You get in touch with people, hear them talking and you see much more of the landscape while you travel. Denmark and its people made a friendly and relaxed impression, just as sunny as the weather on the way.

2) Ridehuset
After having checked in I asked for the way to Ridehuset. The receptionist didn’t understand until I showed him the venue’s name in the printed booklet: “Aaah, Rdddhes(e)”, she replied in a peculiarly nasal tone but with an extraordinarily charming smile…and an extraordinarily pretty nose. I smiled back and never even tried to pronounce it again. What to the unflexible German sounded like a major logopedic incident turned out to be a most amazing room to meet and perform. The Ridehuset was a former hall for horseriding and its nice architecture was the perfect place to get together, to listen to concerts, eat, drink and relax. What makes it even better, is the fact that it is situated very close to the workshop locations, a very important fact for the vibes of any festival.

Jake Moulton, Jonathan Minkoff, Peder Karlsson, Jussi Chydenius

3) The World at One Table
Imagine a football fan sitting at one table with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ronaldinho. After the opening concert I found myself in a similar situation. I joined a table with Clare Wheeler (The Swingle Singers), Peder Karlsson (The Real Academy), Jussi Chydenius (Rajaton), Jonathan Minkoff (SingStrong.org, Blue Jupiter), Judy Fontana, Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers), Christine Liu (Vocalasia), Tine Fris (Postyr), Bill Hare (CASA director and recording legend) and Jake Moulton (The Housejacks). One big difference compared to the kickers: all of them are not only great masters of their trade, but intelligent, thoughtful and really cool people.

4) A Triple P from the North

Postyr live!

Papaya, Pust and Postyr – the line-up of Friday night’s opening concert seemed to be selected by some alphabetical logic. The first letter is however their only similarity. Maybe except the fact that this first night perfectly represented the fantastic level that Northern European groups have reached today. Papaya (DK) brought the sound and the motion of African music to Ridehuset, Pust (NOR) presented their unique kind of contemporary folk-based vocal music and Postyr, also from Denmark, launched their new album, new website and new music video. Four of the five singers in the group also being members of AAVF host choir Vocal Line, they presented an amazing fusion of popular songwriting, experimental electronics and no fear of including a cello or an acoustic guitar if they think it fits. Tine, Line, Andreas, Kristoffer and Anders were just following their concept of “singing outside the box.” It became clear again: Future innovation in vocal music will certainly be driven by groups from the Northern European countries.

4) Meeting Jens Johansen

Jens Johansen (Vocal Line), Tine Fris (Postyr, Vocal Line)

Jens is the “spiritus rector” of what we today experience as the Danish school of “rhythmic choir music”. For more than two decades he has worked with students and his choir Vocal Line. Today, groups like The New Voxnorth, Vox 11, Papaya and Postyr represent the second generation of Danish contemporary vocal brilliance. And while these groups shine with flawless blending and a rhythmic precision unheard of in Europe, Jens has remained as calm, moderate and friendly as when I first met him 15 years ago. His personal achievements in vocal music and in setting up the Aarhus Vocal Festival again cannot be praised often enough.

Céline Morel & Peder Karlsson

5) France exists!
The French don’t use the term a cappella. And despite being one of the biggest countries of the European Union, France has no more than half a dozen contemporary vocal groups. It was a pleasure talking to Céline Morel (CEPRAVOI) and Thierry Lalo (Les Voice Messengers) and learning more about their will to develop new ways of vocal and choral music in France. It would be so great to find people like them in each and every European country and have them exchange ideas on a regular basis.

6) His Bobbyness’ Masterclass

Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers), His Bobbyness

Rarely have I seen 500 people in one room being so focused, so involved, so intently listening. Bobby McFerrin, giving a masterclass to Jim Daus Hjernoe‘s group “The New Vox North”, is personalized inspiration. He knows how to tell a story and he knows how to create music that is never pretentious but always fascinating. He is funny and serious, very direct but never patronizing. And he stayed with us longer than one would have expected, watching workshops and competitions. Bobby McFerrin is the single most influential person in contemporary vocal music. Or – as Peder Karlsson put it: “For me there was life before and life after Bobby.”

7) Learning from a Real Role Model

The jazz choir competition jury: Malene Rigtrup, Tobias Hug, Peder Karlsson

Speaking of luminaries, who would not think of Peder Karlsson? 26 years as baritone with The Real Group and endless experience both in singing and being a teacher give him natural authority. He is a master of combining the challenge of thinking out of the box with pragmatic action. For me, the work with him on a European framework for vocal, a cappella and choral music has been a highly intensive learning process how this art form has evolved from the first pioneer groups to the vocal music movement we see today.

8) 40 Minutes with the Best Rhythmic Choir of the World

Vocal Line with Bobby McFerrin live!

Superlatives are to be treated with care. Not in this case: Vocal Line, the Danish choir conducted by Jens Johansen has reached a level of artistry that is simply outstanding. I must admit, I’m not the one who is getting easily overwhelmed by a concert experience. But the first set of the festival’s main concert (just Vocal Line, without Bobby yet)  moved me to tears. You must see and hear this group of singers. If you don’t have a heart of stone, you will realize that this is what vocal music and music in general is all about. Spiritual moments in Aarhus. Enough said.

9) The European Voices Association (EVA) kickoff meeting

We were there!

For about 18 months seven vocal music activists have worked on a common vision for an organisational structure for European vocal, a cappella and choral music. And on the last day of AAVF the “core team” presented a first rough idea of how this network could be developed. Despite the inhuman timing of the meeting (9am – on the morning after the final festival party) more than 50 participants learnt how the idea came about (Florian Städtler), what European diversity means for us (Tobias Hug), what the higher purpose of EVA could be (Peder Karlsson), what the three content “bubbles” information, networking and education could look like (Volker Bauer), why it is important for all vocal music activists to be part of the team (Tilo Beckmann) and what the next steps towards EVA will be. By the way, the meeting itself started with a collective song directed by AAVF host Jim Daus Hjernoe, also a member of the preliminary team. One more happy moment and hopefully a milestone in the development of European A Cappella.

10) The Vocal Jog #1

7:30am, Hotel Ritz, Aarhus: Feeling lonely...

Being a passionate runner I try to have my running gear with me whenever I’m on the road. There’s no better way to both get an impression of the city you are staying and getting over the side effects of an after show party. Sunday morning, May 8th, was supposed to be the day of the first “Vocal Jog”: A little run around the beautiful city of Aarhus. Friday night, it really seemed as if I had summoned a true dream team featuring Tine Fris, Line Groth (both with Postyr) and my sandbox friend Tobias Hug, who loved the idea of doing the Vocal Jog just before the Morning Singing with Bobby McFerrin. Well, and this was the only very small disappointment at AAFV 2011: Vocal Jog #1, starting at 7:30 on Sunday morning took place – but no one came…excexpt me. Well, even without Line, Tine & Tobi it was wonderful jogging down to the sea, through the forest and on the streets of Aarhus. And they promised to be there next time. You are my witness.

Have you been in Aarhus and want to tell the Vocal Blog readers your favourite moment? Post your comment/story/experience here on the blog, the top 3 stories have the chance to win an AAVF artist’s cd of their choice.

If you’re not a member of the Vocal Blog Facebook group, why not join it now. And if you can’t get enough of news, links and pics from the vocal music world, follow us via www.twitter.com/vocalblog.

Vocal Line & Bobby McFerrin – A Day and Night to Remember

8. Mai 2011 Keine Kommentare

by Florian Städtler

Bill Hare & Florian Städtler

I just got up in my Aarhus hotel after one more very short night. If you’re looking for sleep, the Aarhus Vocal Festival is not exactly the right place to go. If you look for vocal brilliance, an exuberant mood of positivity, seemingly endless vocal, a cappella and choral talent and a great bunch of wonderful people, it is THE place to be right now.

I originally hadn’t scheduled a blog post until after I was to come back from Denmark. But after what  happened yesterday I just need to make this spontaneous shout-out to the people who made an day and a night happen, that was beyond even the highest expectations.

The public afternoon masterclass with Bobby McFerrin singing and jamming with The New Voxnorth (another amazing vocal group from Denmark, led by Jim Daus Hjernoe) showed “The Voice” as a thoughtful, creative and sensible musician and teacher. Rarely have I seen a 90 minutes event with that level of concentration, focus and involvement from the stage to the last row of a packed auditorium. Everyone knew, we saw the single biggest influence on contemporary vocal music on this planet.

Announcer Peder Karlsson with allstar-intro group featuring Clare Wheeler, Tine Fris, Tobias Hug, Jussi Chydenius, Morten Kjaer and Jake Moulton

The evening concert was Vocal Line’s night. In my eyes they were the real stars of the concert, with a first set that was a showcase of the current state of affairs in rhythmic choir music. Presenting their album “Beauty in the Breakdown”, Jens Johansen and 40 members of Vocal Line made shivers run down the spines even of those people who thought they’ve seen it all. When you experience the flawless intonation, the supertight blending and a choral groove that is truly unheard of, you get the feeling that you actually ain’t heard nothing yet before Vocal Line.

We saw the future of vocal music. And a Bobby McFerrin who enjoyed what he loves most: People gathering in a room singing together.

So it’s another sunny morning in the beautiful city of Aarhus, and life seems to be perfect. Well, almost. Because one of my personal highlights was planned for this morning 7:30am: The first “Vocal Jog”, a little run with Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers), Line Groth and Tine Fris (both with the Postyr Project).

I (!) was there :-)

And it was great running alone, with all these beautiful sounds of that day and night to remember in my head.

Have you been there? What did you like best at Aarhus Vocal Festival? And, most important: Do you want to join the Vocal Jog next time? Let the vocal community know and post your comment. There will be lot of footage (pics, videos etc.) on Vocal Blog very soon. (I need breakfast now…;-)

If you’re close to or in Aarhus, don’t miss Basix in concert tonight and come to the European Voices Associations kickoff meeting on Monday, 9th of May, 9am in Musikhuset, Kamermusiksalen.

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