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Archiv für Juli, 2011

A Cappella Hit Machines, Adrenaline & a Lonely Jogger

by Florian Städtler

Me and Jamie...ehm...Hartmuth...well...Patrick Oliver (muSix)

Dear readers,

this time I wanted to write a little tour report about a trip to Graz.
If you have never heard about this medium-sized Austrian (Styrian) town, you are probably not alone. Especially if you’re based outside Europe. But on planet a cappella, big things are not always happening in metropolitan areas.

OK, we have Los Angeles A Cappella, London A Cappella, Vocal Nation in New York, Festival für Vokalmusik Leipzig, Voice Mania in Vienna and the Hongkong A Cappella Festival to name a few of the big city festivals.
But who of us would ever have heard of places like Raleigh/USA (SoJam), Aarhus/DK (Aarhus Vocal Festival), Lörrach/GER (Stimmen Festival) or Varese/ITA (Solevoci Festival)? And where the hell is Graz?

Graz ( inhabitants) is the second-largest Austrian town, situated in Styria, the region next to Slovenia. It was given the title of World Cultural Heritage, has an opera house and many small and medium-sized cultural venues and events. With it’s beautiful surroundings, its old city center and the Schlossberg mountain that offers a wonderful overview over Styria (die Steiermark) it’s also a European tourist attraction.

If you arrive in Graz and see all the restaurants serving these tasty Austrian dishes (pork leg soup, Tafelspitz, Kaiserschmarrn and other specialties), see the architecture which is partly ugly 60s post-war style, partly neo-classicist pomp, you would expect everything there but a vocal music festival.

The jury (from right to left): Matthias Becker, Anders Jalkeus, Kim Nazarian, Andrea Figallo

But that’s what Graz has: One of the leading European vocal music events.
And it’s not a line-up of stars that makes “” one of the hidden champions of a cappella and beatboxing. It’s the fact that for more than a decade, the a cappella competition (founded by the late Baldur Heckel, a long-time chairman of the Styrian Choral Association) presents the future of international a cappella by giving golden, silver and bronze diplomas to the most promising newcomers taking part in the competition.

As I might have written here before: I have my doubts regarding making music “against each other”. Our beatboxer friends, who always kick off with a four-hour beatboxing marathon entitled “Emperor of the Mic”, are even “battling” each other. Although most reasonable (and grown-up) people would question martial rhetoric when making music, this all is surely not as dangerous as it sounds.  When you see those youngster producing the most incredible beats and sounds, it turns out to be more like a battle of testosterone than a real fight.

Talking of hormones brings me back to the three competitions, classical, jazz and pop (The “comedy” category had to be cancelled because of a lack of applicants): There are good things about competitions and one very important thing is the adrenaline involved. This hormone makes people get into a state of complete concentration and helps to bring out the best out of each and every group or individual singer. The 20 minutes before a highly interested and knowledgeable audience and four internationally renowned judges are the ultimate test for all of the participating groups. And both things that don’t work as planned and things that are performed perfectly help the groups to learn and get a new perspective on their music. The judges, Kim Nazarian (The New York Voices), Anders Jalkeus (The Real Group), Andrea Figallo (The Flying Pickets, The Ghost Files) and German choral and arranging guru Matthias Becker not only listened carefully to all the vocal groups but coached each of them individually. For many of the participants, this was probably the most valuable part of the Graz trip.

Music-wise, I have to add. Because – as in most of these a cappella events – there is this unbelievable spirit of community and communication, this high level of positive energy despite of a growing sleep deficit and  despite the 1,2,3, many beers at the legendary after-competition party on Wednesday.

If you come to Graz and plan to see the whole (!) competition, you face an a cappella marathon. Just check out the list of all the participating ensembles:

Emperor of The Mic
Alem (FRA), Babell (GER), Ball-Zee (UK), Dharni (SNG), Heartgray (CAN), KrnFx (CRO), Primitiv (BEL) and Slizzer (LUX); WINNER: Dharni (SNG)

Classical Category
Vocalica (LAT), Jazz & Gospel Company (ITA), Latvian Voices (LAT), Octavians (GER), Himmelstöchter (GER), Cuesta Chamber Singers (USA); WINNER: Latvian Voices (LAT)

Jazz Category
Jazz & Gospel Community (ITA), HiFive (NED), Cuesta Voce (USA), Rave Vocal Band (NED), MayTree (KOR), Juicy Blue, BIT (SLO), Singer Street (HUN), Moment Singers (TWN); WINNER: Singer Street  (HUN); AUDIENCE PRIZE: MayTree (KOR)

Pop Category
Non Stop Vokal (HUN), Latvian Voices (LAT), audio quattro (AUT), Hartmuth und die Hitmaschine (GER), Rave Vocal Band (NED), Quattro Pro (AUT), HiFive (NED), MayTree (KOR), Sonic Suite (GER), muSix (GER), The Boxettes (UK), MICappella (SNG); WINNER: Sonic Suite (GER); AUDIENCE PRIZES: Hartmuth und die Hitmaschine (GER), The Boxettes (UK)

Indra (Sonic Suite) receiving the 1st prize (pop) on stage

Highlights? A great many, I can only name a few: The Latvian Voices, winners of the jazz category teamed up with two beatboxers at the winners’ concert +++ Anders Jalkeus multi-lingual (“Wie sagt man, Matthias?”) co-mceeing with Matthias Becker +++ Reinhard Pongratz‘ (the heart and soul and co-founder of the festival) last time on stage as head of the festival +++ meeting Ray Yl Chu and Christine Liu, the movers and shakers of Asian a cappella +++ two unbelievably groovy, though completely different German vocal acts: loopmachine duo Hartmuth und die Hitmaschine (feat. Berlin sandbox friends Lukas/maybebop and Patrick/muSix) and the phenomenal pop category winners Sonic Suite.

Sonic Suite certainly deserve a special mention: The winner of the pop category made the biggest progress of any a cappella group I’ve ever heard, since I had seen them a few months ago. Congratulations to Tilo Beckmann, the man behind Sonic Suite! Promoters call him now, if you want a top-notch international class, innovative and super-listenable pop a cappella act on your stage. (Go to to book the group).

Servus, Graz. Servus, Reinhard. Danke,

Needless to say that nobody joined me when doing the Vocal Jogs no. 3 & 4…unfortunately I didn’t know that HiFive member Pablo is also a runner, I put him on the list like Sofie (HiFive), Peter Martin Jacob (Magenta), Kate Brown (the new Boxette), Sander Gieling (Rave Vocal Band & Vocal Jazz and Pop Days) and the other potential Vocal Joggers not present in Graz (Tine Fris and Line Groth Riis/Postyr Project), Paul & Barney Smith (VOCES8), Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers)

Can these shoes be wrong, Alyusha Chagrin (The Boxettes)?

I won’t lose faith in you, my friends, I’m looking forward to the day of the first collective singing, drinking AND running event. You won’t disappoint me.

Have you been attending Do you like or dislike competitions? What do you think about competitive music events in general? Do you know other competitions you can recommend? And why that?

You see, this blog needs your feedback, so feel free to use the comment function of Vocal Blog to serve the ultimate purpose of this global a cappella communication baby: Share good ideas about vocal, a cappella and choral music. Thanks for joining the conversation!

A Weekend at the A Cappella Monastery

by Florian Städtler


When I told my friends and family that I planned to stay at a monastery for three days, I got various reactions. Some worried about the state of my relationship, others nodded knowingly assuming that I needed a break from the business grindstone. I had to assure everybody that neither was the case. However, after 15 days of Zelt-Musik-Festival including a fantastic first “Freiburg A Cappella Night”, it was great to get away for a weekend.

And what a weekend it was! The monastery I went to is situated in the middle of nowhere. It consists of wonderful old buildings. It has a gorgeous courtyard with nice acoustics. And for more than 30 years this courtyard has been the venue for the “Klosterkonzerte Maulbronn”, a concert series mainly featuring top classical chamber ensembles. However, this year Jürgen Budday, one of Germany’s leading experts in choral music, presented a small “Vocal Summit”. Starting with Irish-Latvian-US vocal trio White Raven last Thursday, the mini-festival inside the festival presented four more top-notch vocal groups: VOCES8 (UK), Nordic Voices (NOR), The Real Group (SWE) and The King’s Singers.

As Maulbronn is only 90 minutes drive from my hometown Freiburg, I decided to stay in this town (well, village) from Friday night to Monday morning. And that’s how an almost perfect two-and-a-half-days vocal music vacation looks like:

  • Friday: due to super-heavy traffic and an outdated GPS just made it in time for the VOCES8 show, arrival 6 minutes to 8pm. Really enjoyed one of the “most mixed” programmes in the history of a cappella: Gibbons, Byrd, Peggy Lee, Bach, Bond, Monteverdi, Bernstein…and back. Not exactly for purists, daring indeed. Late night dinner with the band and composer/arranger Graham Lack. Most spectacular visits: Dolf Rabus, director of Kammerchorwettbewerb Marktoberdorf who drove 3.5 hours to see VOCES8 and Christian Weiherer, organist and promoter with Memminger Meisterkonzerte, who even drove back a similar distance right after the concert.
  • Saturday: When I got up, VOCES8 were already on the road. With their band van. From Maulbronn to Hardelot, France. Which is only 750kms drive, a distance not really worth mentioning if you look at the frantic tour schedule of these guys. While they were crossing France I went for a two-hours mountain bike ride and returned just in time to film the arrival of The Real Group. They were coming from Bensheim, the place they sang the day before. So this night, there was a sound system in the courtyard and Jan Apelholm started working on the sound sitting under

    "Cocktails for Two"

    an old tree, almost invisible from stage. This fortunately had no effect on his ears, so the sound was fantastic…as was the whole show of the “Swedish vocal music phenomenon”. My personal favourites: “Prime Time Blues” (Anders Edenroth just writes the catchiest hooks ever!) and the second encore, Peder Karlsson‘s “Gota” (Faroer Islands meet Suebian monastery, goosebumps all over…). No time for a proper hangout this time either: The flight back to Stockholm was at 9am, which meant The Real Taxi had to leave at 6am…who wrote this itinerary?

  • Sunday: Rain. Greyness. More rain. Well, a perfect day for doing a bit of paperwork. So I started to work – inspired by the touring groups – on the ultimate booking and tour management system. When my head started to spin, I decided to get some fresh air by going for Vocal Jog No. 2. As in Aarhus, this was a solo project, I’m beginning to wonder when I’ll find the first  volunteer to join me running at a cappella events. The King’s Singers arrived, so did (to my happy surprise!) their business manager Claire Long and so did 800 happy ticket owners. Happy,

    The King's Singers - sold out!

    because they got hold of a ticket for the sold out concert and (very) happy, because miraculously, after a day of constant rainfall, the sky had turned blue. Which was in some way a pity as the promoter gave every listener a raincoat coloured in PINK. I guess the King’s Singers would have had to wear sunglasses to keep themselves from laughing their butts off, had it rained. The concert itself was entitled “Aufforderung zum Tanz” (“Invitation to Dance”) and confirmed the status of complete vocal mastery, the group is known and admired for. Perfect intonation, sophisticated arrangements, a trifle (or two) of British humour and unbelievably good German singing – these are only a few of the things to mention. If you want to hear classically trained singers close to perfection, go see the King’s Singers. And the concert ended early enough to see the second half plus extra time of the women’s world cup final. That’s what I call a perfect weekend.

Good Company :-)



Next stop for Vocal Blog on tour:, Europe’s first and foremost vocal music competition. I’m going to go there with my a cappella nieces The Boxettes. My official nickname by these young ladies: Uncle Flo. Girls, you make me feel so young. See you in Austria!

The Boxettes and Uncle F.

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