The Real Group Festival – Behind the Scenes
Being part of the first festival arranged by the Real Group in Västerås 2008 it was a no-brainer to jump in to the project when Peder Karlsson asked me about it in 2011. The around-the-clock joy and happiness that impregnated the festival in Västerås was about to be reinvented, by keeping the best and then adding everything we so much wanted to do but just couldn’t find the resources to make happen. I didn’t need many seconds to consider the offer!
Last time, the festival had great support from Västmanlandsmusiken, both monetary and with people working on the project. This time around, the festival has moved to Stockholm and is entirely run by the Real Group themselves. This involves the whole group in a substantial way, not only when it comes to being artistic directors and headmasters of the education part of the festival, but actually managing everything from budget and customer support to planning of how to get the right equipment to the right stage at the right time. As the head master of The Real Academy, Peder Karlsson is the project manager backed up by a team consisting of the rest of the Real Group as well as volunteers like me. It’s a lean organization, but constantly growing as the festival shapes up.
Having participated in many amazing festivals through out the years – like the AAVF, the Vocal Jazz Summit and London A Cappella Festival to name a few – I know what I like, and to be part of creating a unique combination of amazing concerts at night and inspiring and educating workshops during daytime together with this great team and with all the wonderful artists that are so supportive of this festival is so worthwhile! And it feels safe to promise, that if you are at all interested in vocal music – either if you are practicing or a listener – the Real Group Festival in Stockholm will be an experience you’ll never forget!
Joakim Skog has been an a cappella aficionado since 2001 when he was one of the founders of the vocal group which today is known as reSOUND. He has been singing in choirs since the age of 10 when he was admitted to the Adolf Fredrik’s Music School. Being a CASA ambassador he has been heavily involved in networking Swedish acappella fans and groups using online forums and blogs but also by arranging acappella concert clubs, etc. During daytime, he works as a Technology Pioneer at Bisnode, a large Swedish business information group , working with IT trend analysis and media monitoring.
Vocal Blog Interview with Peder Karlsson (by Florian Städtler)
The festival’s motto is „Forever curious“. How has this mindset developed from the foundation of The Real Group until today?
I would say this has been an “unspoken motto” for The Real Group since the very beginning. When we began in 1984, very few people could tell us how to sing jazz and pop music a cappella.
The phrasing and articulation we needed to learn was very different from how we were used to sing in choirs. There was a lot of trial and error, as well as hanging out with jazz singers and instrumentalists. We also had the opportunity to meet with some of the greatest a cappella teachers of that time; Ward Swingle, Eric Ericson, Monica Dominique, Svante Thuresson, to name a few.
The same attitude applied to studio work. In 1995 we decided to do a record with original compositions only, and we said this to the record company…before any songs were written. We gave ourselves a deadline and then we started to write new songs. The result was an album called “Original”. Lyrics in Swedish.
In 2000 we made a record called “Commonly Unique” – that marked a very clear difference between live repertoire and arrangements for the records. Again we included our own compositions only. With several songs made at least three versions – first an instrumental demo with lead vocal, then a multi-track a cappella version (for the CD) and then a five-part version for our live concerts. This record took us more than a year to make, and we learned a lot from doing it… things that we could not have anticipated.
Now we’re developing tools for online education – without any prior experience. Again, it has taken a lot of time, and we haven’t really launched any programs until after The Real Group Festival in August. We truly are curious to see how our online projects will develop, and how we can include other people with specific competence and methods for a cappella singing.
This is the second edition of the festival run by The Real Group. One difference compared to the 2008 premiere is the involvement of the The The Real Group’s members.
In 2008 we had a much smaller team; me, Joakim Skog, Kella Naeslund and Jennie Wilhelmsson; the latter two from Västmanlandsmusiken who produced the festival. I made the schedule myself, with assistance from Claes De Geer. The Real Group was involved with the artistic direction; which artists to invite and general ideas about the workshop program.
This time the festival contents cover an even wider span of activities, and it simply would not be possible to do it without the fantastic team we have: The Real Group, me, Joakim Skog (from reSound) , Claes De Geer, Claes Nyberg (Barbercue) , Caroline Berg, Karin Svinhufvud Söremark, Anton Leandersson-Andréas (Vocado), Johan Bjurling (Barbercue), Rikard Förare and Kajsa Thelander. Jeff Meshel and Paul Jay have helped us with the program book. And of course John Jacobson from jvd.se has done all the design work. The festival is in a very flexible state, and I am sure we will include more staff as we the festival approaches.
An event of this size and quality is an enormous investment in money, time and (wo)manpower. Where does the motivation for this big effort come from?
The music. The lovely and fantastic people we know from all over the world who continue to contribute to the development of vocal ensemble music. The urge to make a contribution ourselves. There is healing power in vocal music. And the world could sure use that.
I also would like to mention that apart from external consultants, we do this on a volunteer basis. And our festival program would have been much more difficult to accomplish without support from Swedish government funds. So big thanks to Statens Musikverk who decided to support our vision!
The festival is announced as „maybe the most awesome vocal music event in the world.“ Would you give our readers (and potential visitors) some elements of The Real Group Festival that are truly unique?
There is an unusual level of bonding between artists and participants. This was very clear in the survey results we received after the 2008 festival. Maybe this is because we have a non-competitive policy. Or maybe it has something to do with the indovidual qualities of The Real Group’s singers. This is not only a high-level professional group, but also a very nice group of individuals. And that is a very important factor in creating a festival vibe. You would have to come and be there to see what I mean.
The artists are fantastic. Of course other festivals also have fantastic artists. But I don’t know if there are so many things to hear in other European vocal festivals. You can some as an individual or as a complete group. Or as a choir.
The scope of workshop contents: I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else. Check the program book and let me know what you think!
The program book that is already available online has 119 pages. Can you give us a short overview, which kind of activities are planned and for whom they might be particularly interesting.
Haha, this is not easy for me! We have so many good things planned. Of course you must see the concerts. In the Opening Concert, The Real Group‘s “original line-up” with me and Margareta Bengtson will make a special appearance, before “The Real Real Group” goes on stage, together with Postyr Project, Vocado and Perpetuum Jazzile. On Friday night you have a chance to hear a concert with both Rajaton and Swingle Singers. Two of the absolute top a cappella groups in the world right now. And to Saturday night’s concert, The Real Group has invited a bunch of friends to make a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience. You can download a Workshops Summary from here: http://www.therealacademy.se/mod/resource/view.php?id=1020
A quick summary of some of the workshops:
All Ears – with Anders Edenroth and Katarina Henryson: How to improve your listening skills in order to refine your musical communication.
Anything can happen – with Peder Karlsson: How to expand your ensemble’s range of dynamics and timbres.
Sing with Jens Johansen – Get a taste of the happiness and excitement you get from singing grandiose pop music in a large choir.
Sing with The Real Group – A unique chance to sing Real Group songs (excerpts) together with the very group itself.
Single Singers – Sing together with others who also come to The Real Group Festival on their own or with just a few members of their choir or vocal group. (Created by Annemarie Homan and Emily May ‘t Hoen, this concept has already been very successful at the London A cappella Festival and Jonathan Minkoff’s SingStrong festival, for example.)
Meet Perpetuum Jazzile, Postyr Project, Rajaton, The Swingle Singers – This is a series of workshops where the artist groups sing and talk. With questions from the auditorium. (This activity was very popular in our 2008 festival.)
Rhythm & Groove – with Jim Daus Hjernøe: Tips and tricks and demonstrations of useful tools that develop a collective sense of rhythm and groove.
Inspiring rehearsals for choirs – with Line Groth: How to get a funky groove combined with accurate pitch, beautiful blend and a powerful expression into your choir’s performance. Line Groth is a very accomplished singer, arranger and choir leader. A coming star of a cappella mentorship!
The Real Group History – with Anders Jalkéus: A behind-the-scenes presentation of 27 years of rehearsals, concerts and recordings. (I’ve seen this presentation once, it’s Great! Anders Jalkéus has found audio tracks and videos I don’t think anybody outside of the group has seen or heard. A must-hear/see!)
Passion as a platform for success – with Bostjan Usenik: Boštjan Usenik, Perpetuum Jazzile’s business manager, will tell the true story of how Perpetuum Jazzile made a concrete plan for how to become the most popular vocal group in Slovenia – and became one of the most appreciated artistic forces in their country of any musical style. Now they have their goal set for how to reach out to the rest of the world…
We will have a few activities at The Real Group Academy before the festival, with a focus on: arranging, recording technique and staging. You don’t have to participate in the online classes; it is an option. In any case, we learned in the 2008 festival that these topics require some time to cover properly – the festival is too short. After the festival, we will launch online programs. And sell Skype lessons, of course. Me and Tine Fris (from Postyr project) already give Skype lessons; I teach groups and she teaches individuals.
I have spent a lot of time planning for an online course for vocal groups, that gives you all the basics that you need to develop your vocal ensemble. With specific exercises for rhythm, intonation, blend/tone colours and phrasing. It takes some time to get used to the online format. Groups upload short recordings, and our teachers listen & give feedback in a classroom forum. It works amazingly well. As long as you don’t expect to get the same thing as you can get with a teacher in the same room. But that is what the festival is for!!
Or online courses – on October 20-21, we’re planning a course in Stockholm, with just a few teachers. For singers and vocal groups. Not a very big thing, a lot smaller than the festival; we’ll just sing, practise and have fun together.
Thank you very much, Peder, and good luck for all the preparations that are going on. See you on August 16th-19th in Stockholm!
More information about The Real Group Festival can be found at www.therealacademy.se. Festival passes are available and booking hotels and travel as soon as possible is recommended.