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Artikel Tagged ‘The Boxettes’

SoJam 2011 – A Cappella’s Magic Moments

15. November 2011 7 Kommentare

by Florian Städtler, November 15th 2011

They say that every time you go abroad, you learn something. Mostly about yourself. Because broadening your horizon, coming to know different people with various backgrounds, having to adjust to local customs, food and socializing gives you an additional perspective on what and how you do things “at home”.

For me, who has (except for a one-day trip signing Rockapella in 2005) never travelled the United States, the invitation to the US’ no. 1 a cappella festival, SoJam, was an opportunity to prove the truth of the common knowledge mentioned above.

German Vocal Music Summit at SoJam 2011

However, somehow I had the feeling that I’m going to a place (Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina) where I wouldn’t feel like a complete stranger. And thanks to the Vocal Blog network on Facebook and Twitter I had an amazing welcome. I just couldn’t believe how often I heard the question “Are you Florian?” And this large number of very friendly people from all over the US weren’t even embarrassed every time I was unable to recognize my Facebook friends at first sight. It was fascinating, too, how one common topic, vocal music, made it possible to skip small talk after a very short time. And so I listened, asked questions, asked for feedback and I learnt and learnt and learnt…

…that Americans think the European scene is way ahead regarding quality and artistry

…that the Europeans envy the US for their rich collegiate a cappella culture and the natural talent of entertainment

…that a three-days festival like SoJam can be run on a 100% professional level mostly by volunteers

Tom Keyes, Stefanie Chase, Florian Städtler, Bill Hare, Dave Sperandio, Joan Hare

…that such a team of volunteers can include a wild mix of age, musical background, home  towns, talent and tempers

…that as we know it from the European community, this diverse group of people seems to  be held together by a general mindset of openness, positivity and camaraderie (my term for  that phenomenon: “a cappella glue”)

…that CASA (The Contemporary A Cappella Society) has developed a fantastic portfolio of  valuable services and hands-on offers for their fast growing membership

…that it’s very clever to not make a festival the biggest, but the one with the best atmosphere  even if that means limiting tickets and festival passes

Little Beatboxer Gabriel meeting The Boxettes

…that women are coming on oh-so-strong in contemporary a cappella, with The Boxettes at  the pro showcase (opening for Naturally7), three out of six collegiate competitors being  all-female groups and Musae as another pro all-female act that had nothing to do with the cliché of the nice but slighty boring vocal girl group, which has by now become a cliché of  the past

…that festivals have the same importance in the US as they have in the whole world: They  produce both the all-important face-to-face, community-building encounters and the stellar moments like the SoJam Saturday night concert featuring Naturally7 and The Boxettes: The  final piece that found 12 fantastic vocal music virtuosos dancing caused a scary eruption of ovations by 950 mesmerized attendants – these are those moments that we will be talking of for years.

…that festivals gain intensity by resident guests that are involved both in concerts, workshops and panels. Great job by Kurt Walker who managed to have both The Boxettes and N7 around during most time of the festival. This reminded me of the magic spread by Bobby McFerrin’s presence at the Aarhus Vocal Music Festival, May 2011. It’s the sheer presence of such luminaries that motivates and inspires the participants

…that – on days of jetlag, little sleep and the occasional hangover – it’s as hard as in Europe to  find a running partner. That didn’t keep me from going out for two Vocal Jogs around Raleigh. Almost run over by a pick-up truck who didn’t see the necessity of stopping for a single  Vocal Jogger (see above: foreign habits), it was wonderful to see a bit of the city and the  surrounding forests.

3 Men - 1 Mission: To add Clare Wheeler to this party!

…that Christopher Diaz and Dave Brown ( podcast) are as cool and funny as in their show. And that I’m now owing two Acappellazone “Eat.Sleep.Sing” t-shirts. Boys, those shirts are on their way to the So & Jam of contemporary a cappella!

…that there could be no better studio setting than festival founder Dave Sperandio‘s garage for a great session of about 15 video greetings summing up this year’s festival,

…that even a seasoned festival traveller can be completely stunned by the quality and deepness of a clinic: Ben Stevens (dayjob: professor of literature) thrilled his students with his cult lecture “Essential Listening”. The core message: Listening should become a pro-active core competence. Because if we treat it like that, listening can truly enrich our lives. Ben, this is wonderful and so was your presentation.

I could go on and on and on, but I’d rather keep some of these wonderful impressions and write more about in further posts. Before I do that, I would love to hear what YOUR “take-home messages” of SoJam 2011 were – let’s share them here on the blog!

Florian Städtler, owner of SpielPlanVier is a booking agent and a corporate event planner based in Freiburg, Germany. He started his “global vocal music communication baby”, the Vocal Blog in 2009 and is member of the core team that works on the foundation of the European Voices Association (EVA). 2011 was is first – and very probably not his last time – to learn from his wonderful American friends. Hope to see many of you at London A Cappella Festival 2012, see next post!

SoJam inside: Mark Hines talks.

30. September 2011 Keine Kommentare

SoJam A cappella Festival’s executive producer Mark Hines interviewed by Florian Städtler

Even with The Sing-off getting a lot of attention from both mainstream media and the aca-blogosphere, one question can be heard more often and more loudly: “Isn’t it November yet?” As a synonym for “CAN NOT WAIT!” this phrase tells us: Something big is going to happen on November 11-13 in Durham, North Carolina. An event that causes excitement all over the vocal music scene of the USA. And as I will have the privilege to join my US friends at THE USA’s a cappella festival highlight, I thought I had to speak to the head of the team that makes SoJam possible: Mark Hines, the festival’s executive producer.

VB: Great to have one of the true movers and shakers of US a cappella on the phone. Hi Mark, where are you right now?

Mark Hines: I’m here at SoJam Productions in North Carolina and we just had a conference call with the festival team. And all looks pretty good: The classes are set, tickets sales are coming in and it looks as if we might be sold out again this year which would mean record attendance.

VB: That sounds fantastic. But before talking about all the great things ahead in Durham, NC, we would like to learn a bit more about our interviewee. Who is Mark Hines and what does he do besides SoJam?

Mark Hines: Well, right now I don’t  feel that I’m doing much anything besides SoJam (laughs). I actually work a full-time job with a good friend of mine doing home audio and video productions and I’m also an a cappella music producer with Vocal Company and Nick Lyons – so there’s a lot of work to do right now.

VB: Probably 80-hour weeks for you, with the festival coming up. You are the festival’s executive producer – what does this practically mean, what is your job in the SoJam team?

Mark Hines: The festival is run through approximately hundred google documents, which are the starting point for many of our activities. What I actually do – for example in our phone calls – is to steer the boat, set up the itinerary for the conference call and then have lead the discussion with members like Kristin LoBiondo, Jennifer Fiduccia, Ben Stevens, Dave Sperandio. Of course we have everyone talk about where we are and adress the issues that we talked about the week before – we basically make sure that we’re all on the same page.

VB: CASA, the Contemporary A Cappella Society seems to play a big role in the development of the community in general and the festival in particular. How important is CASA for SoJam?

Mark Hines: CASA is extremely important for SoJam and the community. I would say, that CASA is certainly the reason that SoJam is at the level it is today. We started SoJam with the AACI, The Alliance for A Cappella Initiatives,  but joined forces with CASA in 2008. Since then CASA has such a thorough reach and all kinds of ressources that we weren’t accustomed to.

VB: From the external perspective it is really amazing that according to all sources, the whole SoJam team consists of volunteers. How can this work out resulting in a line-up and workshop programme of that quality?

Mark Hines: You know, that’s a really good question…I’m not really sure what it is that drives us. We just love what we do and it’s so great to see all these people come and interact with the stars of the a cappella scene. It’s fun and it’s exciting, it’s just that thrill that makes us all come together and live a weekend of our a cappella dreams.

VB: Let’s have a look at the festival’s programme. What’s new and what’s special about SoJam 2011?

Mark Hines: Mmh, new and special. Let’s start with The Boxettes: We think they are really special and we are very excited to have them this year. From a curricular standpoint, we have so many courses, e.g. vocal percussion, how to act on stage and the whole festival just gets bigger and bigger and better. We have a new technical producer we’re really excited about, the sound system should be pretty awesome. Bringing back Naturally 7 I guess is not new but for sure it’s exciting. And of course we have some new things that I can’t speak of yet…some suprises for the SoJam fans.

VB: For those who don’t have tickets yet, can you sum up the most important reasons to come to SoJam?

Mark Hines: Why you should go to SoJam? Well, I would say in the US it is the quintessential a cappella festival: We kind of borrowed good things from festivals of the past, put all the good things together and that’s how we got this unique festival. For tickets, go to and note that most of the tickets both for concerts and workshops are limited, we only have limited space in the venues and tickets will certainly sell out in the next two to three weeks.

VB: So people of the US of A (and of course from elsewhere in the world, too), go to the SoJam website and book your trip to the festival. Mark, is there anything that you want to tell our readers, something the a cappella world should know about your festival?

Mark Hines: There would be so many thing to say – it’s hard to put my finger on just one thing. If you’re reading this and are interested in helping out, getting involved and being a part of this absolutely amazing festival team that we have here at CASA, feel free to contact me or anyone in the SoJam team. And of course, we at CASA got a lot of other cool festivals coming up, too: We got one in L.A., we got one in Boston – festivals are sprouting up so we are happy to get in touch with people who want to help us out organising these events.

VB: Mark, thank you very much for taking the time – great having you! I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person in less than 7 weeks from now.

Do you want to learn more about one of the greatest a cappella festivals on earth? Then go to or even better go to Durham in November. You can be pretty sure to meet the most exciting bunch of a cappella enthusiasts you can imagine. And I would be happy to meet you there in person – just let me know that you are coming and when to meet up via Facebook or Twitter. C U @ SoJam!

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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!

Naturally Boxettes

18. März 2011 2 Kommentare

by Florian Städtler

This story begins in the middle of 2010. On our way to another European a cappella network meeting, Tobias Hug (Black Forest-raised & London-based bass with The Swingle Singers) told me of a new all-female vocal group he discovered in London.

OK, this pic does NOT show the band, but four Swingle Singers (Tobi’s the one on the right) with an unknown die-hard fan.

Where was I…ah yes…Tobi, the world’s greatest vocal and a cappella networker and also a highly talented scout told me of Bellatrix, the female beatbox world champion.

This video of Belle Ehresmann, Guildhall doublebass student, has gone viral quite a while ago. But Belle is not only a human beatbox and lipbuzz virtuoso, Tobi told me. She put together a five-piece all-female, vocal beatbox group. “You’d better check out these insanely talented girls before someone else does”, that’s what Mr. Hug told me. But I was busy as always and already taking care of booking for five international a cappella top acts, so I just didn’t manage to follow up right away.

But my old choir buddy Tobi can be persistent if he really thinks that something is worth being like that. And so he kept me updated on a regular basis until I searched the web, found rough, but fascinating videos of The Boxettes and was finally hit by their sensational video single “Free” . That was – if I remember it right – in the beginning of January, and I had decided much earlier to do two things: See and meet the group at the London A Cappella Festival (12-15th of January) and bring them to Germany’s top showcase events, the Kulturbörse Freiburg.

To make a long story short, it was a great night at King’s Place: Neo, Alyusha, Harriet, Yvette and Bellatrix are young, sexy, charismatic (despite their age) and most importantly: truly talented and musically original. We have nothing like this in the EU. Nor in the States. Probably not in Asia, Australia either. Well, to be honest, their show is far from being perfect. This group is a raw diamond yet. But the singers are 100% authentic and there is only two ways that you can leave a Boxettes concert: Confused because this doesn’t fit into your world of vocal and a cappella music. Or enthusiastic that there is a band that seems to bring a whole new groove and sound to this art form.  I generally love artists who make at least 20% of the audience look like living question marks and shake their heads in doubt and disbelief. Because these are the same bands that make 80% of the people dance and bang their heads in pure joy. That’s what the Boxettes will soon be doing to many more people all around the world. And probably/hopefully they will reach a much broader, pop audience.

Naturally7 live on stage

Speaking of a vocal group aiming at a mainstream pop audience, there’s one group that has been going that way for years and is probably today’s most successfull vocal group: Naturally 7, led by vocal music mastermind Roger Thomas. What happened after my London A Cappella encounter with The Boxettes (+ The Swingle Singers, The Real Group, Witloof Bay and many more aca-people from all over Europe), is a kind of fairy tale. Or maybe a science fiction. Yes, it reminds of the incredible space ship “Heart of Gold” in Douglas Adams’ cult novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The engine of the ship is based on a technology called “The Infinite Improbability Drive”, which makes it possible to cover unbelievable distances in no time. But it has a second effect. On their journey from the place where the Earth used to be (before it was destroyed to build a hyperspace byway…) to “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, the most improbable, unbelievable and mind-boggling things happen.

Why am I telling you that? Well, read on what happened.

When we were checking our diaries to make The Boxettes’ continental premiere happening, I discovered, that on the two days before the Freiburg showcase, Naturally 7 had two gigs very close to Freiburg. When I told Tobi about that, he acted very quickly. Of course he and Roger Thomas met before (there’s a video on YouTube with N7 singing a song backstage at a Michael Bublé show at the O2 in London – the The Swingle Singers being their audience) and so Tobi tried to get in touch with Roger right away. But nothing happened for 5 or 6 days. We had to book flights as they became more expensive every day…and right after we had booked the air tickets from London to Basel/Freiburg Tobi forwarded me THE E-MAIL. It said: “The girls can do a half-hour show at Denzlingen and Stuttgart opening for N7.” Well, rarely did I change flights so happily…

Naturally7 & The Boxettes, Stuttgart/GER

The rest, they say, is history: The Boxettes flew into Basel, met the boys and more than warmed-up the Denzlingen crowd. After the show we celebrated Roger’s birthday with a very special birthday cake (no alcohol, no nuts) served by the ultimate N7 fans Vera Yu and @Laydee_Tea who probably saw their 693rd show of Roger and the boys. On the next day I had the pleasure to be the band bus driver to Stuttgart where the girls rocked the sold-out house and jammed with Roger backstage before saying Farewell around midnight. We arrived in Freiburg around 4 am, knackered but happy. Find many more pics and a backstage video of the Naturally Boxettes meeting at the Vocal Blog Facebook group. And be sure to check out the blog post Roger Thomas dedicated to The Boxettes shortly after the two shows in Germany.

Finally the group had the opportunity to present their show at the Kulturbörse Freiburg in the 1st A Cappella Special presented by SpielPlanVier and magenta concerts. The triple showcase featured Freiburg local heroes Acoustic Instinct, a beatbox-impro-comedy duo, The Boxettes and Dutch a cappella comedy pop act, iNtrmzzo (currently participating in the Dutch version of The Sing-Off). What a night! The house was packed, the stage looked great and the audience was enthusiastic how different and colourful contemporary a cappella can be. It goes without saying that this all ended up in a nice little Dutch-German-British after show party.

On our way home we were so hungry that we stopped at the nearest fast food restaurant and when we had eaten, we realized that the girl’s wireless equipment was gone…you should have seen Trevor’s face at that particular moment. But two phone calls and a friendly chat with a Freiburg cab driver later made him all smiles. All the stuff was found and returned, which meant that The Boxettes weren’t broke before their career took off.

And that’s  the end of this first chapter of my Boxettes story – great stuff (quote Neo)! And thanks so much, Tobi, for keep pushing me. Let’s keep pushing vocal music to ever new areas and helping talents like Neo, Yvette, Belle, Alyusha and Rhiannon to  get on with their careers.

Have you seen The Boxettes live? What do you think makes them special? Would you call their music a cappella at all?

Let me know what you think, I’m looking forward to your comments!