Performing A cappella Is Way Easier Than Judging It

Last weekend, I had the honor of judging one of the Varsity Vocals ICCA events in Rochester, New York. It was a quarterfinal competition pitting nine groups from around New York State against one another for two spots in the Mid-Atlantic semifinals and a host of individual awards. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in a cappella music.

When I was performing a cappella, I had just a few things to worry about. My part was generally memorized to the point where I didn’t have to think about it too much and my ears could hear the other singers just fine for tuning and blend. The main thing I had to worry about was choreography and entertaining the audience – something that never came naturally for me as a performer.

As a judge I had to listen to soloists, pick up on arrangements and balance, watch choreography and facial expression, and listen for that all-important intonation as I was writing comments. That’s a lot to do during a group’s 12-minute set and especially hard to do after eight other groups and at 10:30 at night.

The most difficult part for me was listening to the balance. As an audience member, I like to let songs play out in my ears. Deconstructing songs as they are happening takes work and it’s something I only normally do in front of my own choir. It’s easy to pick out when a soloist is off or someone’s not selling the visual cues to the audience but the balance can fluctuate between sections and it isn’t a mistake that is readily apparent unless you’re searching it out.

To make matters even more hectic, we began scoring the group while they were still performing and finished during the short introductions for the next group. To say the timeline was compressed is an understatement. There were sixteen categories we rated on numeric scales in those two minutes or so. In addition to the group numbers, we charted the best soloists, vocal percussion, choreography, and arrangement.

Here is the complete list of groups I saw in alphabetical order:
Eight Beat Measure | Rochester Institute of Technology
Encore | Rochester Institute of Technology
Main Squeeze | Syracuse University
Otto Tunes | Syracuse University
The Buffalo Chips | University at Buffalo
•The Chordials | Cornell University
The Class Notes | Cornell University
The Macaulay Triplets | Macaulay Honors College at CUNY
The Mandarins | Syracuse University

Results and Awards
1st Place: The Chordials
2nd Place: Eight Beat Measure
Outstanding Soloist, Male: Jay Grollman of the Chordials for “Lies”
Outstanding Soloist, Female: Kristy Timms of the Macaulay Triplets for “Feelin Good”
Outstanding Vocal Percussion, Male: Shawn Falzone of Eight Beat Measure
Outstanding Vocal Percussion, Female: Heather Newkirk of Main Squeeze

I won’t get into the specifics about what was talked about in the judges room. I will tell you I think the two groups that eventually moved on were the two best groups that night. That’s obviously my opinion but one shared by the other judges enough where the numbers said they advance.

The night was hectic but worth it. Groups gave their all vocally and in their choreography. It was a great night to be a fan of a cappella music. Good luck to all the groups as they move on to the semi-finals and go back to their campuses.

2013- Get Excited

After last week’s recap of all things a cappella in 2012, I started getting excited about things to come in the a cappella world for 2013. I’ve done a little research, some secret conversations, and yes, a little speculating, to put together your very early guide to 2013.

To begin with, let’s talk about albums. For many/most of us, the vast majority of our a cappella consumerism occurs through purchasing and listening to recorded music, with occasional attendance at a live concert or festival (see below).  2013 is going to be chock full of new music for us to get our grubby little hands on.  Check out some of the artists who plan to release EPs or albums this year:

Straight No Chaser– If you didn’t know this already, SNC fans (“Chasers”) are rabid, excitable, and supportive (see the comments for my 2012 recap post). They are also incredibly helpful and generous of spirit. They have informed me that SNC has a new album, called “Under the Influence,” which is due to be released on May 7. Oh, and the group worked with Mervyn Warren and Mark Kibble (Take 6) on it. No big deal. #WHATISHAPPENING

Street Corner Symphony– The runners-up from Season 2 of The Sing Off are getting ready to release their second album, one which features all (or mostly) original songs written by group members, and which featured heavy involvement from Deke Sharon and Bill Hare. This was the first video released from this album. Count me in. Announcement on a release date coming soon.

The House Jacks– Since they released “Level” in 2010, the group has replaced everyone other than Deke Sharon and Austin Willacy. New album with the new lineup coming this year. I have been told there will be an EP released in China this spring (hopefully) followed by a full album for release everywhere else.

Sonos– The a cappella world has been anxiously awaiting a new Sonos album for more than 2 years. That wait is about to end. The new album, currently untitled (or at least title unknown) is going to feature all original music from the group, possibly as many as 15 songs. They will preview/premier tracks from this album at the Essential Listening workshop at Los Angeles A Cappella Festival in a few weeks, so if you are in the same time zone (give or take a time zone), you know where to be on Saturday, Feb. 2.

Transit– Back in 2007, Transit released a 7-song album which won a few awards (Best Pop/Rock Album CARA, for example) and which is still one of the best contemporary albums released in the past 10 years. Well, they’ve been working long and hard on a new album, and it’s coming in 2013. The album is in post-production now, and we’ll likely be hearing a lot more about it soon. The group has some other exciting plans for 2013 as well.

Blue Jupiter– Last year, Blue Jupiter released this promo video. This year, they’re a bit more ambitious. In fact, they will be releasing “something” which could range anywhere from a single album, double album, two separate albums, or even an all-digital collection of 20-30 songs. Wow.

The Exchange– Remember this? Yeah, these guys have been hard at work on their debut album, which is scheduled as of now to be released at The London A Cappella Festival on January 24-26. For now, you can listen to a few of the tracks here.

Rockapella– One of the longest-standing contemporary a cappella groups, Rockapella changed it up recently with their “Motown and More” show. The new album is coming in early 2013- will it follow the format of the new show? We’ll find out soon enough.

MICappella– The runners up to The Sing Off China are in the studio working on a new full-length album to follow their EP released in 2011. They have been working with Tom Anderson on arrangements, and Bill Hare, Tat Tong, Dave Sperandio, Freddie Feldman as well as Plaid Productions. It is tentatively scheduled to be released in March.

The Swingle Singers– Rumor has it the Swingles are getting close to releasing a brand new album. Perhaps they worked with Bill Hare last summer?

The Boxettes– Though it is still a work in progress, The Boxettes have been in the studio to work on a new EP. They’re raising money here (go ahead, kick in a few bucks…you know you want to) and we can all hope they get a release out in 2013.

The Edge Effect– These guys “neither refuse, nor require instruments” according to the video on their successfully-funded Kickstarter video.  Basically, they are a vocal band but are including some instruments on their new album, which should be released this year. The project will include a contribution from Marc Broussard. You know, like you do when you release a new album…

Voices Only Forte II– Last year, Voices Only released the first compilation of all non-scholastic, global a cappella music that I’ve seen, and it was good. I served as a nominator for this sequel, which is due to be announced and released very soon, and I can tell you- there’s some music on here that will blow your mind, and a lot of it comes from groups/performers you’ve probably never heard of.

I’m sure there are more releases planned, but this was the best I could come up with after a few days of research and communications. If you know of another exciting album coming out, drop it in the comments section or send me an email at dave@acatribe.com.

Festivals: There are a few new festivals and changes to existing festivals worth mentioning-

Texas A Cappella Celebration– In case you hadn’t heard, CASA is expanding its festival range to the Lone Star State. Not much info on this yet other than that it’s happening on March 9, 2013, in San Antonio.

SingStrong– This annual festival, the proceeds of which largely benefit Alzheimer’s research and local choral programs, has reproduced! In 2013, there will be 2 festivals, including the regular one in Reston, VA (near D.C.) on March 1-3 and the new one in Chicago, IL on March 22-24. No other details yet.

Camp A Cappella– What do you think about spending a week with The House Jacks, learning about a cappella music, singing, performing, recording, all on a college campus in OH? Hold on, it’s not for everybody. This new camp, put together by Deke Sharon and Brody McDonald is only for teens this year, but if it goes well, who knows what the future could hold.

Festival of Voices-this longstanding choral festival in Tasmania (!) is introducing a new contemporary a cappella track headed by Mr. Deke Sharon. The festival will be July 7-14.

Mile High Vocal Jam– This Rocky mountain festival returns after a 2012 hiatus on Feb. 15-16 with Urban Method and Musae performing, and members of Take 6 judging and running clinics.

* I have been involved in the very early stages of planning with Marc Silverberg for a possible a cappella festival devoted to vocal music in schools in Long Island, New York. We are looking for help with planning and logistics, as well as talent and volunteers, so please email us at liacappellafestival@gmail.com.

And for updated info on all the regular festivals, check back at the global Festival List very soon.

Other:

***Mouth Off– Ok, this is arguably BREAKING NEWS, so I could probably have placed it a lot higher in the post. I have confirmed with Christopher Diaz that Mouth Off will be returning in 2013! We can all look for some public announcements in the next month or so, and then a gradual build-up towards a full return sometime this spring. There may be some changes, and we’ll all have to wait and see what those are, but still- Mouth Off will be back!

Vocal Blog– Florian Städtler has started a very interesting new series of “Big Questions” about a cappella music. The first two posts are here and here.  He hopes/plans to get a lot of the questions answered by spring 2013. He also hopes/plans to make Acappellazone the primary resource for all things a cappella in the EU.

RARB– I can’t tell you much, but I think Mr. Dietz teased some suggestions about changes coming to  the Recorded A Cappella Review Board here.

Ben Spalding is working on a new book about Varsity Vocals which will be released late in the year. There will be chapters about all aspects of the competition process, from application videos to what to wear in performance and how to use sound reinforcement equipment, and a few chapters will be written by some very well known people in the a cappella community.

The Tufts Beelzebubs are celebrating 50 years of existence with a concert February 7 featuring alums including Guster, Peter Gallagher, and The House Jacks.

This is not strictly a cappella, but Claude McKnight (again from Take 6) has a new Kickstarter campaign to create a DVD or show dealing with how groups handle working together over time, and the pilot episode will feature Take 6 as the subjects.

Rumors:

Did you hear that they are making another season of The Sing Off in the U.S.? Another one somewhere outside the U.S.? Did you hear that they’re working on Pitch Perfect 2? Yeah, I heard all of these rumors as well. None is confirmed, and that’s coming from someone who would be connected to all such projects (if you can’t guess who, your contemporary a cappella card is hereby revoked).

Pentatonix is working on a new EP/album! Or not. This has been suggested all over social media, but is not confirmed by anyone. Considering they put out TWO last year, it would not be surprising. Also, they seem to be constantly working on touring, YouTube vids, etc., so they clearly have a lot of energy and desire to continually make music. We can certainly keep our fingers crossed.

So…looks to me like 2013 is gonna be another leap forward for a cappella. What else is coming our way? If you have some news, drop it in the comments or send me an email. I’ll be doing an update next week on some changes coming to the blog in 2013, but for now- get back to work so you can save some money for these new albums!

—-UPDATES (1/13/13)

Traces are close to releasing their debut album, which includes collaborations with Tom Anderson, Marty Gasper, Alex Green, and James Cannon.

Postyr Project will be releasing a new single next week, and a “reloaded album with 5 new songs” hopefully in March.

Texas A Cappella Celebration has launched a new website and announced headliners Delilah and Overboard.

Rockapella’s new album will feature music from their Motown and More show, as well as related music such as the Jackson 5 and others.

2012- The Year in A Cappella

2012- my first full calendar year with the blog. A lot of new a cappella adventures for me personally, but also for the a cappella world in general.

Let’s begin with the 2 best stories of the year in a cappella:

1) Pentatonix blew up, y’all. If you thought Straight No Chaser was the group most likely to bring a cappella to the biggest chunk of the public, you were wrong. While SNC has peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, Pentatonix surpassed that mark in 2012, landing as high as number 14, number 5 in overall digital album sales, and number 2 for independent albums. Then, approximately 5 months later, their Christmas EP hit #45 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, with peaks at number 5 for independent album and number 8 for holiday album. In the past few months, they’ve made appearances on the Tonight Show, the Katie Couric show, and the Talk, among other shows. They’ve also toured all over the country. Did I mention their YouTube channel has over 42 million– MILLION— views.

So, congratulations to Pentatonix for finally, unequivocally, and with appropriate humility and sense of self, breaking a cappella music into a new tier of mainstream success. Plus, they put out great YouTube videos at a surprisingly robust rate.

2) Remember when Mickey Rapkin wrote a book called Pitch Perfect, and the nerdiest of the a cappella nerds (myself included) rushed out to buy it and then enjoyed it, but were not necessarily blown away? Yeah. That book has been erased by the movie of the same name. A movie which took in over $5 million in its limited release opening weekend in the U.S. A movie which, as of today, has grossed more than $64 million at the box office in the United States and another $20 million abroad (according to Box Office Mojo).  Oh, and it was nominated for the “Favorite Comedic Movie” People’s Choice Award, Rebel Wilson was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy by the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, it got a very respectable 80% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (compilation of movie reviews from a variety of sources), and there’s talk of a sequel. Did I mention the soundtrack hit number 1 on the Billboard Soundtrack chart?

There’s a slew of Pitch Perfect content on CASA which is worth checking out, seeing as how it was written by people who love a cappella music as much as you do.

Congratulations are certainly in order to producers Elizabeth Banks and Paul Brooks, director Jason Moore, screenwriter Kay Cannon, and especially to our own aca community members, and film music staff, Deke Sharon, Ed Boyer, and Ben Bram. By the way, if podcasts are your thing and you’re missing a cappella content on the pod-web-tubes (see my later comments), there was an interview with Ms. Cannon (the screenwriter) which you can check out here.

Other Noteworthy (not the group) Stuff in 2012

Books– There were a number of a cappella books released in 2012 which are worth checking out. The most important one, which I am still working my way through, is one which most arrangers should consider a necessary addition to their collection. A Cappella Arranging, written by Deke Sharon and Dylan Bell, is a true textbook on the art and science of arranging for contemporary a cappella, and it is written in a thoughtful, accessible, and fun way with examples and diagrams. I’m sure it is available from numerous online outlets, but I bought mine here. It is a terrific value and worthwhile investment.

Other books worth checking out (and which I have purchased, but not yet read) include Brody McDonald’s “A Cappella Pop” and “The A Cappella Book” by Mike Chin and Mike Scalise of the A Cappella Blog. And if you still haven’t read “AcaPolitics” by Stephen Harrison, you should pick that up as well. It is the first, and to my knowledge only, fictional book about the collegiate a cappella scene and it does resemble the Pitch Perfect movie (which it predated).

Festivals– As the global a cappella community becomes more connected, the number of festivals across the world have grown. Here in the U.S., CASA introduced 2 new (or revamped) major festivals, BOSS (Boston Sings) and Acappellafest (Chicago) which were, by all accounts, very successful. Other festivals of note occurred in Toronto, London, Sweden, Australia, and Taiwan, among many other places. An international collaboration between myself and Florian Städtler resulted in this list of as many international festivals as we could compile for the year. We hope to get updates going for 2013 soon.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARAs), issued each year by the Contemporary A Cappella Society, were announced in a live ceremony at this year’s Boston Sings festival, and it appears CASA intends to do the same in 2013.

SoJam celebrated its 10th anniversary with an all-star concert featuring Fork, Pentatonix, and the Edge Effect, among others.

Sing Strong announced that it will feature not one, but two festivals in 2013, one each in Washington D.C. and Chicago.

Web– There were a number of new blogs and other web resources devoted to a cappella music, including:

http://www.reddit.com/r/acappella/

http://www.acafeed.com/

http://acappellaquest.blogspot.com/

http://lovedeacapella.wordpress.com

There was the controversial list of the “coolest” people in a cappella generated by the A Cappella Blog, and a number of streaming a cappella performances including, on the same weekend, one from the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival and one from Denmark by Postyr Project (my takes on these here and here, respectively), in April, the House Jacks’ 20th anniversary concert, and then SoJam X in November.

Groups

At one point, Overboard was a group of guys from the Boston area who did a series of free songs every Friday for a year, who released a brilliant compilation of Beatles tunes reimagined to tell a story, you know- a group with a startling lack of vision (heavy dose of sarcasm). In 2012, the members of that group were everywhere. First (and to be fair, it was late 2011), founder Nick Girard joined The House Jacks to cover both VP and tenor (and a few other parts in their live show). Because, you know, that’s totally doable. Then,  a group called Blueprint, featuring OB members Alfredo Austin, Jeff Eames, and Caleb Wheldon dropped an acabomb at BOSS, followed by a stunning 5-song EP which yielded a track (“Sweeter”) for SING 9.  Not too bad.

Later in the year, the talented Mr. Austin joined a new group called The Exchange, joining with established a cappella singers and personalities like Christopher Diaz, Richard Steighner, and Aaron Sperber. This group toured the world, released a number of videos with varying levels of silliness, from this to this to this.

Lastly, Overboard itself tried some new things, with the permanent addition of Eric Morrissey to replace Jeff Eames, and the temporary/permanent(?) addition for many gigs of Johanna Vinson (of Divisi, Delilah, and Musae) and Donovan Davis.

Talented jazz-y group Simply Put called it quits, Duwende said goodbye to an original (and very talented) member, Ari Picker, and Dan Ponce (founder of Straight No Chaser) helped produce a new group called Gentleman’s Rule. Musae released their debut album, as did The Executive Board.

The Swingle Singers said goodbye to longtime bass Tobias Hug (11 years), and welcomed new bass Edward Randell.

Misc.

The Sing Off China was a thing. There were a series of excellent blog posts following it here.

Sled Dog Studios held 2 separate production workshops, called Next Level, which featured talented instructors including Dave Longo, Tom Anderson, James Cannon, Tat Tong, Chris Crawford, Dave Sperandio, and Ben Stevens.

The ICCA’s have added a new region, the Great Lakes Region, and ICHSA added 2 new semifinals. The SoCal VoCals won ICCA’s for an astounding third time, and Vocal Rush from Oakland School for the Arts.

Six Appeal won the 2012 Harmony Sweepstakes. They will be performing the national anthem at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2013.

Emerald City Productions released a benefit a cappella album for kids called “Sing Me a Song,” the proceeds of which go to organizations devoted to Cerebral Palsy research. The album features a cappella superstars like Nota, Overboard, Cluster, Rajaton, Peter Hollens, Postyr Project, and others. There’s some great insight about the project from Danny Ozment here, and I can tell you that my kids (ages 4 and 20 mo) love the album.

Voices Only Forte, a compilation of non-scholastic a cappella music from all over the world, was released. Corey Slutsky from Voices Only also put together this benefit track, the proceeds of which benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

At the end of the year, CASA President Julia Hoffman stepped down, and she will be replaced at the helm by Tom Anderson in 2013.

The Worst of 2012

Sadly, members of the Persuasions (Jesse “Sweet Joe” Russell), the Penguins (Cleve Duncan), the Cadillacs (Earl Carroll), the McGuire Sisters (Dorothy McGuire), and (Dion and) the Belmonts (Fred Milano) all passed away. These groups were critical to the history of modern a cappella music.

On a far less tragic, but still disappointing, note the Mouth Off podcast apparently went on an indefinite and stealthy hiatus. It’s hard to say exactly what happened, because there didn’t appear to be much explanation via Twitter, Facebook, etc., but presumably it was related to Christopher Diaz being extraordinarily busy traveling and touring the world with various groups and to various festivals.

My 2012 in a cappella

– I became a reviewer for RARB

– I wrote a few pieces for CASA (herehere, here)

– I attended my second a cappella festival, the very first Boston Sings (BOSS)

– I began the Spotlight series on this blog and got to interview some terrific producers and performers.

– I got to meet some really great people in the a cappella community, something I hope to do a lot more of in 2013.

I’m sure there was a ton of other newsworthy content which happened in 2012. Feel free to leave me some reminders or jabs in the comments section.

Happy New Year to everyone, and here’s hoping to bigger and better things for a cappella music in 2013!

Boston Sings (and Swings)

As I referenced in this week’s AcaVids segment and on Twitter, I was lucky enough to attend the Boston Sings (“BOSS”) festival, sponsored by CASA and Sled Dog Studios, this past weekend.  I am not looking to do a critical analysis of the festival, nor am I interested in provided a detailed accounting of every workshop and event I attended. Instead, I just wanted to give you all a snapshot of what a festival like this offers, along with a few opinions dropped in for context.

This was my second CASA-sponsored a cappella festival, the first being last year’s VoCALnation in New York, New York. I enjoyed that festival, which was focused generally on the formation and sustenance of Contemporary A Cappella League (“CAL”) groups, despite the fact that I was not in such a group, because it gave me an opportunity to see a terrific arranging workshop (with Nick Girard, Tom Anderson, Clare Wheeler, Christopher Diaz, and Amanda Aldag) and an informal and interesting VP panel with Jeff Thacher (Rockapella) and Ed Chung (Duwende). And perhaps best of all, the Saturday night concert last year featured Euphonism, Duwende and the Swingle Singers, so it was one of the better a cappella concerts I’ve seen in many years.

Instead of focusing on CAL groups, BOSS had at least a nominal emphasis on engineering and sound production in a cappella music. Two of the workshops I attended were focused on one of those topics. The first, run by the guys from Plaid Productions, was called “Beyond Basic Engineering” and featured discussion on detailed techniques for using Pro Tools and Melodyne for recording and editing purposes. It was an informative and enjoyable workshop, made all the more so by the presence of producer/engineer Bill Hare, who chimed in on a few relevant topics. He was also part of the panel in a later workshop which I attended and which also featured many of the most accomplished and relevant producers and engineers in the American a cappella community (including the Alexes from Plaid Productions, Bill Hare, Dave Sperandio, James Cannon, James Gammon, Ed Boyer, Angela Ugolini…am I forgetting anyone?).  This workshop (“Back That Track Up”) featured discussions on how to get the best out of a group in the studio, how to record and edit vp tracks, and quite a few other interesting topics.

At BOSS, there were 4 simultaneous workshops occurring during each time slot throughout Saturday and part of Sunday, so I was clearly unable to attend the majority of the workshops offered. There were masterclasses (including one with Cadence), panels on VP, women in a cappella, business/fundraising practices, the future of arranging/learning music, the essentials of listening, and many others which looked interesting. The broad spectrum of topics is why I previously commented that the focus of the festival was “nominally” on recording and production techniques, because really there were workshops addressing a huge array of a cappella topics.

Another feature of the festival which kept things entertaining was the presence of “Acabombs,” a practice which I believe started with last Fall’s SoJam festival.  The idea was that the event organizers arranged for a cappella groups to perform during half-hour windows intentionally inserted between each period of workshops.  One of these groups was a pick-up group which featured volunteer singers comprised of festival attendees. The PickUps, a group first put together at the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival, was organized by House Jacks and Overboard singer Nick Girard. Girard did a great job coordinating the materials and rehearsal, all before hopping on a plane to California to perform at The House Jacks’ 20th Anniversary Concert: meaning he did not even intend to perform with the PickUps this time! We certainly appreciated his hard work enabling The PickUps to come together and perform. I was thrilled to participate with the group, which  included members of Overboard (Scott Cobban), Hookslide (Jon Pilat), The Red States (Jim Diego), Cut Off, and quite a few other college and CAL groups, as well as a number of producers/engineers, CASA-affiliated folks, and just random attendees (e.g. myself). After a rehearsal of less than two hours on Friday, we performed 5 songs on Saturday and had a great time doing so.

The Acabomb which received the most enthusiastic crowd response was a new group called Blueprint, which featured four members from Overboard (Alfredo Austin, Caleb Wheldon, Jeff Eames, and Scott Cobban (apparently filling in)) as well as Gary Gustavsen, Dustin Hyatt, and Mark Joseph. They had tight harmonies, excellent pitch, and powerful solos. The next night, they placed third at the Boston regional of the Harmony Sweepstakes competition, and Fredo won best soloist. I look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

As with all CASA-sponsored festivals, BOSS featured a scholastic competition on Friday night and then a professional showcase concert on Saturday night. The competition featured a new format, in which the best groups advanced and one group was eliminated each round. This allowed, as one organizer mentioned to me, the “better” groups to get more opportunities to show their versatility as each round had a different theme. It had been a few years since I last saw a collegiate competition (ICCA or otherwise) live, and what a difference! The final two groups, University of Chicago’s Voices in Your Head, and Northeastern University’s Nor’easters, were energetic, intense, very solid musically, and made excellent use of the entire stage. Voices in Your Head did a killer version of “Titanium,” made great use of dynamics, and did some really cool things with the microphones and with their movement generally. I actually thought the Nor’easters had better tuning and that their arrangements showed off their collective voice and withstood all the movement better, but both groups were top-notch and either group was entirely and unequivocally qualified to win.

While the judges deliberated, Ball in the House snapped off a grooving, funky mini-set of a few songs which was extended longer than expected while the winner was determined. The last time I saw them was almost ten years ago, and while two members from back then are the same (Dave and Jon), I was really impressed with two members who have not been around for quite that long: bass Ryan Chappelle and soloist/baritone Nels Urtel. Chappelle kept a very solid and consistent groove locked in with with VP Jon Ryan, and Urtel, who won last year’s CARA for Best Male Collegiate Solo on Fifth Element’s “Let’s Get it On,” offered a few scorching solos.

Saturday night’s “professional showcase” concert featured Voices in Your Head again (one of the rewards for winning the competition), Redline, Traces, and Cadence, whom I’ve always wanted to see live. Traces had the place rocking, and I felt a little nervous when Cadence took the stage, mainly because their style is not something you could categorize as “rocking” (unless you are a big fan of jazz). I was thus thrilled that they are unquestionably one of the best vocal groups I’ve ever seen live, and I think it comes down to 4 main observations: (1) their tuning is impeccable, and I do mean impeccable; (2) they are extremely polished and comfortable as entertainers, meaning their ability to work the crowd, transition, and move around, utilizing the entire room; (3) their vocal horns, as hoped, were stellar; and (4) they just sound great from top to bottom. The set wasn’t particularly long, and I would have loved a few more songs, but they certainly lived up to my high expectations. And while the crowd was generally very supportive and respectful, I’m not sure you would use the word “raucous” or “rocking” to describe the room during and after the set. That being said, I think everyone enjoyed the performance and I would recommend that any a cappella fan see them in concert if possible.

I was not feeling great for most of the weekend, so I didn’t get a chance to make it out to the afterparties both nights, which were open to  performers, presenters, and attendees. From the chatter I heard Saturday and Sunday mornings, it sounds like everyone had a great time. I look forward to hitting the afterparties next year.

Sunday morning there were a few more workshops, and then a collaborative recording session which allowed many of the performers from the weekend as well as those attendees who paid for a “VIP” pass to contribute to a track which was recorded, for the most part, in a single day and which will presumably be released via CASA in a few months. The collaborative tracks recorded at last year’s SMACC and SoJam are very good, and I hope and expect this track to be no less impressive.

My only constructive criticism for the event organizers, and I’m sure this is not news to them, had to do with the logistical difficulties created by offering concerts that were not held in close proximity to the workshops. The workshops, held on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, were about 6 miles away from the Regent Theater in Arlington. By car, in traffic, this took about 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon. It also might have confused the issue for those coming from out of town about where, geographically, was the most convenient location to book a hotel room. This was not a major problem, I just think having everything in the same or adjacent facilities make the process easier and more relaxing for attendees. I would also note that having a pamphlet or a few pages with descriptions of the workshops for attendees would have made it easier to decide on the spot whether to attend workshop A, B, C, or D at a particular time. Simply having the names and presenters on the back of the ID badge was not particularly helpful towards that decision, and there were probably a few choices I would have made differently had I been able to review the workshop summaries before each panel.

I have two general thoughts to sum up my feelings about this festival, and really about these a cappella festivals in general. First, it was (and they can offer) a tremendous value. I think the cost for an all-access past here ran somewhere in the range of $60-65, and it included two highly entertaining concerts, a full day of workshops on Saturday, a half-day of workshops Sunday, a number of additional performances (the “Acabombs”), and the afterparties. Keep in mind that the ICCA finals run between $45 and $75 per ticket for one evening.  It costs far more for me to go to a baseball game, to a Philharmonic or Broadway performance, or any of a number of other limited-duration, limited-experience activities than it did for me to attend this festival, which filled an entire weekend. I really appreciate the event organizers packing this much entertainment into that price point.

My second general thought is simply this: a cappella people are generally very nice and supportive, which makes attending a festival like this, even by yourself, a worthwhile venture. I had invited a few friends who were unable to attend, and my wife had to stay home with the kids, so I was flying solo for this weekend. It was a little intimidating, but I was quite pleased to find nearly everyone, from the attendees to the organizers to the performers, very accessible and sociable. So, even if you can’t get your whole group to go, or if you aren’t in a group and are just looking for a fun a cappella-saturated weekend, I recommend attending one of these festivals. I’m assuming/hoping BOSS will be around next year, but there are other festivals out there (just see my Festivals page) including a few sponsored by CASA (VoCALnation is next in July in Washington D.C. and then Acappellafest sometime this Fall in Chicago) and plenty of other localized ones (I may or may not be working towards the creation of one #supersecretlocalfestival) as well.

Thanks to CASA and the BOSS organizers for putting together a fun, informative, exhilarating weekend!

Vocaldoings II

As always, there is so much going on in the a cappella world, I felt the need for another Vocaldoings post to update you all. If I have omitted anything big, please feel free to comment and if I remember, I’ll add it to the body of the post!

Live A cappella

Sing Strong, the terrific festival put together by Jonathan Minkoff, will be staged in Reston Virginia next weekend. There are a number of top-notch performers, including Pentatonix, so check out the website and see if tickets are still available. (wish I could go!)

Duwende recently completed a series of performances at the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia.  A few other performers you might have heard of: Bobby McFerrin, Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny. No big deal, right?! Congratulations to Duwende.

The House Jacks are currently on tour in the Pacific Northwest. In April, they will be heading out the east coast for a number of gigs, including one at the Bitter End in NYC (as far as I can remember, this is one place they always try to play when they are in NYC). If you have never seen them before, this is your chance- do it.

Human Nature, from Australia, are about to begin touring the U.S., and they just released their U.S. debut album, “The Motown Record.” They are also doing a contest on this tour seeking opening groups for each city. Check out the finalists here.

Get Vocal 2012– The weeklong vocal festival in Australia wraps up today. Hopefully there will be some video clips of the terrific groups from the festival, including The Idea of North, online soon.

A cappella Blog doings

Marc Silverberg, a part-time faculty member at Five Towns College in New York and alumnus of the Westminster Deaftones has started a new blog entitled “The Quest for an A cappella Major.” Some thought-provoking posts, check it out here.

Rob Dietz, over at Human Feedback, has a great new post identifying and explaining what he likes about certain a cappella tracks. Check it out here.

As always, the guys over at The A cappella Blog have a lot going on. They recently posted analysis of their ICCA competition bracket competition and offered Part II of their “Unauthorized History of the Acapocalypse,” an “episodic narrative” tracing the formation of a fictional a cappella group. Also, their Kickstarter campaign met its funding and then some. Congratulations to Mike and Mike.

Deke Sharon continued his insightful and provocative series of blog posts on CASA.org with a new post, “Commerce vs. Creativity.” Be sure to check it out here.

Albums

Euphonism, the terrific CAL group based in Washington, D.C., has released their new album, “Stuck in a Memory.” It is available on iTunes now.

As reader and fellow blogger LovedeAcapella pointed out in the comments section for the last Vocaldoings, Take 6 has a new album coming out called “One.” The album may not be entirely a cappella, but I’m sure it will be worth checking out.

Videos

Peter Hollens has a great new video up covering gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” which you can check out here.

Pentatonix did a nice live cover of Rihanna’s “You Da One” which you can check out here.

Also from the Sing Off Season 3, Urban Method offered up a video of “Me and You” performed live in Colorado, which you can see here.

It’s not brand new, but since my last Vocaldoings post, Italian aca-geniuses Cluster posted a video in which they took an…interesting…. YouTube user singing something vaguely resembling Adele and turned it into something new altogether. Check it out here.

Kickstarter

Justin Glodich, singer, songwriter, member of The Fault Line, and former Potsdam Pointercount (my college group) is also a music teacher in Eldred, NY. The high school group he directs, the Eldred Key Elements, have a project aiming to help them record their first album. Check it out and pledge here.

Harmony Sweepstakes

You can find all of the specific awards and result here, but the bulletpoints are as follows:

New York winners: Audiofeels, from Poland

Los Angeles winners: Down 4 the Count

Pacific Northwest winners: Six Appeal (featured on my AcaVids segment a few weeks ago)

San Francisco (Bay Are) winners: Sing Theory

Mid-Atlantic winners: GQ

ICCA

All of the quarterfinals have completed, and you can check out the results here.

Last night, the UGA Accidentals won their regional semifinal and will be headed to the finals in NYC. Congratulations, guys!

ICHSA

You can check out the latest results on the high school competition here.