Earlybird tickets released for our Festival Weekend

For the second year in a row, our annual Festival Weekend will be taking place at the beautiful Hammond Theatre at Hampton School, West London, on the 21st and 22nd April 2017.

The Festival Weekend is undoubtedly the highlight of The Voice Festival’s calendar. The weekend, which includes our annual championships, brings together hundreds of participants and audience members in a celebration of singing and creativity. While it’s too late to apply to compete this year, members of the public can still get involved in other ways. Read on to find out how!
 

1) Cheer on your favourite group as it competes to become VF-UK champion

We have three separate competition categories – Youth, University, and Community. You can purchase tickets to each individual final – get yours here, from £12 (get 25% off before 7 April).
 

2) Rub shoulders with fellow singers and attend our series of workshops and forums across the weekend

Throughout the weekend, internationally renowned a cappella professionals will lead a series of workshops on improvisation, beatboxing, vocal health, dancing, recording, and more. These workshops are open for everyone to attend – purchase your Weekend Pass to join us in the workshops, and gain access to all the competition finals too, from £39 (get 25% off before 7 April).
 

3) Join the conversation on social media

Can’t be there on the weekend? We’ll be sad to miss you, but we’ll be sharing all the best bits of the weekend on our Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as live-streaming the results announcements on Facebook Live, so you don’t get that FOMO feeling. Got something to say? Use the hashtag #VFUK2017.
 
We’re looking forward to welcoming you to West London in just 6 weeks!


Judge Insight with Richard Eteson

Richard EtesonIf you were writing a who’s who of UK a cappella, The Swingle Singers line up over the years would be a good place to start. Richard Eteson sang High Tenor with the Swingles for over 10 years and can be heard on 8 of their albums. Not to mention that he is a Voice Festival stalwart – coming back time and time again to judge for us, so he’s seen his fair share of UK a cappella over the years. This year he was one third of the University Semi-Final judging team and enjoyed watching 12 groups perform 8 minutes each.

After the weekend Richard shared some reflection on his judging experience, as well as some hints and tips that he would absolutely love to tell groups as they are planning sets in the future.

So first things first, what did you think of what you saw at the Festival Weekend?
I really enjoyed it and although it is a cliche, the standard really does keep getting higher every year. There is now real quality throughout the semi-finals and finals which is fantastic to see, although it makes it much tougher for the judges of course.

Time is short in a set, so what do you wish groups made more time for?
I felt a lot of performances have become quite formulaic as competition showcases – “let’s show off what our group/our star soloist can do, and pick a good balance of fast/slow songs ticking as many boxes as possible”. In essence I feel there needs to be a solid reason to include anything in a set – ask yourselves, “What is the function of this song/solo/bit of VP/feature?” or “How should this make the audience react/feel?”.

Impressive skills and impeccable performance are now very much a given at this level, much more can be explored in transmitting the emotion/feeling/reason of a song.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a group telling a single story throughout the set – maybe reaching over into drama a little bit. While we know time is precious particularly when planning for the Voice Festival or an Edinburgh show, groups might consider making a brief announcement between songs to the audience (either to make it more personable, or to make it seem more like a gig, to tell us more about the group, the song, the soloist, the back story of an arrangement), to make a connection between the performers and the audience.

Most importantly – The Voice Festival has one of the best judging rubrics around – a third of this is devoted to creativity in any aspect of the performance – be bold and imaginative – if done well it really will make you stand out!

Musically, what makes the excellent stand out from the average?
The general quality of musicianship and performance is now extremely high – always try and go deeper and further in rehearsal preparation than the next group in terms of tuning, solid groove/time, blend, ensemble, dynamic range, balance of voices, contrast or unity of voicing, style of song. In rehearsal there should always be something else that you can refine when breaking down an arrangement. Remember though once you’ve done all that work, that the song needs to be put back together again and still make sense as a whole.

Arranging is getting more ambitious, but it would be great for groups to consider writing an original song from time to time (rather than an arrangement of a well known song)

We know that groups are thinking about the visual impact of their shows more and more; what do you wish groups would consider?
Couple of thoughts on this one – particularly for the University and Youth groups: How about getting away from the uniform-like costumes? Consider starting the set off stage (at the moment every group enters, lines up, blows a note then starts), or staggering the entry (starting with a few singers then adding more bit by bit as the song grows).

And what about something different that a group could incorporate into their set?
Well, no one has the monopoly of ideas on this one but what about some audience participation in a classy way – not just clapping along, but teaching them a chorus line, or a 2 part refrain, or some elaborate body percussion that adds an extra dimension to the performance?

You can follow Richard Eteson on Twitter @WillyEteson


Judging Lineups: Community Final

We’re really excited to be able to announce our judging lineups. Here’s the judges who will be picking our Community Winner. Remember you can get tickets here.

 

James Davey

James Davey

James Davey is one of the UK’s most distinguished and respected young choral directors, in demand for his work as conductor, choir trainer, choral education practitioner, arranger and adjudicator.

A graduate of the MA Choral Education course at Roehampton University, James is Musical Director for; Chantage – BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year 2006, the Chandos Chamber Choir, the Aylesbury Festival Choir, the Fleet Singers and a number of work-place choirs, including staff choirs at Channel 4 TV and the London Mayor’s staff choir at the Greater London Authority.

Formerly the chief choral advisor for the BBC’s sheet music archives, James regularly conducts and prepares choirs for broadcasts on TV and Radio, and he is also a choir trainer for the Royal College of Music Junior Department, a Guest Conductor for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, and a tutor for the Cranleigh Choral Week, the Ingenium Academy and the Sherborne Summer School of Music.

 

Jo Marshall

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A graduate of The Royal Academy of Music, Jo began her singing career performing with the internationally acclaimed Swingle Singers and spent over six years touring world renowned music venues (La Scala, The Royal Albert Hall, and Ronnie Scott’s) and working with world class conductors such as Zubin Mehta and Antonio Pappano.

She has since been much in demand on the London session scene recording albums, TV and film soundtracks (Spectre, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) and often performs with London’s leading vocal ensembles.

Jo also works as a soloist and a jazz singer (The Jo Marshall Trio, Cubana Bop). She is a choral director and vocal tutor for Blackheath Centre for Singing and has led a cappella master classes and choral workshops all over the world.

 

Rachel Mason

Rachel Mason

Since gaining her Bachelor of Music, Rachel has been teaching singing, composing songs and performing extensively. Rachel has also been the BRIT awards correspondent for BBC Somerset, and has judged choral contests, Show Choir Championships and taught Musical Theatre masterclasses in the UK, Canada and Ireland. She also composed the music and lyrics for two musicals that were performed in Somerset.

For four years Rachel was the Musical Director of the UK’s top show choir, Euphoria. The group won many awards and performed in New York, Dublin, Hollywood and at the Royal Albert Hall. In addition to arranging and teaching all the music for Euphoria, Rachel also composed original songs that were recorded by the choir for the album Hollywood Bound. One of these songs was the anti bullying anthem Body On Mute which won numerous awards, was the anthem for the charity Beat Bullying and has now been adopted by The Diana Trust to help raise funds for their anti bullying projects.

Body On Mute was performed by Rachel and the choir on stage in New York, Dublin on BBC radio, live television in Canada and on Sky television. Some of the performances were filmed and have received wonderful comments on YouTube from those currently struggling with the effects of bullying. The lyrics for the song have also been featured in an article written about the choir in the top American Show Choir magazine, and are now on a range of American Apparel t shirts. Body On Mute has also been played on radio stations across America as part of Songs for Social Causes.

Rachel is also a prolific arranger, and has been commissioned to write custom arrangements for vocal groups and show choirs across the world.

Rachel is currently studying for her Masters in Songwriting. She enjoys collaborating with other artists on new songs, and is currently working on a new album. Rachel is honoured to have been made a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) in 2014 and a member of BASCA (The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) in 2013.


Festival Weekend – Interview with Andy Wilson

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Did we mention that we’re going to Birmingham for our Festival Weekend? We caught up with Andy Wilson, a current student at Birmingham Conservatoire who gave us a bit of insight into what he is most looking forward to over the weekend.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Andrew Wilson and I’m currently on the Vocal and Operatic degree course at Birmingham Conservatoire. I’ve sung with various groups in the Northampton and Birmingham areas; at School, Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham University.

When did you first get involved in the Voice Festival and in which cities have you been to with VF-UK?

My first experience of the Voice Festival was watching my sister’s old a cappella group ‘HotTUBBS’ performing their Mcfly medley on youtube- I think it was from the 2012 Bristol Regional…?! The following year I took a start-up group from the Conservatoire to the Birmingham competition, winning the award for ‘Best Audience Engagement’.

What’s the a cappella scene normally like in Birmingham?

The a cappella scene in Birmingham is a strong one; being the country’s second city there is always performance opportunities going for those groups that look for them. From local charity gigs to the annual Vale Festival, a cappella performance is never too far away. There are still 4 active groups at UoB, with perhaps the most previously well-known, ‘The Sons of Pitches’, having graduated just last year.

Are you involved over the weekend?

I’m looking forward to MCing both of the University semi-finals at the Voice Festival this year, as well as running a workshop, Groove: The Rhythm Section, with the Sons of Pitches beatboxer Mide Adenaike.
It is looking like a fantastic festival line-up, bringing in the best groups from up and down the country as well as some incredible workshops and masterclasses from top level professionals like Claire Wheeler (The Swingle Singers). I believe that particular masterclass is by sign-up only, so make sure to get your name down quick!

What else should participants do when they’ve got a spare hour over the weekend in Birmingham?

If you have a spare hour over the weekend there are a great number of things to check out which are all in easy walking distance;
• The Bullring Shopping Centre: it has over 160 shops and there’s always something going on
• Birmingham Museum and Art gallery is literally across the road- well worth an hour or two of browsing
• The secret garden atop the brand new Birmingham Library is a hidden jewel, and would perhaps be a great place for a scratch a cappella video… The views not too shabby either…
• St Phillip’s Cathedral and square is parallel to New Street and a lovely spot to waste an hour with a coffee, again just up the road from Conservatoire via an aptly placed Costa
Of course there are plenty of pubs, bars, restaurants and the like on or around New Street. If anyone has any questions about the Conservatoire or surrounding areas over the weekend please don’t hesitate to ask- it was painstaking trying out all the local pubs… but I don’t mind sharing my research.

Best of luck to all the groups competing, I hope you have a fantastic weekend.

If you want to catch Andy’s A Cappella Express Talk it will be at 5:30pm on Saturday where he’ll be exploring the role of the rhythm section in an a cappella group. Tickets for the Festival Weekend are available here

Meet the Judges (Community Final 2015)

SARA COLMAN

Sara ColmanWriting music has always been central to Sara Colman. Across all three of her albums, original music has been a consistent theme. During 2010-11 whilst studying for an MA in Songwriting, Sara collaborated with her brothers Mat and Andrew on Sem Amor and Some Other Wonder for the eponymous Colman Brothers album.

She also co-wrote the track Stay for Karen Street’s album Another Story. ‘After growing up in Bristol I studied piano at Birmingham Conservatoire and gained a solid grounding in theory and harmony. I then spent several years working in a duo with the fine pianist Al Gurr and together we gradually undid a lot of our classical training to make way for the jazz music we had both fallen in love with. Gradually the duo expanded and I enjoyed the spontaneity and creativity of working with improvising musicians.’

Sara has also completed several commissions for larger vocal groups: Seven Songs for Seven Colours for Black Voices, as well as Celebrate and Amen for choral projects presented at Lichfield Cathedral and Birmingham Town Hall.

Sara was a recipient of an inaugural Birmingham Jazz award, a Jerwood Rising Star at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and one of 10 finalists from 15,000 entries in the BBC Radio 2 songwriting competition ‘Sold on Song’. She was also Kevin Mahogany’s chosen artist in the Jazz Connect Vocal competition in the US.

DOMINIC PECKHAM

DP-tutor-photo imageDominic Peckham is regarded as one of the UK’s finest young and dynamic orchestral and choral conductors. Hailed as ‘one of the most exciting conductors of his generation’, Peckham has been commended at home and abroad for his ‘freshness and vitality’, directing both orchestras and choirs whilst delivering ‘gutsy, raw and exciting performances’. A conductor of immense energy and focus, Peckham is renowned for his dedication to the Renaissance and Baroque era, whilst also passionate about the delivery of new works and inspirational collaborations.

Peckham has been commended by reviewers as ‘a lithe and modern Handelian…’ and ‘a latent star…’. He has worked with orchestras including BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, The London Mozart Players, The British Federation of Youth Orchestras, Scottish Opera and has marked his debut at The Royal Albert Hall, Barbican, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Usher Hall, Bridgewater Hall and Wigmore Hall. In addition, he has prepared performances for contemporary conductors Stephane Deneve, Richard Hickox OBE, Bernard Labadie, Edward Gardner, Simon Halsey, David Hill, Christopher Bell, Vassily Sinaisky, Sir David Willcocks, Lorin Maazel, Stefan Bevier and John Rutter.

In 2014, Peckham was invited to be Guest Chorus Master at English National Opera and worked on the highly acclaimed world première of ‘Thebans’ by Julian Anderson for the company in their 2013/14 season. The production received fantastic reviews and critics praised Peckham and the chorus for ‘their immense levels of intensity’. In autumn 2014, Peckham returned to the London Coliseum for productions of ‘Xerxes’ and ‘The Girl of the Golden West, working with leading lights such as Nicholas Hytner, Keri-Lynn Wilson and Michael Hofstetter.

In addition to his Musical Directorship at The London Oriana Choir, Peckham holds an impressive array of posts including Artistic Director of The Royal Opera House’s ‘RM19’ Youth Chorus, Assistant Music Director of The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (with whom he conducted a critically acclaimed recording of Benjamin Britten’s Choral and Organ works), Artistic Director and Founder of iSingUK, Artistic Director of The Fourth Choir, Director of The Ulster Youth Training Choir and Guest Conductor for Aldeburgh Music, for whom he recently premièred their ‘Friday Afternoons’ commissions with the Jubilee Opera Chorus.

Always keen to promote and support new music, Peckham has comissioned many new composers and conducted an array world premieres, notably Oliver Searle’s ‘Pride, Poverty and Pianos’ for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Tpby Young’s ‘Love and Harmony’ for The London Mozart Players. As a talented composer and arranger himself, Peckham’s most recent premières include works with The National Youth Jazz Collective and The National Choirs of Great Britain at the Barbican. Dominic was Chair of the judging panel for The 2014 British Composer of the Year Choral Category.

CLARE WHEELER

Clare WheelerClare grew up in Kenya before moving to Manchester to attend Chethams School of Music, where she trained as a classical violinist and also studied classical voice. During this time she met bassist Steve Berry of Loose Tubes, and started getting into jazz. She followed on to Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London to study composition and voice on the jazz course under Lee Gibson, Pete Churchill and Tim Garland, as well as classical singing with Penny Mackay. Clare freelanced in London as a jazz singer, composer and arranger, and taught Music Theory and Harmony at the Academy of Contemporary Music, before joining the internationally renowned Swingle Singers in the summer of 2007. Although the group takes her abroad for much of the year, she still writes prolifically for her own ensembles.


The Voice Festival UK returns to Scotland

After the blinding success of our event at Edinburgh Fringe last August, the Voice Festival team decided that one trip to Scotland each year just wasn’t enough! February 22nd, therefore, saw VF-UK team members once again braving the overnight buses, this time to Glasgow, for the second of our Regional Festivals.

The afternoon saw an excellent and unique workshop from celebrated tenor Alistair Digges. It’s certainly the first time we’ve ever seen an a cappella workshop that has used straws! The participants worked on strengthening their vocal technique and looked at all sorts of exercises to look after their voices. You can catch a glimpse of one of the pieces they learnt together here:

If you’re coming to the Festival Weekend, download the Vyclone app so we can have lots of fun with collaborative videos.

The evening saw a showcase of Scotland’s (and North Tyneside’s) finest with performances from University and Community Groups. Some fun facts about our participants:

– The Festival represented VF-UK’s newest team member Mabel’s debut event, and she was delighted to see a performance from the group she co-founded in Newcastle

– For 4 out of 6 groups it was their first Voice Festival event

– Half the groups had never performed outside their home city

– Half the groups had been in existence less than a year though the average length of a groups existence was over 8 years!

– 2 groups travelled over 300 miles on the day (and 2 Voice Festival team members travelled over 800 miles)

There were some very impressive debuts from the new groups the Killer Quines from Aberdeen University, Royal Blues from Newcastle University and In Toon from Northumbria University: we even enjoyed a Voice Festival first in the form of a headstand performed at the end of Royal Blues’ set! But the groups who have existed for that bit longer weren’t going to be shown up – Close Shave Chorus from Glasgow treated us to some real Barbershop classics, Tartan Harmony from Helensburgh sung a diverse set including a powerful version of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah and Choral Stimulation from Glasgow University did what they do best and showed off some INSANE mash-ups.

All in all, we had a brilliant day and are so pleased we went back to Scotland. If you can’t wait for your next a cappella fix we’ll be in Birmingham in just a few short weeks time!


The VF-UK Bristol Regional Festival – by a Bristol Suspension!

This is a guest post from Joe Pickin, member of the brand new Bristol-based group The Bristol Suspensions. The group recently enjoyed their first ever concert as part of the Voice Festival’s Bristol Regional Festival, and Joe here tells us a little bit about what the group learnt on the day.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend The Voice Festival’s Bristol Regional Festival on Saturday 22nd November as a member of The Bristol Suspensions. It was a fantastic day for all involved and we really felt welcomed into the a cappella community.

15798732740_02a8550b53_z The day began with a brilliant workshop led by Paul Davies, a highly experienced vocal coach specialising in the barbershop style. In the two-hour session he stripped vocal technique back to basics, focusing on posture, production of sound, and resonance. One of the most valuable things we learnt from him was that you should always prioritise singing, and although beat boxing and choreography are very entertaining, good singing is the most important part to the audience.

He then continued by coaching a few of the groups “under glass”, including Aquapella and Semi-Toned. Each group sang a song and then Paul suggested some ways to improve before they sang it again. It was impressive to see how much you can improve with only 10 minutes of coaching! Finally everyone learnt an arrangement of “Higher and Higher” (in only half an hour!) to sing in the show later that evening. We had an awesome time, and all of us in the Bristol Suspensions would like to thank Paul for all of the valuable vocal lessons he taught us that afternoon.

15798635430_f925e8dddc_zAll groups who participated in the workshop were invited to perform in the evening show. For the Bristol Suspensions, an a cappella group set up in October, this was going to be our first ever concert! We were very excited to be part of such a great event, but were also slightly nervous. Thankfully the show was a great success and we had a lot of fun. Personal highlights include Aquapella’s rendition of “Toxic” by Britney Spears, and Semi-Toned’s hilarious medley of Christmas songs. Despite the short rehearsal time “Higher and Higher” sounded fantastic and was full of energy. After the show was a brilliant opportunity to network with the other groups – we’ve already got a joint show with Bath’s Aquapella planned for next year!

The Bristol Suspensions would like to thank the Voice Festival for organising the event and especially Zoe who I know worked tremendously hard to make the day such a success. I’d urge everyone to get involved in a Regional Festival – it’ll be a day you won’t forget!


Bristol Regional Festival – meet workshop leader Paul Davies!

pdWith only a few days to go until our Bristol Regional Festival, we took a few moments to get to know our leader for the afternoon workshop, Paul Davies. We’re delighted to have him on board and can’t wait to see him work his magic with our participating groups!

Tell us a little bit about your experiences with a cappella singing…
It’s been non-stop from about the age of five when Mum, Dad, my sister and I used to attempt four-part around the kitchen table. I was in a cappelIa groups at school and as a cathedral chorister, then joined the Barbershop Association where I’ve been a Music judge for almost 30 years. The most thrilling moment was winning Choir of the World and the Pavarotti trophy with Cambridge Chord Company, a vocal group I started as 12 mates singing in the back room of a pub.

What is your all-time favourite a cappella or barbershop arrangement?
Oh gosh. Since it’s nearly Christmas let’s go for Pentatonix “Little Drummer Boy”. A supreme example of how to take a simple song and turn it into a masterpiece through imaginative arrangement, creative use of dynamics and vocal colour, subtle VP, perfect tuning and balance, and entrancing facial expressions. The YouTube video is dubbed but who cares? If it can draw… let’s see… 30,010,017 people to a cappella that can only be a good thing.

Can you give us a hint of what we might expect from your workshop on Saturday?
The central message is that good vocal technique is essential whatever your style. We’ll be looking at basic vocal craft and how to maintain it through demanding stage routines. I’m also hoping to do “coaching under glass” with any established groups who come to the workshop. We’ll also face the ultimate challenge – learn a choreographed song in half an hour and perform it on the evening show!

That’s all for now, but if you like what you hear and are dying to find out what Paul can teach you, don’t hesitate to come along to the workshop. It’s open to the general public and you’ll get the chance to sing with some fantastic a cappella groups (you can find out a bit more about them here). Tickets are still available, and there will be a limited number to purchase on the door – click here for prices and payment options.


Bristol Regional Festival – Meet the Groups!

Another Voice Festival event – a whole new bunch of a cappella groups for you to meet!

Browse our brand new slideshow to read more about the tremendous participating groups in our Bristol Regional Festival: Avon Harmony, The Bristol Suspensions, Semi-Toned and Aquapella. It’s going to be a blast!

It’s not too late to purchase your tickets for the showcase – and the general public are also invited to join the groups for an afternoon workshop with arranger Paul Davies.

BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE.

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Top 5 Reasons You Should Use our A Cappella Resources Page

1. It might spark some ideas – whether you have never sung a cappella before or have 30 years’ experience you’re probably looking to do something new – this might help you work out what that is. It might inspire you to help out – be that by producing your own arrangement and video for others, or by creating a brand new group – do get in touch with us by emailing resources@thevoicefestival.co.uk if you’re interested.

2. Our first arrangement is sung by the fabulous In the Smoke – one of the community groups who sang at our showcase in January – they’re brilliant. The arrangement is really, really good – we’re not putting something out there that’s second rate, we challenge your group to make it sound bad! And you’ll be able to correct those misheard lyrics in your head – the words to Bullet Proof and Titanium are definitely what we thought they were!

3. It’s an opportunity to give us a bit of feedback – have a watch, give our guides a read, and tell us what’s good and what you’d like next time. The VF-UK have an enormous amount of combined expertise, and are always on the lookout for new ideas and challenges.

4. You can use it as inspiration to record your own video – if you have a new arrangement that you want to share with the world, then upload it and reach new audiences! Get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter to start up some a cappella chatter.

5. It’ll whet your appetite for some of the workshops and performances at the Festival Weekend, Birmingham, in April 2015. We can’t wait to hear brand new groups, new talent that you’ve dug up from your schools, universities and local areas, and your exciting new arrangements!

Access our Resources page here, and tell us what content you’d like to see at @thevoicefestival.co.uk.