A Guide to Running Auditions for Your A Cappella Group

Groups often find running auditions nerve-wracking. What if no one shows up? What if we get lots of wannabe X Factor divas? What if they aren’t suited to a cappella? What if they think we are rubbish and they’re too good for us? What if the new people steal all my solos!?

Remember that, like a job interview, it’s a two-way process. You are responsible for making sure the process is fulfilling for all parties. An a cappella group that likes spending time singing together, irrespective of prior training, musical taste, favourite football team etc., is a successful a cappella group. This guide lists some things to consider – it’s by no means exhaustive, but is hopefully a help to those feeling like they don’t know how to start as well as those perhaps jaded by having been through the process a few too many times.

Think about what you want from a member – fun, cool, eclectic, strong soloist, non-awkward mover, arranger, dancer, choral singer, pop singer, musical theatre singer, solid intonation, strong sense of pulse/rhythm, control of the expressive power of their voice, good reader, sight singer, perfect pitch, has a trendy uncle who owns a recording studio, amazing tambourine player – wait, cancel that last one…

To give yourself the best chance of hooking the right people for your group, there are 3 main areas you should consider:

Scheduling & Promoting

A Guide to Running Auditions For Your A Cappella Group – Part I – Scheduling and Promoting

The format of the audition process

A Guide to Running Auditions For Your A Cappella Group – Part II – Audition Format

Deciding, Admitting & Getting Started

A Guide to Running Auditions For Your A Cappella Group – Part III – Deciding, Admitting and Getting Started


With thanks to Melissa, Hazel, Ian and James of In the Smoke for their helpful contributions.


Perfect Peckham gets Original Singers on the right track!

This is a guest post by Peter Brill, member of Bristol-based community a cappella group, Original Sing.

Dominic P 1If you had paid a significant sum to attend an a cappella masterclass (even if some of it was a very generous Voice Festival prize) and hadn’t sung a note after one hour and 20 minutes, most groups would be asking for their money back.

But this particular workshop was with Dominic Peckham – former Royal Opera House-chorus-member-turned-conductor – whose choral leadership star is now rising rapidly in the a cappella firmament and whose masterclasses are, quite simply, out of this world.

Dominic P 2For Original Sing, Bristol-based 2013 Voice Festival Community Champions, the first hour or so of Dominic’s dedicated masterclass was, in many ways, the most valuable. This isn’t to take anything away from the remaining five hours or so that was spent in the company of an inspiring, perceptive, highly technical, often demanding and frequently funny maestro. Yet the opening session, with its focus on posture and position, led to a transformation in individual and ensemble sound that was to last for the rest of the day and well beyond.

Much of the workshop focused on minute detail, such as pronunciation of vowels, which would ordinarily seem tedious and even irrelevant. But the reality for a group that is trying hard to take an already well-rehearsed, well-honed sound to the next level, is that these tiny details matter. Everyone found enormous inspiration in hearing our 12-voice version of Whitacre’s Water Night dramatically improved simply by ensuring that each word was pronounced in exactly the same way and with an identical mouth shape.

Dominic P 3Throughout the session, Dominic dropped in small hints, tips and ideas – from warm-up routines to leg and foot positions – which turned on individual light-bulbs for everyone in the group. In fact, there was so much to take in that the session had to be videod for future reference. His highly personal and personable approach made it easy to learn and even criticism was delivered in a way that made it seem like a compliment.

It is little wonder that Dominic is in such high demand from some of the best choirs and chorus’ in Europe. His insight can turn ‘good’ into great, aspiration into inspired, and that is worth its weight in gold.


A Cappella Ever After – by Alex Kaiserman

Oxford GargoylesRecently left university and wondering how to keep a cappella in your life? Some of you may remember last year’s ‘A Cappella Ever After’ blogging series in which former members of university groups shared their secrets of post-university a cappella. By popular demand, we have restarted the series to help you find inspiration for kick-starting your own a cappella antics after earning those hard-earned degrees. For this instalment, Alex Kaiserman tells us how his time in the Oxford Gargoyles shaped his own post-university experience.

I first got involved in a cappella singing at school through BABS, the wonderfully bizarre British Association of Barbershop Singers. I joined my local chorus and formed a quartet with some friends. I’d always been interested in arranging and composing, although my efforts had mostly been limited to wildly ambitious projects performable only by the glorious 128-polyphony Windows MIDI set. Through acappella came the realization that real people could perform my arrangements too, and I set about learning the basics of jazz and barbershop harmony.

At University I joined the Oxford Gargoyles, a mixed jazz a cappella group at Oxford, becoming musical director the following year. It was an amazing experience with plenty of highlights, including tours to the US and runs at the Edinburgh fringe. We competed in the Voice Festival both years I was in the group, winning it in my first year. I also picked up a couple of best arrangement awards, which I’m still pretty chuffed about, and received a lot of great feedback from judges and workshops throughout the year.

As an arranger, the Gargoyles were a pretty fabulous resource – a group of very talented musicians who were able and (usually) willing to realize even the most outrageous musical visions. Since I missed hearing my arrangements performed when I left the group, I started arranging for other groups and choirs for a bit of extra cash. My brother, also a singer, had been making teach tracks, and he suggested we combine forces to offer ‘packages’ of original arrangements and learning materials. We set up a website (www.strikeforcemusic.com) and the requests started coming in. It’s been a fun challenge to try and stick to briefs and empathise with groups of varying abilities to write music that’s both fun and accessible.

Obviously it doesn’t pay the bills, but it’s been a fun way to stay involved with a cappella and music in general. If you’re interested in arranging and want to keep it up post-uni, put yourself out there, there’s plenty of demand for original, tailored music. And if you’re stuck for a place to sing, check out your local barbershop chorus; trust me, it’s brilliant fun, and you won’t get a warmer welcome.

If you’ve found your own way to forge a post-university a cappella path – and perhaps want a new way to promote your new ventures – email us at voice@thevoicefestival.co.uk. We’d love to hear what you’ve been up to! 


A very fond farewell to the one and only Ally!

AllyIn 2011 the Voice Festival team received an e-mail from a member of Birmingham University’s first a cappella group ‘Augmented 7’. The group had decided to go their separate ways and she was looking for an exciting new a cappella challenge. Luckily for VF-UK, she thought of us and so it was that Ally Eastwood joined the Voice Festival team!

Ally has spent the last three years bringing a wealth of energy and experience to the Voice Festival team; whether organising Birmingham’s regional events in 2012 and 2013, using her photographic talent to capture Voice Festival events, bringing her unique brand of fun and friendliness to our social media channels or transforming the Community Programme in her role as manager over the last year. Ally has met every new challenge with dedication, creativity and humour, which have been infectious for team members, singers and audiences alike. She also has a habit of indulging VF-UK team members and judges – in fact, in her first role as Birmingham Event Manager she turned up with half of the Sainsbury’s bakery section to make sure everyone started the day in a good mood – it certainly worked and has become something of a VF-UK tradition!

As much as we would have liked to keep Ally permanently as an a cappella event organiser extraordinaire, this multi-talented lady is needed elsewhere. She has just qualified as a doctor and is taking up a position in a busy A&E department, and so has made the decision to retire from her Voice Festival responsibilities to devote her time to saving lives. We are so sad to have to say ‘goodbye’ but it could hardly be for a better cause!

P1030896So thank you Ally for all you have done to make the Voice Festival what it is today. We will miss you very much and wish you every happiness and success in your next steps. Make sure you stay in touch and we hope we’ll be seeing you grinning in the front row at many future VF-UK events! In the mean time a warm welcome to Ally’s successor, James.
Finally, if any of you should find yourselves seeking medical treatment in the Nottingham area and being serenaded by songs from Mary Poppins in the middle of the night… well, we can assure you that you are in very good hands.


VF-UK at Ed Fringe: The Vocalites!

VocalitesNext up in our series of spotlights on our fabulous Fringe Festival performers is a peek at the ladies four-part community a cappella group The Vocalites. They share some of their favourite moments from the last year and tell us what lies ahead for the rest of 2014!

Remember, the VF-UK workshop and a cappella showcase – featuring the Vocalites and much more – takes place at Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh, on the 8th August, and there’s still time to grab your tickets. Don’t miss out!

Tell us a bit about your group. Where are you from? When did you start singing together?

There are 4 people (of course!) and they have been together for about 4.5 years. They are Alicia Tindal (lead), Juliet Erskine (tenor), Kate McGeoch (baritone) and Jacqui King (bass).

Last year they sang in the Spiegeltent at Edinburgh Literary Festival and in the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow amongst other venues, and competed in Llandudno and Bangor, N.I. The Vocalites are part of the choir singing for the baton relay celebrations at both Inverary and Dumbarton Castles this month, and have recently won through to the semi finals of this year’s Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) national competition so will be heading down to Harrogate in October for that. They also hope to be in the finals of Scottish Power’s Got Talent, but that has yet to be decided!

Is this your only appearance at the Fringe, or will you be performing elsewhere?

They won’t be appearing anywhere else in Edinburgh, sadly, but are looking forward to their appearance at the VF-UK Edinburgh Fringe Showcase this year. 


Community Showcase 2014: Austin Willacy

Scrub up your knowledge of our second judge for Sunday’s Community event, Austin Willacy…

AWAustin Willacy has toured extensively throughout the U.S and Europe as a member of The House Jacks, a multi-award winning a cappella rock band whose music is currently featured on The Sing-Off on NBC. Willacy is also a Berkeley-based singer, songwriter, performer, producer and arranger whose music has been licensed by MTV and featured in two indie films and on international commercials. He co-wrote “Thrive”, the theme song to a documentary with over 7 million views in 25 languages and has contributed dozens of soundalike vocals to the Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution video game series. Willacy has mentored and music directed ‘Til Dawn, a teen a cappella group that is part of Youth in Arts, an arts NGO, since 1997. Under his direction, ‘Til Dawn has learned over 100 of his arrangements and performed over 600 shows. He taught a week-long workshop on Contemporary A Cappella at the Festival of Voices in Tasmania and was a resident artist at Sitka Fine Arts Camp in 2013, teaching a cappella, beatboxing and songwriting. He donates his musical talent to a wide range of educational, social and environmental organizations.

Don’t forget, you can still purchase full-day or showcase-only tickets (they’re £2 if you buy them in advance) by visiting our events page. Don’t miss out! 

 


Community Showcase 2014: Nick Girard

We are incredibly excited to welcome a host of sensational a cappella professionals who will be running workshops and picking a Judges’ Favourite at Sunday’s Community Showcase. Over the next few days we will introducing you to each in turn. First up… Nick Girard from The House Jacks.

Nicholas Girard is a singeNick-Headshotr, vocal percussionist, arranger and audio engineer. In 2006, he founded the award winning Boston-based vocal group Overboard. In 2011, the group launched the Free Track Tuesday project in which they arranged, tracked, edited and mixed a new song each week for the whole year. This ambitious project attracted the attention of EPIC records and Girard was hired to arrange, produce and engineer for NBC’s The Sing-Off. In late 2011, he joined the pioneering vocal band The House Jacks and has been touring extensively and working with vocal groups from around the world.


Community Showcase 2014: Meet the Groups!

If you happen to pass someone absent-mindedly shimmying down the road (accompanied by some doo-wapping and ba-daing), it will almost certainly be a member of one of our six brilliant Community groups squeezing in some last-minute preparation for Sunday’s VF-UK Community Showcase! Choreo and parts are being perfected, and the Voice Festival team are working hard to make sure everything runs like clockwork on the day.  

If you can’t wait until Sunday to hear a little more about our participating groups, we’ve put together a swanky slide show which contains all you need to know about our Community singers. Browse away

 

And if you still don’t have tickets – what are you waiting for? Online tickets are £2 cheaper than those on the door. Grab one here.


2013 Community Champions: What it’s meant to us – by Original Sing

Original Sing, Community Champions 2013When we first heard about the Voice Festival UK, I was excited that at last, many more people were getting into a cappella singing and taking it seriously. And that of course would mean new friends, new opportunities, new chances to learn. But most of all, it meant we (my lot, Original Sing) weren’t doing it on our own any more. Nearly all of us were formerly members of the group Naked Voices, which grooved up and down the country gigging everywhere for 10 years up until 2008, including the Edinburgh Fest 3 times, having a ball. But during all this time we were sitting in a bubble talking to only ourselves, because we so rarely encountered any other a cappella singers.
 
When Naked Voices closed down with the retirement of the MD, 2/3 of us were desperate to keep singing. For various reasons we couldn’t keep the old name and had to start a new group. But in so doing, we had to start again from scratch to build up a new reputation. Our self esteem took a *big* hit. Without the name, would anyone come to our shows? Would we be able to actually make it without our old leader, teacher and mentor Dee? Were we *good enough* on our own?
 
We spent a LONG time taking our music apart, piece by piece, going back to absolute basics to work out what we could improve, how and where. I only ended up as MD by dint of being the one who refused to give up or give in no matter what, flying by the seat of my pants the entire way! 
 
So you see, we went from success to collapse, to rebirth but with confidence dented and no way to know if we were on the right track. And that’s why the Voice Festival accolade has meant so much – it is VALIDATION and uplift. Recognition from our peers and from such sh*t hot judges means we that CAN still do it and all the work we’ve put in trying to rebuild ourselves has paid off. The VF Community Championship win has been a massive shot in the arm of adrenaline and confidence. And that is priceless. 
 
The 6 months since then has been a bit slow for various reasons, but we’ve had some fab moments. We brought the house down in London for the Brandenburg Choral Festival in March. And in recent Bristol gigs we’ve been keeping up our sob rate of 10% (that’s the % of the audience who are openly sobbing by the end of the show – for some reason they find what we do rather moving). We’re currently working towards our annual outing at the Bristol based Festival of Song (see www.festivalofsong.org.uk), a massive 120 singing shows in 9 days. A blast if you’re out this way in October.
 
So thank you to everyone at VF-UK for your kind support. We look forward to being part of the Voice Festival for many years to come I hope and to sharing together this gorgeous thing that we all do with new friends up everywhere.  See you all again in the new year.
 
By David Green, Original Sing 


Voice Festival UK recording partnership with Liquid 5th

Liquid 5th ProductionsThe Voice Festival UK are thrilled to announce that for our 2013 season we will be working in partnership with Liquid 5th, who have generously offered to record, mix and master a free single for the three winning groups from the Voice Festival’s Youth, University and Community competitions!

Liquid 5th, based in the US, provide a cappella services of all kinds – recording, production, editing, mixing and mastering, as well as live sound, arranging and coaching. Like the Voice Festival UK, they recognise and understand the multiple ways in which a cappella singers need support to develop, and we are delighted to be working with them this year.