Semi-Toned are University Champions for 2015

Everyone who attended the University Final this evening was bowled over by the incredible talent of our participants. We’re so proud to be part of a truly inspiration network of talented, supportive and creative individuals! With that in mind, we’re delighted to announce that not only were Semi-Toned crowned the University Champions for 2015, but Choral Stimulation were chosen to receive the Ward Swingle award for originality – a prize that is awarded rarely and that has taken on renewed significance now that Ward Swingle has sadly passed away.

Check out all the other awards that were given out during the competition, and come back here soon to read interviews with the winners, see pictures, and more.


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 (University Final 2015)

Joanna Forbes L’Estrange

Jo Forbes imageJoanna Forbes L’Estrange was Born in Bangor, North Wales, into a family of professional musicians (granddaughter of the viola player and arranger Watson Forbes and daughter of composer Professor Sebastian Forbes, both of whom have entries in the Grove Dictionary of Music). She studied cello and piano, both to ABRSM Grade 8, playing in the Surrey County Youth Orchestra, conducted by the late John Forster.

Joanna is a graduate of Oxford University – she studied singing, sang in the chapel choir of Merton College, played cello in the Oxford Philharmonia Orchestra, and toured and recorded CDs with Schola Cantorum of Music, under Jeremy Summerly (1990-1993). She holds a PGCE (Secondary Music) from Reading University and has taught music, cello and singing.

She was Soprano and Musical Director of The Swingle Singers between 1998 and 2004, and since leaving the group has been a freelance soprano, jazz singer, choral conductor, adjudicator, lyricist and workshop leader.

Tobias Hug

Tobias Hug has been singing, teaching, travelling for almost 20 years – deeply involved in the global a cappella and choral music scene as a cappella journeyman and beatbox gypsy.

Based in London, Tobias has performed or collaborated with The Swingle Singers, Bobby McFerrin, World Music stars Zap Mama, the Puppini Sisters, the London Voices, Jazzchor Freiburg and many more.

He currently performs with his The Beatbox Collective, with his own Loop Solo Programme and focusses on Master Studies in ‘Rhythmic Choir Conducting’at the Royal Conservatory of Aalborg, Denmark. His new group Beatvox recently won the UK Event Entertainment Award 2014 for Best New Act (‘Beat the Brief’ Competition).

His deep passion and commitment to teaching leads to workshops and residencies in places as diverse as Singapore, Norway, China and Kenya. Italy though has always been an important centre of his work.

As session singer and member of London Voices he has performed on numerous movie soundtracks including The Hobbit and Interstellar. As a voice-over artist, Tobias has been featured on several BBC Radio programmes and commercial computer games.

From 2001-2012, Tobias sang with Grammy-Award winning a cappella group The Swingle Singers.

Tobias is co-founder of EVA, the European Voices Association and most recently of the new italian a cappella festival Vocalmente for which he is acting as Artistic Director and Producer. He advises and adjudicates at festivals like VocalAsia (China), Terem Crossover Competition (St Petersburg/Russia) the UK Beatbox Championships, Solevoci (Italy) and the CARAs (Recording Awards.

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.


Meet the Judges (University Semi-Finals 2015)

Sheona Urquhart

SheonaSheona Urquhart has enjoyed many various facets of the Entertainment industry. After graduating from Victorian College of the Arts, Sheona traveled the world as a singer onboard P&O and Princess Cruise ships. After deciding to return to solid ground, she then tried her hand at television, landing herself a role on Neighbours as Candace Carey. Sheona has also written and performed in the live and online comedy duo hit TV Live On Stage. Boasting over 340,000 Youtube views and two sell-out seasons of their live show, TV Live on Stage showcased Sheona’s natural knack for comedy, characterization and writing music parodies.
From 2010-2014, Sheona was founding member of Australia’s sensational pop a cappella group Ginger and Tonic. Sheona was also the choreographer and occasional music arranger for the group. After debuting on Australia’s Got Talent, Ginger and Tonic has since performed all over Australia, earning various a cappella awards. The group’s first album ‘Shake It!’ was released in 2011, just before the group’s tour to Germany, representing Australia in the International A Cappella Competition in Leipzig. Ginger and Tonic has featured at many festivals including Queenscliffe Music Festival, Midsumma, Port Fairy Folk Festival and Adelaide Fringe festival, where their show ’50 Shades of Gay’ was awarded Best Music by the Adelaide Advertiser. Ginger and Tonic will be releasing their second album in 2015.
Sheona has recently relocated to London, where she works a session vocalist, providing backing vocals and arrangements for various commercial artists, as well as test driving new Musical Theatre soundtracks. She is absolutely thrilled to play a part in this year’s Voice Festival.

James Davey

James DaveyJames 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 FreemantleMedia.

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.

Willy Eteson

Willy EtesonRichard Eteson is one of London’s most versatile and accomplished tenors. From local beginnings as a choirboy in Bingley, West Yorkshire, he went on to become Head Chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, later returning there as a Choral Scholar studying Japanese and English.

For over 10 years he sang high tenor with The Swingle Singers, travelling the world, recording 8 albums and performing in many of the world’s leading venues such as La Scala, Milan; The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam; Suntory Hall, Tokyo; the Esplanade Centre, Singapore; and the Terme di Caracalle, Rome.

He sings with many of London’s finest vocal groups (The Gabrieli Consort, Tenebrae, Polyphony, Opus Anglicanum, Tonus Peregrinus, The Brabant Ensemble, The Eric Whitacre Singers, Heritage Voices, Philharmonia Voices and London Voices), and is regularly in demand as a soloist of oratorio.

The many varied projects he has been involved in have seen him work with artists such as Luciano Berio, Zubin Mehta, Jarvis Cocker, Scott Walker, Frank Zappa and Goldie. He has made over 50 CD recordings and sung on numerous blockbuster movie soundtracks, flashmobs & adverts. He also has sleeve credits for dog whistling, playing coconut shells and the Good Friday Clacker.

Richard is an avid supporter of a cappella, being a co-founder of the London A Cappella Festival in his final year in the Swingle Singers in 2010, and appears frequently as an adjudicator of singing competitions in schools in the UK and as a coach for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.


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!


Primary school children begin their a cappella journeys with Out of the Blue!

We always love it when groups from across programmes meet up to learn from each other – so imagine our delight when we heard that Out of the Blue – veritable a cappella celebs and current Voice Festival Champions – were heading to Eynsham Community Primary School in Oxfordshire to show them some a cappella basics.

What follows makes Voice Festival blogging history – our first guest post written by primary school children! Congratulations to everyone involved in the day – we hope it inspires other groups to get stuck in with a cappella collaboration and education.

We were lucky enough to have Out of the Blue come to Eynsham Primary School on Thursday 18th December to teach us some songs and warm-up exercises.

First OOTB performed in assembly to the whole school. The song that they sang was called ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ and everybody loved it. After that they did a quick piece about themselves so that we knew who they all were, although some of us had already learnt their names! Then every class had the chance to take part in a workshop with them.

The workshop began with Out of the Blue singing us one of their songs and the best part was Jack’s dancing. Then we did some warm-ups such as an exercise to warm up our bodies where we had to shake different parts of our body and count down from 8. Next Joel gave us a quick tutorial about beatboxing which really improved our original skills. Finally Roshan taught us how to sing one of their songs – ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. We were all very sad when we had to leave, but glad for the concert in the evening.

We were really lucky because OOTB came down to our class and we got to ask them questions. A few boys in our class also performed two songs for them (‘Hips Don’t Lie’ and ‘C’est La Vie’) with dance moves – it was so funny. They want to be in Out of the Blue when they are older.

In the evening Out of the Blue performed a concert in our school hall and lots of people attended. They sang lots of brilliant songs including ‘Silent Night’, ‘Rolling on the River’ and ‘Lady Marmalade’.

During the concert all children in the audience were able to perform ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ on stage with them. It was AMAZING and we had so much fun!

Here are a few quotes from some children about their time with OOTB:

“Absolutely wonderful! The best part was teaching us how to beatbox.”

“The best part of the day was when Singing Squad got to sing to Out of the Blue in assembly.”

“I really enjoyed Domhnall teaching us the song ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ and we had to bob up and down when a word started with ‘b’.”

“My favourite part was when a few of us sang and danced for Out of the Blue.”

 

OOTB Eynsham OOTB Eynsham OOTB Eynsham


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!


All the King’s Men get stuck into a cappella education

B2K3oWcCUAAnWq7 On Tuesday 11th November All the King’s Men journeyed to the Glyn School, in Surrey, to run a series of a cappella workshops across a range of age groups, including one made up exclusively of GCSE and A-Level music students. In each hour-long session the Men introduced the groups to a range of different aspects of a cappella music, including vocal percussion, harmony and breathing technique. As well as touching base with Dr. Couchman, the Glyn school’s head of curricular music and AtKM alumni Tom Hindmarch’s sister, we worked alongside other members of the music department staff to ensure the day ran smoothly. We were thrilled by both the enthusiasm of the students and the positive feedback from staff, and cannot wait to return to the school in the future.

For many of us, school workshops are a highlight of singing with AtKM. It gives us the opportunity to share our musical experiences, as well as introducing the next generation of musicians to areas of vocal music that are not included in the core curriculum. In a school such as the Glyn School, where years 7 to 11 are all-boys, one of the biggest challenges is dispelling the stigma around males singing. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of singing with the group when we get teenage boys to set aside their preconceptions about a cappella music, and join us in singing the All the King’s Men classic ‘In the Jungle’.

B2KfbSdIcAAdODyAll the King’s Men would like to thank the Glyn School for the warm welcome we received and to all of their music students for their tremendous energy. We look forward to continuing our involvement with schools and education over the forthcoming year and beyond.

A big thank you to Sam Lyons of All the King’s Men for sharing his experience of the day. If you think your group has done something noteworthy or unique with individuals from your community, and would like to write a blog post for us, email beth@thevoicefestival.co.uk for more details. Alternatively, if you’d like some tips on how to provide a cappella workshops for young people, or would like to be matched up with another group in your area, get in touch with amy@thevoicefestival.co.uk, who’d be delighted to help.


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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