Meet the Judges (Youth Final 2015)

Michael Humphrey

Michael HumphreyMichael grew up in Northern Ireland learning the bassoon and saxophone from a special collection of teachers and tutors in the area before eventually broadening out into piano lessons (so that he could be an effective music teacher himself) and self-taught guitar and singing.

He went to study at the University of Oxford where as well as getting access to an amazing degree programme, he fully enjoyed the extra-curricular life of orchestras, choirs, plays, open mics etc. The highlights were getting to conduct some major orchestral works, particularly the Grieg Piano Concerto and Tchaik 4, and joining and eventually directing a cappella group Out of the Blue. It was in this new a cappella context where he started to really love arranging and rehearsal directing – and of course the busy schedule of performances was the perfect lifestyle.

Next came 2 years in Edinburgh and a whole new set of inspirational people and mentors as Michael trained to be a high school music teacher, led a children’s choir, busked a lot, and did a bit more religious choral singing. Most pertinently at this time he started to invest some serious energy in writing songs.

He moved south in 2007 and took a teaching job in North West London, joined a second a cappella group In the Smoke and soon formed an acoustic trio with musical soulmates from university days. Now with more than 6 years teaching in the same school under his belt he is devoting more and more time to freelance music projects. His passion is to write songs, songs that are happy to show all of his overlapping influences, songs that are sometimes eager to please and other times wilfully quirky.

Ben Sawyer

Ben SawyerBen Sawyer is quickly gaining an enviable reputation as a dynamic conductor and choir trainer, always able to draw the best from his singers. Having left his job as Head of Music at Tewkesbury School in August 2012, he has been in regular demand to lead workshops, start new choirs and conduct existing ones. He has been Chorus Master for Gloucestershire Music’s Massed Chorus of 500 students which performed at the Royal Albert Hall in the ‘Music For Youth’ in November 2012. This has led to him being a founder conductor of the new Gloucestershire Youth Choir. Ben was also Assistant Conductor for Cheltenham Festival’s production of Benjamin Britten’s community opera, ‘Noye’s Fludde’, as well as regularly conducting Hanley Voices, Tewkesbury Voices and Tyndale Choral Society. Ben is now the director of The Oriel Singers.

Aside from conducting, Ben sings countertenor. He is a member of the international award winning male voice a cappella group, The Songmen. With The Songmen, he has toured America, China, much of Europe and performs regularly in the UK. He is also the group’s composer-in-residence and has had a number of his compositions and arrangements played on national radio. Ben has been a lay clerk at Birmingham and Gloucester Cathedrals and sings with Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, as well as being in demand as a countertenor soloist.

Ben is also in demand as an engaging adjudicator, having recently appeared at Tiffin School, Kingston and Magdalen School, Oxford as well as regularly for The Voice Festival UK, and for the Rotary Young Musician Competition 2014. In addition to this, he led a Masterclass for the Eton Choral Course at Malvern College in July 2014.

Emma Brain-Gabbott

Emma Brain-GabbottEmma Brain-Gabbott was born and educated in Cheltenham, before going on to read music at Trinity College, Cambridge, where she was also a choral scholar.

Since embarking upon her singing career, Emma has taken part in a wide range of musical activities, ranging from pop (she features on albums by such artists as the Pet Shop Boys, Take That, Bjork and Jarvis Cocker), West End shows, TV and film soundtrack projects (including Merlin and the latest Tim Burton film), through to opera, such as Peter Grimes in Salzburg, under Sir Simon Rattle. Emma also enjoys smaller scale vocal ensemble work, performing, touring and recording with such groups as the Sixteen, the BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music and I Fagiolini, among others.

Emma also works extensively as a soloist: she made her Proms debut with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and rejoined the CBSO as soloist in the first recording of Julian Anderson’s Four American Songs. Other recent oratorio work includes Mozart’s C Minor Mass in London, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Sweden, Haydn’s Nelson Mass in Tewkesbury Abbey, and solos in the UK premiere of Lindberg’s Graffiti at the Festival Hall. Future engagements include tours of France and Spain with the Sixteen, concerts in Versailles with the Dunedin Consort, and Bach’s B Minor Mass in Leipzig with English Concert. The autumn also sees a trip to China to perform Purcell’s Fairy Queen, and a tour of the United States with Tenebrae.


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


Take the Stage at London A Cappella Festival 2015

For a number of years we at The Voice Festival have collaborated with our friends at London A Cappella Festival to put on a schools event during the 4 day LACF takeover of Kings Place. This year, things were a bit different… Instead of bringing established groups together, we invited some schools that are just starting their journeys forming new a cappella groups. And what a day it was!

The brilliant Michael Humphrey kicked off the workshops for the day helping students and teachers alike develop the skills to learn and write a cappella music – it was a cappella by numbers! Amazingly, after less than an hour, we were building tricky chords, singing any interval under the sun and had 3 part complex rhythms going on.

A brief break for everyone to catch their breath and we were off again learning an arrangement of Uptown Funk from scratch. You would never believe more than half of the group hadn’t even TRIED a cappella before. An hour later, there was a very impressive version of the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit being sung. Oh, and on top of that, a short mash up section incorporating some fabulous Michael Jackson, Clean Bandit, and Jessie J solos.

After lunch, the groups were treated to a rendition of Weather to Fly by The Swingles. There were LOTS of wide eyes and open mouths as they looked desperately round for the drum kit. There wasn’t time for the kids to hang around though as it was time for our new students to start writing their own music. Midway through the session the Swingles decided to recruit a new member from within the hall, but realised that their next tour to the US would be tricky as Callum had to be back at school on Monday. The day was wrapped up with a performance of Uptown Funk, a listen to Glyn School’s version of Forget You and a special song about that night’s takeaway menu.

But that’s not the end of our links with these, all the schools will now head off with their new found skills and start a cappella groups in school as members of this year’s VF-UK School Start-Up scheme. So watch this space – this won’t be the last you hear of Glyn School, St George’s RC School & William Ellis!


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.


School Start-Up 2015 – What’s it all about?

P1040736Are you a teacher or do you work in schools? Want to get your boys and girls singing music that they want to sing while still working on harmonies, rhythm and allowing them to be creative? Then we would love for you to take part in School Start-Up. As ever, the Voice Festival is offering something bigger and better than ever before.

We know that getting young people singing can sometimes be tricky. Or what they want to sing doesn’t allow for collaboration and creativity. An a cappella group is THE perfect way to stimulate singing within schools. Over the last year within the Voice Festival Youth Programme we’ve seen groups of 40 boys from schools singing a cappella arrangements alongside their headteacher; we’ve seen some beatboxing by school students that you would not believe wasn’t coming from a beatboxer in a professional group; and we’ve seen lots of young groups performing arrangements that students of only 15/16 have written. It really is inspirational to see young people loving the music that they are singing.

Man BandSo how can you bring this to your school? We’re teaming up with our lovely friends at the London A Cappella Festival to offer you a launch event which will be the group’s first taste of a cappella. We’ll then send you away with a handbook and a mentor who has heaps of a cappella experience and will be on hand to answer questions and give you support on your a cappella journey. Then we’ll bring you back together with your new a cappella pals, introduce you to some University and Community groups and give you a performance event in which you can try out some of your new skills. If you like the sound of this then drop Amy an email on amy@thevoicefestival.co.uk and we’ll get back to you with some more information.


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.


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.


VF-UK at Ed Fringe: Rachael’s Voices!

8 days to go! 

We hope you’re looking forward to our Fringe Festival workshop and showcase as much as we are. Recently we managed to have a chat with the lovely Rachael, the driving force behind Rachael’s Voices, who we’re delighted to have performing at Greyfriar’s Kirk alongside a whole host of other university groups, as well as those from our youth and community programmes, on the 8th August. 

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

The group used to be a high school choir and I was their teacher. When I moved to a different school we took the choir outside of school. They have been singing together for about 6 years but it used to be very different – a school 2 part harmony choir. We came up to Edinburgh last year and performed in a showcase with All The King’s Men and Sons of Pitches which was fabulous! The girls have had GCSEs and A-Levels this year so have been very busy, but they’re working hard to deliver a great show!

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

We have a show at Symposium Hall 1st-6th at 3:05pm

 


Highlights from the Youth Programme, 2013-2014

Making plans for the next academic year has given us the opportunity to reflect back on all that’s been achieved over the past 12 months – which have flown past in a blur of a cappella magic! Over the next few weeks, our three fabulous programme managers will be sharing some of their favourite memories and moments from our most recent events.

Catherine

First up is Catherine, who has done a magnificent job of leading our youth groups and group leaders through a series of memorable workshops, webinars and competitions. Here’s what she had to say…

 

Well, what a year it’s been! From starting working with the Voice Festival at the end of September 2013, it’s been a year (well 8 months) spent living at 100 miles an hour ever since. I have been delighted by the quality and enthusiasm of all our Youth Groups this year so it’s really difficult to pick some highlights but here’s my top 10 (well I think it is anyway – ask me on a different day and I’ll tell you something else…)

1. The sheer number of brilliant boys that have been involved this year. Having never had a male Voice Festival Youth Champion before, it’s brilliant that we’ve had over 150 taking part in the Youth Programme this year.

Singers Limited and Swingles2. Seeing all our participants at Take the Stage standing on stage singing “Hallelujah” with the Swingle Singers.

3. During the Beatboxing workshop with Jack Blume at the Festival Weekend, seeing one of our teachers taking on a student in a beatboxing battle (the student won)

 

4. Hearing some of our teachers sharing stories and tips in a recent webinar about how they support a cappella in their schools.

5. Seeing some spectacular creativity at Take the Stage where some of our Youth Participants did some on the spot improvisation and enjoying some spectacular results

6. Some powerful solos throughout the year from every single group that’s taken part.

P10406717. The Tiffinians performance of Colder Weather in the Youth Competition Finals which was quite simply spine tingling.

8. Seeing the progress that both The King’s Barbers and Vocal Grange made between Take the Stage and the Youth Competition – just a month apart. (“Soul Sister” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” sticking in the mind).

9. Seeing some ex-participants from the youth programme singing in university groups and watching them support their former groups.

P104072810. Speaking to lots of youth participants completely enthused by a cappella with aspirations to carry on singing in groups way beyond their time at school.

So now we’re winding down for the year and starting to plan next year’s season! If you’ve got ideas then we’d really like to hear from you so do email me at catherine@thevoicefestival.co.uk. The next big thing that the Voice Festival team has been planning is going to be a showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a workshop in the afternoon – if you were going to go to sample some quality a cappella then why not try to fit August 8th at Greyfriars Kirk into your schedule!


VF-UK in your living room!

Teachers and youth group leaders, listen up… to brighten up your Mondays, our Programme Manager Catherine brings you some exciting news about the latest event in the VF-UK Youth Programme. Have some new ideas? Want to share some handy hints? Now’s the chance to have your voice heard!

 

It’s Catherine here – I’ll be blogging soon about all the fantastic things that have happened within the youth programme in the last year but I just wanted to let you know a bit about an event that is happening on Wednesday 21st May, in your living room. Never afraid to try something new, the Voice Festival UK is going to be hosting its first webinar and if you’re a teacher or run a youth group we want you to join in!

We’re going to have a discussion in 2 parts. In the first part we’ll be asking you all to share tips about running an a cappella group – from recruitment, to running rehearsals and everything inbetween. In the second half, we’re going to be talking about what the Voice Festival does and what you’d like from us. It’s your chance to shape our programme for next year!

Keep an eye out next week for a summary of this season’s youth programme and some of my personal highlights!

 

Contact Catherine if you have any questions, or simply sign up here.