Meet University Champions 2016 – The Bristol Suspensions

The Bristol Suspensions are still lost for words after an unforgettable weekend at VF-UK. So, they thought they’d let one of their more talkative (shall we say?) members, Stanford, share his experience of the competition in the way that only he can. We hope you enjoy…

Heading into the Voice Festival Weekend was a manic blur. With Suspensions jetting in from across the globe, our perennial organisational monarch Rafaella Barratt had a mammoth task in ensuring our collective arrival at Hampton School, but we made it and (lack of sleep notwithstanding) arrived in high spirits.

Back in 2015…

Our group had competed in the Voice Festival once before, last year in our first year as an ensemble, and it was a thunderously eye-opening experience that reinvented the way we all approached a cappella. The talent of all the other groups inspired us all to work our noggins off to push the boundaries ever harder regarding our arrangements, our choreography, our performance and even our dynamics – as insisted by our MDs! We wanted nothing more than to deliver on the standard present at the University Competition that had been such a showcase of diverse, kickass talent in 2015.

And to 2016!

This year was no different – the Sweet Nothings sizzled sass, Aquapella delivered on their reputation for next-level musicality, RadioOctave dropped musical puns and swag, and our Bristol-based buddies Pitch Fight made their VoiceFest debut and absolutely rocked our socks off. The Rolling Tones also provided a personal highlight with a stellar arrangement of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ (if you haven’t watched it, watch it).

Our group had competed in the Voice Festival once before, last year in our first year as an ensemble. It was a thunderously eye-opening experience that reinvented the way we all approached a cappella. The talent of all the other groups inspired us all to work our noggins off to push the boundaries ever harder regarding our arrangements, our choreography, our performance and even our dynamics – as insisted by our MDs! We wanted nothing more than to deliver on the standard present at the University Competition that had been such a showcase of diverse, kickass talent in 2015.

The calibre of the competing groups was just as immense as we’d remembered, and we were thrilled to share a stage with so many groups that all had a unique style to bring. Being surrounded by such talent is a surreal experience, but we entered into the whole affair with a group mentality of aiming for enjoyment rather than victory. We knew that this would help settle the nerves and make it easier to convey our own goofy brand of humour. To have made it through the video auditions stage was a privilege in itself so we weren’t too stressed out by expectation.

Our set

For our semi-final set we had decided on one of our favourite pieces of the year, a comedic mash-up of ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘Trouble’ arranged by one of our two MDs, Joe Pickin. This featured alongside one of our more experimental and recent additions to our repertoire, a medley of ‘Everything Everything’ numbers arranged by myself and our criminally modest beatboxer, Scott.

The hope was that the two arrangements would offset each other nicely and convey our ability to be both humorous and serious, although our decision not to perform any rendition of ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ had us feeling very left out!

Our progression to the finals was utterly unanticipated, and had us all absolutely giddy and gleeful. We leapt into the ‘aca-challenge’ with enthusiasm and had to rein in our joy and pride to avoid partying the night away, as we’d unexpectedly found that we had to save our voices for another stage of competition!

Workshops and the final!

We spent the following morning reclaiming our relaxed team environment by attending the various workshops and round table talks on offer at the festival. The choreo workshop especially highlighted the dazzling potential of certain group members. It’s all in the smile. Our last efforts were spent polishing our overall set, with the final addition of ‘Madness/Magic’ an arrangement the group had fallen in love with and the magnum opus of our other MD, Aliak Bedirian. It was the last piece of the puzzle that was our attempt to perform with a broad range of emotions, and sounded pretty neat too.

The standard at the final was phenomenal beyond our expectations. Bristol Suspensions were readily gushing backstage at what it meant for our group to even be appearing in a final with such honed and musical ensembles. To be counted among them was truly something else. We couldn’t stop grinning and that led to us performing our hearts out, giving it our all with complete trust in one another and generally having a #goodtimeonstage

And the winners are…

Evidently it came across, as, in some wacky fairy tale twist ending, we were immensely privileged to be announced as the champions. We also achieved awards for beatboxing and choreography and a beatboxing battle trophy along the way (to add to Scott’s list of achievements to humbly downplay).

We were so surprised and elated that, with true Bristol Suspensions class, we could only flop about the stage screaming like schoolchildren. We’d aimed only to have as enjoyable a weekend as possible, and ended up with an honour that blew our minds. Objective achieved.

With one last teary and bizarrely up-tempo encore performance of Madness/Magic, the competition was over, and we quickly elected to celebrate long past the early hours. A little too much cider and a little too much Singstar – the Bristol way. Amidst the revelry, a lot of pride was felt over our newest soprano, Eleanor, who made her debut as a group member at the event, as well as our MDs for all their hard work bearing fruit in such a positive way. The result validated the long hours of dedication, and that made us all feel absolutely on top of the world!

What’s next?

We’re completely indebted to the VF-UK team for delivering on such an entertaining and informative weekend. We’re so grateful for what we’ve achieved. Meeting and singing alongside other a cappella groups continues to be the highlight of such endeavours, and VF-UK is such an opportunity to get to know others, not to mention how useful and enjoyable the various workshops were. We had a blast.

We’ve got some plans in the works, as we’ve got to live up to our title now! We’ll be taking our EdFringe show, ‘Netflix and Trill’, up to the festival at the beginning of August, and we’ll be popping our heads into VF-UK’s own Edinburgh showcase as well. There are whispers within the group of some other surprises in store so keep an eye (and ear) out…

But for now, thank you to VF-UK and all the other groups for a fantastic weekend. The Bristol Suspensions can’t wait to see what the next year has in store!

The Bristol Suspensions - University Champions 2016


Judging Lineups: University Semi-Final

We’re really excited to be able to announce our judging lineups. These judges will have the tricky task of narrowing it from 12 University Groups on Friday to 5 for the Final on Saturday. Remember you can get tickets here.

 

Yvette Riby-Williams

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Yvette Riby-Williams appeared twice as a soloist at the royal Albert Hall before the age of twenty-one. Since then she has performed with a number of well-known musicians including Imogen Heap, Shlomo, Seb Rochford and Jarvis Cocker. In the last years she has made a name for herself in the beatbox and a’cappella circles with the ‘Boxettes’ selling out venues such as the Jazz Cafe, Cargo and the South Bank as well as performing in festivals all over the world. She is an experienced music educator, promoting creative learning for all ages.

 

Richard Eteson

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Richard 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 tenor 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 Parco della Musica, Rome. In 2010 he founded the London A Cappella Festival.

He has sung with many of London’s finest vocal groups, choirs and session groups (The Gabrieli Consort, Tenebrae, The Temple Church, Polyphony, Tonus Peregrinus, The Brabant Ensemble, The Eric Whitacre Singers, Heritage Voices, The Philharmonia Voices and London Voices), and regularly appears as a soloist of oratorio in the UK. He is frequently called upon as a judge of singing competitions and is a tutor for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.

The many varied projects he has been involved in have seen him work with artists such as Luciano Berio, Antonio Pappano, Jarvis Cocker, Scott Walker, Hans Zimmer, Sting, Aphex Twin and Goldie. He has made over 50 CD recordings and sung on numerous blockbuster movie soundtracks (e.g. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and James Bond Spectre).

He also has sleeve credits for dog whistling, playing coconut shells and the “Good Friday Clacker”.

 

Paul Smith

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Paul Smith is an innovative and creative performer, an inspirational educator and an empowering public speaker. As CEO of the VCM Foundation, co-founder of VOCES8 and author of The VOCES8 Method he has enjoyed a decade of work including global travel to prestigious concert venues, schools and universities. Paul is passionate about the impact singing and the arts can have in the widest possible context – from academic improvement to social skills and building more cohesive communities. He uses that passion to design and deliver unique, inclusive and uplifting performance projects.

The VOCES8 Method, written by Paul, is published by Edition Peters in three languages, and is now being used in thousands of schools in nine countries. The Method is designed to link specific music-making activities with academic improvement in numeracy, literacy and linguistics.

Since its inception in 2007 the VCM Foundation has worked with more than 250,000 young people. Projects have included massed singing performances at the Royal Opera House (London), Cité de la Musique (Paris) and La Folle Journée (Nantes); and with ‘singing city’ projects in cities such as Torino, Wroclaw, Lyon, Hannover, Houston, Albuquerque, Dallas/Fort Worth, Bermuda, Nairobi, Lagos, Dubai, Tokyo, and Taipei. Working in partnership with the Diocese of London, Paul has spearheaded the creation of a home for the VCM Foundation at the Gresham Centre, a centre for excellence in vocal music performance, education and outreach in the heart of the City of London.

As an educator and public speaker, Paul has given speeches and created sessions on music and leadership, teamwork, health and wellbeing, music and creativity and The VOCES8 Method. In 2014 he gave a TEDx talk entitled “How can we use music to help us learn?”. Engagements at international conferences include the ACDA National and Regional conventions; Europa Cantat; the London Music Education Expo at the Barbican; Chor.com, Germany; the World Symposium of Singing in Budapest at the Liszt Music Academy; Singing Cities at BOZAR in Brussels; and at the Royal College of Music in London.

Paul has been singing for nearly 25 years, first as a boy chorister with the choir of Westminster Abbey, and, since 2005 with the group he co-founded with his brother, VOCES8. As a recording artist with Decca Classics, Paul has featured on bestselling, chart-topping albums and won a host of international awards.


Judging Lineups: University Final

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

 

Nic Doodson

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Nic Doodson has been at the forefront of the global a cappella scene for the past 20 years as a performer, director, competition judge and producer. As a performer he founded The Magnets and took the group from amateur student beginnings to the most successful a cappella group to ever emerge from UK. The Magnets were the first contemporary a cappella group to land a major record deal when they signed with EMI in 2001 and went on to release three ground breaking and award winning records. Notching up over 2000 performances throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia, The Magnets set the template for contemporary a cappella performances which is now followed by up and coming vocal bands the world over; in many countries The Magnets were the first a cappella group to break through to the mainstream pop field and have performed to sold out crowds in cities such as Mumbai, Jerusalem, Harare (Zimbabwe), Moscow, Calcutta, Shanghai, Nanjing (China), Sydney, Auckland, New York, Berlin, Vienna, Singapore and many others.

As a producer Nic has created and managed a cappella shows at festivals throughout Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and as one of the most experienced a cappella performers in the world has judged multiple national and international a cappella competitions.

 

Grace Savage

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Having established a world-class reputation in the beatboxing scene with THREE British Beatboxing Championship titles under her belt, Grace is set to break into the music industry by harnessing her extraordinary vocal power in a melodic blend of edgy electronic pop. Her Debut EP is a beautifully crafted selection of dreamy, atmospheric pop which perfectly showcases Savage’s ethereal vocals alongside her beatboxing talent. With crashing beats, brooding production and hypnotic synth, the lead track ‘Diamonds on Your Skin’ was crowned the favourite of the show by the panel on BBC INTRODUCING Devon.

Fronting a live band and singing, Grace has shared the main stage at festivals with the likes of Rita Ora and Katy B, supported Labrinth and Newton Faulkner on his solo tour, as well as performing at the Glastonbury Festival and Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival. Grace’s loop station cover of BANKS ‘Waiting Game’ recently caught the eye of SBTV founder Jamal Edwards, leading to her SBTV debut and a request from the man himself to make a follow up which will feature on the website very soon.

Savage’s extraordinary creativity spans across her singing, acting and beatboxing alike, with Grace recently been listed as one of ELLE UK’s ‘Top 100 inspiring women’ alongside the likes of Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey. Following success at The National Theatre and a solo show at SOHO Theatre, Grace is receiving repeated high praise from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The independent, Metro, London Evening Standard to name but a few and is now signed to UNITED agents as an actor.

 

Russell Scott

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Russell Scott has been in the music industry, professionally, for over 35 years working in the worlds of Classical and Musical Theatre. He is not only a Producer and Musical Director, but an accomplished Singer and Vocal Coach.

As a performer he has performed all over the world, as a soloist and with leading choirs and orchestras. With over 100,000 record sales across his 4 solo albums, he’s also appeared on countless film soundtracks, opera, pop and musical theatre recordings.

His company, Russell Scott Entertainment Limited has developed into a successful and reputable entertainment production company specialising in creating and producing high profile, high-end productions. It has produced a number of hugely successful shows across the UK including ‘An Evening of Don Black’, ‘An Evening of Tim Rice’, ‘The Wonderful World of Ashman, Menken & Schwartz, and ‘From Stage And Screen… And Back Again!’ which raised over £15,000 for charity. He produced the critically acclaimed ‘Godspell In Concert’ at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End in 2014 which went on to tour the UK in 2015.

Specialising in ‘performance’, he regularly directs masterclasses and workshops, and has worked with choirs and ensembles around the UK including the acclaimed Military Wives Choir. He is Musical Director of Next Stage Choir and Waddesdon Manor Choir.

Russell leads an enormously busy life having achieved great success in the cross-over of genres. Music is his soul and his passion, and he is committed to finding and developing new musical talent, giving opportunity to those with the ability and dedication to succeed at the highest level.

For more information about Russell Scott, please visit www.russellscottentertainment.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @RussellScottUK and presents his own YouTube blog, A Life In Music with Russell Scott, aimed at performers who strive to be the best they can be.


Meet our 2015 Youth Competition Champions, The Dreamettes

What’s it like to win the VF-UK youth competition? The Dreamettes tell us here in their guest blog. If you’re feeling inspired by the girls’ successes and would like to get involved with the Voice Festival’s youth programme, check out our dedicated page here, or take a peek at our plans for VF-UK’s annual Take the Stage event.

IMG-20150411-WA0007The Dreamettes was formed back when we were in Y7 at Putney High School (now all in Y13). Our music department is unusual in that every single year group is represented by at least one a cappella group, if not two in most cases. Thanks to this strong a cappella tradition in the school, the Dreamettes have flourished, growing in membership and ability year by year, as well as triumphing in school music competitions.

But it was taking part in the Voice Festival UK that pushed us to our limits and made us realise what we could achieve. Suddenly a cappella became so much more than standing in a semicircle to sing a pop arrangement, and our motivation was raised to a new level. Heated discussions about choreography and presentation, which would have been given nowhere near as detailed thought a year ago, became the norm. Musical details such as note lengths, tuning and dynamics were now more vital than they had ever been before. We even dedicated some of the Easter Holidays to rehearsing for the VF-UK finals at group members’ houses (in hope that the neighbours would enjoy our heart-melting rendition of ‘Make you feel my love’)!

Soon the day of the Finals arrived, and Dreamettes set off to Birmingham, all squeezed onto a minibus with the two other a cappella groups from Putney High taking part, not forgetting three of our teachers. Many were still half asleep, but after being perked up by a trip to Costa Express en route, excitement levels began to peak. The whole coach was singing in full voice as we drew nearer towards the city.

We finally reached Birmingham Conservatoire, where the VF-UK organisers and participants were met by a crowd of 30 excited girls, ready to sing it out. The day began with some highly energised workshops on stage presence and beat boxing. With boots and cats flying all over the place, hundreds of participants united to form one unstoppable human drum kit, and let’s not forget that R600 loop machine which made us all turn green with envy.

Before we knew it we were whisked straight off to rehearsals and a sound check in the Adrian Boult Hall. Minutes passed and the nerves began to kick in. We were more excited about singing together than we ever had been before, but as we waited by the stage door it was as if we were shaking as a single body, all feeling both the same adrenalin and fright at performing in front of hundreds of people. Then one of us said ‘Guys, it doesn’t matter whether we win or not. Let’s just go out there and sing’. So that is what we did. We didn’t know whether it was our best or worst performance – all we knew is that we were out there doing what we have always known and loved.

Everything after that was a blur, and suddenly we found ourselves back on stage alongside the five other groups competing in the Youth Finals. With no idea what to expect and tension rising, we waited anxiously as various thank yous and awards were being given. There was an especially big applause from us for Jo Nicholls, the founder of the Dreamettes and the rest of Putney High’s a cappella groups, who received a special award for one of 10 arrangements she contributed towards the VFUK Finals. Emily Hazrati, a budding young composer in the Dreamettes, also won an award for her arrangement of ‘Budapest’ by George Ezra.

‘The winners brought the programme to life and made great use of the performing space’. This was the moment of truth. As soon as we heard the word ‘Dreamettes’ we all screamed at the top of our voices with shock and pure joy. There was lots of hugging, crying and laughing as we organised ourselves into formation for an encore of ‘Some Nights’. I still can’t find the words to describe how amazed and happy we felt at that time.

Photos, interviews, more hugging and crying, yet it still didn’t end there! After a celebratory dinner at Wagamamas, many of us stayed to watch the University Finals. To say that we were completely awe-struck by the groups we saw performing is an understatement – the genius arrangements, professional-level choreography and musicality blew us away and gave us something even higher to aspire to. We’ve all decided to make our University application based on places where there’s a good a cappella culture! Hosting the evening was the Sons of Pitches, and they were awesome. This made us realise that a cappella carries on even after school and University.

Taking part in the VF-UK finals has helped our group come together and given us inspiration for the future. We’d like to thank Voice Festival UK kindly for such an incredible experience, encouraging us to achieve great things as a group and providing a platform for young a cappella groups across the nation.


The University of Exeter’s Semi-Toned – VF-UK University Champions 2015

Semi-Toned 2015Semi-Toned have been involved with the Voice Festival UK since before I even went to university. In 2012, the group, barely eighteen months old, entered the South West regional of the competition in Bristol. Although they made a strong impression, taking home the awards for outstanding arrangement and vocal percussion, they lost out on a place in the final to Bristol’s HotTUBBS, a group Semi-Toned would not cross paths with again until 2015’s Voice Festival weekend. The following year—my first at university—the South West regional competition was held in Exeter. By then we had abandoned our barbershop roots and performed a much more contemporary set, consisting of Cee Lo Green, Hard-Fi, Stevie Wonder and Muse. It was in this performance that the group first began to realise its potential, with judge and former Swingle Singer Tobias Hug offering strong words of encouragement. However, the confidence we had gained was soon washed away at the London final, where it became clear that we had a long way to go to catch up with the other, more established university groups. We left empty-handed, but excited to have ‘broken in’ to the university a cappella circuit, even if the best compliment we received was Dominic Peckham’s observation that our outfits matched the stage curtains.

In the summer of 2013, Semi-Toned headed to Edinburgh to put on our first ever Fringe show. We improved massively in preparation for this, and the work paid off—the show was a huge success, and by the time Voice Festival 2014 rolled around, we had established ourselves as a group to watch out for. This improvement was well-timed, as the Voice Festival’s decision to scrap the regional competitions in favour of a video submission-based system meant that all groups were competing with each other, across the nation. As you can imagine, whilst this was fairer, the standard necessary to be invited to the London semi-final was suddenly much higher. Thankfully, we made it through both the video round and the semi-final. At the final, we made a much stronger impression than the year before, largely due to the outlandish nature of our set—our mash-up of Olly Murs’ “Dear Darling” and Ylvis’ “The Fox” certainly managed to a raise a few eyebrows, as well as our Tolkien-tinged version of John Newman’s “Cheating”. We managed to snatch two awards—including “Best Soloist” for the irreplaceable Michael Luya—but lost out on the ultimate prize to the professionalism and charm of Oxford’s Out of the Blue, whose stunning rendition of “The Sound of Silence” meant they became the first group to win the competition twice.

Having felt that we were so close to winning, it would be a lie to say we were not disappointed that day. It was becoming clear that the standard of UK collegiate a cappella was improving exponentially, and we certainly felt the pressure to get ourselves ahead of the curve in preparation for our second Edinburgh Fringe show that summer. Despite any internal doubts we had, the group managed to pull it off, and “Toned Up!” managed to cinch a Bobby Award, one of only a handful given out that year by review company Broadway Baby. This perfect end to the academic year was slightly foreboding for me, as I had just been elected as Semi-Toned’s first official musical director (the group had run itself somewhat anarchically since the departure of founding father and eternal president Eddie Henley). I knew when the 2014/2015 year began that the only way the group could outdo itself again was to win the Voice Festival.

This was also the year that the group underwent its most significant re-shuffle in terms of membership. With five new faces in a twelve-man group, first term was largely spent frantically learning repertoire to quickly crank the group up to the standard we were used to. I can’t praise our new members enough for the diligence and raw talent they displayed in the early weeks of this year, performing music at multiple large gigs which they had barely gotten a chance to learn. The upside of all this raw focus, of course, was that, even though almost half the group had changed since Edinburgh, Semi-Toned were back on form very quickly, and earned an excruciatingly close second place at the ICCA’s first British regional in January 2015. Our friends in All the King’s Men took the prize, and as they performed their victory song we began to set our sights on the only goal we had left—Voice Festival 2015.

As usual, our preparation was anything but structured. Having customised our ICCA set for a microphone-based performance, we knew we could not simply touch it up and take it to Birmingham in April for VF-UK. But the problem with knowing that you need new repertoire is that you have to actually write new repertoire—and waves of inspiration are few and far between. Thankfully, we already had a fantastic number arranged by Eddie Henley, an aggressive mash-up of “No Church in the Wild” and the theme from Game of Thrones which featured in our 2014 Edinburgh show. Newbie tenor Ted Bartram took on the seemingly impossible task of replacing Adam Carpenter in this song, and gave the solo an icy, characterful flavour that we knew was sure to impress.

Michael Luya Semi-TonedOur two other semi-final pieces turned up as and when we needed them, which is always the way. My mash-up of “Uptown Funk” and Flo Rida’s “Low” (“Lowtown Funk”, geddit?) meant we had the comic element we always strive for, and Rob Cross, who had previously only dabbled in arranging, surprised us all by turning up with a stunning arrangement of Regina Spektor’s “Samson”, meaning we had the Luya-bomb primed and ready to drop. However, we still had a big, gaping, four-minute hole that needed filling in case we got through to the final and had to perform for twelve minutes instead of eight. We began to wonder what old song we could slot in there—perhaps Mulan’s “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” would do it, or even Meat Loaf’s “Dead Ringer for Love” which went down so well in Edinburgh?

But then a thought struck me—in our Edinburgh show, a number that really pleased the audience was our rendition of “Cry me a River”, which replaced Justin Timberlake’s famous falsetto with a trio of basses. The general lack of solos for those of us blessed (or cursed) with lower voices was something I wanted to exploit again, and a few days later I had arranged a version of the famous bass solo “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, mixed up with Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”. We decided to take a risk and make this song our ‘secret weapon’, opting not to perform it in the semi-final and just pray we got through to the final. We soon began to regret this when we saw the standard of the competition in the semi-final—every single group performed better than we had ever seen them perform. How on earth the judges managed to whittle the twelve competitors down to just five finalists is beyond me. We particularly enjoyed the other four groups at the festival representing the South West—our old friends from Bath Aquapella were classy as ever; the Bristol Suspensions had come on leaps and bounds since we first met them back in October; our female counterparts the Sweet Nothings absolutely raised the roof with their version of “Midnight Caller”; and we finally got to see the HotTUBBS perform again—their instruction “Don’t forget the Mexican spices” has quickly become something of an anthem for us.

Semi-Toned 2015If we thought the semi-finals were tough, the finals were on a different league altogether. Every year the Voice Festival UK gets better, but in 2015 the standard was unreal. At one point, when the judges were about to announce the over-all winner, I reassured my friend Tommy that any single one of the groups deserved to win, and that we should not be ashamed to be a runner-up amongst such stellar competition. When the judges announced that we had won, the room exploded—I honestly can’t remember much about what happened next, except that we performed “Rich Man” one more time, at a tempo that, as musical director and as the song’s soloist, I would definitely call ‘uncomfortable’. Nonetheless, it was the perfect end to a perfect weekend, and the next day, bleary-eyed and still not quite believing we’d finally done it, we headed down to Heathrow to begin our first ever international tour to the east coast of the USA.

Thanks to Edward Scott of Semi-Toned for contributing this guest post.


The Dreamettes – winners of the VF-UK 2015 Youth Competition!

Congratulations to The Dreamettes of Putney High School, who have just won our Youth Competition at Birmingham Conservatoire! The standard was unbelievably high this year and we don’t envy our judges having to pick a winner. A big well done to all who took part.

Have a watch of The Dreamettes’ fantastic versions of ‘Some Nights’ and ‘Pompeii’ and check back here soon for an interview with the winning group.


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 (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.


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.


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.