Ever wondered what it’s like to attend a Voice Festival workshop?

Attending a singing workshop may seem like an intimidating prospect for beginners – so find out a little more about what they involve by reading our latest guest blog by Kam Sandhu and Houmaa Chaudry. As well as enthusiastically volunteering to help out at our Festival Weekend, the girls found the time to attend Tobias Hug’s unforgettable beatboxing workshop – and loved every second. If you like what you read, why not stop by our workshop at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August?

Amongst the non-stop rehearsals and performances at the Voice Festival weekend, groups and guests alike had the opportunity to attend workshops hosted by some rather prominent members of the a cappella community. On Saturday morning, Tobias Hug (a former member of The Swingle Singers, University Final judge and inspiration to many young a cappella singers) led a 2 hour workshop on the art of beatboxing. Despite the room being filled (a huge turnout meant for some fantastic group performances) with a range of beginners and fully fledged beatboxers alike, the workshop catered for all abilities.

Tobias beatboxing workshop 1To begin with, a lesson on the basics of beatboxing – and mimicry. Explaining the requirements for a good vocal percussion beat, Tobias walked the attendees through how to form popular sounds without using your actual voice. Even for the beginners in the group (ourselves included), this was a simple way to follow the lead of the more experienced. Through practice and repetition, these sounds were then combined to create short beats of varying genres – even samba was included! After experimenting with different samba beats (and some questionable dance moves on one side of the room) incorporating a vocal version of the seemingly underrated instrument that is the cowbell, it was time to put to use the large turnout at the workshop. The room was split into four groups. One group were allocated a ‘dm’ sound, another a strong ‘ka’ sound, a cymbal-resembling group and the timing-controlling hi-hats. What did this get us? Only a human drum kit! Tobias, along with Ed Scott (Semi-Toned), Tegan Creedy (The Rolling Tones) and a young guest at the workshop, then conducted this ‘beatbox choir’ for some impromptu upbeat music.

Tobias beatboxing workshop 2Moving away from the entirely musical aspect of beatboxing, the group then began to recreate the sounds of a tropical thunderstorm, leading onto an extravagant movie plot to which we could create an entirely vocal soundtrack. About 15 minutes later, the movie soundtrack in all its finished glory was performed. Had you been standing on the other side of the door, you would be forgiven for thinking we were watching an award-winning film (albeit with a very strange plot) inside. Beginning with a perfect rendition of the 20th Century Fox tune, the scene was then set in a rainforest from which marched an army. It was a battle of humans versus animals. Arrows were shot, grenades were thrown and even a cannonball was launched. The conclusion of the story was that the opera singers broke the glass and won the battle. No, it didn’t make any more sense had you witnessed it in person, but it provided an incredible soundtrack nonetheless! Some of the standout solo sounds from the soundtrack had to be an oddly-placed (but ingenious) rendition of Rue’s Whistle (From The Hunger Games), a dolphin impression, an eagle whistle and a scarily good impersonation of Chewbacca (Star Wars) – so if any of those were your doing, give yourself a pat on the back!

Tobias beatboxing workshop 3The workshop was rounded off with an improv circle (it wasn’t really a circle – more like a line) where 4 singers were asked to create a part (on the spot!) to complement the parts created by the others. Together, this created a musical piece that could be conducted by Tobias to vary the volumes and add news sounds, therefore experimenting with the sound as a whole. And in case you don’t have enough people to recreate a whole musical piece for yourself, Tobias then demonstrated how you can do this yourself with the help of a loop pedal! Using a 5 channel loop pedal, and with a little help from those in the audience, the final product of the workshop was a well-timed, brand new tune that will be playing in our minds for weeks to come.

As always, thank you to Tobias Hug for hosting the workshop with such success, as well as to the volunteers that bravely agreed to stand up in front of the rest of the group and conduct or sing/beatbox on the spot! We’re sure we don’t just speak for ourselves when we say that it was a truly incredible and invaluable experience.


Getting to know The Sons of Pitches

We at the Voice Festival UK have known Birmingham-based a cappella group The Sons of Pitches since they burst onto the university a cappella scene in 2010 with those memorable boiler suits and exciting new sounds. Much has changed since then, however – the boiler suits are a thing of the past and the Sons, despite members holding down full-time jobs or finishing off their time at university, are now a professional a cappella group.

We’re dead excited to be welcoming the Sons to our Festival Weekend in Birmingham in their various capacities – they’re not only performing at and MCing our Youth Final, but are also giving a workshop on improvising and performing with confidence (essential skills for every a cappella singer!). Remember, even if you’re not in an a cappella group, you can enjoy the Sons’ performance by buying a ticket to our Youth Final – or if you fancy learning some top tips at their workshop, you can attend as an individual singer by purchasing a Weekend Pass.

So, without further ado… let’s meet the Sons! (with many thanks to Joe Belham for taking the time to answer our burning questions)

What’s a day in the life of the Sons like?

We’re all currently employed in full time jobs apart from two of the guys who are still at university. When we aren’t learning, teaching or making coffee we like to relax like any normal boys would and make highly complex a cappella arrangements. We also like eating copious amounts of biscuits!

What’s your perception of a cappella singing in the UK today? Do you think it’s changed much since the group first started?

The UK a cappella scene has changed massively since we started out about 4 years ago. The ‘cool factor’ of beatbox and the internet’s interest in a cappella have helped to give the genre a much wider audience. No longer do people think it is a ‘geeky’ or ‘nerdy’ practice! It’s so great to see such a high volume of groups come out of University but also to see groups starting out in schools across the country.

What are your musical influences, and how do you think that contemporary a cappella singers can learn from and be informed by different musical genres?

We have a huge range of musical influences from Bryan Adams to Beyoncé, from Daft Punk to Daniel Bedingfield and from Muse to Missy Elliot. Because we all come from such different musical backgrounds we can achieve a sound that is noticeably eclectic (hopefully) and we always take all ideas into account. We’ve never wanted to be pigeonholed into a particular genre. This is the benefit of a cappella and its intrinsic sense of musical freedom. If an electronic song is missing some drive then you could look to a drumbeat from an Arctic Monkeys track for some influence. There is no wrong answer when arranging for us.

Can you give any hints as to what our workshop attendees can expect from your session at the Festival Weekend?

We have always sought to inspire confidence whenever we’ve lead workshops. We aren’t particularly interested in communicating the minutia of chord or harmony – instead we want to convey how a cappella can allow you to try anything without fear. Improvisation is a huge part of what we do and attendees will be encouraged to try and make some music up on the spot! We also like to make it clear how important working as a team is both when arranging and performing.


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!


The Voice Festival Emerging Leaders Programme

Exciting new opportunity for the new year!

We are offering a brand new 6-month scheme for vocal workshop leaders in the early stages of their career to receive training from the Voice Festival.

Those that are selected for the programme will receive the title ‘Voice Festival Emerging Leader’ and will be given support, feedback, professional mentoring, and a grant towards their development. They will also have the unique opportunity to run a workshop at one of the Voice Festival events taking place this year.

Full information about the programme, including application details, can be downloaded here: Emerging Leaders.

We warmly welcome applications from those keen to make the next step in their professional careers. Applications are now open, and will close at midnight on the 20th February. For applications, enquiries or to arrange an informal discussion – email voice@thevoicefestival.co.uk


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.


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.


Meet Dominic

“Dominic’s sessions were brilliant. For my group, as non-trained singers, we’ve never had access to the kind of professional advice that Dominic brings.”  2013 Birmingham University programme participant

 “…Dominic Peckham is a man on a mission to get more people singing…” Jonathan Wikely, Music Teacher Magasine

 

Dominic Peckham is regarded as one of the UK’s finest young, dynamic orchestral and choral conductors. Hailed as ‘one of the most exciting conductors of his generation’, Peckham has been commended at home and abroad for his ‘freshness and vitality’ directing both orchestras and choirs whilst delivering ‘gutsy, raw and exciting performances’.

A conductor of immense energy and focus, Peckham is renowned for his dedication to the Renaissance and Baroque era, whilst also passionate about the delivery of new works and inspirational collaborations.

In addition to his new appointment of The London Oriana Choir, Peckham holds an impressive array of posts including Artistic Director of The Royal Opera House’s ‘RM19’ Youth Chorus, Assistant Music Director of The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, Artistic Director and Founder of iSingUK, Artistic Director of The Fourth Choir, Director of The Ulster Youth Training Choir and Guest Conductor for Aldeburgh Music. 

An ambassador for choral music of international renown through both performance and his extensive pioneering educational work, Peckham has served as Vocal Director for the BBC Choir of the Year, as a consultant of Trinity Trinity Guildhall’s teaching programme and as a guest speaker for ‘Sing Up’

Recent engagements include a live broadcast with The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain Chamber Choir for BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Choir’ from Sage Gateshead, The 2013 Brighton Early Music Festival and a special broadcast for BBC World Service focusing vocal harmonies across the world.

He has worked with orchestras including BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, British Federation of Youth Orchestras, Scottish Opera and has marked his debut at many prestigious venues across the UK including the Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican, Birmingham Symphony Hall, and Usher Hall. 

 

@DominicPeckham

www.dominicpeckham.com