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 (Community Final 2015)

SARA COLMAN

Sara ColmanWriting music has always been central to Sara Colman. Across all three of her albums, original music has been a consistent theme. During 2010-11 whilst studying for an MA in Songwriting, Sara collaborated with her brothers Mat and Andrew on Sem Amor and Some Other Wonder for the eponymous Colman Brothers album.

She also co-wrote the track Stay for Karen Street’s album Another Story. ‘After growing up in Bristol I studied piano at Birmingham Conservatoire and gained a solid grounding in theory and harmony. I then spent several years working in a duo with the fine pianist Al Gurr and together we gradually undid a lot of our classical training to make way for the jazz music we had both fallen in love with. Gradually the duo expanded and I enjoyed the spontaneity and creativity of working with improvising musicians.’

Sara has also completed several commissions for larger vocal groups: Seven Songs for Seven Colours for Black Voices, as well as Celebrate and Amen for choral projects presented at Lichfield Cathedral and Birmingham Town Hall.

Sara was a recipient of an inaugural Birmingham Jazz award, a Jerwood Rising Star at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and one of 10 finalists from 15,000 entries in the BBC Radio 2 songwriting competition ‘Sold on Song’. She was also Kevin Mahogany’s chosen artist in the Jazz Connect Vocal competition in the US.

DOMINIC PECKHAM

DP-tutor-photo imageDominic Peckham is regarded as one of the UK’s finest young and 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.

Peckham has been commended by reviewers as ‘a lithe and modern Handelian…’ and ‘a latent star…’. He has worked with orchestras including BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, The London Mozart Players, The British Federation of Youth Orchestras, Scottish Opera and has marked his debut at The Royal Albert Hall, Barbican, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Usher Hall, Bridgewater Hall and Wigmore Hall. In addition, he has prepared performances for contemporary conductors Stephane Deneve, Richard Hickox OBE, Bernard Labadie, Edward Gardner, Simon Halsey, David Hill, Christopher Bell, Vassily Sinaisky, Sir David Willcocks, Lorin Maazel, Stefan Bevier and John Rutter.

In 2014, Peckham was invited to be Guest Chorus Master at English National Opera and worked on the highly acclaimed world première of ‘Thebans’ by Julian Anderson for the company in their 2013/14 season. The production received fantastic reviews and critics praised Peckham and the chorus for ‘their immense levels of intensity’. In autumn 2014, Peckham returned to the London Coliseum for productions of ‘Xerxes’ and ‘The Girl of the Golden West, working with leading lights such as Nicholas Hytner, Keri-Lynn Wilson and Michael Hofstetter.

In addition to his Musical Directorship at 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 (with whom he conducted a critically acclaimed recording of Benjamin Britten’s Choral and Organ works), 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, for whom he recently premièred their ‘Friday Afternoons’ commissions with the Jubilee Opera Chorus.

Always keen to promote and support new music, Peckham has comissioned many new composers and conducted an array world premieres, notably Oliver Searle’s ‘Pride, Poverty and Pianos’ for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Tpby Young’s ‘Love and Harmony’ for The London Mozart Players. As a talented composer and arranger himself, Peckham’s most recent premières include works with The National Youth Jazz Collective and The National Choirs of Great Britain at the Barbican. Dominic was Chair of the judging panel for The 2014 British Composer of the Year Choral Category.

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.


A Cappella in the Midlands – it’s time to discover Birmingham!

Though the main draw to Birmingham this spring is obviously the thrilling and ground-breaking event taking place from the 10th-12th April at Birmingham Conservatoire, there are lots of other reasons to visit the city too. Why not come along to all or part of the Festival Weekend and combine it with a sightseeing tour of the 2nd most populous city in Britain?

Birmingham has an astonishing industrial heritage, having catapulted into existence almost from nothing in the nineteenth century. The city was at the heart of the Midlands Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution; history buffs will love Sarehole Mill (which apparently inspired locations in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit) and the Birmingham Back to Backs, the last surviving court of back-to-back houses which were constructed for the rapidly increasing working class population of Britain’s industrial cities.

If you want architecture and art, you’ve come to the right place. The city was an important centre of art in the Victorian period and was instrumental in the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements, both of which were closely linked to applied arts, high-quality design, and their relationship with industry. Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum is a collection of enormous international importance, with the largest collection of works by Edward Burne-Jones in the world. For something a little more quirky, head to the Custard Factory; it’s a hip art and design hub set in the converted factory that used to produce Bird’s Custard, and is full of small galleries, independent shops and affordable cafes.

For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to Cadbury World is a must. 4 miles south of Birmingham, the attraction aims to educate visitors about the history of cocoa and the Cadbury family – but if history’s not your thing, the free chocolate is a draw in itself.

If you’re hoping for a cheeky shopping spree (or you make a last-minute decision to buy those essential matching accessories for your a cappella group) then there’s plenty in Birmingham to keep you occupied – from the world-famous Bullring to the Jewellery Quarter (the home of British jewellery), with plenty of high street stores and independent boutiques in between.

Tickets are still available for our Festival Weekend, so buy yours now to avoid disappointment! Whether you want to come along for the whole weekend’s programme of workshops and competitions, or you just want to come along to one of our competition slots and still fit in an afternoon of gorging Cadbury’s treats and filling your culture quota, we have a ticket option for you.


The Voice Festival UK returns to Scotland

After the blinding success of our event at Edinburgh Fringe last August, the Voice Festival team decided that one trip to Scotland each year just wasn’t enough! February 22nd, therefore, saw VF-UK team members once again braving the overnight buses, this time to Glasgow, for the second of our Regional Festivals.

The afternoon saw an excellent and unique workshop from celebrated tenor Alistair Digges. It’s certainly the first time we’ve ever seen an a cappella workshop that has used straws! The participants worked on strengthening their vocal technique and looked at all sorts of exercises to look after their voices. You can catch a glimpse of one of the pieces they learnt together here:

If you’re coming to the Festival Weekend, download the Vyclone app so we can have lots of fun with collaborative videos.

The evening saw a showcase of Scotland’s (and North Tyneside’s) finest with performances from University and Community Groups. Some fun facts about our participants:

– The Festival represented VF-UK’s newest team member Mabel’s debut event, and she was delighted to see a performance from the group she co-founded in Newcastle

– For 4 out of 6 groups it was their first Voice Festival event

– Half the groups had never performed outside their home city

– Half the groups had been in existence less than a year though the average length of a groups existence was over 8 years!

– 2 groups travelled over 300 miles on the day (and 2 Voice Festival team members travelled over 800 miles)

There were some very impressive debuts from the new groups the Killer Quines from Aberdeen University, Royal Blues from Newcastle University and In Toon from Northumbria University: we even enjoyed a Voice Festival first in the form of a headstand performed at the end of Royal Blues’ set! But the groups who have existed for that bit longer weren’t going to be shown up – Close Shave Chorus from Glasgow treated us to some real Barbershop classics, Tartan Harmony from Helensburgh sung a diverse set including a powerful version of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah and Choral Stimulation from Glasgow University did what they do best and showed off some INSANE mash-ups.

All in all, we had a brilliant day and are so pleased we went back to Scotland. If you can’t wait for your next a cappella fix we’ll be in Birmingham in just a few short weeks time!


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.


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.