Judge Insight with Richard Eteson

Richard EtesonIf you were writing a who’s who of UK a cappella, The Swingle Singers line up over the years would be a good place to start. Richard Eteson sang High Tenor with the Swingles for over 10 years and can be heard on 8 of their albums. Not to mention that he is a Voice Festival stalwart – coming back time and time again to judge for us, so he’s seen his fair share of UK a cappella over the years. This year he was one third of the University Semi-Final judging team and enjoyed watching 12 groups perform 8 minutes each.

After the weekend Richard shared some reflection on his judging experience, as well as some hints and tips that he would absolutely love to tell groups as they are planning sets in the future.

So first things first, what did you think of what you saw at the Festival Weekend?
I really enjoyed it and although it is a cliche, the standard really does keep getting higher every year. There is now real quality throughout the semi-finals and finals which is fantastic to see, although it makes it much tougher for the judges of course.

Time is short in a set, so what do you wish groups made more time for?
I felt a lot of performances have become quite formulaic as competition showcases – “let’s show off what our group/our star soloist can do, and pick a good balance of fast/slow songs ticking as many boxes as possible”. In essence I feel there needs to be a solid reason to include anything in a set – ask yourselves, “What is the function of this song/solo/bit of VP/feature?” or “How should this make the audience react/feel?”.

Impressive skills and impeccable performance are now very much a given at this level, much more can be explored in transmitting the emotion/feeling/reason of a song.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a group telling a single story throughout the set – maybe reaching over into drama a little bit. While we know time is precious particularly when planning for the Voice Festival or an Edinburgh show, groups might consider making a brief announcement between songs to the audience (either to make it more personable, or to make it seem more like a gig, to tell us more about the group, the song, the soloist, the back story of an arrangement), to make a connection between the performers and the audience.

Most importantly – The Voice Festival has one of the best judging rubrics around – a third of this is devoted to creativity in any aspect of the performance – be bold and imaginative – if done well it really will make you stand out!

Musically, what makes the excellent stand out from the average?
The general quality of musicianship and performance is now extremely high – always try and go deeper and further in rehearsal preparation than the next group in terms of tuning, solid groove/time, blend, ensemble, dynamic range, balance of voices, contrast or unity of voicing, style of song. In rehearsal there should always be something else that you can refine when breaking down an arrangement. Remember though once you’ve done all that work, that the song needs to be put back together again and still make sense as a whole.

Arranging is getting more ambitious, but it would be great for groups to consider writing an original song from time to time (rather than an arrangement of a well known song)

We know that groups are thinking about the visual impact of their shows more and more; what do you wish groups would consider?
Couple of thoughts on this one – particularly for the University and Youth groups: How about getting away from the uniform-like costumes? Consider starting the set off stage (at the moment every group enters, lines up, blows a note then starts), or staggering the entry (starting with a few singers then adding more bit by bit as the song grows).

And what about something different that a group could incorporate into their set?
Well, no one has the monopoly of ideas on this one but what about some audience participation in a classy way – not just clapping along, but teaching them a chorus line, or a 2 part refrain, or some elaborate body percussion that adds an extra dimension to the performance?

You can follow Richard Eteson on Twitter @WillyEteson


Meet Jes

Jes Sadler is an educator, singer and vocal percussionist from London, UK. He’s also one of our wonderful Patrons.

Jes spent nine years touring with a cappella group The Swingle Singers as Baritone and Vocal Percussionist, giving concerts in many of the world’s top venues, recording seven albums and serving as the group’s Technical Director.

Jes left Swingles in 2006 and became a founder member of ‘Beatbox Choir’ The Vocal Orchestra – a collective comprising some of the UK’s outstanding human beatboxers and vocalists. Founded by the beatboxer Shlomo, the ensemble’s debut performance was headlining the International Human Beatbox Convention at London’s South Bank Centre in 2007. Over the following years they played to thousands at The Big Chill and Glastonbury festivals, the South Bank Centre’s Chorus vocal festival and The Udderbelly and collaborated with artists as diverse as Jarvis Cocker, Ashley Walters, Mutya Buena, Cleveland Watkiss and Imogen Heap. 2010 saw Shlomo & The Vocal Orchestra take things to another level with the premiere performances of human beatbox musical ‘BOXED’ and the groundbreaking Concerto for Beatboxer and Orchestra by composer Anna Meredith.

An accomplished educator, Jes was Lead Tutor with Battersea Arts Centre’s pioneering project the BAC Beatbox Academy. This project continues to find and work with young people in South London by introducing them to beatboxing, enhancing their skills and developing their musicianship and collaborative abilities. Jes was also involved with the SPARK and Sing Up! UK education programmes, encouraging primary-aged children to find and experiment with their voices with his courses “My Voice – My Instrument” and “If You Can Speak, You Can Beatbox!”.
Since 2008, Jes has regularly led workshops for and judged the Voice Festival UK collegiate a cappella championships. He became a patron of Voice Festival UK in 2011.

Jes moved with his wife to Verona, Italy in 2012 and now works full-time teaching English to a wide range of learners using the Speak Your Mind method at the school’s headquarters in the centre of the city, as well as continuing to pursue various musical and spoken-word projects.

He is much in demand as a session vocalist for film, commercials and recordings and – being an ensemble specialist – Jes has performed with a number of other groups, the most recent and notable being a four-year stint in elite a cappella band The Magnets.

 

You can follow Jes on Twitter @thejesmeister

 

Why do you support the Voice Festival UK?

There is no better-organised, more enthusiastic, more professional, or more collegiate vocal competition in the world today as the annual Voice Festival Championships.  The love for vocal music is perfectly expressed through the dedication of the organisers and participants, the joy of the crowd, and the expansion of VF-UK into a beautiful support network for all those in the UK who love this thing called singing.