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.


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.


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.


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!


Why we loved the opportunity to ‘Take the Stage’ – by The Gist

Image of all singing participants who took part in Take the Stage

Credit: Haydn Wheeler and LACF

 

Lancaster Barbershop Quartet, The Gist, are one of many youth a cappella groups who took part in ‘Take the Stage’ – a day of a cappella learning and performing which was organised by the Voice Festival UK and the London A Cappella Festival.  Here’s what The Gist had to say about it:

The Gist had looked forward to the London A Cappella Festival for a long time. We arrived at King’s Place in London on Friday morning having arrived in London from Lancaster the previous night. We received a warm welcome from the team, and we followed the other school groups into the first rehearsal room. Within minutes any nerves we had were lost, and we were all very excited to see what the day would bring. We started with big group warm up with the Swingle Singers and the five other school age a cappella groups. This proved to be very entertaining and a great way to break the ice. We were then split up into  groups, with two professional singers per two groups, for the rest of the morning. We were taken by Oli from the Swingle Singers and Tine from Postyr. They certainly put us through our paces! We were given a great deal of advice, guidance and different ways of singing together as a group, including many novel techniques we had never attempted before. We have benefited hugely from all their suggestions and they helped us to improve as individual singers and as a group. The day culminated in an afternoon performance where we could see the other groups involved. We also sang together with all the other school groups and the Swingle Singers themselves in a performance of ‘Lady Madonna’, which was a fantastic experience.

The ‘Take the Stage’ workshop provided us with unprecedented exposure to a wealth of knowledge of a cappella music, an incredible opportunity for which we will always be hugely grateful.

Thanks to The Gist! 

To find out about other opportunities for school age a cappella singers, please contact alexandra@thevoicefestival.co.uk