Archive for October, 2012

After a week to reflect on the incredible event that was AcappellaFest, here I finally write a promised review. There will be a great deal of information to follow – things learned, things affirmed, and things that a great deal more discussion is still required about.

First, I was not able to attend the Friday night collegiate competition. This was very disappointing for me, especially after hearing several of the groups that competed perform during the day on Saturday. Also disappointing is that I can’t report on it for my readers. This I know – The WashU Stereotypes were the winners and it was a narrow victory over tough and talent competition.

Now, for the main day itself:

8:30 AM – Registration

– Nothing overly interesting to report here, except I’m sure it’s the first time that AcappellaFest has scanned tickets with an iPad.

9:00 AM – (Live) Sound Check with Amanda Aldag and Charlie Friday

– First workshop of the day. There were four overlapping workshops every hour and a half and I wish I could’ve attended all of them. Knowing relatively little about live sound, I opted to check out this workshop with the Clear Harmonies team. This is a topic that I’ll be writing a separate post about later, so I’ll keep it brief. If you are on the east coast and you perform live, you should hire these two. They very clearly know what they’re talking about from both a sound engineering standpoint and a musical one as well. Everyone wants their performance to sound it’s very best and Clear Harmonies can do it for you.

At 10:00 AM my schedule said there was supposed to be an “acabomb,” one of several mini-performances scheduled through out the day. If somebody actually performed in that slot and I missed it, I’m saddened. If somebody missed their opportunity to perform, I’m also saddened.

10:30 AM – Arranging Panel with Sonos, Edge Effect, and Tom Anderson

– Some of you who read my blog know that I occasionally post arranging tips, so it should be no surprise that I will also be writing a full post about this topic. I spent quite a while at the end of this talking with Troy and Solomon of Edge Effect and Tom Anderson of Random Notes LLC. Here’s the two moments that have stuck with me. 1) You need to listen to a great deal of non-a cappella to truly become a good arranger. Vary the genres (mix in a lot of jazz and classical) and break down your favorite moments. 2) I walked to the acabomb with Tom and Solomon and as we got to the stairs we could hear the Bare Naked Statues performing Who You Are by Jessie J. It was good. Real good and the arrangement was pretty incredible. Tom was raving about a lick going into the first Chorus and then he stopped and goes, “Wait, which group is this?” He jogged up the stairs a moment and came back and told us that that was his arrangement he had done for the group just months earlier. Unless you are a world class arranger like Tom Anderson, you should be listening to other groups. Even the pros pick up things from each other (and sometimes themselves.)

(This was the best version I could find. Sorry.)

Lunch Break – The Qdoba on University of Chicago’s campus makes the worst burrito of any Qdoba/Chipotle type establishment in existence. Don’t go there.

1:00 PM – Open Masterclass with Sonos

– The UofC Ransom Notes had a pair of songs broken down by the incredible artists in Sonos. First they did this:

Yeah, that happened. Sonos gave great advice surrounding dynamics and really pulling out the key moments in the arrangement. Ransom Notes also did a version of The Other Side, but they did it with out soloists. This is a great way to really listen to everything that’s happening in the background and really focus on tuning and blending. My one note on this is that the Ransom Notes “let” their point man talk to Sonos the entire time and then he “translated” Sonos (unnecessarily) back to the group. Music directors, I know that sometimes it seems like your members don’t know the difference between piano and forte, but you can give them the benefit of the doubt in workshops. Besides, if they mess up, professionals get to correct them (and tell them some of the same things you’ve told them a million times before.)

2:00 PM – Vocal Chaos acabomb

– I’ve seen Vocal Chaos several times over the years including when they hosted AF last year. The newest version is probably the one I’ve liked the best and now is 6 folks including a female. I think this is the first time I’ve seen any of them with a woman. Ooooo. Just kidding, but I don’t recall a coed version of this group before. Looking forward to hearing more of them in the coming months.

2:30 PM – Aca-Jedi Mind Tricks

– Matt Caruso, the man behind A Cappella Psych, aca-blew mind mind and about 50 other peoples in a very small room. AF organizers, much larger space next year for this talk lest somebody’s brain should actually explode. That and probably fire code. I will also be writing a full post on this talk and now that I’ve used a couple of the warm-ups Matt taught, I’ll be able to better vouch for their awesomeness. (I’m fully aware that I’m quickly running out of adjectives to mean awesome/incredible/amazing. Bear or bare with me. Whichever suits you.)

3:30 PM – Rhythm and Jews acabomb – Yes, UofC’s all-Jewish group. One of my favorite Jewish/A Cappella pun combinations.

4:00 PM – Songwriting: Don’t Refuse the Muse with Jon McLemore

– I’ll be writing a post about this workshop separately. Yes, there’s that much to say about. There was only about a dozen attendees for this one, and I find that to be a shame, but all the more reason for me to post all of the things we talked about.

And with that the workshop portion of the day was over and I went out for dinner before the Professional Showcase in the evening. For sake of readability, I have decided to stop here and will post a second half to this review on another day. Til then, thanks for reading.


Businesses in this post that you should familiarize yourself with:

Clear Harmonies –

Random Notes LLC –

A Cappella Psych –


I spent the day yesterday at AcappellaFest at University of Chicago. A full day of masterclasses and acabombs (mini-performances) topped off with a Professional Showcase with Sonos and The Edge Effect. Jealous yet?

Across the next couple weeks I’ll be posting a review and multiple posts around tips and topics discussed at the event. I had chances to speak to Charlie Friday and Amanda Aldag about mic technique and purchasing sound equipment, Tom Anderson about arranging, and Matt Caruso about the psychological side of music. Those are just some of the bigger names I picked up tips and tricks from. The other people – amazing people that you just haven’t heard of yet – asked wonderful questions and created remarkable conversations ranging from why we should document everything in contemporary a cappella to why (or why not) to bench your altos for half a song if you don’t have something good for them to seen. Yes, that second one was a very specific conversation.

Here’s the main point:

If you find yourself with an opportunity to go to a major a cappella festival, take it. SingStrong, SoJam, LAAF – to name a few of many amazing festivals being put together by CASA and others this year – provide amazing opportunities to sing, learn, and network.

I’ll put together a longer post on the numerous benefits of these festivals in a later post, but it was on my mind and I thought I’d say hello to my 5 readers (counting my family). More soon, everyone.