Category: Event Review


ICCA season is upon us again and this year it is full Pitch Perfect references and new groups rising to collegiate a cappella glory. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend enough ICCA events in my lifetime thus far, so when I had the chance to head down to Normal, IL for the event at ISU, I had to take advantage. Here’s a quick review of the performances.

Host Group: ISU Acafellaz. This classic all-male group (with a classic all-male group name) had some of their best moments during judging deliberation but gave us a good warmup for the night and a heads up that the mic’ing for the hall was going to be less than adequate for most of the groups. More on their performances later.

In Competition Order:

The University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) Xtension Chords. Same outfits they’ve been wearing every year that I can remember, these guys opted not to run out on stage this time around. The choreography, arrangements, and set order all felt really familiar from the last time I had seen the Xchords perform at ICCAs. The started off their set with Babel (Mumford & Sons) using a bass soloist. I’ve been recently thinking about some Mumford arrangements and the “jim ba da” syllable choice seemed to be a good one, if not the common one. It worked for them and the opener had great energy. The Xchords opted to key change at the end of the piece, rather than stop and take a new pitch from the pipe. This is a great way to literally connect your set together, but make sure your change is clean or it will do more harm than good. A tenor soloist stepped out for Swallowed in the Sea (Coldplay) and based on the range he showed in his background parts in the first song, I was more excited to hear what he would do. Unfortunately the key was just too low and the song took a long time to let him really get in his wheelhouse and flex some vocal muscle. Closing with Some Nights (Fun) could have been a bold choice this year, especially since they ended up having to perform first (again), but the lead carried them to close out a very solid all around performance.

The Northwestern University Undertones. I was looking forward to seeing this group perform after hearing good things about their set from the year prior. The came out strong with the first Pink song of the night in Raise Your Glass. The soloist had a fantastic sincere quality in her voice and backed by the rest of the 17 member group, they put out quite a sound. The shout out to the tv show Cheers to close it was clever. Next up was Follow Me Back Into the Sun (The Rescues) and there was a trio that surrounded a single female lead who would turn out to be one of my favorite soloists of the show. The arrangement had some great moments and flowed smoothly into the closer, another Rescues song, You’re Not Listening. As I noted during my live tweeting, they took a note out of the Voices In Your Head playbook from last year by bringing the songs back together to close out the set. There were some pitch issues here and there, but it was overall a good set.  Many (good) sets don’t have 3 songs that truly fit together, but in this case the final two were so melded that I couldn’t help but feel like the first song didn’t fit in which may have hurt them overall with the judges.

Illinois State University Secondary Dominance. Clear hometown favorites from the second they stepped onto the stage. Leading off with a Jessie J song in Domino, was one of the many head nods to Pitch Perfect by the all-female groups in this competition. Warwick Avenue (Duffy) was the second song of the set and one of the things that was really clear about this set was that these girls knew how to end a song. The final chords of both of the first two songs were aca-awesome (couldn’t resist). Closing with Hate (I Really Don’t Like You) (Plain White T’s) left this set with lots of power belting and high hopes of what would come from the rest of the all-female groups in the evening. Side note: There were 4 all-female groups and only 1 all-male. Feel free to fact check me on this, but I’m pretty sure that’s a first in an ICCA competition. What hurt Secondary Dominance the most in the end was the typical all-female troubles – lots of highs and not enough lows – something which the next group would handle spectacularly.

The University of Illinois (Champaign Urbana) Rip Chords. The second of 4 U of I groups to hit the stage, these girls made their low altos and strong VP known from the get go with Valerie (Amy Winehouse). I rarely notice costuming unless it’s a groups standard (Xchords) or terrible, but the ladies of Rip Chords looked extremely classy in their matching tops, dark jeans, and blazers. We All Need Saving (Jon McLaughlin) was the slow/tone poem piece of this set. One thing I noticed in the first two arrangements was the gaps when the soloist wasn’t singing. I don’t think everything needs to have a filler, but We All Need Saving felt very square and at times empty. These concerns were all but forgotten when the Rip Chords entered their closer, No Light, No Light (Florence + The Machine). An outstanding soloist rose back by a very full arrangement and some outstanding percussion made this one of my favorite all-female performances of all time.

Intermission – I’ll take a moment to comment on how strange it was to see an All-Illinois quarterfinal. With separation of the Midwest Region into Great Lakes and Midwest, logical grouping of universities was sure to follow. It will probably make for several rough quarterfinals this year with the U of C groups all going head to head, and likewise for Illinois, Michigan, Missouri State, WashU, Northwestern, and other traditional midwestern powerhouses I’m forgetting about at the moment.

Illinois Wesleyan Silence Interrupted. The first of two groups form Wesleyan rounds out the Illinois school represented in this competition. I heard this was this group’s first year, and they should be commended for getting accepted to and putting together solid ICCA set after just one year. While this set wasn’t quite of the same caliber of the rest of the groups (partially hampered by only having 10 people vs. the normal 15), there are definitely big things to come from this energy filled bunch. One comment on the set was that they performed A Team by Ed Sheeran which I’ve been expecting to hear all year, but had not heard before this show. I’m a big fan of this song, so if anybody else has done a cover, send me a link.

University of Illinois (Champaign Urbana) Girls Next Door. Try and find this group on twitter some time – NSFW. Just sayin. First Adele tracks of the night, and with all of the all-female groups, I must admit, I was expecting many more. These girls lead off with a mashup of Duffy/Adele with lots of energy. I don’t have a whole lot of notes on this set except for their second song. Hide and Seek (Imogen Heap) came out in 2005 and was consequently performed by every a cappella group in America (and other nations as well) for about the next 5 years. Then Jason Derulo sampled it for a song and people started singing mmm whatcha say, again. The Girls Next Door sang a very clean and beautiful version of this song, but there was nothing original about it and it’s place in a 2013 ICCA set is borderline unforgivable. They closed with I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not a Soldier (The Killers) wrapping up a well sung, but very long feeling set.

Illinois Wesleyan Touch of Class. The final all-female group of the evening. Leading off with a very strong version of Mama Who Bore Me, I could help but think the VP was unnecessary. I recalled a moment in the pitch perfect book where someone was talking about whether or not to have VP on a Beelzebubs track and they decided that they would quietly mix the VP in the background, which was “no decision at all.” This song left me wanting to hear it again without the drums, which speaks to the quality of the singing, rather than against the quality of the VP. The next song was Bottom of the River (Delta Rae) and it was mashed up with Skyfall (Adele) – a mashup which thematically made a lot of sense. The soloist on Skyfall was really outstanding as well and made this one of my favorite songs of the night. Touch of Class closed their set with Perfect (Pink) and swapped soloists about every 8 bars. This is great for showing off your groups talent and making people feel involved, but I feel like it often hurts continuity (unless you do it like the SoCal Vocals). All around I was very impressed by the all-female groups of the evening, despite my initial uneasiness that one of them would come out as the first version of the Bellas. (Enough with the Pitch Perfect references already…)

University of Illinois (Champaign Urbana) No Comment. I heard good things about this group’s sound check and had been looking forward to their set all night. I was not disappointed and consequently took very few notes on the set because of it. They lead off with Dance with Somebody (Whitney Houston) and all I wrote down on the page was “Damn.” Great soloists and great arranging made this set all around amazing. Those of you watching my live tweeting probably saw my commentary on the set, but the second song Breathe Again would’ve made Sara B proud. The final song included an unnecessary dub step drop, but it didn’t take away from song.

As the judges deliberated, the Acafellaz came out and sang a short set before bringing some random audience members on stage to play a funny a cappella version of Don’t Forget the Words (with the songs they had just sang). The soloists for the Acafellaz were very strong across the board, especially their bari-tenors. The judging deliberation was pleasantly short, thanks in part to the length of the evening I’m sure. Here are the results (as written on VarsityVocals.com:

1st: No Comment, Univeristy Of Illinois Champaign-Urbana (423 points)
2nd: Xtension Chords, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (369 points)
3rd: Undertones, Northwestern University (311 points)

Outstanding Soloist: Kelsey Stanker of No Comment for “Breathe Again”
Outstanding Arrangement: Xtension Chords of Alex Blomarz for “Swallowed in the Sea”
Outstanding Choreography: No Comment for the entire set

No Comment was the clear winners, but that second place slot could have gone to any number of groups in my opinion. The judges opted not to give out best VP but it could have easily gone to either Rip Chords or No Comment. In general, poor mic technique hurt what were probably perfectly capable beatboxers and I encourage all groups to make sure you get in some good practice with mics. I’m sure I missed some things that I’ll think about later and I have some additional thoughts on the ICCAs and competing that I will try and get down in the coming week. For those of you that have tweeted/messaged me in some way about the live tweeting, I’m glad I was able to connect you to the event, even minimally. I will be at the U of C quarterfinal, but this time as a judge, so I won’t be able to tweet up a storm like last time. Hopefully somebody else is willing to take my place – I’ll even offer up my handle. This post as a lot of words. Maybe some videos in the next post…

Yes, the second half of this review is admittedly very delayed. I apologize. It will also be relatively short, but I’m going to thoroughly cover all three groups performances. There are some of you who weren’t there (or who were) who are probably saying, 3 groups? Yes, The WashU Stereotypes, winners of the college competition the previous night, did a one song encore in between Sonos and Edge Effect.

First, the basic details. The concert was held in a completely different place on University of Chicago’s campus from the rest of Saturday’s festivities, taking place in Mandel Hall instead of the Logan Center. Mike Chin of The A Cappella Blog was the MC for the evening and spoke eloquently about all of the people he had met and the things he had learned during the day. He also made a great joke about the now infamous “list” that only a half-dozen people in the audience seemed to understand. On a different note, he just cowrote a book about a cappella and I got my copy from donating to the kickstarter in the mail the other day. A review will come after I finish reading it. (At this rate it’ll be after Christmas, I’m only on page 4.)

SONOS

I will be the first to admit that having only seen a couple of videos on YouTube of Sonos and seeing them on the Sing Off, I was far from in love with them. I was definitely curious to hear them live, but had no high hopes for enjoying the performance. Their first song completely changed my mind. The first three songs made me fall in love with Sonos, and what they do, especially their execution. Sonos debuted five new songs off of their upcoming studio album, a treat for the unfamiliar and for the Sonos faithful alike.

Sonos also mixed it up with a couple of tracks sans-effects, proving they have some vocal chops and don’t need to hide behind the pedals (or their fancy new looping software). However, the best moments of their set came when they were doing what they do best – octavizing, looping, and generally making things sound like they’re not made by the human voice. I just hope the bass translates on their new album.

THE WASHU STEREOTYPES

These guys apparently put on quite the show the previous night, taking home the top prize and earning the chance to have Sonos open for them. Or open for Edge Effect. The guys probably prefer to say they did both and make it sound like it happened on different nights.

One song – Harder to Breathe by Maroon 5. Very solid performance with some mediocre mixing. Having never done it, I imagine it’s hard to mix that many individual mics live, but all I wanted was to hear the lead more. I had the same problem with Sonos’ talking inbetween songs and most of Edge Effect’s set. I’m a Stereotypes fan, so you’ll here more about them from me the next time I have a chance to see them live. (ICCAs this year maybe?)

THE EDGE EFFECT

I was not familiar with this group prior to seeing them in the lineup for the Professional Showcase. It’s probably because I pretty much despise America’s Got Talent. Not because of the talent, but because of the judges. I’d say more on this later, but no, I’m never going to blog about my general distaste for Howie, Howard, and Sharon. Nick Cannon, one saving grace of the celebs on the program. Those are my feelings – take em or leave em.

Edge Effect did an opener and then immediately went into a lengthy live sound check. That’s embarrassing for everyone involved. Of course I was also blinded by the spots behind all of the groups as they swept down into the audience and directly into our eyes about ever 2 minutes during the entire Edge Effect show.

If you’re not familiar with The Edge Effect, think Straight No Chaser (their non-Christmas songs) meets Nota (SingOff Season 1 winners). They have an incredible bass, 4 outstanding tenors and Troy Dolendo. Picture painted? I think so. Their set was filled with top 40 hits of different years, but there was one clear highlight. Cluster (look them up) did an amazing 5-person arrangement of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. The Edge Effect took it and added a 6th part, resulting in this:

Song of the night in my opinion. Overall the night was filled with great music, strong audience participation and growth of an already tight-knit community. I look forward to seeing this event grow in the coming years.

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.

-Brian

Businesses in this post that you should familiarize yourself with:

Clear Harmonies – http://www.clearharmonies.com/

Random Notes LLC – http://random-notes.com/

A Cappella Psych – http://www.acappellapsych.com/

Overboard is perhaps best known for their Free Track Tuesdays where, every week for a year, the group released a free download of a newly arranged and recorded track. Several of those tracks remain staples in my a cappella collection. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to see the group perform live when they were on their midwest tour this past week. I must admit that, as a fan of their recorded work including tracks like Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter, I was some what doubtful about the live performance that this group would put on. I was pleasantly surprised.

First, Uncommon Ground (on Clark in Wrigleyville) has a great personal feel to their performance room and great food and drinks. I would definitely recommend it for either a nice dinner or a show.

Now for Overboard

For those of you unfamiliar with the current version of Overboard, the members that performed on this stop of the tour were founder Nicholas Girard, Hyannis Sound alum Alfredo “Fredo” Austin III, hilarious Bari-tenor Caleb Whelden, local deep bass Donovan Davis, and the newest member of the group, Alex Margarite. Each of these guys was amazingly talented and I’m now convinced that being a member of Overboard requires you to have a massive range. I’m not 100% sure on these pitches, but I’m pretty sure I heard Nick sing a low E and a high B in full voice – not too mention his awesome VP solo.

The set list contained everything from a mashup of a majority of the top 40 hits of the past 5 years, to lesser known (but better) tracks like Skullcrusher Mountain by Jonathan Coulton (if you don’t know him, check him out), to a song sung entirely in Icelandic. The balance of the set was great for non-a cappella fans, and the different takes on well known songs kept it more than interesting for those of us who have heard a million versions of You Give Love a Bad Name. (By the way, if you want your group to massively expand your repertoire, learn a song a week for a year.) Most of the set was sung with mics, although my favorite pieces were done au natural. This photo is of the group performing “Freebird” as their encore.

Overboard performing “Freebird” live in Chicago.

The soloists of Overboard are truly impressive and that is what really made the evening. At times the bass and vp (by virtue of the mixing) overpowered some of the intricate backgrounds, but their soloists really took control of the room. Alex has some amazing talent and is a great pick up by Overboard. His duet with Nick (who sang bass and played his body as a drum set) on Watching You Watch Him by Eric Hutchinson was one of the best moments of the evening. See a youtube video of it here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Fredo’s series of incredible solos, including rapping some Ludacris on How Low early in the show.

It was a great night of fantastic music and if Overboard ever comes to your town, don’t miss an opportunity to see these guys perform. Also, check out their tracks on iTunes. Their all-Beatles album “Help!” is one that should be apart of every Beatle and a cappella fans collection alike.

Quick post this week and the topic is a simple one. Pitch Perfect – The upcoming major motion picture “about” a cappella. I’ve known this was coming for a while, but completely forgot about it until a couple weeks ago when I heard about the preview in Chicago. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to that preview and I’m now waiting impatiently until October 5th. This movie is Fired Up meets collegiate a cappella. There will undoubtedly be people in the a cappella community that hate this movie and what it stands for and all that. I’m just jazzed that I can see some real a cappella music in a major motion picture that’s not the Warblers.  Check out this trailer and let me know what you think in the comments.

Usually I do event reviews after the fact, but today I’m going to take a minute and talk about why I’m excited for A Cappella Fest 2012.

Some of you may have read my review of A Cappella Fest Chicago from last year, and if you have you’d already know that I’m a huge fan of this event. At a base level, what’s not to love about learning in masterclasses from some of the biggest names in the game and then seeing some a top professional group (or two) tear up a stage?

Here’s a breakdown of my excitement:

1)   The Competition:

In the past the competition section of the event has been a high school event, but this year they’ve upped the ante by taking it collegiate. I can truly appreciate fostering contemporary a cappella programs in high schools, and I am a huge supporter. However, I would choose watching collegiate programs over high school ones most days of the week.

More importantly, the Midwest is finally closing in on having a SoJam or LAAF style even. Something the numerous collegiate groups in the area can easily travel to and look forward to outside of spending a whole year preparing for ICCA’s. Anytime you can compete, your group will get better. That said, if you haven’t signed up to compete in A Cappella Fest this year, what are you waiting for?

2)   The Masterclass Schedule:

I had a lot of fun in the masterclasses offered at A Cappella Fest last year. This year they’ve taken it a step further and given me more options of which to attend. Way more options. So many options that I’m actually wondering how I’ll get to everything that I want to see.

That, my friends, is a great problem to have.

Do I learn Aca-Jedi Mind Tricks from Matt Caruso or hear Chris Rishel teach groups how to gain a following in his talk Zero to Hero? Group Motivation or Group Improvisation? Songwriting or Beyond Basic Engineering? I could not be more excited for most of the talks – even ones that I know I probably won’t be able to see. I’m excited for you to learn these things from these people.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Arranging Panel with Tom Anderson and featured performers Sonos and Edge Effect.

3)   Professional Showcase:

Last years event had a matinée concert and an evening performance. I was only able to see the matinée, which was a professional (plus Voices in Your Head (who are we kidding, they’re professionals)) (order of operations shout out) showcase. It was good, but it left something to be desired.

This year they’ve opted to have to shows – The Competition and The Professional Showcase. I think this is great and I am beyond ready to hear Sonos live.  Hopefully we get some quality MC work this year as well.

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So have you bought your tickets yet? Why not? Go do it. Right now:

http://acappellafest.com/buy-tickets/

My ticket said that the After parties are included. Sold yet?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know my feeling about the University of Chicago Voices in Your Head ICCA set this year and the first track off of their new EP – David Guetta and SIA’s Titanium. For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter – Why not? But also, I absolutely love them. Now the second track off of the Voices in Your Head album has been released, another track from their much-acclaimed ICCA set, We Found Love by Rihanna. I’m going to take a moment this morning to talk about my favorite moments from the set, the currently released tracks, and what I hope is coming.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video of this year’s Voices in Your Head ICCA set which took home the Midwest ICCA Semifinal as well as multiple performance awards.

First, couple of notes on the performance. I’ve always been fascinated by Voices’ decision to use all available solo mics and distribute them through the sections. I’ve heard it harm them a couple times when a soprano lands on a truly soprano pitch, meant to act as an overtone, but ends up louder than the bass. Most of the time, however, the blend is remarkable considering half of the group is mic’d and the other half is under their own power. I’ve always wondered if the alto with out the mic is insulted by the choice, or just how that decision is made. Any Voices in Your Head members or insiders care to share?

The choreography in this set is some of the best I’ve seen from Voices in Your Head, and one of the few times I’ve heard non-comedic choreography get cheered in a cappella.

I am a huge fan of Chris Rishel’s arranging, and this set took my adoration one step further.

Top 3 Favorite Moments:

3) The Voices’ take on We Found Love has many great moments, from the bell tones that open the piece to the massive walls of fantastically dissonant sound built at various points in the work. The one part that I consistently click back to here again and again is the final break down before Titanium. The men singing to the women “Let it go!” and the women echoing the title lyric, plus the addition of vocal percussion for the first time in the set is very effective and feels like it should have been in the original. I also love the progression that leads into this section. Really, I loved all of We Found Love.

2) I mentioned earlier in this post that this choreography for me was some of the best I’ve seen from Voices. I’ll take that one step further and say that it’s some of the best I’ve seen period. I’m at a loss to find many other ICCA sets that were on the level of this. We Found Love has this fantastic male/female divide, but the top moment for me is the choreo that makes the audience cheer during Titanium. I’m going to describe it as a set of equalizer bars. The group lines up in columns and with the members doing a specific arm motion, column by column does an in sync knee bend, creating a rolling effect across the heads of the group. That description should make it clear that I have no dance training and am not a choreographer. Hoping it made some sense…

1) The bridge of Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons is epic. Just by the nature of what they’ve written, it should be. However, as one of the most covered songs of last year, few groups seem to capture this. Chris Rishel nailed it. (Was there ever any doubt?) I’ve clicked back and listened to this roughly minute long section close to 20 times and have found myself having to pick up my jaw off my desk even now. On top of the great arranging, it’s sung well and with great emotion – an essential piece of this song that is frequently missed by other groups.

The first two tracks from the EP have been the first two songs from this ICCA set and I can only hope Little Lion Man will be following soon. I’m going to save a full review of the tracks for after the full EP is released, but you should pick up the first two today. Probably right now even. Here’s the link.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this and I apologize to those of you who have been hoping for more posts. I’m going to be attempting to post more in the coming weeks, including some posts on arranging and group dynamic. Also, my Twitter followers are aware I will be looking for a new post-collegiate contemporary group in Chicago soon – or perhaps I will be starting one. Help finding a musical home or building one is greatly appreciated.

All my best,

Brian

Hey guys,

It’s getting to be finals time. That means that I am swamped with class work, final concerts, finishing up an internship, and then end of my volleyball preseason workouts. Needless to say, I’ve been really busy and haven’t found much time to write posts. I apologize. Here’s what is going to happen in the very near future. There will be a new “Listen to the Music” post coming soon featuring some newly posted videos from this semesters concerts. Did I mention that I love this YouTube time of year? I do believe so, yes. Also, and perhaps more exciting, I will be writing reviews of the Sing-Off. I had to watch both episodes after the fact this week due to dress rehearsals and Harmonic Uprising’s final concert of the semester, but I found time to catch up on Hulu. That said, I’ve started writing my review of the first two episodes. There will be a post for each, hopefully close to the day after the episode is released.

Thank you for all of the support you have provided to me across this semester. This blog was started as a multimedia journalism project, but I will continue to post and hopefully reach a higher frequency of posts in the coming semester. Thank you for you patience and your following. I truly appreciate it. As always, don’t hesitate to ask for what you want to read, suggest new things I can talk about, and invite me to your show so I can support you and also write a review. Happy Holidays to all.

Happy Caroling,

Brian

In my time on the a cappella scene, I’ve gotten to know people from various Chicagoland (and I use that term loosely) groups. Ever since Harmonic performed at the first Acappellooza at University of Illinois – Chicago, we’ve had a connection to DePaul Men’s A Cappella aka DMaC. This past weekend I was able to make it into the city to support them at their final concert of the semester entitled “It’s All About the LOVE.” I was especially excited because the University of Illinois Rip Chords were opening for them and I sang with their music director, Meg Hickey, in high school.

The event was held in the Lincoln Park Campus Student Union this year, and the room, which had seating for 200, held around 300. The Rip Chords opened the show with a Lady Gaga medley. I must say that I have never been a fan of the standard all-female a cappella group, mostly because I love to feel a good bass. The Rip Chords have some low altos that can hold it down, though, and they avoid the high soprano pitfall. On the whole, their whole set featured some solid arranging and a great overall blend. My one negative is that the sound of the group was not as big as I was hoping for. This was probably not helped by the size of the space and the general lack of sound reinforcement. The Rip Chords left the next morning to head to Japan. Best of luck on the remainder of your world tour, ladies.

Having seen DMaC several times, I was curious as to how they would enter this concert. They came out beatboxing, dancing and throwing bananas into the crowd. Yes, you read that right. What did the bananas have to do with the rest of the show? Absolutely nothing, but it was both hysterically funny and terrifying, and the crowd’s energy was palpable afterwards. The set list for the night included current chart toppers like Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are and classics like Stand By Me. Kudos to DMaC on the overwhelming improvement to their musicality. In the past, they have been a typical all-male group with cheap laughs and decent singing. While there were still plenty of cheap laughs, the group’s blend was considerably better, the tuning has improved tenfold and I actually sensed some dynamic movement to their pieces.

The concert served as a farewell to one of their seniors, Nick McMillan who sang as his goodbye solo Everybody Knows by John Legend. Nick has a fantastic range and great vocal control. Big shoes for some new, young tenor to fill next year. Congrats Nick.

I have one qualm with DMaC’s set list, which other DMaC fans around me also expressed during the show. They performed Africa by Toto. Again. Like they do at every concert that I’ve been at. And apparently the ones I haven’t been at also, according to the girls sitting next to me. I know you like it and you have fun with your cheesy choreography and your air guitars and your falsettos, but please, for the love of all things a cappella, let that song die. Its time has come, and gone. And then the a cappella world dug it up, and killed it again. And again. And again. Lord knows I have DMaC love, but you guys can do without singing this song ever again.

In any case, both groups put on a great show and I can’t wait to see what they have to contribute to the ICCAs this year. Also, the event was a fundraiser for the Seedling Theatre which has special workshops for mentally handicapped children. Special thanks to all who helped support the group and this great cause. If you haven’t seen either of these groups, check them both out on YouTube. You can also find them at their respective websites: DePaul Men’s A Cappella. University of Illinois Rip Chords.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to venture to Schaumburg, Illinois for AcappellaFest Chicago 2010. Here’s what their website explains about the history of the event:

AcappellaFest began in 2007 with the goal to make a cappella accessible to the masses in the Midwest region. The first show was held just outside of Chicago, in Schaumburg, IL in September 2007. From the beginning, a cappella groups from Illinois have collaborated with those from across the US — New York to DC to Minnesota — to share the stage and show audiences what vocal music is all about. Now considered to be the festival’s flagship event, AcappellaFest Chicago has added workshops, a high school contest and multiple performances in order to offer something for everyone. AcappellaFest Chicago is sponsored by one of Illinois’ most highly-regarded performing arts centers, the Prairie Center for the Arts.

Now this was my first opportunity to attend the event and I really had no idea what to expect. I was hoping for some good information and a lot of quality a cappella singing. My assistant music director made the trip with me to pick up as much knowledge from the masterclasses as possible. AcappellaFest was divided into two sessions, an afternoon and an evening session. I was only able to attend to afternoon session, so I won’t be reviewing the evening concert (Only seems fair, right?) The afternoon was broken up into essentially three parts. Two masterclasses and a matinee show which included the high school competition.

Masterclass #1 – May We Have Your Attention Please? (Group Performance)

This was directed by Amy “Bob” Engelhardt (pictured above). Amy had one of the groups from the high school competition, Burlington High’s The Intrumentalists, come up and perform a song, and then proceeded to talk about different aspects of their performance. Her comments were clearly helpful to the group as it actually changed the way they performed the song later in the competition.

Next Amy had University of Chicago’s Voices in Your Head come up and perform. They had complete choreography to their piece which they did well, and this seemed to catch Amy off guard as she had nothing to really say about it except she was glad that the high school kids could see that. Overall the session was good with meaningful information. I would’ve like one more example with a smaller group as BHS had 23 members and Voices in Your Head had around 12. It would’ve been interesting to see what a five or six man vocal band should do since they clearly have a different stage presence than 23 high schoolers.

Master Class #2 – I Never Knew It Could Sound Like THAT! (Song Arranging)

Chapter Six led this off with an outstanding arrangement of Eleanor Rigby. Their blend was phenomenal and it made me wish that I could have stayed for the evening show. As for the master class, while the program claimed that it would be with Chapter Six, it was mostly with their arranger, the seventh member, Mark Grizzard. Some of you may take that as a complaint. It’s not, and in fact far from it. I wish I could hang out with Mark Grizzard on weekends; he is hysterically funny. Mark walked us through the steps he takes in arranging a song and then built and arrangement of Toto’s Africa with the audience. It was convenient for him to be able to tell different members of the professional group to sing different parts on the fly and have them do it perfectly the first time. If only my rehearsals were that efficient… My only negative about the whole master class was that I wish we had had more time to try out more examples of different songs.

 

Matinee Concert

The final piece of the afternoon session was a matinee concert that included the high school competition. The concert seemed to be a touch unorganized in terms of who performed in what order. The pro groups were intermixed with the high school groups which led to an interesting flow to the show with frequent stops in the energy. I’ll talk about each of the pro groups first and then cover the high school portion.

An Octave AboveAn Octave Above opened the show. They were solid, and had a really impressive soprano. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of vocal jazz, and this is what they do, so I became bored with there set rather quickly. They told us that they were a combination of pop and jazz, and were going to sing pop. Note to An Octave Above – if you tell you’re audience you’re singing pop, singing a jazz version of Penny Lane DOES NOT count. Their blend was solid and by all musical accounts, it was a good performance.

 

 

 

Chicago Voice Exchange

Chicago Voice Exchange put on an extremely entertaining performance including a fantastic version of the Wonderdog Theme. The quintet covered a lot of musical ground in a short period of time and was both comedic and musically solid. The crowd was kept engaged the entire performance and it reached both the younger and older members of the audience. Not much more to say about them except if you are presented with a chance to see them, take advantage.

 

 

 

Voices In Your Head

University of Chicago’s Voices in Your Head performed in the second half of the concert after intermission. It was nice to the collegiate a cappella mixed in with the other styles. They put on a strong set, some songs with full choreography, some with out. They mentioned earlier in the day that they had some membership problems and were down to four girls. They group balance was notably off with the 8 men against the 4 women. That issue aside, they blended well and rocked hard. I’m curious to see what this group brings to the ICCAs this year.

 

 

Vocal Chaos

I saved Vocal Chaos for the final spot because they performed twice during the concert. As the co-producers it was their prerogative. A solid vocal band, VC put on a consistent show. Their second set of songs was better than their first, and their final piece was a goodbye to their vocal percussionist, Sean P. Gorecki. My notes about this group are less about their performance and more about how the MCing was handled. Note to Vocal Chaos: I know Dave is your charming tenor lead, but if you are going to let him play the role of MC, make sure he knows what he is going to say. The concert order and MCing were the only major weaknesses in the event.

 

The high school groups were all good and it’s great to see high schools with contemporary a cappella programs. The decision for the best group was a combination of 3 judges and an audience vote. I’m curious to know how those things got factored together, although I’m sure it is similar to the BCS standing in that few people actually understand how it works. In the end there could be only one and Waubonsie Valley’s Cloud 9 took home first place for the second year in a row. The all-male group is extremely talented and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of their members go on to do big things in various college groups.

In short, AcappellaFest is a great event that I will definitely be looking forward to next year. I hope to see even stronger attendance, more master classes, and perhaps even a collegiate side to the competition. I recommend it to every a cappella fan, and highly encourage it for everyone who is currently or looks to be involved with an a cappella group.