TOG Spread Christmas Cheer Across the Country

Following the success of their Royal Wedding-inspired video ‘Royal Romance’ in April, University of St Andrews-based all-male group The Other Guys have barely stopped, and the Christmas Season was no exception for the Kate Middleton fans.

We spoke to the current Musical Director of the Guys, Matthew Pattie, during a rare moment off for the final year student.

UACUK: You’ve been extremely busy during this Festive Season. Let’s start at the beginning.

MP: Ok, so firstly we did a bit of charity busking with the University Charities Campaign. The Press Office at the University caught wind of it and we ended up filming a video inside St Salvator’s Chapel of our Backstreet Boys Medley with Rory McLion, the Charities Mascot of the University. That was pretty fun, and we raised a fair bit of money for CHAS, too.

UACUK: Then you had an insanely busy weekend a couple of weeks ago – how did that start?

MP: First up we had the University Christmas Concert, organised by the A Cappella Society. This was the first big outing of, barring 4 of us, a completely new group from last year. As such, we wanted to do something completely different to not only the other groups, but also of the previous incarnation of the group. Therefore, we decided to open our set by processing from the back of Younger Hall, wearing our academic gowns, with our countertenor singing the opening verse of ‘Once in Royal’, up the octave, and it was something completely new and took the audience by surprise. We think they enjoyed it!

UACUK: Would you say the group has become a little bolder since the success of the video, doing things that you previously might not have gotten away with?

MP: Bolder? Perhaps. There was always a danger that anything the group did after the video would only result in an unfavourable comparison. In that way, the album [Barely Regal, released September 2011] was a great next step, cataloguing the sound of the 10/11 group and building on the momentum of the video. The album has been received really well, and so can be seen as a success. However, like I say, now we’re a very new group, a much younger group, and one with a very different sound. Because of that I think we just wanted to, not make a break from, but define a clear distinction between what has gone before and what we’re going on to do. We’ve got a lot to build on – we just want to do ourselves justice.

UACUK: Did the group bond well before the Christmas Concert, considering six of you were brand new?

MP: Yes. We bonded remarkably well and remarkably quickly. We had to, really, as we had a couple of gigs at the very start of term, so we were rehearsing pretty much every day to make sure we had not only a great sound, but also enough material to perform.

UACUK: The weekend didn’t stop at the Christmas Concert did it?

MP: Absolutely not! We then headed down to London for the 7th Annual St Andrews Alumni Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral. We performed ‘O Holy Night’ in front of loads of people, and blasted out those descants during the rest of the service – it was a really good evening. There were a couple of ‘unofficial’ performances towards the end of the night as well, and all in all a great time was had by everyone.

UACUK: How did that come about then?

MP: The Southwark gig? I’m pretty sure we got contacted in April following the video, and the organiser in particular really wanted us to be a part of the service. I think it was a nice way to get an active university group part of the service, especially as we were singing with the original video group, rather than the current group, so it showed both the past and present of the university, which was perfect for the Alumni nature of the service.

UACUK: Then you headed over to the Savoy…

MP: Yeah, we were performing for a charity fundraiser for the Muir Maxwell Trust in the London Savoy. We had worked with them during the summer at a similar event at Fettes College in Edinburgh, and were delighted when they asked us to be a part of their event again. The event was hosted by Natasha Kaplinsky and Angela Rippon, and Martin Bayfield conducted the auction, so we got a little taster of the showbiz life. Natasha even got my email address, so we might have a potential gig or two off the back of that. We were also delighted to donate £400 to the charity – not much compared to a lot of what was been thrown around during the auction, but we were glad to do our part.

UACUK: Sounds like a great weekend! Did it stop there?

MP: Not even close. We then headed back to St Andrews for our very own Christmas Concert, entitled ‘Carols Not From Kings’. The title speaks for itself, but the basic concept was one of parody. We did a set of Christmas music and non-Christmas music, which were mixed with so-called ‘lessons’, which weren’t Bible verses, but instead quotes from films like Love Actually and the Muppets Christmas Carol. We also led some communal carols with the ‘congregation’, which was a group of friends we had personally invited.

UACUK: How many people did you have there?

MP: We’d invited a group of about 50 friends, so 5 for each of the guys, plus a few extras. They all received a ‘Christmas Present’ at the end, which was a goodie bag with a signed CD, an Other Guys Christmas Card, some chocolates and an orange. We also served mulled wine and mince pies during the break. We had a really good time and we hope they all did too – it’s definitely an event to build upon in the coming years, we’d love to do something similar next year.

UACUK: I bet you were exhausted after that weekend!

MP: Yeah, we were completely exhausted. A lot of us sing with other groups and choirs too, so we had other concerts in the preceding and following weeks as well. One of us was doing 9 concerts in 9 days, and another two had 8 in 8. But that Monday was a nice way to let off some steam with our friends, enjoy ourselves and detox a little bit!

UACUK: Sounds like you needed it! You can’t have had much more after that, with it being so close to Christmas?

MP: Actually, we did. We had one final engagement. After hearing us at the Dunhill Links Gala Dinner in September, Colin Montgomerie invited us to his home for a Christmas Dinner Fundraiser. It was held in aid of the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, set up in the memory of his mother. The current aim of the project is to bring a Maggies Cancer Care to Aberdeen. Colin and everyone involved were really nice and we sung three times, the third time as an encore after a request from the guests. It was a great way to end our 2011.

UACUK: Sounds like it! So, The Voice Festival is next. Have you started preparing for that?

MP: In a way, everything we’ve done so far this year is great preparation for The Voice Festival. Having said that, we’re kinda just catching our breath at the moment, as you can imagine. But we’ll be getting together in the New Year for some preparation. The event seems bigger than ever this year, and it’s one of the highlights of the a cappella calendar, so we can’t wait to get stuck in.

UACUK: Do you think you’ll be ready, given the younger nature of the group?

MP: I think the gigs we’ve already done this year stand testament to the fact that we’re ready as a group. Like I say, it’s a different sound, a younger group, different banter, but I’m sure we’ll rise to the challenge.

UACUK: How do you rate your chances of winning?

MP: I think any group who entered the competition saying they didn’t want to win would be being a little dishonest. Obviously we’ll give it our best shot, but making predictions on the St Andrews Regional is difficult at this stage, let alone the final. It’s always a tough round, and it’s a fickle game. It was refreshing to see Choral Stimulation from Glasgow again last year, and it will be interesting to see Aberpella, the group from Aberdeen. But with only one group from six going through to the final… Well, we’ll just give it our best shot, like we do every year.

UACUK: Well, we wish you the best of luck, both with the Voice Festival and with whatever plans you have for the rest of 2012!

MP: Thanks

The Other Guys can be found on Facebook, Twitter and on their Official Website. They have also currently made a track from their 2009 album ‘Well Sung’ available for free download: ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Voice Festival UK 2012 Preview – Part 2: St Andrews

A couple of days before Christmas, we here at the UK University A Cappella Blog received possibly the best Christmas present of them all – confirmed dates and competitors for this year’s Voice Festival UK. While it is the largest competition so far, with more groups than ever competing, one Regional Round has unfortunately been cancelled due to lack of competitors – that in Cambridge.

In this series of blogs, we will be previewing each individual Regional Round, commenting on each group and their chances of qualifying for the final, as well as introducing several groups that you might not yet have heard of.

In the second blog, we look at the other round that has existed since the inception of the Voice Festival in 2009 – that in St Andrews, taking place on March 3rd.

Potted History

Three groups have qualified for the final from the St Andrews round since 2009. The first two groups to do so were The Alleycats and The Other Guys in 2009, and in the following year The Alleycats repeated that feat, that time joined by The Accidentals, who were the sole qualifiers in last year’s competition. With no group dominating in past years, and with a lot of success for every group since last year’s competition, it’s definitely one of the rounds to watch this time round.

Notable Absence

The Forget-Me-Nots: Despite never having competed in the competition, there was talk of the Edinburgh girls competing in the Festival this year after a highly successful Free Fringe run. We wish the girls all the best of luck in the coming years, and hope they continue their flawless barbershop ways for some time, and hope to see them in the Voice Festival in the future!

Newcomer Alert

Aberpella: The sixth group to become part of the St Andrews Regional Round, and the second from outside the University of St Andrews, Aberpella are the only group from the University of Aberdeen and are competing for the very first time in the Voice Festival this year. They are very much an unknown quantity, but if you want to check them out, you can find them on YouTube.

Old-Timers

The Accidentals: The UK’s best all-female group are returning to defend that honour and perhaps go one step further this time out. The girls were the only group to progress from this round last year, but will be pushed all the way once again this year, with their challengers looking very good at the Christmas Concert earlier in the month. They lost several of their older members but did recruit and have kept their strong core of talent, so they will definitely be one to watch.

The Hummingbirds: The second all-girl group from St Andrews have been competing in the Voice Festival since its inception but have never qualified for the final. Is this the year they change that? They’ve recruited well and sounded good at the Christmas concert, but they do tend to lack the competitive edge that the other groups provide and this could hamper their chances. I’d love to see them prove me wrong though.

The Other Guys: Outside of Out of the Blue, The Other Guys have had the most success since last year’s Voice Festival, with the success of ‘Royal Romance’, their preceding album ‘Barely Regal’, and several prestigious gigs that have followed as a result. However, the core of that video-making group have graduated, and right now there are more new guys than guys who were in the group last year, and this could hinder their progress. They showed off their creative skills at the Christmas Concert earlier in the month with a hilarious Christmas parody, and may need to play to that strength in order to progress.

Choral Stimulation: The Glaswegian mixed group are competing for the third time, and they impressed last year, particularly with their award winning medley of movie themes. They have an infectious energy, but are somewhat of an unknown quantity, especially given they were unable to make the St Andrews Christmas Concert earlier in the month. If they play to their strengths, they could spring a surprise or two.

The Alleycats: St Andrews’ mixed group, they are very similar to Choral Stimulation in that they are bursting with energy, with the crucial difference being that they’ve made the final before – twice, in 2009 and 2010. This experience could come in handy, especially given they seem to have recruited very well in the new term. Definite contenders, they will be eager to make up for the disappointment of not qualifying last year.

Summary

One of the toughest rounds to call, in my opinion. The Alleycats are always right up there, The Accidentals are the current holders of this round and look strong again, The Other Guys’ considerable success since last year could hold them in good stead, and I think Choral Stimulation could do well this year, if they continue their positive development. I wouldn’t like to call it. I wish Aberpella good luck and hope they have a wonderful experience in their first year, and hope that they will be able to build and challenge in the future.

Have Your Say

Voice Festival UK 2012 Preview – Part 1: Oxford

A couple of days before Christmas, we here at the UK University A Cappella Blog received possibly the best Christmas present of them all – confirmed dates and competitors for this year’s Voice Festival UK. While it is the largest competition so far, with more groups than ever competing, one Regional Round has unfortunately been cancelled due to lack of competitors – that in Cambridge.

In this series of blogs, we will be previewing each individual Regional Round, commenting on each group and their chances of qualifying for the final, as well as introducing several groups that you might not yet have heard of.

In the first blog, we look at one of the longest running Regional Rounds, that in Oxford, taking place on 26 February 2012.

Potted History

The Oxford Regional Round began in 2009 in the inaugural year of the competition, and has thus far had three different groups qualify for the final. In 2009, Out of the Blue and The Oxford Belles progressed to the final, with the boys in blue winning the entire competition and finishing second in the ICCA final in New York that year, officially becoming the 2nd best collegiate group in the world. Since then, Out of the Blue have qualified for the final each year – in 2010 they were joined by eventual winners The Oxford Gargoyles, while in 2011 they were the sole qualifiers, due to the Festival’s expansion to five Regional Rounds.

Newcomer Alert

The Ultrasounds: It’s always good to see new groups forming and developing, and it is no surprise that in the UK’s largest a cappella hub, a new group has also formed. The Ultrasounds are Oxford’s second all-male a cappella ensemble, and are made up solely of medical students from the University of Oxford. With Out of the Blue performing beside them, they will be adding a further touch of all-male flair to the proceedings. To look up the new boys, click here.

Switching Sides

The Oxford Alternotives: In 2009 and 2011, The Oxford Alternotives took part in the Cambridge Regional Round, to make the numbers up from three to four. However, the demise of the Cambridge Round has caused the group to return to their natural home in Oxford once again, and compete against their fellow students like they did in 2010 – where they won the award for ‘Outstanding Performance’, a feat which they repeated last year at the Cambridge Round. Having qualified for the final once, in 2009, the group will be hoping to build upon the fact they have never failed to win an award of some sort and progress to the final this year for the first time since the competition’s inception.

Old-Timers

The Oxford Belles: The oldest group at Oxford University, the one-time all-girl finalists will have a point to prove this year after failing to reach the final for two years running. After a successful Fringe run in August, and a large changeover of personnel at the start of the year, they will be looking to their fresh blood to bring them success this year and take them to the final.

The Oxford Gargoyles: The 2010 winners will be looking to make up for the fact they were not at the final to defend their crown last year, after Out of the Blue beat them to the sole qualifying place. After a successful Fringe run and several five star reviews, the jazz a cappella ensemble look to be best placed to qualify for the final, especially given their previous ICCA experiences in the US.

In The Pink: The only group with previous experience not to have reached the final before, the In The Pink girls will be desperate to taste some London Final action this year – and with a large influx of new members, they are a relatively unknown entity and could do well.

Out of the Blue: Contrary to the information we received earlier, Out of the Blue WILL in fact be competing in the competition this year, and we here at the blog are delighted that they will be doing so. No doubt the boys have a great chance of reaching the final – indeed, they have never failed to make the final, and their previous experiences throughout the US and the UK will stand them in very good stead. We are positive their infectious energy and flawless harmonies will be tough to beat in this particular regional round, and they will probably be one of the favourites to win the entire competition.

Summary

There is no doubt that Oxford has one of the strongest line-ups at this year’s festival. Who will qualify be remains to be seen, but I think the Gargoyles have a fantastic chance – they have lost fewer members than the other groups, namely The Belles and In The Pink, and it could be a year of transition for the two all-female ensembles. The Alternotives could well make it instead of the Gargoyles, and their impressive record of award wins is not something to be taken lightly. Of course, Out of the Blue are always a threat and are probably my favourites, especially given their success in ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ this year and the learning curve that will have come with it. I wish The Ultrasounds the best of luck in one of the most difficult places to start competing, but they will be in good company, and will surely learn a great deal from the experience.

Have Your Say

Out of the Blue: UK Tour in Quotes

Arguably the UK’s most successful a cappella group, Out of the Blue from Oxford University, embarked on a UK tour during the festive season, and we were on hand to gather up an audience summary of their successful endeavour.

8th December – Oxford Academy, Oxford

“Trademark a capella” – Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action

10th December – Busking, Covent Garden, London

“Sounding amazing as per!” – Martha Eddy.

12th December – Birmingham University, Birmingham (with Augmented Seven)

“Amazing!” – Kat Evans.
“An absolute privilege” – Sophie Williamson, Augmented Seven
“Epic songs!” – Olivia Kno, Augmented Seven

15th December – Hitchin Boys’ School, Hertfordshire

“So awesome.” – Danni Lawrence

16th December – Simon Langton Boys’ School, Canterbury, Kent

“Excellent.” – Judy Diamond

General Quotes

“My jaw still aches from smiling and laughing so much.” – Alexandra Donovan-Bayley

We look forward to seeing what the boys have to offer in the coming year. They can be found on Facebook, and their latest album, Rush can be found on their Official Website.

Exciting Expansion at Exeter: Exclusive Interview!

The University of Exeter is fast becoming the newest hotbed of collegiate a cappella in the United Kingdom. Despite the a cappella scene having existed for over five years, it has only recently come into the spotlight, with the A Cappella Society doubling in size over the past year alone.

Sharing these exciting developments with me were Catherine Hayes, member of the University of Exeter A Cappella Society, and Ed Henley, the Business Manager of Semi-Toned, one of the newest groups at the university.

UACUK: Hi guys. Thanks for joining me. Tell us a little bit about the history of the society as a whole, firstly.

CH: The University of Exeter A Cappella Society has been going around 5 years now. There were originally two groups at the start, The Sweet Nothings, an all-female group who sing a mixture of pop and jazz, and Perfect Fourth, who are now no longer in existence, but they were a barbershop group. Until last year, there were three groups that were part of the society – The Sweet Nothings, the oldest group in the society, Hoi Rhapsodoi, a mixed group who perform pretty much anything, and the Madrigals, meaning the society was already pretty diverse.
EH: Yeah, when I arrived at the university in the Autumn of 2010, I was really excited about forming my own group, but I didn’t realise a cappella already existed in Exeter until I saw some videos of The Sweet Nothings on YouTube, and it came to my attention that a cappella had quite a sizeable following in Exeter. We weren’t the only new group last year though.
CH: That’s right – the society has doubled the number of groups under its umbrella in the past year alone. Not only do we now have Semi-Toned, but the Illuminations, who focus mainly on musicals and operas, and Take Note, which is the only unauditioned a cappella group at the university for anyone and everyone who wants to be involved.

UACUK: Ed, you mentioned quite a sizeable a cappella following at the university – how big is it, exactly?

EH: I think it definitely could be better – it’s definitely not at the same level as Oxford or St Andrews. But we think that’s partly because not enough people on campus know about it – there’s not enough exposure. One of our aims as a new group was to try and make a cappella more accessible around the city, and we’ve done a lot of busking towards that aim. Also, we’ve been trying to remove the ‘choirboy’ stereotype that often comes from those less a cappella-savvy, despite most of us hailing from that kind of background.
CH: Over the last couple of years I think the society has really upped its game when it comes to being known around campus. The Sweet Nothings have had a big following for a number of years as the most established group, but the other groups are definitely hot on their heels! Recently, the groups have been able to perform at some of Exeter’s most popular venues, including Mama Stones and The Olde Firehouse. So it’s really coming on in leaps and bounds.

UACUK: Tell us a little bit about Semi-Toned was formed.

EH: As I mentioned before, I came to Exeter really excited about forming my own group, and eventually in the Autumn of 2010, myself, Jon [Minter] and Simon [Eaton] met after a choir rehearsal. We got together to do some singing and Semi-Toned was born! That first year it was just five of us, singing mainly repertoire from The Beach Boys, Billy Joel and the Beatles, but after getting a bit more involved, and listening to some other groups like Out of the Blue and All The King’s Men, in which a few of our members have friends, and decided to expand, doubling our membership to ten at the start of this academic year.

UACUK: How has it been this year?

EH: Great. We generally have about a concert a week now, maybe more, and regularly go busking in Exeter. Our repertoire now has developed to include Katy Perry, Damien Rice, and much more. Our main ethos is to make a cappella more accessible and we’re hoping that Semi-Toned has the fresh talent to make it so. We arrange the majority of our repertoire ourselves, and want to do a few club classics in the coming months.

UACUK: How do the six groups relate to each other? Are there A Cappella Society gigs from time to time?

CH: I guess the answer to your first question is that we all relate to each other in that we all sing a cappella! Apart from that, though, we’re very diverse. We do have regular meetings, and there is a certain amount of overlap in that several people are members of more than one group. We have socials for the whole society and are hoping to work together in workshops next term. As for society performances, at the end of the Spring Term, we have a big end of year concert where all the groups perform – last year, the University Singers also performed at the event.
EH: As you know, we teamed up with the Sweet Nothings for our Christmas concert this year, and it went down really well – that even involved a collaboration between the two groups, which really allowed us to feel what it would be like to sing in a mixed group. It was a great experience.

UACUK: What are the plans for the immediate future then – any groups applying for the Voice Festival?

CH: The Sweet Nothings are competing. They first competed in 2009, but have taken a couple of years out, mainly due to the long travelling distances, but because of the new Bristol Regional, they’ve decided to apply again. For the rest of the groups, more gigs, more rehearsals, and preparing for the end-of-year showcase.
EH: We’re competing too! We discussed it at length and decided to participate, we’re really going to enjoy the opportunity to sing alongside our friends, to make our mark as a new group, and to promote Exeter as an up-and-coming a cappella hub.

UACUK: Any big plans for the future?

EH: We’ve just ordered our first batch of group t-shirts! (laughs) We’ll be wearing them regularly around campus, no doubt. We’re hoping to tour at the end of the year, and possible venues include Dublin and Edinburgh. Most excitingly, though, is that we’re hoping to be in the recording studio in early 2012 to record our debut album.
CH: Yeah, I know a lot of the groups want to make the most of the university’s brand new recording facilities, which will be greatfor the reputation of a cappella here. Hopefully there will be opportunities for our groups to perform with other groups from across the country – the country is our oyster at the moment!

For more information on the groups, contact details and official websites, check out our Group Directory or the Exeter University A Cappella Society Facebook page.

St Andrews Sparkles at Annual A Cappella Christmas Concert

Last weekend, the St Andrews A Cappella Society hosted their annual A Cappella Christmas Concert in front of a packed Younger Hall in St Andrews, and thanks to wonderful modern-day technology, and YouTube, you can now watch 8 of the songs online if you were, like our reviewer, unable to make the event.

Weather circumstances meant that both John Lau and Glasgow group Choral Stimulation were unable to make the event, which meant just four groups performed on the night – the four from the University of St Andrews.

The Other Guys kicked off proceedings by processing through the Hall from the back, singing a classic version of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. They then performed Straight No Chaser’s version of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, and finished with their self-titled ‘Carol Not From Kings’, which incorporated tracks by Justin Bieber, Mika and The Black Eyed Peas, as well as Christmas hymns such as ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. The latter two performances can be seen here.

The Hummingbirds were up next, and they performed a sweet version of ‘Silent Night’, with some flawless harmonies. They also did a Bruno Mars mash-up, incorporating ‘Marry You’ and ‘Just The Way You Are’, all the while wearing some great Christmas attire. Their performances can be found here.

The Alleycats were up next, singing a very lively version of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ which really raised the roof, their infectious energy rubbing off on the audience. They also performed Britney’s ‘Toxic’, which felt a lot tighter than their version at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was nice to hear a male soloist too, adding a brand new dimension to the song. Both performances, complete with classic Christmas jumpers, can be seen here.

The Accidentals closed proceedings in great style. They performed a re-written version of Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy”, which included a fitting tribute to the success of The Other Guys’ Royal Romance video. They also included a rendition of Shakin’ Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, which showcased their vocal talent superbly with several different soloists. Their stripped-down opening of ‘Number 1′ by Tinchy Stryder was really well-done, and they once again showed off their individual talents throughout the rest of the song. The latter two performances can be found here.

Thanks must go to Bubble TV for their recordings of the evening.

London A Cappella Festival Foyer Events Line-Up Confirmed!

The line-up for the free foyer events at the London A Cappella Festival in January 2012 has been confirmed this week.

Three modern a cappella groups from the UK will be performing, as well as a Chamber Choir from Chichester and a collegiate group from the US.

On Thursday 12th January, The Techtonics from Imperial College London will be performing, while the following evening All The King’s Men from King’s College, London will be taking the stage.

On the Saturday, the foyer events will be taking place all day, with the Brown Derbies from Brown University in the USA performing, as well as Chichester University Chamber Choir, in collaboration with The Matyas Selber Trust.

Of course, VF-UK 2011 Winners Cadenza will also be opening for The Boxettes on the main stage on Saturday 14th as well.

For more information about the London A Cappella Festival, and for free foyer event line-ups, visit their official website.

Celebrate Christmas A Cappella Style All Over The Country!

The Oxford Belles may have already performed their Christmas concert, but there are still plenty of offerings around the country for the avid a cappella fan to savour.

Things kick off this coming Monday, 5 December, with a joint concert between two groups from the University of Exeter – The Sweet Nothings and Semi-Toned, who have promised to provide us with a free and festive night of a cappella at The Long Longue in Exeter. Not only will they both be performing several songs as individual groups, but they will also be teaming up in one song and giving a joint performance, which is sure to stir up the Christmas cheer. To find out more about the event, click here.

On Thursday 8 December, the four a cappella groups from the University of St Andrews will be hosting their annual Christmas concert, this time returning to Younger Hall, a venue in which they have not performed this particular concert for three years. YouTube sensations The Other Guys will be there; the best female group in the country The Accidentals will be strutting their stuff; two-time VF-UK Finalists The Alleycats will be providing the crowd with their infectious energy; and up-and-coming all-female group The Hummingbirds will be showing off their latest batch of talent. Joining them will be special guests Choral Stimulation, all the way from the University of Glasgow, who will be bringing a fresh and exciting addition to events. Our man, Mr Lau, will be there to enjoy the event, which you can find out more about here.

On Tuesday 13 December, The Techtonics from Imperial College, London, will be hosting their own Christmas Conert, which is being held at the Read Lecture Theatre. Not only will they be showing off their own talents and perhaps some new techniques they picked up from their tour of Croatia, but they will also be introducing two brand new a cappella groups from the college, which is definitely something to get excited about! Find out more about the event here.

Also on the 13th is the joint gig with the two King’s College groups, All The King’s Men and The King’s Chix, which will be taking place at the Stamford Street Lecture Theatre. Last year’s VF-UK finalists All The King’s Men are bound to produce a great show as ever, while The King’s Chix will be performing, as ever, in their sassy, avant-garde style. This is another show not to miss. Find out more right here.

Keep tuned in for all the latest events and a cappella gossip. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook!

Exclusive Interview with The Voice Festival UK (Part 3)

Although the Voice Festival UK (VF-UK) is most widely known in the world of university a cappella for the national competition it hosts each year in late February and early March, the Voice Festival as an organisation is about much more than just one event. Now in its fourth year—and still run exclusively by a team of volunteers—the Voice Festival is the UK’s largest not-for-profit a cappella organisation, and has played an important role in helping to raise the profile of a cappella singing in the UK.

On an unexpectedly sunny November afternoon, I sat down with the co-ordinator of the Universities Program of the Voice Festival and former member of the University of St Andrews’ The Alleycats, David Tyler Mattiace, to talk about anything and everything a cappella.

In the first and second parts of our interview, we talked about the main Voice Festival programmes. In this final part of the interview, we discussed upcoming events in the VF-UK calendar and the future of a cappella in the UK.

UACUK: You mentioned earlier the varied calendar of events and opportunities that you organise. What do you think about when organising these?

TM: We’re always aiming to expand the year-round schedule of events and opportunities that we provide for singers. As we expand, we want to ensure that singers and groups across the country all have access to the kinds of opportunities that are relevant to them. We design all of our events and opportunities with our four aims in mind. [To recap, these are: Encourage new singers, develop new audiences, support existing groups, and build UK a cappella communities.] So, for example, our showcase at the Southbank Centre last spring provided groups with a public performance opportunity, helped increase public exposure to a cappella, and provided an opportunity for different a cappella groups to socialise and see each other sing.

Some a cappella groups are the only ones at their school/university or in their region, so participating in events like this is a great opportunity to meet groups they otherwise might not have exposure to. When we did our feedback survey on last year’s Festival, one of the questions we asked was ‘What was the best part of the Voice Festival year?’, and one of my favourite answers was “The a cappella love!’”. And it’s true; there is a national a cappella community that exists now that just wasn’t there five years ago.

When I started at university, we had only ever heard of one a cappella group from another university, and even then only a few people had ever seen them perform. When we went down to Oxford for the very first ICCA [in 2006 – two years before the first Voice Fesitval University Competition] it was really scary! We had never met any of these people before and had no idea what to expect or what kind of reception we would get. Now we have people from different groups at different universities dating. Groups are maintaining friendships throughout the year and look forward to seeing each other when they meet up at events. It’s a vastly different experience now — to an extent that I don’t think many of the current singers realise — and I think the Voice Festival has played a big role in that change.

UACUK: What specific events are you planning, or have already organised, for the coming year?

TM: So, for the second year in a row, we’re doing a range of events in conjunction with the London A Cappella Festival (LACF) in January. First, on 12 January, our 2011 University Champions, Cadenza, will be supporting the Boxettes on the main stage. The Boxettes are one of the biggest new groups to hit the a cappella scene and we’re really excited that Cadenza has the opportunity to represent the Voice Festival by supporting such a huge act (check them out here). The Youth Programme and University Programme are also both running their own workshops at LACF. The University workshop will be run by a member of Cadence, a Canadian a cappella group performing at LACF – more details about that will be coming out soon.

The Youth Programme’s day-long workshop is called ‘Schools on Stage’, and will be run by the Swingle Singers and VOCES8. This is a particularly exciting opportunity for youth singers. The groups will attend a day of master classes and workshops where they will get to work on some of their own music with members of the Swingle Singers and VOCES8. Then, in the evening, on the main stage, they will perform their own music as well as a special arrangement (made just for ‘Schools on Stage’) that has been designed to be sung alongside the Swingle Singers version of Lady Madonna. Obviously, we are very excited about this opportunity for youth groups to sing with one of the most famous a cappella groups in the world, so it’s looking like it will be a very exciting day!

We’re also looking at trying to hold some other smaller workshops outside of London in the lead-up to the University Competition. Nothing is confirmed yet, but we’re hoping this will be another exciting opportunity to expand our programming across the country.

There will, of course, be workshops around the country in conjunction with the Competitions in March and another showcase event at the [Edinburgh Festival] Fringe.

UACUK: What about any plans for the Final?

Well, we’re trying to make the Final, which is the 10th and 11th of March this year, a full weekend of events for everyone, but it’s always difficult for university singers to travel far during term time. Our ideal Final weekend would be one where the majority of groups from all of our competitions come to London regardless of whether they are competing. We would have more social events, some non-competitive performances (in addition to the Competition Finals), and a selection of workshops during the day so that singers could choose the workshop topics that they are most interested in. With so many singers there from different groups of different ages and backgrounds from across the country, we think it would have a real festival atmosphere and would be a really exciting weekend?

UACUK: So why isn’t the weekend of the Final already like this?

TM: The main problem is getting everyone together! All of the universities and schools have different schedules and some people are coming from pretty far away, which means spending a lot of extra time and money travelling. We obviously can’t programme a big weekend of events if no one is coming! We’re hoping though that as we slowly expand the size of the weekend, we’ll have more groups coming just for the workshops and the festival atmosphere. Also, I should mention that we all do have day jobs as well, so there’s a limit to how much new programming we can add each year!

UACUK: So does that mean you’re looking for volunteers?

TM: It absolutely does! We’re looking for anyone in any of the regions we work in, with or without a background in a cappella, who wants to help us deliver our programmes of events and opportunities for youth, university, and community singers. If anyone has an interest in events management or arts administration and wants to be a part of the Voice Festival team, they should get in touch with us at voice@thevoicefestival.co.uk.

UACUK: I’ve also heard that you’ve got a new website coming soon?

TM: That’s right. The new website will be much more interactive and have more content for groups and more ways for groups to stay in touch and share knowledge. There will also be a bigger blogging presence both from permanent bloggers and guest bloggers to help share news and views about what’s going on in the world of a cappella.

UACUK: When can we expect a launch?

TM: The launch will hopefully be at the beginning of next year.

UACUK: To close, let’s talk about a cappella in general. Where do you see the future of a cappella in the UK?

TM: I think this is a really exciting time for a cappella in the UK. Interest in a cappella is spreading at a phenomenal pace, and the Voice Festival wants to help support that. We think it’s important that as British a cappella grows, it is given the chance to find its own way. We don’t want to model ourselves around anyone else. That’s not to say that we can’t learn from a cappella groups and communities around the world; in fact it’s important that we try to do that. The Voice Festival just hopes to help build a diverse and vibrant a cappella community that spans ages and backgrounds across the UK. It’s an exciting time for British a cappella, so watch this space!

You can find the Voice Festival on Facebook and Twitter.

Exclusive Interview with The Voice Festival UK (Part 2)

Although the Voice Festival UK (VF-UK) is most widely known in the world of university a cappella for the national competition it hosts each year in late February and early March, the Voice Festival as an organisation is about much more than just one event. Now in its fourth year—and still run exclusively by a team of volunteers—the Voice Festival is the UK’s largest not-for-profit a cappella organisation, and has played an important role in helping to raise the profile of a cappella singing in the UK.

On an unexpectedly sunny November afternoon, I sat down with the Co-ordinator of the VF-UK University Programme and former member of the University of St Andrews’ The Alleycats, Tyler Mattiace, to talk about anything and everything a cappella.

In the first part of the interview, we talked mainly about the VF-UK University Programme and the growth of the Voice Festival UK over the past four years. In this second part of the interview, we spoke about some of the other programmes run by the Voice Festival and how they fit into the Festival’s overall goals.

UACUK: So let’s move on to some of the other Festival programs you mentioned. First, let’s talk about the Youth Program, which is now in its third year.

TM: The Youth Programme has been an important part of what we’ve been doing ever since the Voice Festival was founded. In the first year of the Voice Festival University Competition [in 2009], we had some youth groups participating in the pre-competition workshops at the final with the university singers. This music education element has remained a huge part of what the Voice Festival does and has grown into a separate programme almost as large as the University Programme.

UACUK: So the Youth Programme started out as a way to create links between school-age singers and university groups?

TM: Exactly. As I mentioned earlier [in part one of the interview] one of the main aims of the Voice Festival is to encourage and educate new a cappella singers. We think that one of the best ways to do that is to get them interested in a cappella while they’re young! A big focus of the Programme has been bringing together youth and university singers so that younger kids get the opportunity to see that there is much more to singing than they may have had experience with and that singing can be ‘cool’ when they get older.

UACUK: So how has that now developed into a full Voice Festival programme of its own?

TM: Well, after the first year, we began to make more connections with local school music departments in the communities where we hold each of our regional rounds. We found that there was a lot of interest in learning about contemporary a cappella so we started getting schools involved in the workshops at our regional rounds.

UACUK: So the Youth Program isn’t necessarily about working with already formed a cappella groups?

TM: Well, it does a bit of both. As we were making more connections with schools and other music educators to try to provide more opportunities for younger singers to learn about a cappella, people began telling us about a cappella groups at their schools and asking whether there were any opportunities for them to perform or compete at Voice Festival events. At first this was just groups associated with schools, but more recently we’ve had also self-run youth a cappella groups contacting us independently about performing and competing. This has led to a huge growth in what we offer to youth singers. We still provide a lot of ‘beginner’ opportunities, but the Youth Programme also now runs events targeted specifically at youth groups, such as the Schools on Stage workshop at London A Cappella Festival this January and the Youth Competition, which runs alongside the University Competition. I should add that the Youth Programme and University Programme also still run joint events together because we still think it’s important to create links between singers of different ages.

UACUK: That brings us on nicely to the Youth competition – what can you tell us about that?

TM: The Youth Competition is in its third year now, and although it hasn’t quite reached the size of the University Competition, it’s been growing fast as more young people learn about a cappella and more youth a cappella groups form. For the past three years, the Youth Competition has taken place at the same location as the Final of the University Competition, usually sometime during the day. The youth groups usually participate in all or part of the workshops with the university groups and then go to a separate room to be adjudicated by one of the judges from the University Competition panel.

In its first year, it was just a group one-on-one with an adjudicator in a semi-competition semi-master class format, where each group would get immediate feedback and there was no audience. However, by last year the Youth Competition has grown into something very similar to the University Competition—auditorium style with an audience and written feedback afterwards, albeit usually in a slightly smaller venue. This year, we’ve had a phenomenal amount of interest from youth groups, and it’s looking like we may have more than one round of the Youth Competition, which would be very exciting for everyone!

UACUK: You’ve also decided to introduce a Community Program this year. Why?

TM: Over the past few years, we’ve had more and more amateur adult groups—including post-university groups and groups of older a cappella or barbershop singers—getting in touch to find out if they are eligible to participate in any of our events. At first we just considered somehow adapting the rules of the University Competition to fit in one or two older groups, but as more groups started hearing about our events and more post-University groups (usually made up of former members of university a cappella groups) began forming, we realised that interest from community groups was only going to keep growing.

In anticipation of this growing interest, we made the decision at our annual meeting this summer to start running the Community Programme in the 2011-12 Festival season. Obviously, the programme offers a lot of the same types of opportunities to community a cappella groups as the Youth and University programmes do to youth and university groups. This includes a Community Groups Competition, which will be held, at least in part, on the same weekend as the University Final, although it may include other events at some of our regional rounds depending on the level of interest.

Bringing in the Community Programme does throw up new sets of challenges, though, as many of the community groups perform a wider range of genres including barbershop and other less contemporary music. As the Festival expands, we have to focus more on providing events and opportunities that can appeal to a broader range of groups and singers while still maintaining the core programming that singers have come to recognise and rely on over the past four years.

UACUK: You’re also thinking of awarding some kind of award for work within the community. What can you tell us about that?

TM: This has yet to be finalised, but as I’ve already mentioned, education is a huge part of what we do and we want to encourage experienced a cappella groups to think a bit more about education as well. It’s one thing for the Voice Festival to hold workshops where young people get the opportunity to sing together and meet other singers, but we think it’s hugely important that individual a cappella groups get involved in music education in their communities as well. Groups can go and visit local schools or work with community choirs—anything that helps more singers learn about a cappella.

We also want to encourage groups to think a bit more about working to help each other. On our application forms for the University Competition, one of the questions we ask everyone is “If you had bunch of money to spend on an a cappella project, what would you do with it?”. Some groups say they would use it to finance albums or tours, etc. but what is really interesting is that a lot of the brand new groups actually say that they would spend the money on organising a workshop with one of the really successful university groups, because they feel that what they can learn from these groups about things like rehearsal techniques, promotion, arranging, recording, etc. is much more relevant than what they could learn from a professional a cappella group. So this award is another way to encourage groups from different backgrounds to work more closely with each other.

UACUK: And tell us about the Alumni Program. How does that differ to the other three?

TM: The Alumni Programme is focused on increasing alumni involvement. We’ve had a lot of alumni get in touch with us who are still interested in a cappella and still want to be involved, despite not being part of a group. The Programme is mainly about creating a network of alumni. This might involve an alumni reception at the competition final, or getting alumni to arrange some music for groups, or having workshops with the old MD of this group or the old President of that group, and things like that. Again, it’s about getting groups and singers to work more closely with each other and creating an a cappella community across the UK.

In the final part of the interview, we discuss the coming year and the future of British a cappella.