The Sing-Off in the UK – A Viable Prospect or a Pipe Dream?

By looking at the statistics of this website, I am able to see several things: how many hits we get every day; which links on this site are clicked on; which posts have been viewed the most; and most interestingly, which search terms directed users to this website. There have been some obvious ones since we began in August – “Voice Festival UK 2012″ being the term most used to direct browsers to this particular site (closely followed by “UK University A Cappella Blog” – which should probably be top really, but that’s another issue) – but there have also been some strange ones along the way, such as “How to place a cappella singers on stage”, “Bruno Mars in UK” and, one of my favourites, “The Other Guys’ Not So Regal album”, either stemming from a disgruntled fan’s discontent at the St Andrews-based group’s new album, or from a confusion about the name, “Barely Regal”.

Either way, there have also been some very interesting and thought-provoking searches made, in order to get to this site. None so much as the latest one that popped up yesterday – “The Sing Off UK”. This got me thinking – how viable would a show such as The Sing-Off be in the UK, given the considerable gulf in quality and popularity between a cappella in the US and the UK?

Let’s firstly look at the stats. Reliable sources (i.e. that old Chestnut, Wikipedia) inform me that while Season 2 of the US version of the show consistently saw on average 8.5 million viewers, coming either 1st or 2nd in its timeslot every week, the third season was less successful, holding the attention of around 4.5 million viewers and falling to 4th on average in its timeslot, perhaps due to the longer season duration, with 11 episodes instead of 5 the previous year. Despite this decline, however, that’s still a lot of viewers, and indicates that there could be scope for a similar level of popularity in the UK.

Just look how other talent shows have fared – Simon Cowell’s empire, funded mainly by shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, has grown and grown in the past few years, while on the other channel, Strictly Come Dancing competes toe to toe every year with the former, and even beating it last year (which is probably fair enough, as the so-called ‘talent’ on the last series of The X Factor genuinely made me squirm every 5 seconds due to awful harmonies or off-pitch money notes). Such shows get 10 million viewers consistently every week, and regularly gain the most number of weekly viewers across the nation. And with newer shows set to be hits, such as BBC’s The Voice, based upon a thoroughly successful franchise that began in Holland a couple of years back, talent-based reality TV is (still) not going anywhere.

However, how many of you remember a little show called Last Choir Standing that premièred in 2008? Well, if you’re an Alleycat or a member of Cadenza you might have a recollection, but for the rest of you it probably passed by quietly without ever really affecting your life. Same here. Don’t get me wrong, Last Choir Standing is NOT The Sing-Off and differs in many ways, but essentially it was a very similar concept, which involved fifteen ‘choirs’ from around the UK battling out for a chance to perform at the Royal Variety Performance that year. The final, despite attracting 4.4 million viewers, was well behind The X Factor series of the time and was not renewed for a second season. While 4.4 million isn’t to be sniffed at, it didn’t quite catch the nation’s attention as much as other similar shows have done in the past.

This could be a simple marketing problem though – The Sing-Off is a catchy, competitive name, whereas Last Choir Standing, while retaining that competitive edge, mentions the word ‘choir’, which could well have led to a loss of hundreds, maybe millions of uninformed and uncultured viewers, who stereotype choirs as ‘boring’, ‘churchy’ and about as far from entertainment as possible. In fact, although it’s sad to think, such people make up the majority of modern day Britain. Alienating your average viewer before they’ve been given the chance to sample the show, which was actually quite far removed from what you might expect from a stereotypical ‘choir’ and closer to the type of talent we see on The Sing-Off than you might think, is not the best marketing strategy I have ever seen. So perhaps a show entitled The Sing-Off would have more success in the UK.

However, while talent shows are rife across the world at the moment, with everyone jumping at their chance to grasp their five minutes of fame, there is one important ingredient needed, and the clue is in the name – talent. And by this, I don’t mean that the quality of a cappella in the UK is lacking, despite the obvious deficiences in comparison to the US, but rather the quantity of a cappella in the UK. It’s all well and good for the US to air The Sing-Off, because every high school and college you can think of over there has a cappella groups coming out of their ears, and due to the popularity of the genre in the States, more and more graduates are forming their own groups post-university, as evidenced by only 6 of the 16 groups on last season’s show being based at a college or high school. However, such is not the case in Britain. While both the ICCA and VF-UK University Competion had a record number of participants this year, that record number is 150 in the US, while it’s only 26 over here. That’s a massive difference, especially when thinking about more than one series of a show – The Sing-Off. And yes, we do have non-university groups, like In The Smoke, The Swingle Singers and The Boxettes to name but three – but that number is nominal compared to what they have in America.

Another point is – do we really need another competition over here? It cannot be denied that a cappella is most popular in the UK at collegiate level, and so one would assume that the majority of groups applying for such a show would be collegiate groups, who have been competing against each other for the last three years in the Voice Festival (and in some cases in the ICCAs in 2007 and 2008). With one annual competition already established, is there enough room for another one, given the relatively small a cappella community in the UK?

However, there is one crucial element that ought to be taken seriously. A show like The Sing-Off would put a cappella firmly on the map in the UK. When Out of the Blue competed in Britain’s Got Talent, they were described as “completely different” to anything the judges had seen before and it was a travesty that they didn’t get through to the final, a statement echoed by irate Facebook fans, who created not one but two Facebook pages urging ITV to “Bring Back Out of the Blue!” The Other Guys also gained some modest publicity from their YouTube video ‘Royal Romance’, so clearly the public appreciate good a cappella and there is an audience for it – it’s just very few people know about it. Surely a show like The Sing-Off, even if it were only one for one season, and even if it were only mildly successful, would boost the reputation of not only certain a cappella groups in the UK, but also of a cappella itself and would most importantly encourage people to create groups of their own. The best case scenario would be a host of new a cappella groups in schools, universities and communities springing up and providing the willing public with a second marvellous season of The Sing-Off, not to mention providing the Voice Festival organisers with several brand new Regional Rounds to sort out.

As far as I know, there are no plans in the pipeline at the BBC (because it would more than likely be a BBC-produced show, rather than one for ITV unless Mr. Cowell got involved somehow) to create a British version of The Sing-Off, and perhaps it is a little early to think that such a show would be viable, given the limited number of groups around to apply for the show – let’s not forget that not all of them would be willing to participate. However, disregarding financial issues, something like The Sing-Off would only be a good thing for British A Cappella. It would build the reputation of the genre and groups within the genre, and essentially bring a cappella into the mainstream. I just doubt that the BBC are aware enough that a cappella exists to bring such a show to the table, and as such we may have to wait a little longer.

Voice Festival UK 2012 Preview – Part 5: Birmingham

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 final blog, we take a look at another round formed in 2011, the Birmingham Regional, taking place on 25th February 2012.

Potted History

The inaugural Birmingham Regional took place last year, with four groups competing – The Birmingham Songbirds, The Lorelites, Augmented Seven and Sons of Pitches. Augmented Seven made it to the final after winning the ‘Outstanding Performance’ Award.

Notable Absences

Augmented Seven: A surprise absence here. Augmented Seven, like All The King’s Men, made it to the final last year in their debut outing, but have decided to withdraw from this year’s competition. We here at the blog are unsure why, but their absence will surely throw this particular Regional Round wide open, and will also mean that the winner of this round will not have been to the final before – a great chance for all the groups competing. We wish Augmented Seven the best of luck in whatever their endeavours are in the coming year.

The Lorelites: Also withdrawing after their debut year are the Lorelites, also from Birmingham University. We wish the girls all the best for the coming year!

Newcomer Alert

Voice Versa: The fifth a cappella group from Birmingham, we haven’t been able to find out much about these lot. With Augmented Seven out of the picture, it’s wide open and any group could qualify for the final, so we wish Voice Versa the best of luck.

95 Keys: As predicted, the group from Leeds University are competing this year, and are very much an unknown quantity. They will have to travel a fair distance, but will hopefully inject a new perspective into the competition.

Old-Timers:

Birmingham Songbirds: For the second year running, the all-girl Songbirds are taking part in the Voice Festival, and will look to build on last year’s experience. Despite not winning an award, they hold an advantage over several of the other in that they have competed before and know what it takes to win. They stand a good chance.

Sons of Pitches: The all-male equivalent of the Songbirds, Sons of Pitches will also feel confident about progressing to the final in the absence of Augmented Seven. Some of their arrangements last year were very tight, and if they continue in that vein they could stand a good chance of qualification.

Summary

In my opinion, this is one of the toughest rounds to call. No group has ever made the final, and with half the Regional made up of debutants, it really is difficult to decide. Sons of Pitches and the Birmingham Songbirds have the advantage of last year’s experience, but it’s up to them whether or not they make it count. The other Birmingham group, Voice Versa, are an unknown quantity, as are the group from Leeds. Whatever happens, we will have a brand new finalist, and this will undoubtedly be a goal that all four groups will be striving to aim for. Whoever gets there may find it tough against more seasoned competitors, but the chance to perform alongside such groups must also be seen as a great opportunity. But who will take it?

Have Your Say

Voice Festival UK 2012 Preview – Part 4: Bristol

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 our fourth preview, we look at the first ever Bristol Regional, taking place on 3 March.

Potted History

While this is the inaugural Bristol Regional Round, a couple of the groups performing do have history in the event themselves. The University of Bristol Barbershop Singers, or TUBBS for short, participated in the Birmingham Regional for the first time last year. The other returning group are The Sweet Nothings, who competed in the inaugural competition back in 2009, but have since not taken part. It will be interesting to see how these two groups do, now they have their own Regional Round.

Notable Absences

Take Note: Of the Exeter-based groups not competing, I felt Take Note would perhaps be the group most likely to out of the rest. Perhaps the fact they are unauditioned and relatively new has put them off – St Andrews’ new Unauditioned A Cappella group also aren’t competing – but we wish the group all the best with any future endeavours.

Newcomer Alerts

Aquapella: A relatively new group, formed only two months ago according to this blog, and from a university entering for the first time, like Aberdeen and Leeds, the Bath group will be looking to learn from their experience this year. That said, this round is wide open and if they have made enough progress in the five months leading up to the competition then they could stand a chance. It may be difficult for them to find a solid, musical sound and blend in such a short time, but we encourage newcomers and wish them all the best in the competition.

HotTUBBS: The second group from the University of Bristol, HotTUBBS is a smaller project within the TUBBS society at the university, and was formed in 2008. They are described as a “crack squad of 24 auditioned singers”, and such a large group is unusual for VF-UK, but we feel confident that they will really fill the stage with their sound as a result. The fact they have been going for over three years could also bode well, although lack of competitive experience could hinder them.

Semi-Toned: The only all-male group in this Regional, Semi-Toned are a relatively new group from the University of Exeter who have been building their reputation around Exeter by busking frequently on Magdalen Road in the city centre. They combined with girl group The Sweet Nothings in December for a joint Christmas Concert, collaborating on stage as well in a special mixed performance. Whether they are ready for competitive action remains to be seen, but I predict them to make some sort of impact.

Switching Sides

TUBBS: Having travelled a long way to Birmingham last year with no reward, the University of Bristol Barbershop Singers will be happy to have a Regional slightly closer to home this time around. Their experience could be crucial in this round, especially because of the number of new groups in this particular Regional, and they are run very professionally. They could stand a very good chance.

Old-Timers

The Sweet Nothings: Old-Timers might be pushing it a little bit – the last time this group competed was in 2009, and it is unlikely that any of that participating group still remains. Formed in 2006, the group are the oldest at the university and are my favourites to win this round – despite their two year absence from VF-UK, they are the most experienced group and know what the Voice Festival is all about, and should by now have a sound and blend that fits the group. Anything could happen, of course, but these girls have the advantage.

Summary

One could argue that this is the weakest round, with three brand new groups competing, but that would be unfair – HotTUBBS have been singing together since 2008, so aren’t exactly new, while TUBBS and The Sweet Nothings both have experience in the tournament and know what it takes to qualify for a final, even if they haven’t managed it themselves yet. Semi-Toned seem to be very clued in to modern-day a cappella, citing Out of the Blue and All The King’s Men as their inspiration, so it would be interesting to see them up against one or both of those groups if they reach the final. Aquapella will find it tough, but there’s nothing like a bit of competition to really make a group step up to the plate. One of the most difficult to predict.

Have Your Say

LACF Diary – Day 2

by John Lau

After a night’s sleep severely interrupted by less than capable karaoke acts at my accommodation for the weekend, I made my way to the accommodation base of the man who had organised a Vocal Jog on Facebook (not the only thing organised over this means of Social Media over the course of the weekend) and was wondering to myself what I had let myself in for.

The view that greeted us at the end of the Vocal Jog.

In the end, I didn’t have much to worry about, as our host for the rush-hour jog, Mr Florian Staedtler, the man behind the Vocal Blog and the Acappellazone, confirmed that with five other a cappella fans and myself, there were enough people to enjoy a mysterious surprise on offer at the summit of Primrose Hill on Regents Park, which was our destination. After fifty minutes of jogging and waiting for the others, yours truly was the second man at the summit of Primrose Hill, patiently awaiting the surprise. But what was the surprise? Was it the panorama afforded over London’s skyscrapers and the Eye on the Thames from this vantage point or the sunshine or even something else?

No. It was better. The surprise was none other than a former Swingle Singer, Mr Willy Eteson, who had provided an energy filled breakfast of homemade oats & fruit bars, bananas and bottles of water for the participants. At this stage, I must admit I quite enjoyed the experience of sharing social opportunities such as these and I sure hope that Herr Staedtler will consider doing this again in 2013, with hopefully more people, especially with an Olympic running track possibly redundant in East London by the time the next festival swings round! Florian was delighted with the turnout of seven, as this was a major advance on the last time! Herr Staedtler, it was a pleasure to join you and thank you for this opportunity to meet like-minded people who are passionate about a cappella music.

In the second evening of gigs, I purchased a programme only to be informed upon opening that I had missed the Schools on Stage showcase of the crème de la crème of UK School-based a cappella, a joint collaboration between the Festival organisers and our friends at the Voice Festival UK, held earlier in the afternoon. Alexandra Godfree, one of the VF-UK’s head honchos, was reported to have said that it was a fantastic day with school children from all over the UK.

I was looking forward to both groups who were due to take to the Main Stage that evening: the Canadians from Cadence and the FORK Quartet from the capital of Finland, my interest in the latter having spawned in the Festival City of Edinburgh in August 2011. Outside the Main Stage, I was also looking forward to the Apollo5 group and the local boys from All The King’s Men.

Apollo5 singing at their free foyer event on Friday evening.

The two women and three men who make up Apollo5 have a momentous year ahead of them as they shall be embarking on their first Tour which will take them across the UK and even further afield, as they continue to work closely with the Red Balloon charity organisation, who aim to facilitate the recovery of bullied children throughout the UK. From the little I could hear of their free gig in advance of another engagement, I was impressed with their vocal offering and their wide repertoire of pop, classical and even Christmassy songs. I shall hope to hear more of them, and so can you at their Official Website.

Based on what I had read on the programme, I was quite looking forward to what the Canadian men from the Cadence quartet had to offer in terms of their jazzy offerings inspired by the likes of Stan Getz, Bobby McFerrin and Sarah McLachlan. Of their twelve item playlist, my highlight of this gig was their rendition of ‘On the Street Where You Live’ where the lead vocals were sung by the chief arranger of most of their playlist, Aaron Jensen. I was personally impressed with their offering and I will certainly be doing my best to get my hands on an album of theirs in the near future.

All The King's Men were impressive, despite their new-look line-up.

The Cadence gig over-ran to the extent that by the time we came out, the King’s Men were about to take to their stage, with their new-look line-up of twelve. I didn’t manage to see them at the Fringe this year, partly because I do not generally go for all-male a cappella groups, but from what I have heard of them over the following months, it sounds as if there are plenty reasons to be cheerful for this particular group, who are the only group ever to have qualified so far from the London Regional heat of the Voice Festival. The boys did not disappoint and I was thoroughly impressed by their professionalism and blend.

My Edinburgh Festival Experience in August 2011 commenced with me taking a chance on something I seen on the side of a taxi, but I was pleased to have taken a chance on the Finnish quartet of FORK for I could quite believe their bold statement of “Reinventing a cappella” having heard what they had to offer vocally. Even one of my neighbours on my row this evening was anticipating something special when he suggested that it was “Now time for something completely different.” And that is precisely what FORK are. I was pleased to have heard some new material (all re-arranged from the originals by themselves) but my particular highlight from this 14 item playlist was their rendition of Rihanna’s “Only Girl In The World” towards the end of their set, although it was close followed by a near-spotless encore of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. And to cap it all off, I even managed to get a signed copy of their album on sale. Get in.

So all in all, this was a great Friday night out. Plenty more coming up in the next piece where I laid foot on the second hall at Kings Place and also my first a cappella workshop.

LACF Diary – Day 1

by John Lau

Welcome to the London A Cappella Festival

After some drama which resulted in a later arrival than expected at London Kings Cross, I made my way to the Home of the Guardian Newspaper, which is also the Home of the London Festival dedicated to the unaccompanied human voice, with its cast of hundreds. On the Thursday night, the opening gigs featured one of the UK’s leading Chamber Choirs, the Vasari Singers, and with their expertise in singing in all sorts of environments from Canterbury Cathedral evensong to TV and Radio broadcasts they were sure to put on a great show. They were joined for two of their thirteen pieces by the special guests and hosts, the Swingle Singers. On the week that culminated in the 50th Anniversary of the Swingle Singers, the Patron of both groups, Mr Ward Swingle would have been delighted to see both groups on the same stage. Of the playlist on offer, my highlight was probably the collaboration of ‘Lover and His Lass’, which was written by Ward Swingle himself. Considering I was looking forward to the following gig at 9 o’clock even more than this one, this was a pretty good start and I was sure that this Festival was only going to get better.

The Techtonics were thoroughly impressive during their free foyer event.

The next stop before the 9 o’clock gig was the free foyer performance given by Imperial College London’s group of Techtonic boys who I’m sure are preparing even as I write for the London Regional heat of the Voice Festival which takes place a few weeks’ time, which could provide a great opportunity for them to go where they’ve never gone before – the National Final. The boys sounded and looked impressive, and I wish them all the best for the competition.

Up next were Cadenza from the University of Cambridge, current holders of the University VF-UK competition, who were opening for The Boxettes on the main stage. As this was the first time I had heard or seen Cadenza since they won the VF-UK 2011 University title back in March last year, and also considering they never undertook that other annual ritual of UK a cappella student groups – that is, partaking in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer – I was keen to hear how they were shaping up in advance of what I thought at the time would be the defence of their crown. The initial observations were positive in that most of the females who I seen in 2011 were still there, but this was counter-balanced by the replacement of some if not all of the male members of Cadenza, including Dominic Johnpillai, the Musical Director who led Cadenza to the trophy in 2011, which I thought may have changed the dynamics of the group slightly. However, I was impressed by their set, and of the four arrangements, the 1936 classic ‘Just The Way You Look Tonight’ by Jerome Kern, Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide And Seek’, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’ and ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ by Bonnie Tyler, my standout rendition was probably ‘Cry Me A River’, mainly down to the quality of the female soloist’s voice. At this stage, I would like to express my disappointment that the group will not be competing in the Voice Festival this year – they will be sorely missed.

The Boxettes amazed the audience on Thursday evening, particularly with their beatboxing talent.

My highlight of the Thursday night was almost upon us. Five young women who made it to the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2007, The Boxettes were like no other group that I had ever heard of at this Festival. While this is partly down to my indifference to hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass music, it’s also due to the fact that they stand out above the many collegiate groups that I have seen in the past. This 21st Century personification of “Girl Power”, for lack of a better term, had my feet moving all night, partly due to the “vocal raspberries” that they were feeding their mics, as described by their World Beatbox Champion Miss Belle Ehresmann. They all write their own songs, which again puts them head and shoulders above your average collegiate group, and my personal favourite of the night would probably have to have been “Free”, written by Neo Joshua, which is available to watch on YouTube.

And so with that, my first night at the London A Cappella Festival 2012 was concluded at 11pm, time for a sleepless night in advance of my attempt at a Vocal Jog early the following morning.

A Cappella – Competition vs Collaboration

The Sing-Off. The Voice Festival UK. The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. SoJam. Vocal Marathon. And many more.

All of the above are renowned, both in the US, the UK and the rest of the world, as being a cappella competitions with a great deal of vocal talent on show each and every year. But to what extent is a cappella harmed by competitive singing? And wouldn’t the quality of a cappella be better if the best groups collaborated together to form a ‘super group’, or write a ‘super arrangement’, and generally provide a higher level of entertainment?

A panel at the London A Cappella Festival last weekend discussed this issues, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

There is a lot to be said for a cappella collaborations. Generally, the most successful a cappella albums tend to be those like ‘Voices Only’ or ‘Best of Collegiate A Cappella’, where the best songs from the albums of the year are brought together to form an album which, after listening to the more recent versions of the latter, is generally full of incredible a cappella. That said, in a way, these albums themselves are competitions in themselves, with groups trying to make the best record possible, so as to be featured on the album.

For anyone who watched ‘The Sing-Off’ this year, female group Delilah’s version of ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars was possibly, in my opinion, one of the best live performances of a cappella I have ever seen. Aptly enough, Delilah themselves were formed from a collaboration of unsuccessful group members from the first season of the same show. However, having sung their hearts out in the first week of the show, their next couple of songs were less impressive, and they did not even reach the final of the show, despite having arguably the best set of singers on the show. That said, Pentatonix were worthy winners and are leading the charge of a new electronic style of a cappella that sounds incredible.

Groups collaborate on stage – so why not more so on albums? In recent times, The Sweet Nothings and Semi-Toned of the University of Exeter provided their audience with a great Christmas concert, in which the highlight was probably when the two groups collaborated on stage and the blend of male and female voices that was otherwise missing that evening was brought to the stage. Similarly, some of the best numbers on ‘The Sing-Off’, maybe not musically, but in terms of performance and audience enjoyment, were the large group numbers at the start of the show. You could argue the same for the final of ‘The X Factor’, where each act gets to sing a song with an already famous popstar, usually a big name that Simon Cowell has managed to secure from America, but occasionally some home grown talent like Westlife or Take That. It’s not only great for the audiences, but it’s also a privilege to be able to sing with a brand new voice or set of voices, and especially with someone you admire.

So I don’t quite understand why there aren’t more joint efforts on albums these days. In recent pop history, some of the most successful tracks have come from two artists working together – especially in modern day hip-hop. Tracks like ‘Broken Strings’ by James Morrison and Nelly Furtado, which was by far the biggest hit from his second album, and more recently, ‘Moves Like Jagger’ by two of the biggest artists in the US, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera, became one of the biggest hits of the year worldwide.

So why doesn’t this happen very often in a cappella? It could be to do with the number of competitions there are, particularly in America, where groups have the chance to compete against each other two, three, maybe even four times a year. In the UK it’s not quite that many, with just the Voice Festival UK, but there is still a sense of competition there, and some groups may be reluctant to collaborate with groups that constantly beat them; groups that they see as “worse” than them due to the latest results in the competition; or even just groups whose members rub them up the wrong way at competition time.

Competitions can sometimes be very daunting, too. It’s all well and good doing a gig with two or three other groups, but as soon as judging, scoring and a ‘winner’ comes into play, some groups began to shy away from performing, which is a huge shame. There are several groups within the UK this year that have chosen not to take part, those who have competed before and those who haven’t. This could be for a variety of reasons, but in my opinion, the experience of performing alongside other groups is so crucial to the development of an a cappella group, and if the competition aspect of a gig is scaring groups off, then I think that’s a real missed opportunity, not only for the group to improve themselves, but also for the concert itself.

Having said that, a record number of groups from a record number of universities have entered both VF-UK and the ICCAs this year, which means these competitions are growing ever larger, which is fantastic news. The growth of a cappella around the world is a wonderful thing, and long may it continue.

I am also of the opinion that competition makes people take things a little more seriously, and often the pressure and the occasion sees groups rise to the challenge and produce better a cappella than they would if it was just a normal, uncompetitive gig. In this sense, competition is crucial to the growth of groups as well as a cappella itself, because it helps them to better themselves.

Also, competitions are just so watchable. The Olympics wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if people were just going on a casual, social jog. Football wouldn’t be so popular if every game was a friendly game. At the same time, competitions, especially broadcasted ones like ‘The Sing-Off’, bring a cappella to the masses, and are vitally important in spreading a cappella across the world, because it’s a competition and regular people just love a good competition. However, as Bill Hare asserted at the LACF panel at the weekend, the vibe at a top class competition is often very similar to that of a friendly, non-competitive a cappella festival.

So while I think competitions can be daunting for some groups, I think they are vitally important to the growth of a cappella and can be used as vast learning curves for groups that would otherwise not have the opportunity to perform with some groups who are, by all accounts, better than them. I believe any group with the chance to compete in the ICCAs or VF-UK should take it, because there’s nothing like a bit of competitive spirit to help groups take their music to the next level.

The question is, do we really want a cappella to hit the mainstream? As it stands, a cappella is a very niche genre, and the a cappella community is one of the most welcoming and comfortable musical communities that there are – Tyler Mattiace noted in our earlier interview that several groups’ highlight of last year’s Voice Festival was the “A Cappella Love”. I believe it would be difficult to maintain such a balance of welcoming community spirit and friendly competition while striving to win worldwide appeal – as mentioned above, some groups are already choosing not to enter competitions, possibly because of the very fact they are competitions. Is it worth sacrificing community spirit for worldwide recognition? That’s a matter of opinion.

So, are competition and collaboration mutually exclusive things? Can you compete against one group one week and then be in the recording studio with them the next? Well, I think it is possible – to take football as an example again, many players worldwide compete against each other at club level one week, before joining up in the national side the next. While some collaborations don’t work, like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, or like ‘Glee’ and rap music, some of them are hugely successful, and I believe groups should be more willing to put aside their differences and make sweet music together. Because, in the end, life is a competition – everyone is trying to reach that ultimate goal, whatever it might be. But sometimes you have to work together to get there.

Voice Festival UK 2012 Preview – Part 3: London

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 our third special preview blog, we look at the London Regional Round, which was formed last year and will be taking place on Saturday 11 February.

Potted History

The London Regional Round began in 2011, and as such only has a year worth of history to report. Last year, five groups competed – two from King’s College, namely All The King’s Men and The King’s Chix; two from Imperial College, The Techtonics and Harmaphrodite, and Royal Holloway’s Absolute Harmony. Last year, All The King’s Men won through to the final, with The Techtonics winning the award for ‘Outstanding Performance’.

Notable Absences

Absolute Harmony: After one year in the competition, Absolute Harmony have decided not to compete this year. The group, who are very actively involved in the community, having won awards from the University in the past, will be a big loss to the competition, but we wish them well for the future and hope to see them again.

The Fitz Sirens: After three years of participation, the loss of The Fitz Sirens could be the reason for the lack of Cambridge Regional this year. The girls will be sorely missed, especially after their successful run to the 2010 and claiming the award in the final for ‘Outstanding Musicality’. We’ll hopefully see them again.

Harmaphrodite: After debuting last year, Harmaphrodite will also not be competing this time round. We don’t know much about the group as a whole, but do hope to see them in the future.

Cadenza: Probably the biggest shock of the tournament so far is the absence of the reigning champions, Cadenza. Why they have decided not to enter is unknown, but they will be sorely missed, particularly after their experiences in the US at the ICCA finals last year, and having never failed to reach the Final before. We wish them all the best for the coming year and hope that last year wasn’t the last for the mixed group from Cambridge.

Newcomer Alert

Imperielles: After making their debut at The Techtonics Christmas Concert, the new all-girl group from Imperial College, London have decided to make the immediate step up to competition level and will be competing for the first time this year. We look forward to seeing this up-and-coming group at the London Regional and hope they will enjoy the experience! The girls can be found on Facebook.

Switching Sides

Fitz Barbershop: Due to the demise of the Cambridge Round, one group has had to relocate to the slightly further away London Regional. The only group that will be making the switch is former finalists Fitz Barbershop, who remain the only group to have ever won the Ward Swingle Award for Originality, and thus a wild card to the final in 2010. They have won several other awards, both in Regional Rounds and the 2010 final, and so must be seen as a threat in this round.

Old-Timers

The King’s Chix: Last year’s debutants The King’s Chix will be trying their hand for the second time, and could be in with a chance. They weren’t perfect at the Techtonics’ A Cappella Event in November, but they had several new members and will have gelled more fully by the time the Festival rolls around. Whether or not they will be good enough to reach the final remains to be seen, but with Cadenza out of the running, they have a very good chance.

The Techtonics: The Techtonics have possibly been one of the busiest groups in recent months: despite not doing the Edinburgh Fringe, they went to Croatia and organised several joint events with other groups, really emphasising not only the a cappella spirit within the group, but their enthusiasm for performing. This could stand them in good stead, and recent reviews of their performances have been very good. I think they might do very well.

All The King’s Men: Another all-male group, All The King’s Men achieved the impressive feat of reaching the VF-UK final last year in their debut year in the competition. They have since released their first album, been to the Fringe and embarked upon a very successful US Tour, gaining lots of experience along the way. They will surely have learnt from the experience, but they have had a significant changeover in personnel this term and this could hinder them, depending on how well they have blended since the start of term. Will be a threat.

Summary

Another pretty tough one to call, here. Cadenza were the reigning champions and had never failed to make a final, so their absence throws this round wide open for the rest. ATKM and Fitz Barbershop have made the final before, and are strong contenders, while The Techtonics’ competitive experience in Croatia will surely be of benefit to them. The King’s Chix could also do well, while brand new groups like Imperielles generally find it tough against more experienced opposition. Whatever happens, it’ll definitely be a round to keep your eye on.

Have Your Say

Brown Derbies Sing For Peace!

Avid a cappella folk will probably already know that the Brown Derbies are coming all the way from the US to perform at the London A Cappella Festival. The boys from Rhode Island aren’t stopping there though, and have a very special gig lined up on 20 January.

International Alert, a charity helping to bring peace and reconciliation to communities around the world that are affected by violent conflict, are hosting a charity event at St. George-in-th-East Church in London, where the boys will be performing a set of their amazing a cappella.

From Barbershop to Pop and Classic Rock to R&B, you can enjoy their mixed repertoire of custom arrangements and if you’re very lucky, you might be graced with their occasional musical parody or skit on the night! The boys are only in town for a limited time, so if you’re missing them at the London A Cappella Festival, this would be the ideal time to catch up on what you missed!

Tickets, which are £12 and include a glass of wine, can be bought here. For more information about the event, click here

London A Cappella Festival: Less Than A Week To Go!

With less than a week to go until the London A Cappella Festival, the blogs are buzzing with excitement over what will surely be the best year yet in London, and with a staggering line-up of guests, both pro and collegiate, it is sure to be a wonderful weekend of a cappella.

With London-based groups All The King’s Men and The Techtonics involved, Chichester University Chamber Choir collaborating with the Matyas Seiber Trust and the Brown Derbies flying all the way over from the US, the number of university-based groups was already impressive, even before the fact that VF-UK 2011 winners Cadenza will be supporting the Boxettes on the main stage.

In the mean-time, our friends over at Vocal Blog have released their 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Festival, as if you needed a reason anyway. With the Swingle Singers, FORK, Cadence and Euphonism all involved in a big way, we know why we’re gonna be there.

There’s a Vocal Jog, free events, educational events, and most importantly, toness and tonnes of Aca-awesomeness to be found in every nook and cranny.

You’d be mad to miss it!

For more information, visit the Official Website.