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London Vocal Project and The Swingle Singers at LACF 2012

This is one of a number of posts on the London A Cappella Festival 2012. You can also read more about Saturday’s events and several other posts about the festival!

After some interesting workshops in the morning, a fun barbershop concert, a fascinating discussion on music education and panel session, Saturday finished the festival strong – with two superb final concerts.

FreePlay Duo

The first concert was the London Vocal Project, who were supported by FreePlay Duo: a collaboration between Dylan Bell (formerly of Cadence) and Suba Sankaran (whose bio is too vast and varied to squeeze into parentheses).

They performed just four songs: two using live looping (the pair had run the live looping workshop earlier in the day) to layer sound upon sound, and two performed directly. As befit the festival, all sounds were created live with the human voice – but the variety of timbres and textures created was truly impressive.

FreePlay Duo at London A Cappella Festival 2012

Aside from the skillful use of a digital loopstation, what is perhaps most striking about the duo is their mixing of musical styles, blending pop, and Western and Indian classical music into one surprisingly cohesive performance. Speaking of blending – (more…)

LACF Panel: The Global A Cappella Community

This is one of a number of posts on the London A Cappella Festival 2012. You can also read more about Saturday’s events and several other posts about the festival!

It would be a great pity to have so many top a cappella groups, and industry movers-and-shakers in one place and not sit them down to discuss the state of the world. Fortunately this year just such a panel was organised.

Part one: Competition & Collaboration

Led by Jes Sadler, the panel session had two halves. The first part was a discussion of the value of competition and collaboration in the world of a cappella music, and featured Clare Chen (Vocal Asia), Florian Städtler (VocalBlog), Bill Hare (legendary a cappella producer) and Belinda Magee (Sing A Cappella). Though the discussion was brief, there were some great points made. I particularly liked Bill Hare’s assertion that the vibe at a really good a cappella competition is much the same as a friendly a cappella festival. The talk around the unreality of reality TV and drama shows like Glee was also interesting.

One funny but non-trivial issue raised by an audience question was whether the a cappella community is, in fact, too nice… It was suggested that some grittier collaborations, or simply less chirpy an attitude might help make a cappella music more accessible to those who write it off as superficial or cheesy.

It certainly is a remarkable close-knit and welcoming community in my experience. You only need to look at (more…)

Improv, Crossfire, Cottontown Chorus & The Refrains at LACF2012

After two stellar nights at the London A Cappella Festival (Thursday, Friday), I was excited to get stuck into the jam-packed Saturday agenda: three full concerts, plenty more foyer performances, an improvisation workshop, a panel talk and a music education discussion group.

Improvisation Workshop

I started the day by attending one of the three vocal workshops – the topic was improvisation, taught by Pete Churchill, whose London Vocal Project choir were performing later in the day.

I hadn’t been sure what to expect from a vocal improvisation workshop, but Pete quickly explained he wouldn’t just be spending an hour teaching us to sing scat! Instead he focused on how to manipulate a melody and play around with the rhythm to create your own improvised performance versions. The core message was on keeping a rock solid sense of the beat and auralising the standard melody in your head so you could improvise freely around it with a reliable rhythmic accuracy. It definitely stretched my ears in a good way – and being reminded of the importance of rhythmic discipline is never a bad thing. His suggestion that we kick back some evening, crack open a bottle of wine and spend some quality time with our metronome was heard loud and clear!

Pete Churchill teaches with a natural ease and the kind of clear, relaxed explanations that only come of real musical mastery. The workshop was a great experience, gave me lots to go away and think more about, and made me even more excited to see the London Vocal Project later in the day.

The workshop ended just in time to catch the tail-end of (more…)

Cadence and FORK at LACF 2012

Another amazing night at the London A Cappella Festival. I’m trying hard to avoid these posts just being whole-hearted enthusiasm, but the music is just so good – and let’s face it, there are plenty of professional music critics who can cast a negative light. Let them. I’m having a fantastic time!

Tonight’s line-up was Cadence, Canada’s premier all-male a cappella foursome, and FORK, the relative unknown from the not-so distant shores of Finland. Throw in some more Albert Hera and a few great foyer performances from up-and-coming a cappella groups and you have a second night that managed to live up to the superb first.


I came to know Cadence through listening to countless episodes of the excellent podcast “Mouth Off” – a short weekly update on all things a cappella, packed with fantastic tunes and fun chat, courtesy of hosts Christopher and Dave. This was the first chance I’d had to experience them live though and they certainly did not disappoint.

Cadence at LACF

After a sincere introductory reading of that classic poem “Blame Canada” from Swingle Kevin, the Cadence crew took to the stage, immediately setting the tone for a light-hearted but sleek and schmoooth performance. Their repertoire focuses on lounge jazz and big band type numbers, of which they are masters.

I would say the most distinctive aspects of the Cadence sound are their perfectly smooth voice blending and the superb brass section they transform into at the slightest provocation! Brass sounds (think trumpet, trombone, etc.) can be overused in a cappella music and there was no shortage here, but Cadence have it down to a fine art – close your eyes and you can actually believe it’s the real instruments you’re hearing.

Case in point: (more…)

The Vasari Singers and The Boxettes at LACF 2012

Last night was the first night of the London A Cappella Festival 2012, and it certainly got off to a tremendous start.

The evening began with foyer performances by several choirs from the “Music In Offices” initiative, including from the BBC and Channel 4. They sang from the balcony above the concert hall foyer downstairs, which a friend of mind pointed out was a kind of reverse serenade…

Music in Offices choirs

The Vasari Singers

The first concert was the Vasari Singers – a choir I’d heard of but never heard. Before they took to the stage though, we were treated to a mini performance by Albert Hera, who apparently has been called the Italian Bobby McFerrin – not a bad description! He has an incredibly versatile voice and evokative facial expressions, and as he bopped and hooted his way through announcing the “L-O-N-D-O-N a capp-ell-a twen-ty twelve” he repeatedly cracked the audience up with his playful expressions, gestures, and sounds. Wonderful to start the festival with laughter and such a show of vocal capability!

Then the Vasari Singers began the festival in earnest, (more…)

How to teach music… in perfect harmony

Discussion group

“How to teach music… in perfect harmony”
at the London A Cappella Festival 2012
14:50-15:30 in The Wenlock Room
Saturday 14th January, Kings Place, London

The last few years have seen a sharp increase in people’s interest in singing. From X-Factor and Pop Idol, to SingStar and Rock Band, to High School Musical and Glee, it’s clear there is massive public interest in singing and vocal groups.

Unfortunately it seems so far like the message of each of those franchises is centered squarely on celebrityism and pop star success – rather than developing real musical ability.

Can this widespread enthusiasm be harnessed to really drive music education forwards and encourage a new generation of truly talented musicians to emerge?

This week the London A Cappella Festival is held at Kings Place, curated by The Swingle Singers and Ikon Arts Management.

I’m proposing an informal discussion group as an #LACFextra, on the topic of a cappella for music education, tentatively entitled “How to teach music… in perfect harmony”. Not so much “How can we teach a cappella music?” as “How can we use a cappella to teach music?”

Some initial suggestions for discussion topics:

  • Why use a cappella for music education?
  • What areas of teaching music could a cappella be relevant to?
  • What specific benefits are there to using a cappella music for teaching?
  • Why isn’t it already more used?
  • How has it been used? Any successful experiences?
  • How can technology bolster a cappella in music ed?
  • What can we do to accelerate music education using a cappella music?
  • What potential collaborations between music ed. professionals/companies and a cappella groups are there?

The discussion will be open to everyone, and we’re hoping we might even entice a few of the festival performers to join us.

Details of time and location will be announced later this week, but the discussion will be at Kings Place during the day on Saturday and run for 30-40 minutes.

UPDATE: The discussion will take place in The Wenlock Room of Kings Place, from 14:50-15:30 on Saturday 14th.

If you’re interested in this topic, please:

  1. Leave a comment below to say you’ll come along (and suggest any further discussion points)
  2. Help spread the word using the social media buttons below, or by linking to this post and using hashtag #LACFextra.

If you’re not currently planning on attending LACF2012… Why not? Read a bit about last year’s festival and change your mind!

Sincere thanks to Jessica from Ikon Arts for supporting this LACFextra event.