One Day at the London a Cappella Festival

[report by Deborah Rosanwo]

This was well and truly a doctor's visit. I was in and out of London at the bat of an eyelid and am still reeling from all the fun, love, laughter and fine music that can be crammed into 36 hrs.

Family time is holy and precious for me so I chilled with my loved ones with home cooked oxtail stew and port wine and missed the Real Group kickin' aca-ass, commanding the respect and awe of colleagues, protégées and wannabes alike. TRG has a way of rejuvenating themselves whilst remaining so unmistakably their TRG selves. They shared a few of their success secrets at the Workshop "Pass Me The Jazz" on Saturday. More about that later.

There is no better place to kick off the a cappella festival year than at King's Place. One can feel the buzz and warm atmosphere of this global gathering of a cappella friends upon entering the premises. Within minutes of my arrival ( here comes the royal name-dropping) I had met and hugged (a very important aspect of Aca communication) Jeff Meschel ( Blogger, Israel ),  Bill Hare (Aca Guru Producer, USA) Vanderen Krogstad ( Singer, Norway), Clare Wheeler( Swingles, UK) Annemarie Homann( Single Singers, Netherlands) and Gregorio Hernandez ( SLIXS, Germany) Familiar faces, happy faces everywhere and of course "the Sound of Music" coming from "Voices Only" in the Foyer.

The first ensemble I heard was the Woofers, the choir of basses directed by the Swingle bass Edward Randell  (no tweeting or no birds allowed). Those Guys put their hearts and souls into those charts with deep rich bass and versatile baritone soloists. I heard Lewis Daniel, the bass from Vive also for the first time and he "saaaang" as the Amis would say.

Of course I had no tickets for the workshops but as fate would have a certain Californian mixer and masterer decided to sing with the Single Singers and gave me his workshop ticket for Pass Me The Jazz with the Real Group! Aca kindness. The main theme was "Listening" "We know very little about singing. But one thing we know: You have to listen." were Katarina Henryson's opening words. She and Morten Vinter then had the packed auditorium find a unified pitch from a cluster and find a tempo by listening and reacting to each other. 200 highly motivated singers mastered each of these tasks in less than 30 seconds.

Lesson? "We might go down in pitch & tempo, but we would do so totally together instead fighting each other!" said Morten Vinter We spoke about group dynamics and the importance of positive reinforcement. Katarina said that singers are their own greatest critics and we tend to transfer our harsh judgement of ourselves unto our fellow singers. We usually know what we did wrong. Leave that for a constructive rehearsal and focus on the great things that happened.  "We ( the Real Group) have a 20-minute rule after concerts: Say nothing negative right after the concert. We are all very vulnerable." I personally love that 20 minute rule and the Bonner Jazzchor tries to implement this as best we could... It is so difficult but so worth it, I can tell you! We were then treated to a 20 min Interactive master class with the Hungarian mixed vocal quintet Jazzation who won the jazz category & the Ward Swingle Award at Vokal Total. Needless to say they were brilliant with an incredible feeling for swing. Katarina and Morten had them shadow each other resulting in a slightly different interpretation each time. "It is important to know your instrument.. In this case the characteristics and timbres of the voices in your ensemble and to experiment with the sound. Know what's going on with the middle voices" We learnt so much at that workshop. The Real Group has always made it their mission to teach and share their 30 years of experience as a group.

We were all now ready for the concerts.

There was a lot more going on in the Foyer but I decided to focus on my highlights here. After a quirky boy group opener from Penny Arcade the Swingles came on stage and introduced SLIXS as " some good looking Germans backstage ready to groove" Everybody knows how much I love SLIXS and boy did they deliver! From Bach to Funk, from their own made up language to pure body percussion, they were charming, amusing, profound, sexy, groovy, cool. They were so funky that when Konrad Zeiner suggested we seat dance, the whole crowd got up and jammed to the groove.... The British got up and danced!!!! Unheard of!!! Goosebumps, eargasms, neck- snapping groove ... They were on fire and I felt as though SLIXS as Germans had made the greatest impression on a British audience since Boris Becker and the FIFA World Cup in Germany 2006! Standing ovations and encores. They are no longer Germany's best kept a Cappella secret!

MIX from the University of Colorado Denver, winners of the collegiate A Cappella Competition SoJam 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina impressed me and obviously the Swingles so much so that they were invited to open for the Swingle's concert. They took the stage and presented their blend of country and soul combined with a perfect stage performance as  if they had always graced the great stages of the world. They had stepped up their game in 10 weeks and had even Nicholas Girard from the House Jacks lost for words at their awesomeness.

 And then came the Swingles. I had heard them in Stockholm, Raleigh and now here on home ground and this was my most intense experience of their world class singing. They spun my emotional kaleidoscope. My favorites this time were After The Storm with the magnificent Oliver Griffiths on the lead, the heavenly rendition of Debussy's Clair de Lune and the heart- wrenching mash up of Blackbird/ I Will with the Jo Etson's soothing English rose mezzo soprano and Oliver Griffiths' heartbreaking tenor. A Swingles concert makes me feel as though I've had a decadent bath in champagne and cuddled up in silk sheets.

Everyone was on a high afterwards. There were tons hugs, lots of photographing and bonding going on. The a cappella year had gotten off to a grand start and although I had only been there for one day the LACF 2014 I am full of joy and music Thank You all, especially Jessie Hill, Mama LACF. Post Festival Blues are predestined!

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Thanks for this great report - and I have to say that I definitely have to put London on my agenda for next year !!