Monday, February 3, 2014

What I Learned from LAAF

This past weekend, I attended the Los Angeles A cappella Festival. Besides the six-hour flight, sandwiched in the middle of two large people who ate tuna wraps and Caesar salad respectively, I enjoyed myself immensely.
Attending CASA festivals, or any festival for that matter, gives me the chance to re-discover something I already knew, but often forget- I definitely don’t know everything about a cappella.
There is always something new to learn. There is always some new way to approach a cappella that you haven’t thought of before. There is always someone who has a different outlook on life, with different experiences, that shows you something no one else could.
As much as I’m trying to avoid doing a PSA for attending CASA festivals, I would like to share what I learned this weekend.
1) Expect the unexpected.
Rene Ruiz of Toxic Audio taught me that the best performances are the ones where you never let the audience be comfortable with what is about to happen. When you spice things up, go in a different direction, and give the audience the complete opposite of what they think is about to happen, then you strike gold. This applied to the Friday night competition as well, when Unstrumental, a high school a cappella group who had twice been denied the win, finally took home first place after what can only be described as the craziest, gutsiest, funniest, confetti-filled Ke$ha performance I’ve ever seen.
2) Group warm-ups are the only warm-ups that matter.
The Honey Whiskey Trio, winners of last year’s Harmony sweepstakes, made the case that individual group members should perform their own warm-ups outside of rehearsal, and the only warm-ups you should do together are ones where you constantly match vowels and work on group blend. I 100% agree with this method, and you can bet I’ll be working on this from now on.
3) Draw inspiration from sources outside of music.
Ariel Arbisser led a workshop titled “Sing it like you mean it.” I had never attended this workshop before at other festivals, but heard through the grapevine that it was outstanding, so I finally saw it. Ariel made the case for incorporating the Meisner technique, an acting method, for determining how to sing with conviction. Even if you don’t agree with the Meisner technique, or you don’t really know much about it, like me, your group needs a way to connect to the lyrics that doesn’t involve simply talking about it. You need to emote, and you need to find a method that lets you do that.
4) The best thing for a cappella music is not to be separate, but to be inclusive.
In Ben Bram’s open forum class, we had a discussion about a cappella transforming into its own genre of music. I’ve written several posts about this topic, making the case that, for a cappella to be taken seriously, it needs to become its own classification, separate from pop music. Ben made the opposite case, which makes sense: For a cappella to be taken seriously, people need to stop viewing a cappella as a separate genre of music, and just look at a cappella music as live music. Pentatonix is not an a cappella group…they are a live band with no instruments, capable of winning the same Grammy award as Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift. If we approach a cappella from that angle, we will be taken more seriously.
5) Home Free is amazing and they are the example of how hard work pays off.
Home Free, the winners of season 4 of the sing-off, had been together for 13 years before their television appearance. When I saw them at the concert on Saturday night, it was very clear that these guys were seasoned performers. The show was incredibly tight and smooth. It was entertaining, hilarious, and free-flowing without getting too messy.
Groups want instant fame. That’s an opinion I maintain is true. Groups want to get on the Sing-off, win the competition, make a viral video, and be superstars without spending years honing their craft.
You, and I, need to understand that this is just not the reality. Sure, Pentatonix met a day before the audition, but Avi and Kevin were already seasoned performers, and the other three had been singing together in high school. You cannot jump into a Pentatonix-like situation without being as talented as the five of them beforehand, and to get that talented, you have to work. Home Free reminded me of this. 13 years, thousands of performances later, and they are already steps ahead of the game.
Instant fame is attainable, but without hard work and practice, that instant fame might be for the wrong reasons…and then you become Rebecca Black.
Marc Silverberg
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