It was 24 hours ago, but we’re all still on Cloud 9!
Yesterday, KeyStone attended The A Capppella Project – Philadelphia‘s 2nd Annual Winter Workshop. The morning featured workshop sessions from A-list a cappella arranger Tom Anderson (@RandomNotesLLC) and the legendary original bass singer from Rockapella, Barry Carl.
Tom Anderson gave workshops on a cappella arranging and vocal percussion, and Barry Carl gave workshops on vocal technique, ensemble singing, and stage presence and presentation. Amy, Tom, and Jen were all in attendance at Barry’s stage presence workshop and definitely took away some valuable advice on how to prepare mentally and physically in that half-hour just before taking the stage when the nerves start ramping up. “It’s like being a track runner,” Barry said, “you have to breathe and keep yourself focused, then when that gun goes off, it’s an instant kick of adrenaline and you have to perform.”
Barry talked about his process of “attunement”, when a group forms a circle facing inwards and begins by simply, organically, breathing together (in Barry’s terms, “conspiring”). Then, the group moves into locking into a unison or triad without verbal direction – a singer just starts, and they form a chord. “It’s focusing your group’s energy, like a laser beam of coherent light.” He demonstrated it with one of the high school a cappella groups that was in attendance, and it made a noticeable difference.
Amy was taking notes (literally) along with our friend Shawn Pearce of Value Vocals (@ValueVocals) during Tom Anderson’s arranging workshop. Some great takeaways, including “for whatever reason, voices sound better in keys with lots of flats or sharps in them” and “When writing for all-female groups, don’t invert the chords when the altos can’t go any lower. Just cross voices – the ear will still follow it.”
Jamie and Gooch sat in on Tom’s vocal percussion workshop and talked shop about the history of VP, the difference between beatboxing and vocal percussion, and the adjustments to make when singing unamplified, on a system, or for a recording.
But, by far the biggest surprise and the best moment of the day came when it was our turn to take the stage for the afternoon on-stage clinics. There were seven a cappella groups who each got a half-hour on stage to perform two or three songs for Tom and Barry and receive instant feedback. We opened with Amy and Tom’s arrangement of “Beautiful” made famous by Christina Aguilera. Barry’s first comment: “Very pro.” They really didn’t have anything negative to say but did make some suggestions on how we were standing in a traditional collegiate “horseshoe” instead of spreading out and making better use of the monitors. Since it was really the first time we’d ever sung on a system rather than on headphones to record, that is something we’re going to work on in practice. There was also a comment on Jen’s water bottle being on stage instead of hidden by the monitors – yes, they had to reach that far for a criticism!
Barry also commented on Gooch’s mic placement with his favorite mic, a Rode NT3. Since it’s a condenser, Gooch holds it upright instead of on-axis and off to one side to avoid plosives. Barry had Gooch make a small adjustment, and his bass resonance over the system improved noticably.
Next, we sang Amy’s arrangement of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” – the tune that started us off as a pick-up group in 2009. Tom’s comment, “That was SO good…” with head in hands was a reaction worthy of Shawn Stockman on The Sing-Off. Tom commented that Amy had obvious classical training and could soften that delivery just a bit to match the style of the song. He also encouraged Josh to step out even more when he sings the Tito part on the bridge. “You guys are three for three on awesome soloists,” Tom added, and then, looking at his watch, said “Well, there’s nothing else to say about how good you are and you’ve got ten minutes. Got another song?” which was followed by chants from the audience for “one more song!”
So, we sang Tom’s arrangement of “Frosty the Snowman,” which oddly enough was our original tune we were going to open with but shied away from. The audience reaction was immense! When we sang that tune as dinner music back before Christmas, no one was listening. This time, they got every quip thrown into the backgrounds and laughed along throughout. With Gooch in the role of Frosty, we finished to a thunderous ovation. “How many modulations were in that?” Barry asked (there are four). We were totally blown away by the crowd reaction and even more humbled and flattered by the praise we recieved from our two clinicians. “When I go out to LAAF (the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival) next week, I’m going to be talking about you guys,” Tom told us afterwards. “The highlight of my day so far,” Barry added. Here’s Tom’s tweet on us later that afternoon:
@RandomNotesLLC Y’all need to hear this group @KeyStoneVocals from Philly. They’re not on the radar yet but give them a minute. Wow.
This performance at the clinic was a true litmus test for us. Not only were we getting professional feedback, but we were singing for a test audience of good friends, accomplished a cappella singers, and close harmony fans. We’ve come out of this feeling very energized, and are forming our plans for a strong showing at the Harmony Sweepstakes Mid-Atlantic Regional in February.