KeyStone A Cappella at VoCALnation 2012

KeyStone at VCN 2012

Photo: Tara Ahn

KeyStone A Cappella has been in existence for a little over a year, and we’ve accomplished quite a bit in that time. We’ve learned a repertoire of twenty songs, sang an on-stage clinic for Barry Carl and Tom Anderson, competed in Harmony Sweepstakes Mid-Atlantic, recorded our first professional single, and now attended our first CASA Festival.


KeyStone was one of eight featured performers on the CAL Showcase Concert – the opening ceremonies for the VoCALnation A Cappella Festival, which occurred on July 13th and 14th 2012. The Friday night concert was held at Arlington Temple United Methodist Church in Arlington, VA and the classes and professional concert were held at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD.


There were so many great take-aways from the weekend. It was only our second time performing live on a mic system, and we learned more about what to do and not to do for our sound check to optimize our performance. We watched eight other acts including host group Cartoon Johnny – there was not a weak performance in the lot. From the smooth jazz stylings of Clearly Vocal to the contemporary sounds of Cognitive Resonance, The Seekers, The Red States, Empire A Cappella, and Euphonism, to the round choral sounds of Captial Hearings, there was a lot of great performing going on.


On Saturday morning, Tom served as a clinician along with John Hodges from Clearly Vocal and CASA clinician Nathan Altimari for a masterclass with Capital Hearings. We discussed Capital Hearings strong foundation in classical choral singing and sight-reading and how they could expand their skills into more contemporary and pop music without losing their sonorous qualities.


During the next session, KeyStone received their own private masterclass with CAL director Holli Matze from Empire A Cappella and CASA Director of Education Benjamin Stevens. We worked on communicating the “story” behind the song on two of our numbers, and there were noticeably better results at the end of our hour with them. We really enjoyed interacting with Ben and Holly both during our session.


We took away so much great information from the CAL workshops, which are designed for older, more seasoned a cappella performers in post-collegiate groups. Charlie Friday and Amanada Aldag’s session of taking your group “from casual to serious” reiterated a lot of the same great information that Cartoon Johnny gave to Clearly Vocal during their open masterclass. The sessions gave us a lot to think about as a group as we plan our future for the next year.


After doing dinner with our good friend Shawn Pearce from Value Vocals A Cappella Arrangements, we went to the Professional Showcase concert in the absolutely gorgeous Strathmore Music Center. Over 1,200 seats were filled to witness great vocal acts in increasingly jaw-dropping performances. CAL group Vox Pop opened with three bombastic pop rock songs, followed by a nice surprise: Swiss a cappella group The Glue. Currently on an international tour courtesy of the Swiss State Department, The Glue took the stage wearing short shorts with wide stripes on the side, each wearing a “camelback” water bag on their back. Hearing their Swiss bass man singing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” in english, along with songs in swiss and spanish was an unexpected surprise. Their vocal percussionist often sang bass lines simultaneously as well.


After those two groups was Sing-Off favorites Afro Blue. They shared some of their favorite moments from their run on The Sing-Off, plus a great jazz rendition of the theme from “The Flintstones” that magically morphed into the Bobby McFerrin version of the theme from “The Cosby Show”. This incarnation of Afro Blue, now touring the country billing themselves as a vocal band, continues to meld pop music with their jazz roots into a style reminiscent of Take 6 and Naturally 7.


After the intermission, Italian five-voice group Cluster took the stage in their American debut. Cluster is nothing short of impressive, with two wailing sopranos, two screaming tenors, and a versitile baritone/bass. “Versitile” is the word to describe them, as all three male singers are excellent vocal percussionists and traded off percussing duties throughout the set. Their repertoire was equally versitile, ranging from a great Stevie Wonder medley to Italian folks songs to a tricked-out version of “One Note Samba” to an absolutely breathtaking version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that got the first spontaneous standing ovation of the night, to ending the set with a flat out rockin’ arrangement of “Smoke on the Water”.


Cluster freely used electronic effects, utilizing bass octavizer at times and applying amp simulators to the ladies’ mics for guitar solos, all cued out from the sound board. While some of their electronics applications were in vogue in the US about 10 to 15 years ago, they made great use of them, never relying on them to carry their performance. For their encore, they did a long medley of American TV theme songs from the 1960’s to 1980’s including “Knight Rider”, “The A Team”, “Dawson’s Creek”, “Murder She Wrote”, “Happy Days”, and even the old 1960’s “Batman” theme.


The most important take-away from the festival, however, was by far interacting with and meeting new friends in the contemporary a cappella community. For many, we have been following each other on Twitter and Facebook for a while, and it is always a pleasure to meet people “in meatspace” where you can put a face and an energy to the details you already know about them. Amy was particularly excited about meeting Barry Carl once again, who continues to be such a gracious and sincere person. Tom was flattered when Dave Sperandio from diovoce made a point of introducing himself (Dave recognized Tom’s iconic hat that he has been wearing to all a cappella events since 2009). We were also reunited with Charlie Friday and Amanda Aldag, who in addition to everything they do for CASA and the various a cappella groups they perform with, are working with us on editing our first single.


In addition to these notable CASA names, we got to meet in person the fine folks of the other CAL groups. We particularly had fun crossing paths with the members of Cognitive Resonance and The Seekers here and there. There are so many genuinely enthusiastic and sincere people that are a part of the CASA community, much of which can be attributed to Deke Sharon’s early guidance in fostering mutual respect for singers of all ages and abilities.


At the after-party on Saturday, Tom made a point of talking to Cluster front man Erik Bosio, complimenting him on the arrangement of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Erik was genuinely touched by the compliment and said, “Everyone in America is so nice! We go to sing other places, and they don’t seem to care as much.” It’s pretty great that Cluster will return to Genoa with such positive interactions with “America” via the good folks of CASA.


We posted some shots of the CAL Showcase on our Facebook page that we invite you to check out. Also, here’s a recording we did in the lobby of the Strathmore of this year’s Pick-Up group singing their entire set.



We’re looking forward to more interactions with CASA and CAL in the months to come!