From March 23-25, I spent a fun-filled long weekend at SingStrong. For those who don’t know, SingStrong is an annual a cappella festival held in Reston, Virginia, about 20 miles away from Washington DC. The profits from SingStrong are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association and also benefit local music programs. Most attendees stayed at the nearby Westin Reston Hotel, which offered very nice, well-priced accommodations. I went to SingStrong with three other members of my a cappella group from New York City, the MetropoliTones.
All day Saturday and in the morning on Sunday, a cappella experts led a variety of workshops. For example, I learned how to perform like a Rock Star from Blue Jupiter’s Diana Preisler, discovered techniques for winning a cappella competitions from Jonathan Minkoff (SingStrong’s producer, also from Blue Jupiter), Ben Bram and Maxx Factor (both from “The Sing-Off”), and got a crash course in recording from Dave Brown (the Mouth Off podcast) and Freddie Feldman (VOCOMOTION) at a mini A Cappella Bootcamp. Private coachings for groups were also offered during the day.
When I was not in class, I got to witness several amazing concerts throughout the weekend. SingStrong got off to an exciting start with the Friday night “ACA Idol” competition. Ten groups competed, with musical styles ranging from barbershop and folk to Top 40 and South Asian/pop fusion. The prize winners were GQ, a women’s barbershop quartet. On Saturday there was a competition featuring high school groups, where the top honors were won by XIV Hours from the Durham Academy in North Carolina. But that’s not all! There were also three concerts featuring several of the top pro groups in the a cappella universe. The headliners were Pentatonix, Afro Blue and Maxx Factor, all from “The Sing-Off”. The concerts also featured artists with musical styles that were relatively new to me: a live-looper (Julia Easterlin), Tuvan overtone singer (Alex Glenfield), and electronic beatboxer (Masai Electro). I also enjoyed watching Blue Jupiter perform their brand new songs! It was thrilling to see such a wide range of groups and solo artists.
Another exciting addition to this year’s SingStrong was the formation of the “Single Singers DC” led by Judy Fontana. Even if your entire a cappella group couldn’t make it to SingStrong, you still had an opportunity to perform there with the Single Singers. Participants received their music several weeks beforehand and rehearsed together on Friday and Saturday. Their big debut was at the Saturday high school competition, where they performed five songs during the judges’ deliberation. Two MetropoliTones were part of the Single Singers, and they had a great time! Unfortunately I was unable to participate, as I was sidelined by terrible allergies in the weeks leading up to SingStrong. From my spot in the audience, though, I can confirm that the Single Singers put on a wonderful, entertaining show!
A consistent theme throughout all of SingStrong was a strong sense of community. All of the classes and concerts were held in the same location (the South Lakes High School Arts Center), so it’s easy to meet and mingle with other attendees throughout the day. I met everyone from the dad who came to learn how to record his young son singing a cappella, to experienced singers who have attended every SingStrong since it started in 2009. At night, Afterglow parties were held at the Westin Reston Hotel, where attendees continued to socialize and sing the night away. SingStrong also brings in many people from the local DC metro area, many of whom have probably never seen a live a cappella performance. Many of the concerts were completely sold out. There were long lines to get into the concerts, but the wait time flies by when large groups of ticket holders spontaneously break into 8-part harmony (which gave me the opportunity to practice some new beatboxing techniques I had learned earlier in the day). It was heart-warming to see so many people excited about a cappella in one place.
I can’t wait for next year’s SingStrong festival. I learned so much in a wonderfully supportive, friendly environment. I highly recommend SingStrong for anyone who wants to see and meet top talent, get an a cappella education and have a blast, all while supporting Alzheimer’s research and local music programs.
About the author:
Carolyn Kiel has been singing and arranging a cappella music for 12 years. She got her a cappella start with the Vassar College Night Owls, where she sang bass, arranged her first song, and built the group's first website. She currently performs with the MetropoliTones, an all-women's Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL) group based in NY City. She has recorded five a cappella CDs. By day, Carolyn works in financial services technology. Her other skills include original songwriting, vocal percussion, and driving in Manhattan.