HomeBlogsBetsy Hanger's blogLos Angeles A Cappella Festival--an appreciation!

Betsy Hanger's picture

I don’t use this space very often to blog in the usual sense – to critique, to opine, to comment,  to stick myself into the wonderful a cappella stew of the So Cal region (which I calculate these days stretches from  San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border – and hey, happy to take in you strays from Arizona, too).

But yesterday, all day and deep into the night, a wonderful magical amazingly musical and friendly all-singers all the time event happened at my alma mater, UCLA, and I was bursting with pride on a lot of levels. 

Hence, I will blog.

The inaugural Los Angeles A Cappella Festival was produced in 2010 by Bruin Harmony, a fine men’s collegiate group. CASA joined as co-producers this year, and LA-AF 2011 really took off. The website was stunning (www.la-af.com)  though like most web-sites, needed a few small tweaks. And it certainly pulled people in.

What I love about contemporary a cappella more than anything is its transformative potential.  Alchemical, really. A pop song becomes more magic because of the human voice, and the face, and the communication that happens between the voice and the receiving ear. An ethnic backbeat becomes a revelation. A new chord, perhaps just subtly implied, becomes an avenue to the heartstrings. To that place where we can all be transformed.

So many times yesterday, I found myself laughing. For joy, for amazement, and even for crying for the sheer beauty of the sound.  There were so many good arrangements! Many good and innovative vocal-percussionists. New uses of women’s voices. Better blend. Better dynamics. More subtle, more confident, more vivid, and more energetic because the music demanded it.

There were classes, workshops, coachings, advice, networking, chances for quite a few groups to perform on the giant stage at Ackerman Ballroom, and a climactic concert with first-class talent, some amateur, some professional.

A comparison for those of you who went faithfully to the West Coast A Cappella Summit in Marin County back in the early 2000’s. This was more comfortable, more interactive, more dynamic. Perhaps not as spontaneous --- there was less jamming between classes, but it was healthy: we trucked all day between three of UCLA’s beautiful buildings. Classes started and ended on time. Most classrooms were sufficiently well-equipped, Fabulous vocal percussion teachers (shout-outs to Kari Francis, Courtney Jensen, and Jake Moulton) was not well-served by a silly portable P.A. system. But like all great artists, they just worked around it --- at one point Jake urged us all to “find the reverberant chasm in the SM 58”. Classes in arranging, movement, rehearsal technique, group dynamics, the business side of producing were well-attended and enthusiastic. The presenters I saw were all thoroughly professional and articulate.

In other words, our movement has come of age. And next year is already in the works. Don’t miss it. There will be opportunities to volunteer, and suggestions are already being solicited for workshop topics and guest artists. CASA’s involvement was crucial.  But the volunteers from UCLA, especially but not only Bruin Harmony, should all be given major awards for a festival well-run and completely enjoyable.