HomeMeet Your CASA Ambassador: Joel Levitz [Southern California - US]

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Joel Levitz

When did you first become involved in a cappella? In what capacity?

I’ve been involved with a cappella for as long as I can remember.  My mother was a Sweet Adeline with the Channelaire barbershop chorus since I was little, and when they decided to bring their kids in for a featured spot on the concert, I became a Channel Heir.  It took about twenty years for her to convince me to join the Masters of Harmony, and under the direction of the amazing Mark Hale, I was with them for two of their International Championship gold-winning sets.

My convoluted journey in the contemporary side of a cappella has always started with being a huge fan.  I’ve loved Rockapella since watching Carmen Sandiego as a kid (and seeing a live taping of the show, thankyouverymuch), and saw a concert of theirs in which This Side Up (who would later became Spiralmouth) opened.  My girlfriend (Jen)’s roommate’s boyfriend was at USC and saw Spiralmouth at a concert called TroJam with a bunch of USC groups, and told us about an upcoming concert on campus, so my first collegiate a cappella experience was the CD release concert for the SoCal VoCals’ album “V3”.  Jen and I went to our first ICCA concert a month later and saw the amazing groups available in Southern California, and we were instantly obsessed.  We journeyed to whatever school was having a concert from our Anaheim homes at every opportunity to see the groups, and were eventually noticed by the cofounder of USC’s Reverse Osmosis, who after several conversations invited us to come in and coach them.  We’ve since coached over a dozen groups in the area, and were invited to join RO on their journey to the ICCA Finals in New York, which we were honored to do.  Speaking of ICCAs, I have spent some time as a judge, and assisted Jen for the year she was ICCA West producer.

Jen, by the way, is now my wife (we have spent our wedding anniversary at a cappella concerts on more than one occasion), and when our son, Aidan, was four weeks old we left him with his first babysitter so we could attend a taping for season 2 of "The Sing-Off" (which we did again the next three consecutive weeks). Aidan appears to be a fan of the genre as well – when he was in utero, he would rock out whenever he heard Kenton Chen (then of the SoCal VoCals, now of The Backbeats) sing, and now when he’s fussy, vocal percussion will usually calm him down.  =)

In the same timeframe when I was first getting into collegiate a cappella, I started bringing my digital camera to the concerts and was taking hundreds of pictures to share with the groups – an obsession that eventually prompted me to buy a video camera and start posting videos on YouTube under the name “ChiroJoel”.  I had about 550 videos of groups from throughout the Western U.S. by the time the copyright police decided my account was in violation and closed me down – about six months before a cappella on YouTube started to become a sensation that the studios no longer minded.

In order to keep track of all the a cappella concerts in the area, I kept dozens of groups’ websites, Facebook pages and MySpaces (remember them?) bookmarked and checked them all regularly.  I started a Google Calendar and my own private e-mail list when people started asking me what was happening in the near future, and became e-mail buddies with the local CASA Ambassador, Betsy Hanger.  That’s when I started thinking I could actually contribute something to the a cappella community, and have been trying to justify an application to become an Ambassador myself ever since.

Oh, and I’ve co-founded two short-lived CAL groups (Vocal Cocktail and 1d7).  Sadly, both groups passed before their time, but look for more from me in the future!

When did you first become involved with CASA?

My first real involvement with CASA began about two years ago when I started getting really involved with the RARB forums (now merged with the CASA forums).  My first CASA event was LA-AF in 2011, but I’m looking forward to attending (and possibly helping produce) more events in the future!

What geographic region do you cover as a CASA ambassador?

I cover the Southern California area – San Luis Obispo southward.

What role do you play as a CASA ambassador and/or what role would you like to play?

I’m still brand new, but I have already been invited to join the team that will soon be improving the Acapedia interface.  I want to help support the creation and success of both scholastic and post-scholastic groups in my area, and continue to promote the genre to those who have not yet been exposed to all the human voice can do.

What do you do for work and play?

I’m a Doctor of Chiropractic by trade, but incorporate music into everything (even my business name is Harmony Healing and Wellness).  For play, I enjoy theatre and games both electronic and board/card-based (anyone up for some Catan or Rock Band?), but right now most of my play time is being spent either with my son, or arranging music (a new and scary process for me) for my next group.

Tell us one thing about yourself people would be surprised to learn

I’m a pretty open book, so there’s not much about me that surprises people.  If anything, it’s that I graduated from a school few have heard of (CSU Stanislaus) with a major that fewer have heard of (Cognitive Studies), and have never once taken a non-performance-based music class.

Favorite a cappella group?

I have to pick just one?  Even the ACAs give you categories to narrow the field!  =)

Favorite bellwether group: Rockapella

Favorite collegiate group: SoCal VoCals and Reverse Osmosis (tie)

Favorite barbershop group: Crossroads

Favorite group that’s no longer active: Spiralmouth

…shall I go on?  ;-)

Favorite type of music?

I find myself listening to contemporary a cappella more than anything else, but as that’s an instrumentation category more than a genre category, I don’t think that counts.  As everybody is, I’m a fan of the stuff I grew up with: 80’s rock, show tunes, barbershop, etc.  Most things that have harmonies work really well for me.

Favorite a cappella concert?

There are so many amazing a cappella concerts I’ve been to, but I’ll narrow it down to two concert moments.  The 2008 ICCA West Semifinals SoCal VoCals set: when they finished “All the Things You Are,” I don’t know that there was a dry eye in the house.  That was truly a Moment for everybody there, and one that still draws emotion in me every time I think about it.

The other moment happened at 2011's LA-AF – Mosaic inspired an a cappella mosh pit, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  Very cool.

Anything you'd like the CASA readership to know about your area?

Just that we’d love to have you come and sing!  =)