HomeBlogsbspaldin's blogAn Interview With Matt Woodward and Caitlyn Griffith (MacArthur PFC)

One of my most recent High School Blogs talked about the Top Ten High School groups in the country.  I had the privilege of interviewing PFC, last year’s winner of the ICHSA, making them arguably the best group in the country. Caitlyn Griffith and Matt Woodward are the directors and they have done an absolutely amazing job with their high school a cappella group. I love talking to the best of the best, and for this interview that is exactly what I got the opportunity to do. One of my main pointers for student teachers and other colleagues is that if you want to be successful you need to look at what the best in your field are doing. You need to get inside the minds of those that are succeeding at a high level and figure out just how they are making things work.  The next step, in my opinion, would be to take what they are doing and then mold it into something that works for your own personality and style. In this interview, you will get the scoop about what’s going on at Douglas MacArthur High School and some insight into what makes PFC so successful.

1. How long has PFC been in existence at your school? 

PFC is the combination of two groups: Premiere, a female ensemble, and Final Cut, a male ensemble.  The two were founded as separate ensembles in 1993. In 2008, we (Matt Woodward and Caitlyn Griffith, the current directors at MacArthur High School) started to direct them towards contemporary a cappella as a combined ensemble.

2. What are some of the benefits that you have seen to your overall choral program from PFC? 

PFC has had a huge impact on the overall choral department.  The ensemble is often presented as the face of MacArthur Choir in school and community performances.  Public performances have greatly increased the community awareness and support for our choirs.  School performances have also helped in terms of recruitment and campus support.  All members of PFC are also in the varsity choir, Concert Chorale.  The skills developed through PFC also prove to be invaluable in our Concert Chorale rehearsals and performances, and vice versa.  There is a sense of pride throughout the Mac Choir community because of the hard work, determination, and level of performance demonstrated by PFC. 

3. How long have you competed in the ICHSA? 

2011 was our first time competing in the ICHSA.  We were very new to the process and spent a lot of time last year devoted to understanding the competition and the demands of contemporary a cappella. 

4. What advice would you give a high school director trying to start a contemporary a cappella group?

DO IT!  High school groups are capable of making great contemporary a cappella performances.  They love the music and will rise to the occasion.  Our students have never worked harder, but they enjoy it!  They are determined to make quality performances.  We constantly watch videos of a cappella performances, as well as listen to recordings.  Our discussions of these listening exercises have helped to develop our understanding of contemporary a cappella, as well as provide inspiration for our work.  Also, let the students have ownership in the group. Let them change the arrangement, the choreo, or even the songs! If they change it for the worse, let them own the mistake. If they change it for the better, keep the change! This method allows the students to feel much more involved in the music.

5. Do you plan on recording or have you already recorded a CD? 

We are currently working on gathering the funding to record a CD. We are hoping to record within the year!

6. What are the most important things to know when competing in ICHSA? 

Competing in ICHSA can’t be about the competition…it has to be about the music and the people in the group! If you only focus on trying to win, you’ll miss the point of singing as a group. A trophy is meaningless if you don’t care about the music you make and the people you make it with.

7. What fun plans does the group have this year? 

We are planning to participate in ICHSA again this year.  We are already working hard on our contest set and learning as much as we can about contemporary a cappella.

In addition to our ICHSA focus, we will present numerous performances throughout our school and local community.  The holidays are always our craziest gig season.  From Thanksgiving to the end of the semester in mid December, we usually present about 20 performances! 

8. Anything else that you would like to let anyone know about PFC. 

We are so thankful for all the support we’ve received from the a cappella community. The outpouring of help and advice from all ranges of people has been wonderful! We are looking to pay it forward, so if you are getting started on this process, please email either Caitlyn Griffith (cgriff5@neisd.net) or Matt Woodward (mwoodw@neisd.net). You can also find us on twitter at @macarthurpfc. Not that we are experts, but we would love to help others the way we have been helped.

About the writer:
Ben Spalding is the head Choral Director at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio. At Centerville, Ben directs all of the choirs and the a cappella group Forte. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Kentucky. Ben’s a cappella roots go back to college, when he was a member of the University of Kentucky AcoUstiKats and a semi-professional group called 5 by Tuesday.  His love for music goes as far back as elementary school and music has and always will be a major driving force in his life.