HomeUC Denver's Mix Take Top Prize At BOSS Collegiate Competition

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Musical Director and Professor Erin Hackel proudly exploits her students. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We figure out their individual talents and exploit them mercilessly,” she says with a laugh. “We’re tearing out and staging their secrets.”

The “exploitation” by Hackel, combined with the professionalism and talent of her students, is what’s to applaud for the upsurge of the University of Colorado in Denver’s MIX, the innovative vocal group who won this year’s Boston Sings (BOSS) collegiate competition.

The group, which was created by Hackel nine years ago, has reinvented itself throughout its short lifetime, and its current state has proved to be its most powerful and captivating.

When the group first started, Hackel jokes that it was “a pathetic little group of people,” stating that she was, in fact, trying to figure out the world of contemporary a cappella and finding a way to merge it with her classic, traditional vocal training.

“It’s been quite a journey,” she says.

MIX consists of eight singers, all who are studying within UC Denver’s Music and Entertainment Industry Studies program, which offers its students degrees in performance, singer/songwriter, music business and recording arts, all with a focus on commercial music. Hackel says she chooses the singers who will audition for MIX very carefully, as each singer needs to be able to hold his or her own vocally, physically and emotionally onstage.

The current members of MIX are Chris Kimmel, Michelle Ghun, Kaia Nutting, Cody Carbone, Vanessa Spear, Daniel Bailey, Emma Wallingford and Luis Sandoval. As one, MIX commands the utmost attention, not just by the soulful sounds of its voices but by its stage presence and theatrical flair.

When asked how they prepare for performances and competitions, nearly all the members said the same thing: a hell of a lot of practice.

“We rehearse nine hours a week, plus random four-hour rehearsals during the weekend,” Emma Wallingford wrote by email. “It’s a big process for us to figure out how to innovate, make it our own … then, it’s just polishing and running it over and over until it becomes second-nature.”

The amount of practice and preparation doesn’t seem to weigh too heavily on the members or Hackel, as they all seem to recognize that the work does, in fact, pay off, especially in the past year.

During the 2012-2013 scholastic year, MIX was awarded second place at SoJam, won Mile High Vocal Jam’s competition, and placed first at BOSS. All the while, Hackel has been learning … and sitting on the edge of her seat during every performance.

“I am totally a stage mom,” she says.

Members, too, feel encouraged by the sudden surge of recognition.

“It’s so gratifying and encouraging to know that we are on the right track and that hard work does pay off,” writes Vanessa Spear.

For many, what makes MIX so exciting to watch is the originality the group possesses and lives within, a sort of confidence that radiates from the group taking an audience member on a journey through its unique song choices, costume changes and nuanced choreography.

Both the group members and Hackel state that this sense of originality will continue within MIX, particularly through the group’s use of original music written by members. “Water,” written by Spear, was performed during SoJam, and the group plans on recording and releasing singles – both of original music and covers – throughout the coming year.

And after some discussion, Hackel says the group plans on auditioning for NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” as well.

Although Hackel jokes and states that the past year has “shaved a good three months” off her life, she said she couldn’t be prouder of MIX.

“They work so bloody hard. It has been a crazy ride.”

[photo by Michael Eldredge]

About the writer:
Andrea Asuaje is the social media program manager for CASA. She is an alumna and former music director of the University of Florida's No Southern Accent. Asuaje works as the social media coordinator for Tribut, a South Florida-based music-apparel brand focusing on classic rock, blues and soul. She blogs about her life at The Big 24, where you can see pictures of the many cupcakes she loves to bake along with her year-long goals she hopes to achieve before her 25th birthday. She lives in South Florida with her rabbit Potter.