When we started down the contemporary a cappella path nine years ago, there really weren’t many other groups in Ohio. There were a lot of show choirs, and several really good vocal jazz groups, but few true a cappella groups. It wasn’t much fun then – we felt lonely and freakish. Some of my colleagues even said, “We’re not sure if we like this path Brody is on.” Still, we liked a cappella. We LOVED it.
In fact, we loved a cappella so much, we decided to become advocates for the style. After all, we wouldn’t have caught the bug had it not been for Tiffin University’s Up In the Air cold-calling us for a tour stop. Their director Brad Rees has done heroic work on behalf of all types of commercial singing, and Up In the Air is outstanding. You’ll probably not hear them unless you seek them out. They don’t often record, and when they do, it isn’t the super-slick production found all over BOCA. They are purists, and there's nothing wrong with that. They are super-cool and wonderfully engaging in a live setting. They were our heroes from the moment they sang in our choir room.
We wondered if more high schools would test the waters if we helped them. We applied to present at the state music educators conference in 2007 in a joint session with Up In the Air. It was called “Pop a cappella in the high school: benefits and start-up tips.” The room was full of 200+ teachers. There were a lot of heads nodding. Cracks in the dam were forming.
The next year, we were selected to perform at the February 2008 conference. Again, a packed house of over 200 teachers. It might be coincidence, but we were asked over and over for help starting groups. We took Eleventh Hour out into the high schools in the fall of 2008 on a tour, giving clinics to new groups and advising those considering such. We even ran auditions for a neighboring school. The dam had burst.
November of 2008 brought the inaugural Kettering Fairmont High School A Cappella Festival, with guest artists Rockapella. We had five visiting high school groups working with guest clinician Ly Tartell (side note: if you need a clinician or judge, hire this woman!) during the day, then a concert with Rockapella at night. It was a sold-out show and the visiting schools were thrilled. We solicited feedback from the directors and vowed to improve for 2009.
Fall 2009 is here, and now we have 13 groups from 11 schools registered. In addition to performance clinics by Ly Tartell, we have guest artists The Fault Line (remember them, from America’s Got Talent?). The guys from The Fault Line will present masterclasses in two tracks: Director Track (arranging and sound gear) and Performer Track (vocal percussion and visual performance). The whole day wraps up with a concert: Kettering's groups Fusion and Eleventh Hour in the first half, then The Fault Line does a set. The finale is all 13 festival groups joining forces for a Queen medley fronted by The Fault Line.
Here’s a neat factoid: out of the 13 groups in attendance for the festival, at least five are new this year, and a total of nine have been formed within the last two years. What's the takeaway? If you have a group you love, share it! Don’t just share it with the audience – share it with other schools! Do partner concerts, guest artist nights, start a festival, or schedule your own tour. Give back to the a cappella community. It’s not as hard as you might think and a full playground is more fun for everyone.
If you read this whole thing and are interested in attending the KFHS A cappella Festival (a couple slots left), please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets for the evening concert featuring Fusion, Eleventh Hour and The Fault Line are available on www.ticketmaster.com: Nov. 14, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. at Kettering Fairmont High School (venue listed as Trent Arena).
About the author:
Brody McDonald is the Director of Choirs at Kettering Fairmont High School. Fairmont’s ensembles have appeared at OMEA conference (2003, 2005, 2007, 2008) and consistently receive the highest ratings at state-level adjudicated events. Fairmont’s concert choirs have been featured performers on university and church artist’s series, have performed with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, and have shared the stage with artists ranging from The Texas Boys’ Choir to Kenny Rogers. Fairmont's pop/a cappella group Eleventh Hour has sung backup for Kenny Loggins, opened for LeAnn Rimes and The Beach Boys, and has been selected to perform at the American Choral Director's Association Central Division Conference in 2010. Eleventh Hour has numerous studio CDs, have appeared on BOHSA 2008, 2009 and SING V, and won CARA awards for Best High School Album and Best High School Song. Eleventh Hour recordings are available for download at www.acatunes.com