Vote For The Voices: A cappella competition back on WAC stage

Vote For The Voices: A cappella competition back on WAC stage
MONICA HOOPER
mhooper@nwadg.com

Whether you sing or only wish you could, the VoiceJam A Cappella Festival is music to the ears as it returns in person this year to the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. The “aca-awesome” tradition was virtual last year due to the pandemic, but on April 9, the day will be filled with workshops by professional a cappella performers before competitors from across the country flex their moves and intricate vocal harmonies on the Baum Walker stage.

The annual festival is produced by the Walton Arts Center in partnership with Vocal Asia Festival, an Asian a cappella competition founded by Clare Chen in 2010.

“Chen wanted to create a premier a cappella festival in the U.S. and connect it to the broader world of a cappella, and approached Walton Arts Center with the idea,” says Sara Jones, learning programs and festivals specialist for Walton Arts Center

Jones says that “she wanted to give back to the community that has given to her and so she wanted to do that in the realm of a cappella arts.” Around the same time that the festival was founded, a cappella began to evolve with the help of popular shows and movies like “Glee” and “Pitch Perfect” as well as the success of the a cappella quintet Pentatonix. All of that combined keeps audiences coming back to Walton Arts Center year after year.

“To be able to get to come and see it performed live and vote, which you know — everybody loves ‘The Voice’ and ‘American Idol’ — to get to watch and vote on an element of it, I think all makes a really fun night out, and it’s a really affordable ticket for something like that,” adds Jennifer Wilson, public relations director for Walton Arts Center.

Before the highly anticipated evening competition, vocalists will learn tips, tricks and how-to’s on everything from singing and recording to a cappella arranging and more from leading a cappella professionals.

“We have Tony Huerta. He is audio engineer for a group called Take 6. They have won many Grammys, and so Tony is not only a a cappella performer, but he runs audio professionally, so he is someone to learn from,” enthuses Jones. From the same gospel a cappella sextet, Take 6, Alvin Chea will be leading workshops in a cappella bass singing, studio session singing and voice-overs.

“Most notably for me, he’s the voice of the ‘I got your baby back baby .. Chili’s Babyback Ribs!,’” sings Jones. “He has done a lot of voiceovers, but that one stuck in my brain.”

Jones is also excited about Erin Hackel, a voice instructor from the University of Denver.

“She’s actually taught at VoiceJam for several years. And she is just someone who really connects with singers on all levels,” Jones says. “And even at a professional level, I’ve taken her course, and I still get lightbulb moments in her classes. She’s just someone who really knows the voice and can reach kids and adults at wherever they are and help them to sing better across the board.

“Then Troy Dolendo is a vocal percussionist and a cappella music arranger. He is in the group The Edge Effect, who was one of our headliners a few years ago. He’ll be teaching vocal percussion workshops for all levels, beginner as well as advanced.”

Jones adds that the talented crew of instructors will also have a roundtable discussion for participants to “ask them those burning questions” they may have after a day of workshops. She says that the workshops will benefit anyone — whether a beginner singer or professional singer who “might want to come in and not only network with these a cappella professionals, but can come and learn more from them as well.”

After the workshops and roundtable come to a close, top vocal bands will sing and dance in a battle for the audience’s favor starting at 7:30 p.m. This year’s competitors include VIBE of Dallas; Fifth Measure from Houston High School, Germantown, Tenn.; Essence Vocal Band, Jacksonville; The Ozarks, Springfield, Mo.; KeyHarmony from University of Central Florida, Orlando; A-Side from A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas; and Green Tones from University of North Texas, Denton.

“I think it’s a fun dimension that in the competition, there are groups of various levels and ages,” Jones says. “It’s always interesting to me year to year that someone might expect a high school group to not do as well as a collegiate group. However, that’s not the case most of the time. These are really, really amazing groups, regardless of their ages.”

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FAQ

VoiceJam Competition

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. April 9

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $19 and up

INFO — waltonartscenter.org

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Meet The Competitors

The Ozarks

Ages 15-18

Springfield, Mo.

“We were inspired to start this group and make a cappella when we saw a vast majority of students in our area be without music during the pandemic. It was our goal to create a space for them to continue to grow as musicians. We are taking this goal of musical excellence forward to today and hope to continue to educate students and push them to become better people and musicians.”

KeyHarmony

Ages 18-24

University of Central Florida, Orlando

“As a group full of many different backgrounds and majors, it’s amazing to be able to come together for the purpose of creating music. It’s such a new medium for a lot of us, so the idea of growing and learning with each other has created this bond with our group that is unforgettable.”

VIBE

Ages 18-30

Dallas

“To create a moment of magic that not only touches the ears of the audience but also the hearts of our members. We’ve become a family through this art form. The memories created on a stage and in rehearsals are what bring us back year after year.”

Essence Vocal Band

Community group

Jacksonville, Ark.

“We collect all sorts of styles, stories, and songs to make a performance that may be unpredictable or surprising. Our direction is to hopefully highlight the growing pains that come with being a young adult.”

Fifth Measure

High school group

Germantown, Tenn.

“Our set has a lot of funk to it. It is very upbeat and groovy, but the songs still have a lot of meaning and purpose packed into the lyrics. I think our set is special because we have chosen some very unique pieces that I don’t think many people would expect to hear as a cappella arrangement.”

Green Tones

Evolved from college group

University of North Texas, Denton

“Green Tones’ set, titled ‘The Eden Project,’ represents the duality of man and the human experience. Each song illustrates a unique, complex emotion.” They competed in VoiceJam in 2019.

A-Side

A&M Consolidated High School

College Station, Texas

“Our competition set is taking competitive a cappella back to the basics: letting the music speak for itself. … Our set is special because we completely stripped the idea who A-Side used to be. We reinvented ourselves and our sound. Mostly importantly, we did it together as a team.”

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FYI

VoiceJam Workshops

Distinguished a cappella and vocal coaches will host a variety of workshops to help anyone who is interested learn more about the music form. Participants will learn tips, tricks and how-to’s on everything from singing, recording, a cappella arranging and more.

WHEN — 8:50 a.m.to 5 p.m. April 9

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — Full workshop passes are $20

INFO — A full workshop schedule is available atwaltonartscenter.org/special-events/voicejam-festival/voicejam-workshops.

Categories: Music