By Paul Smith, VOCES8
In 2005, when my brother and I started an a cappella ensemble with a group of friends that we’d been singing with since we were children, I didn’t think for a second that I’d be standing on stage at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing as a full house called for a second encore. Nor did I imagine that we’d have a police escort to an autograph session after the concert where we’d be sat for the next 40 minutes signing hundreds of CDs for the audience members who wanted to practice their English! At least they gave us gold pens to write with. That I was with a group of friends and colleagues with whom I have shared so much made the event even more special.
That VOCES8 (www.voces8.com) has risen so quickly and established a place in the a cappella world market is tremendously exciting for me. It is, I’m sure, the result of a huge amount of hard work by a strong team of musicians, coaches, advisers and managers. Our first visit to Beijing last weekend was a highlight in a year which has seen us make debut tours to the US and Africa, as well as continuing our busy schedule of concerts around Europe and in the UK. We’ve just signed a 2 disc record deal with Signum, and future tours across the US, Europe and further afield promise many exciting times ahead.
Tobias, in his interesting blog, talked about the emergence of the a cappella market into the mainstream, and I only hope that he is right. I think there is a lot of work still to be done though, and this is one of the reasons behind our decision to build a nationwide innovative education programme called ‘Hatch My Ideas!’ (www.hatchmyideas.co.uk). VOCES8 has spent the last few years not only growing as an ensemble, but building an education programme that aims to inspire the next generations of young people to fall in love with a cappella, with music and with being creative. In the last year, VOCES8 has worked with more than 23,000 young people aged 5 – 18 across the UK (and taught many of them what ’a cappella’ means!). By starting to offer singing opportunities to young people, often aged 8 and under, we want to inspire young people to begin their own journey of discovery into the world of music and, hopefully, into the world of a cappella. Singing is such an expressive art form, and is so simple to start, but the very personal nature of using your own voice can often be scary for young people and, more worryingly, for the teachers in the classroom. If a teacher is afraid to sing, you can be sure that his or her class will not be singing either! The work that we do aims to encourage teachers and students to find their voice and realise how much fun can be had through singing as a group.
The members of VOCES8 have spent the last few years receiving training on how to run workshops and encourage all people, regardless of age, how to relax and enjoy singing. I firmly believe that we are able to share our talents with other people. The caveat here, though, is that we must realise that having the talent is not enough to enable you to educate others. You can only help other people understand how to develop their own potential if you are able to analyse what you do, how you do it and then, most importantly, apply that understanding to different models and structures that exist in other areas of our lives.
I have spent about 5 years developing a unique programme of work which incorporates skills and models from the worlds of business and sport and applies them to vocal, music and creative coaching sessions. It always amazes me how much crossover there is between music, sport and business. Good practice is universal, and success in whatever field is achieved with numerous common denominators. Next month I’m running a course for engineers on how to develop good presentation skills, and as I prepare for this, I have no doubt that my experience and advice will be useful to them, despite the fact that I know very little about engineering! As a cappella singers, we develop a very specific skill set, not unlike athletes, and in understanding and analysing our process by comparison with other successful models, we can learn new techniques to enhance our skill and understanding. Similarly, once we have looked at other examples of success, we can learn how to analyse our own process so that, by exploring our work with professionals from business or sport, they are able to learn about themselves through analogies with our work.
Over the last 5 years I have been very lucky to work with an Olympic gold medal winner called David Hemery. As a record-breaking athlete and leading figure in British sport, the insight and training he has given me has opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead of us. I trust that, with ongoing dedication, passion and a vision for success, VOCES8 will continue to make friends across the world and set a benchmark as a truly excellent a cappella group. We have much to aspire to, and that’s what makes this so much fun!