by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog
“A life-changing experience” – this was only one of the enthusiastic descriptions of the 2nd vocal music festival hosted by The Real Group in their hometown Stockholm. Can three festival days in the Swedish capital change your life? How comes that even seasoned professionals could be seen wiping a tear at The Real Group Festival’s improvised closing ceremony? Why do people accept a lot of little glitches by the mostly volunteer organization although they spend a significant amount of money to travel, sleep and take part in workshops and concerts? And why do a cappella people seem to hug each other at every possible opportunity?
I’m going write another blog post about the things that we can learn from The Real Group Festival, to maybe end up with an even better festival experience. But right now, I would like to give my dear readers (those who joined the Stockholm extravaganza and those who couldn’t make it this time) a very personal explanation, why I enjoyed this festival so much and was one of those who had to wipe away a tear when the celebrations reached its climax in Eric Ericsson Hall. So here are my favorite Real Group Festival moments:
1. Stockholm, capital of Sweden: This city is certainly one of the most beautiful capitals of the world. Friendly, clean, safe and with people who make a very relaxed and open-minded impression to visitors. Even a heavy rain shower right when I had to find my way from “Centralstation” to my hotel couldn’t spoil the positive impression of the Swedish capital.
2. The Opening Concert (1), Postyr Project: Maybe the 5 Danes who started their journey of “ecappella” (vocal music fused with electronic music) less than 2 years ago haven’t even realized how quickly they have become both the darling of the festival hosts and highly praised vocal music teachers. Not a dream, Line, Tine, Anders, Andreas and Kristoffer: But certainly an obligation to keep pushing the borders of vocal music.
Christine Liu (Voco Novo) with Florian Städtler (Vocal Blog)
3. The Opening Concert (2), Voco Novo: My personal discovery of TRGF2012. A Cappella music from Taiwan? Vocal music from Asia? Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen. When our friends from the East do something, they do it 100%. And they have learnt very, very quickly that their true strength is not copying the American or European groups, but finding their own voice. You can’t out-realgroup The Real Group anyway.
4. Watching Jim Daus Hjernoe: Jim is not only an exceptional teacher of rhythmic choral music, a professor and a member of the European Voices Association core team. As if that wasn’t enough, he just looks damn’ good. As the Danish answer to George Clooney and a colleague of Bobby McFerrin the number of his disciples is constantly growing. Watch this space for more news on the latest vocal music edu news – you can be sure that Jim is pulling some of the strings.
5. Meeting acafriends from other continents: Yes, there are people who fly many thousands of miles to be part a three-day event and – judging from their happy smiles, perpetual hugging, Facebook posts etc. – they don’t regret having booked the trip to Stockholm. Judy Fontana (USA), Kari Francis (USA), Jonathan Minkoff (USA), David Longo (USA), Paul Jay (CAN), Christine Liu (Taiwan), Catherine Liu (Taiwan), Bill Hare (USA) and a vocal group leader from Venezuela (who ran out of business cards) are only a few of those long-distance a cappella travelers.
6. Meeting Jeff Meshel (ISR): Jeff Meshel, well, what can I say. I have not known his work as a music journalist and publisher for too long. However I’ve completely fallen in love with his blog and writing style. His knowledge about jazz is almost scary. And his enthusiasm for authentic music and authentic vocal music easily made him part of the Stockholm aca-family. The intense talk about the global development of what Jeff calls “The New A Cappella” (in a restaurant on a ship next to Skeppsholmen island, close to the festival center) was a 2-hour deep-dive into the worldwide phenomenon of vocal music. Can’t wait to continue this conversation.
"Swingle Singers?" "Bello impossibile" - Erik Bosio (Cluster) with Florian Städtler (Vocal Blog)
7. The Swingle Singers, live in concert: It’s hard for me to be objective, so I won’t even try. The Swingles have been part of my musical and agent’s life for a decade now. And I love them. No…after the performance at China Teatern (after Rajaton, no big deal, really…), I believe in the NEW Swingle Singers and I am proud of the seven of them. The current line-up sings originals. They have the best soloists the group ever had. And when it counted (a gig at TRGF is more or less one of the most important showcases on planet a cappella), they delivered what David Longo called “the perfect set”. If there were any doubts about the Swingles going to have a glorious 50th anniversary year in 2013, they wiped them away with musical perfection (“Clair de Lune”, “Libertango”) and world-class entertainment (“All the Swingle Ladies”, “Diva”) that proved that this group belongs to the champions league of vocal music.
8. The Story of Perpetuum Jazzile: It was one of these tough choices you have to make when attending a jam-packed festival. Should I see Jim Hjernoe’s vocal rhythm workshop or do I want to get the inside scoop of the YouTube wonder with the strange name? I chose Bostjan Usenik’s workshop on the success story of Slowenian pop choir Perpetuum Jazzile. Their story, the story of 55 (amateur) singers going viral on YouTube with one of the unjazziest and covered-to-death songs in the world – Toto’s “Africa” – is as unbelievable as the fact that they use the word “Jazz” in their group name and have as of today not only appeared in major European TV shows, but tour Germany with the support of the country’s most prominent tabloid newspaper and national TV channel SAT1. The funny thing is: Bostjan wasn’t really able to explain WHY it all happened as it happened. But one thing became very clear. He and his team worked very, very hard and for a very long time.
The Stockholm Vocal Jog #1 team
9. The Stockholm Vocal Jog was a triple success. Despite the completely unrealistic starting time of 7:30am, both the Friday and Saturday Vocal Jog was well attended – six heroes on Friday, five Vocal Joggers on Saturday. The real surprise was a single jogger who for years had only laughed at me and told me that “one can only run from something” (or for something…that something being pudding, chocolate etc.), the Swingle Singers “alto, arranger and party planner” Clare @dinkyswingle Wheeler. Wheelie, you made me smile before, but this time, it’s special. Keep on running, we can’t wait until you join us!
10. The EVA Open Meetings: The European Voices Association (EVA) was founded on the 1st of January 2012. And it was time to get the movers and shakers from all over Europe on board. In two meetings a great number of interested people who represented the whole variety of European vocal music gathered: Singers in vocal groups and choirs, conductors of classical, jazz and pop choirs, representatives of national vocal music institutions and friends from similar organisations like Vocalasia and CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society, USA). Volunteering needs motivation – here you are. The EVA board went home with lots of new ideas to be thought about and homework to be done. NOTE (1): EVA needs members! You can become one for 60 EUR per year via www.europeanvoices.org – welcome and thanks for your support! NOTE (2): EVA needs volunteers, e.g. benefit scouts, fundraisers, EU funding specialists, PR experts, researchers etc. etc. Apply via firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to contribute and share!
11. The Real Group: “Define The Real Group”, I asked the members of the Vocal Blog Facebook group. And nothing happened. It’s hard to put in words what five Swedish singers have achieved for themselves and the vocal music community in more than 25 years. Authenticity. Openness. Curiosity. Approachability. Innovation. Modesty. Genius. Empathy. Charisma. Humanity. Inspiration. Role Models….all of this is true, but it only partly describes the work of art that now inspires a new, self-confident and competent generation singers, conductors, arrangers, composers and producers. Maybe we just shouldn’t solve this mystery and simply enjoy the beauty and the kindness we see and hear. And stay curious. Forever curious.
A big thank you to TRGF team, who made this event possible. And for all the beautiful moments that linger on and made our love of singing in groups even stronger. See you at the London A Cappella Festival in January 2013.
Florian Städtler is an agent, blogger and vocal music lover from Freiburg Germany. He is founder of Vocal Blog, Acappellazone and Chairman of the Board and co-founder of the European Voices Association.