by Florian Städtler, November 15th 2011
They say that every time you go abroad, you learn something. Mostly about yourself. Because broadening your horizon, coming to know different people with various backgrounds, having to adjust to local customs, food and socializing gives you an additional perspective on what and how you do things “at home”.
For me, who has (except for a one-day trip signing Rockapella in 2005) never travelled the United States, the invitation to the US’ no. 1 a cappella festival, SoJam, was an opportunity to prove the truth of the common knowledge mentioned above.
However, somehow I had the feeling that I’m going to a place (Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina) where I wouldn’t feel like a complete stranger. And thanks to the Vocal Blog network on Facebook and Twitter I had an amazing welcome. I just couldn’t believe how often I heard the question “Are you Florian?” And this large number of very friendly people from all over the US weren’t even embarrassed every time I was unable to recognize my Facebook friends at first sight. It was fascinating, too, how one common topic, vocal music, made it possible to skip small talk after a very short time. And so I listened, asked questions, asked for feedback and I learnt and learnt and learnt…
…that Americans think the European scene is way ahead regarding quality and artistry
…that the Europeans envy the US for their rich collegiate a cappella culture and the natural talent of entertainment
…that a three-days festival like SoJam can be run on a 100% professional level mostly by volunteers
…that such a team of volunteers can include a wild mix of age, musical background, home towns, talent and tempers
…that as we know it from the European community, this diverse group of people seems to be held together by a general mindset of openness, positivity and camaraderie (my term for that phenomenon: “a cappella glue”)
…that CASA (The Contemporary A Cappella Society) has developed a fantastic portfolio of valuable services and hands-on offers for their fast growing membership
…that it’s very clever to not make a festival the biggest, but the one with the best atmosphere even if that means limiting tickets and festival passes
…that women are coming on oh-so-strong in contemporary a cappella, with The Boxettes at the pro showcase (opening for Naturally7), three out of six collegiate competitors being all-female groups and Musae as another pro all-female act that had nothing to do with the cliché of the nice but slighty boring vocal girl group, which has by now become a cliché of the past
…that festivals have the same importance in the US as they have in the whole world: They produce both the all-important face-to-face, community-building encounters and the stellar moments like the SoJam Saturday night concert featuring Naturally7 and The Boxettes: The final piece that found 12 fantastic vocal music virtuosos dancing caused a scary eruption of ovations by 950 mesmerized attendants – these are those moments that we will be talking of for years.
…that festivals gain intensity by resident guests that are involved both in concerts, workshops and panels. Great job by Kurt Walker who managed to have both The Boxettes and N7 around during most time of the festival. This reminded me of the magic spread by Bobby McFerrin’s presence at the Aarhus Vocal Music Festival, May 2011. It’s the sheer presence of such luminaries that motivates and inspires the participants
…that – on days of jetlag, little sleep and the occasional hangover – it’s as hard as in Europe to find a running partner. That didn’t keep me from going out for two Vocal Jogs around Raleigh. Almost run over by a pick-up truck who didn’t see the necessity of stopping for a single Vocal Jogger (see above: foreign habits), it was wonderful to see a bit of the city and the surrounding forests.
…that Christopher Diaz and Dave Brown (www.mouthoffshow.com podcast) are as cool and funny as in their show. And that I’m now owing two Acappellazone “Eat.Sleep.Sing” t-shirts. Boys, those shirts are on their way to the So & Jam of contemporary a cappella!
…that there could be no better studio setting than festival founder Dave Sperandio‘s garage for a great session of about 15 video greetings summing up this year’s festival,
…that even a seasoned festival traveller can be completely stunned by the quality and deepness of a clinic: Ben Stevens (dayjob: professor of literature) thrilled his students with his cult lecture “Essential Listening”. The core message: Listening should become a pro-active core competence. Because if we treat it like that, listening can truly enrich our lives. Ben, this is wonderful and so was your presentation.
I could go on and on and on, but I’d rather keep some of these wonderful impressions and write more about in further posts. Before I do that, I would love to hear what YOUR “take-home messages” of SoJam 2011 were – let’s share them here on the blog!
Florian Städtler, owner of SpielPlanVier is a booking agent and a corporate event planner based in Freiburg, Germany. He started his “global vocal music communication baby”, the Vocal Blog in 2009 and is member of the core team that works on the foundation of the European Voices Association (EVA). 2011 was is first – and very probably not his last time – to learn from his wonderful American friends. Hope to see many of you at London A Cappella Festival 2012, see next post!