Interviews

Sahaana Sridhar, representing All-American Awaaz

Interviews

While a number of a cappella fans will flock to New York for the ICHSA and ICCA Finals this weekend, Saturday night is also the time for All-American Awaaz, a national Desi a cappella competition, organized by The Association of South Asian A Cappella to feature the winners of five regional competitions and two wild card champions. You can learn more about the event here.

Key organizer Sahaana Sridhar was kind enough to participate in an interview with The A Cappella Blog.

The A Cappella Blog: For a cappella fans who might be less familiar with Desi a cappella, can you give us a sense of what it is? How is it similar to other styles of contemporary a cappella, and what makes it distinctive? What should those who attend All-American Awaaz expect? 

Sahaana Sridhar: "Someone Like You?" "Sun Raha Hai?" Or both? These are the kinds of choices that young artists in the ever-growing field of South Asian-inspired A cappella face. How do you faithfully portray the character of a culture's music, mix it with another, and yet retain their respective integrities? And above all this, how do you also establish and highlight your group's individual identity? In this genre, just like the varied musical styles from which they draw inspiration, groups have innovated a diverse array of ways to tell their own stories.The music engendered by this genre is not only a combination of its parent forms but has evolved into a culture of its own. A lot of the trends that are seen in contemporary a cappella today are also mirrored in the Desi a cappella arrangements. It's about how best a group can present their South Asian influences in a way that is appreciated by a diverse audience!

The A Cappella Blog: What went into organizing All-American Awaaz? How did the competition come together? What challenges did you face, and what have been some of the rewards of facilitating this event?

Sahaana Sridhar: It all started with a group of alumni from the circuit who wanted to continue being involved in the circuit! All of us are ardent a cappella fans and we drew our inspiration from the ICCA competitions. There are already 5 established South Asian competitions around the country. We presented them with the idea of joining forces and they were all on board. It has taken us 22 board members a year and a half to put this event together and we are very excited to see the amount of support this effort has garnered. In terms of challenges, the main one has been getting enough traction with sponsors since this is our first year. After a few big names like Sennheiser and B4U (a Bollywood music TV channel) got on board, this really came through. Also, New York is obviously an amazing city but trying to plan an event on this scale with a tight budget has made us quite...creative. Overall, this experience has been really rewarding, particularly in those moments where we do feel like we have brought together the Desi a cappella circuit by people getting excited about our event or seeing groups push themselves harder all season to make it to our competition. We are very excited for the growth of our organization and competition as well as the circuit at large! 

The A Cappella Blog: It seems Desi a cappella has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years. What do you think lies ahead for the sub-genre in terms of future events or trends you are seeing in groups?

Sahaana Sridhar: It's really heartening to see the amount of growth this genre has had in the last decade, especially exponentially over the past couple years. Similar to the way the contemporary a cappella has evolved, we've seen similar changes take place within our genre, from song selection, experienced vocal percussionists, heighten intricacies in backgrounds and just overall vocal ability. The future of this genre lies in global recognition, understanding and appreciation. We want to expand our effort not only internationally, but expand the opportunities for learning from other teams, musicians and industry specialists outside of the typical school year format. You'll see workshops, events, seminars, meet-ups and as well as competition support popping up over the next couple years as we continue to expand. 

The A Cappella Blog: How did your experience with Dhamakapella inform your work in launching The Association of South Asian A Cappella and All-American Awaaz?

Sahaana Sridhar: Over my 4 years in Dhamakapella, I had the opportunity to travel and compete at many different competitions - both those for only South Asian groups and otherwise. It was always our goal to be able to perform on a national stage such as the ICCAs, but due to the marked difference between the SA a cappella genre and the trends in contemporary a cappella, we always felt that we would have to significantly modify our arrangements to compete at that level. My goal in creating the Association of South Asian A Cappella was to give the Desi a cappella teams a space where they can share, observe, and participate in the multitude of ways people are experimenting with South Asian music. By creating a national stage for these groups to aspire to, my hope is that they work towards propelling the genre forward. 

The A Cappella Blog:Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of The A Cappella Blog?

Sahaana Sridhar: Thanks so much for checking out our story and we really hope some of you will be able to make it to the event! We are so thrilled to bring together the best talents in collegiate Desi a cappella and facilitate the pushing of boundaries for the genre as a whole. We have been blown away by how teams choose to interpret both Western music and traditional Indian classical pieces in their arrangements. Harmonies and flashes of Indian scale-based ragas intertwine to show us that, at the end of the day, music is music and it has such power to traverse cultural boundaries and resonate with something universal within us all. 

The Towson Trills

Interviews

One of the fun parts of most years at ICCA Finals is that for every familiar face—a group that makes Finals time and again—there will be a group making its Finals debut. This year, those fresh faces include The Towson Trills.

As long time readers may know, I was based out of Baltimore for almost seven years, which is more than half of the ACB’s existence. Over that time, I got to see a number of groups performing out of Baltimore area schools, and I was surprised to hear of a group out of Towson University, just outside the city, making it all the way to Finals when I’d never heard of them before.

The reason I hadn’t heard of them became clear quickly enough—they’ve only been around for a year and a half. The current group consists of soprano Katie Sacha, altos Abby Reinhold and Harmony Reichert, tenor William Damanka Jr., Bariton Brian Lim, bass Leroy Hyson, and vocal percussionist Aaron Bayne. Bayne was kind enough to reach out to the ACB to share part of their story and partake in an interview with us.

Some fast facts about The Towson Trills. Along the way to Finals this year, they finished second in their quarterfinal at Johns Hopkins University before winning the Mid-Atlantic Semifinal at the Playhouse on Rodney Square, while picking up Outstanding Arrangement and Vocal Percussion honors. According to Bayne, the group is tied for the smallest group to make it to ICCA Finals, and is the smallest group to compete in the last round of the tournament since 2004. They’re the first group to represent Towson University at Finals, and there’s reason to believe this won’t be last we hear of them, given six out of seven of the group members don’t graduate until 2019. Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Bayne noted none of the Trills’ arranements are written down, but rater all group arranged in a process facilited by music director Hyson.

The A Cappella Blog: Your group is also unique for having just seven members. Is the small size of the group by design? How did the group come together?

The Towson Trills (via Aaron Bayne): The Towson Trills came together in a sort of freak accident in the Fall of 2015. We moved into Towson's campus on a Saturday, and by the first Tuesday of the school week we were having rehearsals. Our alto, Harmony Reichert, and our soprano, Katie Sacha went to high school together and wanted to do music in college. Our bass, Leroy Hyson met myself (Aaron, Vocal Percussion) and our second alto at an open mic night that weekend. Our 6th member, Griffin Delisle, who was our lead tenor at the time, was the roommate of Leroy. From only the first weekend of school, the Towson Trills was born as a 6 member, all freshman, acapella group. We started rehearsing and realized that we sounded good with only 6 people, and thinking that 6 was a normal group size, we moved forward. Our first notable moment that made us stay as a small group was winning the Towson University Homecoming Talent Show- Only 2 months after becoming a group. Since then we practiced and did small gigs around Towson to boost our name in the community. This was until our lead tenor, Griffin, had to unfortunately leave the group in February of 2016, due to scheduling conflicts. This forced us have our first ever audition. We auditioned and picked up two amazing vocalists, Brian our baritone, and William our tenor. After these auditions we became the 7 member group that is on our way to finals, and we haven't looked back.

The A Cappella Blog: Your group has accomplished the unusual and impressive feat of making it to Finals in your first year of ICCA competition (not to mention, less than two years after the group started). How did you accomplish this goal?

The Towson Trills: Honestly, we are still in shock about making it to finals. We are the first group from our college to ever place in the ICCA competition, let alone advance all the way to finals. We originally decided to do the ICCA competition to help get our name out into the acapella community and to have fun. As a new group, we originally didn't even have the money to pay the entry fee so we used a GoFundMe to raise the funds. We went into quarterfinals with the mindset of having fun, and making the people who donated to get us there proud. We have seen how the ICCA competition changes attitudes of groups and we really didn't want that to happen. We came in not even expecting to place at quarterfinal and just wanted to give it all we've got. If you put on the best performance that you can, make the audience feel something, and have fun, then you will have a successful show. We did just that and ended up advancing to finals.

The A Cappella Blog: What has your group learned along this first year competing in ICCA?

The Towson Trills: More than we can even fathom ourselves. The ICCA competition is something that unified us under one mutual goal and allowed us to grow closer as a group and as a family. All of the members in the Trills have many other extra curricular activities, and use acapella as a way to escape and get lost in the music. We have learned that even the underdogs, from an unknown school in the acapella community, can succeed if we put in the hard work. Also as a new group, we used the ICCA to help find our sound. Our blend, balance, tone, and much more was solidified during the competition season. It forced us to think, communicate, grow, and sing as 7 individuals with one goal. I can say with absolute certainty that this competition changed the Towson Trills for the better. It created life long bonds that I am very excited to take into the future. We are ready to change the world of college acapella and owe it all to the ICCA.

The A Cappella Blog: How is your group preparing for Finals?

The Towson Trills: We are working very hard to make sure our set takes the audience members on a journey, and at each stop they feel something.

We are also tweaking all of our vocals to ensure every part of our songs have meaning, and are performed with accuracy. In addition to all of our finals prep, we are getting a workshop from Joshua Singer, Faux Paz Alumni, to take our set to the next level.

The A Cappella Blog:  Without spoiling too much, can you give us a little preview of your Finals set? What can audience members expect from The Trills?

The Towson Trills: Audience members can expect from the Trills:

-Sharp, meaningful choreo

-Serious Drums and Percussion

Our set can be encapsulated in three words: Sinister, Somber, 'Splosion.

 The A Cappella Blog: Is there anything else you'd like to share with ACB readers?

The Towson Trills: Thanks for taking the time to read about us! We hope you enjoy our Finals set! We will pour every ounce of our beings into this set and are glad to share this journey with you. Thank you to the Mid-Atlantic Region for making us their current champions and for betting on the underdogs.

We are trying to record an EP of our set!! Check out our GoFundMe on our social media pages!

You can follow The Towson Trills on social media using the links below:

https://www.facebook.com/towsontrills/

https://www.instagram.com/towsontrills/

https://twitter.com/TowsonTrills

Deke Sharon on Total Vocal

Interviews

This past Sunday, Carnegie Hall in New York played host to the third annual Total Vocal, a celebration of a cappella. Total Vocal host and all around a cappella guru/sensation/godfather Deke Sharon was kind enough to share some thoughts with The A Cappella Blog. We'll have a write-up of the show available, via contributor Irene Droney, in the near future.

(Note: interview questions were sent shortly before Total Vocal occurred, and answered shortly afterward.)

The A Cappella Blog: Say someone is attending Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY)'s Total Vocal as their first live a cappella experience. What can they expect from the show? What might surprise them? What should they know going in?

Deke Sharon: I think most people sign up because they’d like a chance to work with me and perform at Carnegie. What they don’t realize is that they leave having changed people’s lives (I am currently being inundated with requests from audience members who now want to join groups) and having made friends around the world. The connections they make between groups and with the audience leave them changed, with a greater understanding of the power of vocal harmony. Moreover, many have had experiences competing, and this is in many ways the exact opposite: they work together, and they all win!

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Photo courtesy of Nan Melville

The A Cappella Blog: How were the groups performing in Total Vocal selected by DCINY? What kind of preparation went into bringing them all together for this massive undertaking?

Deke Sharon: We would love to have everyone and anyone on the Carnegie Hall stage singing together, but to keep it a great experience for all groups, and to ensure a fantastic show for each year’s sold out audience (only a small fraction of the 2,800 attendees are family or friends), we need to ensure that these a cappella groups will be able to handle the hour’s worth of my contemporary a cappella arrangements. 

DCINY does a fantastic job reaching out to groups around the globe, resulting in singers from over a dozen countries this year, with ages ranging from 11 to Sixtysomething. This almost never happens on stage, and the resulting experience for the audience beyond the music is a powerful statement about a wide range of very different people coming together to create something special. We need that message right now.    

The A Cappella Blog:  Which groups or acts at Total Vocal do you think might most surprise the audience, and why?

Deke Sharon: Each year it’s different. The audience is usually unprepared for the incredible talent found in so many of our young singers, which is why I am always certain to include a couple of songs with many different soloists. In addition I like to feature different groups from around the world. This year Shemesh Quartet from Mexico brought down the house with a clever medley of popular songs in Spanish.    

The A Cappella Blog: Total Vocal is happening during a very busy month for a cappella, sharing the same weekend as the Boston Sings festival and the International Championship of both Collegiate and High School A Cappella finals. What’s unique about Total Vocal? What will attendees experience at this show that’s different from other a cappella experiences?

Deke Sharon: I don’t want to take away anything from those other great events, but this is a celebration without any competition whatsoever. The focus is on impressing the audience, not judges. And the audience is much larger for this. Plus the singers get to work with singers from around the world as well as celebrities and other special guests, sing in different configurations, and by the end feel the power of getting the audience clapping, then dancing, then singing along on their feet: 3,200 voices raised in song. It’s an unbelievable experience. 

The A Cappella Blog: You’ve been a key figure in so many a cappella endeavors, and particularly in the explosion of a cappella this past decade, including TV, movie, and Broadway ventures, traveling abroad, and performing yourself. Would you be willing to share one or two of you most surprising, wacky, or memorable experiences or discoveries related to your work in a cappella in recent years?

Deke Sharon: The first thing that pops into my mind is that contemporary a cappella is the best training ground for young singers. I can neither confirm nor deny that the kinds of songs we have high schoolers and college singers singing regularly bring tears to the eyes of actresses and Broadway stars when they first try to learn them (OK, I can confirm: they do!), so when graduating they are prepared to sing in any group, band, choir, etc. Their ears and voices are fine tuned and sensitive to small adjustments in pitch, blend, increasing or decreasing vibrato, etc. We have hundreds of thousands of young singers who are growing up with this kind of dense, complex harmony and taking it for granted, and as a result the next generation of singers is going to be better prepared than ever before. 

California University of Pennyslvania Isolated Incident

Interviews
Incident

In honor of the 2017 ICCA tournament, The A Cappella Blog pursued short interviews with competing groups to develop insights into why and how groups approach competition, and to get appropriately excited for the tremendous shows ahead of us.

What’s your group name and on what date is your group’s quarterfinal?

We are Isolated Incident & our quarterfinal is on March 4th, 2017 at Carnegie Mellon University.

How long has your group been around? Have you competed before?

Our group is still very young & has been around since the Spring 2015 semester. Last year was our first time competing in the ICCA competition.

Why are you competing this year? What does your group hope to accomplish or get out of the experience?

We are competing this year because it’s super fun & another performance opportunity for our young group. We are hoping to give all of our members a fun, memorable experience as well as give the audience an awesome & alternative a cappella experience.

How is your group preparing for competition?

Last semester we really tried to work on blending & bonding as a cohesive group as well as finding our own unique sound. Once this semester starts, we are planning on having a weekend long boot camp, our normally scheduled weekly rehearsals, & extra-long Sunday rehearsals leading up to the competition. We want to find the perfect balance between having fun & not stressing out about it too much, but also working hard to give our best performance yet.

If you were to describe your group, or the set your group is planning for competition with just three words, what would they be?

Progressive, versatile, and driven.

You can follow Isolated Incident using the information below:
Facebook: facebook.com/isolatedincident8 

Twitter: @ICEincident


 

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

SUNY Potsdam Stay Tuned

Interviews
Stay Tuned

In honor of the 2017 ICCA tournament, The A Cappella Blog pursued short interviews with competing groups to develop insights into why and how groups approach competition, and to get appropriately excited for the tremendous shows ahead of us.

What’s your group name and on what date is your group’s quarterfinal?

Stay Tuned! Our quarterfinal date is February 25th, 2017 at Hosmer Hall in Potsdam, NY.

How long has your group been around? Have you competed before?

Stay Tuned! Our quarterfinal date is February 25th, 2017 at Hosmer Hall in Potsdam, NY.

Why are you competing this year? What does your group hope to accomplish or get out of the experience?

Our members find that past ICCA performances have allowed us to bond and grow as a musical family, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity yet again. Our mission statement is to redefine a cappella; we hope to stand by this, performing a set that combines various genres and styles in a unique and wildly entertaining way! All we can ask is that this ICCA is as rewarding as those of the past, and that we get to meet some great people who share our love of music.

How is your group preparing for competition?

We voted upon and began to prepare our ICCA set. This winter break, we will be performing a tour on Long Island, encompassing old and new repertoire. Once we return to Potsdam for the semester, we will further rehearse music and choreography. 

If you were to describe your group, or the set your group is planning for competition with just three words, what would they be?

Vivacious, innovative, and exhilarating.

You can follow Stay Tuned online using the links below:

Website: http://www.staytunedacappella.com/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/StayTunedAcappella
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StayTunedAcappella/?fref=ts
Twitter: 
https://twitter.com/search?q=stay%20tuned%20vocals&src=typd&lang=en


Central Connecticut State University Divisi

Interviews

In honor of the 2017 ICCA tournament, The A Cappella Blog pursued short interviews with competing groups to develop insights into why and how groups approach competition, and to get appropriately excited for the tremendous shows ahead of us.

What’s your group name and on what date is your group’s quarterfinal?

We are CCSU's Divisi and our quarterfinal is on February 25th at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

How long has your group been around? Have you competed before?

This is our 11th year as a group. We have been around since October 2005. Yes, we have competed in ICCA once before in 2014 as well as the BOSS Scholastic competition in 2013 and various other competitions around the state.

Why are you competing this year? What does your group hope to accomplish or get out of the experience?

We hope to get our name out there in the competing world of a cappella and push ourselves to new limits as far as style and creativity. Winning is always great but our main focus is how we can improve as a group and we hope we get that with preparing for ICCA.

How is your group preparing for competition?

We are starting to learn our ICCA set each on our own over this winter break so that part learning isn't as difficult when we get back so we can focus on other aspects of our performance. 

If you were to describe your group, or the set your group is planning for competition with just three words, what would they be?

Our group can be described by these three words: unity, brotherhood, and professionalism.

You can visit CCSU Divisi on the web at www.ccsudivisi.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CCSUDivisi, and on Twitter www.twitter.com/ccsudivisi.

Next Page
Sahaana Sridhar, representing All-American Awaaz
The Towson Trills
Deke Sharon on Total Vocal
California University of Pennyslvania Isolated Incident
SUNY Potsdam Stay Tuned
Central Connecticut State University Divisi
University of Kansas Genuine Imitation
Salisbury University Squawkappella
University of Florida Tone Def
UC Berkeley Dil Se
University of Delaware Vocal Point
The Johns Hopkins University Notes of Ranvier
The SUNY Binghamton Harpur Harpeggios
The Ohio State of Mind
University of Central Missouri Rainbow Tones
The University of British Columbia Fantastic Beats
The MIT Chorallaries
University of Connecticut A Minor
Texas Christian University License to Trill
The Towson Trills
The University of Waterloo Interdudes
Pace University Tonal Recall
Ithaca College Voicestream
The University of St. Andrews Alleycats
New York University Vocollision
University of Hartford UHarmonies
The Lehigh Melismatics
Illinois State University Secondary Dominance
The Bryant University Bottom Line
UC Santa Cruz Acquire