Exclusive Interview with The Voice Festival UK (Part 3)

Although the Voice Festival UK (VF-UK) is most widely known in the world of university a cappella for the national competition it hosts each year in late February and early March, the Voice Festival as an organisation is about much more than just one event. Now in its fourth year—and still run exclusively by a team of volunteers—the Voice Festival is the UK’s largest not-for-profit a cappella organisation, and has played an important role in helping to raise the profile of a cappella singing in the UK.

On an unexpectedly sunny November afternoon, I sat down with the co-ordinator of the Universities Program of the Voice Festival and former member of the University of St Andrews’ The Alleycats, David Tyler Mattiace, to talk about anything and everything a cappella.

In the first and second parts of our interview, we talked about the main Voice Festival programmes. In this final part of the interview, we discussed upcoming events in the VF-UK calendar and the future of a cappella in the UK.

UACUK: You mentioned earlier the varied calendar of events and opportunities that you organise. What do you think about when organising these?

TM: We’re always aiming to expand the year-round schedule of events and opportunities that we provide for singers. As we expand, we want to ensure that singers and groups across the country all have access to the kinds of opportunities that are relevant to them. We design all of our events and opportunities with our four aims in mind. [To recap, these are: Encourage new singers, develop new audiences, support existing groups, and build UK a cappella communities.] So, for example, our showcase at the Southbank Centre last spring provided groups with a public performance opportunity, helped increase public exposure to a cappella, and provided an opportunity for different a cappella groups to socialise and see each other sing.

Some a cappella groups are the only ones at their school/university or in their region, so participating in events like this is a great opportunity to meet groups they otherwise might not have exposure to. When we did our feedback survey on last year’s Festival, one of the questions we asked was ‘What was the best part of the Voice Festival year?’, and one of my favourite answers was “The a cappella love!’”. And it’s true; there is a national a cappella community that exists now that just wasn’t there five years ago.

When I started at university, we had only ever heard of one a cappella group from another university, and even then only a few people had ever seen them perform. When we went down to Oxford for the very first ICCA [in 2006 – two years before the first Voice Fesitval University Competition] it was really scary! We had never met any of these people before and had no idea what to expect or what kind of reception we would get. Now we have people from different groups at different universities dating. Groups are maintaining friendships throughout the year and look forward to seeing each other when they meet up at events. It’s a vastly different experience now — to an extent that I don’t think many of the current singers realise — and I think the Voice Festival has played a big role in that change.

UACUK: What specific events are you planning, or have already organised, for the coming year?

TM: So, for the second year in a row, we’re doing a range of events in conjunction with the London A Cappella Festival (LACF) in January. First, on 12 January, our 2011 University Champions, Cadenza, will be supporting the Boxettes on the main stage. The Boxettes are one of the biggest new groups to hit the a cappella scene and we’re really excited that Cadenza has the opportunity to represent the Voice Festival by supporting such a huge act (check them out here). The Youth Programme and University Programme are also both running their own workshops at LACF. The University workshop will be run by a member of Cadence, a Canadian a cappella group performing at LACF – more details about that will be coming out soon.

The Youth Programme’s day-long workshop is called ‘Schools on Stage’, and will be run by the Swingle Singers and VOCES8. This is a particularly exciting opportunity for youth singers. The groups will attend a day of master classes and workshops where they will get to work on some of their own music with members of the Swingle Singers and VOCES8. Then, in the evening, on the main stage, they will perform their own music as well as a special arrangement (made just for ‘Schools on Stage’) that has been designed to be sung alongside the Swingle Singers version of Lady Madonna. Obviously, we are very excited about this opportunity for youth groups to sing with one of the most famous a cappella groups in the world, so it’s looking like it will be a very exciting day!

We’re also looking at trying to hold some other smaller workshops outside of London in the lead-up to the University Competition. Nothing is confirmed yet, but we’re hoping this will be another exciting opportunity to expand our programming across the country.

There will, of course, be workshops around the country in conjunction with the Competitions in March and another showcase event at the [Edinburgh Festival] Fringe.

UACUK: What about any plans for the Final?

Well, we’re trying to make the Final, which is the 10th and 11th of March this year, a full weekend of events for everyone, but it’s always difficult for university singers to travel far during term time. Our ideal Final weekend would be one where the majority of groups from all of our competitions come to London regardless of whether they are competing. We would have more social events, some non-competitive performances (in addition to the Competition Finals), and a selection of workshops during the day so that singers could choose the workshop topics that they are most interested in. With so many singers there from different groups of different ages and backgrounds from across the country, we think it would have a real festival atmosphere and would be a really exciting weekend?

UACUK: So why isn’t the weekend of the Final already like this?

TM: The main problem is getting everyone together! All of the universities and schools have different schedules and some people are coming from pretty far away, which means spending a lot of extra time and money travelling. We obviously can’t programme a big weekend of events if no one is coming! We’re hoping though that as we slowly expand the size of the weekend, we’ll have more groups coming just for the workshops and the festival atmosphere. Also, I should mention that we all do have day jobs as well, so there’s a limit to how much new programming we can add each year!

UACUK: So does that mean you’re looking for volunteers?

TM: It absolutely does! We’re looking for anyone in any of the regions we work in, with or without a background in a cappella, who wants to help us deliver our programmes of events and opportunities for youth, university, and community singers. If anyone has an interest in events management or arts administration and wants to be a part of the Voice Festival team, they should get in touch with us at voice@thevoicefestival.co.uk.

UACUK: I’ve also heard that you’ve got a new website coming soon?

TM: That’s right. The new website will be much more interactive and have more content for groups and more ways for groups to stay in touch and share knowledge. There will also be a bigger blogging presence both from permanent bloggers and guest bloggers to help share news and views about what’s going on in the world of a cappella.

UACUK: When can we expect a launch?

TM: The launch will hopefully be at the beginning of next year.

UACUK: To close, let’s talk about a cappella in general. Where do you see the future of a cappella in the UK?

TM: I think this is a really exciting time for a cappella in the UK. Interest in a cappella is spreading at a phenomenal pace, and the Voice Festival wants to help support that. We think it’s important that as British a cappella grows, it is given the chance to find its own way. We don’t want to model ourselves around anyone else. That’s not to say that we can’t learn from a cappella groups and communities around the world; in fact it’s important that we try to do that. The Voice Festival just hopes to help build a diverse and vibrant a cappella community that spans ages and backgrounds across the UK. It’s an exciting time for British a cappella, so watch this space!

You can find the Voice Festival on Facebook and Twitter.

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