University Groups to Submit Videos to VF-UK

The Voice Festival UK will not be holding Regional Competitions as part of the University Competition in 2014.

The news comes early today as an email from the new University Co-Ordinator, Zoe Banfield, was sent to all the groups involved in the Festival.

Instead, in order to apply for the semi-final and final (taking place in London in March), groups will need to submit a video to VF-UK. Further details of this video are yet to be revealed. Furthermore, showcases will be organised across the UK as replacements for the Voice Festival competition.

The full email from the Voice Festival can be read below:

University Programme 2013-14

As you will be aware, the Voice Festival is run by a team of volunteers, and in order to develop and sustain the work we do, we have recently taken on some new team members. However, this does mean that we will be going through an initial period of transition this year whilst the new members settle into their roles. More details about the new team members and their roles can be found on the Voice Festival website.

Based on feedback from last year, we know that the Big Weekend was of great value to groups, and so we want to build on this aspect of our offering and find a way to bring even more groups together. We also know that the competition aspect is something that helps provide focus in pushing groups on and we still want to encourage this as well.

With this in mind key activities of our 2013-14 programme will include:

University Competition

This will consist of:

– An initial round with online video submissions. (More details to follow, but we anticipate a submission deadline of end of Jan/early Feb 2014).

– Festival Weekend across two days (potentially 8th – 9th March 2014, but we will confirm this in December) which will include a live Semi-final knock-out and the University Championship Final. (More details to be announced in due course).

As you can see the University competition has a few changes to previous years, with an initial video submission round and then a Festival Weekend featuring Semi-finals and the Competition Final. We can confirm at this stage that the judging criteria will remain consistent with previous years, with only some small tweaks for the online video submissions.

Showcases… in collaboration with you! – these are events for helping you to deepen connections with youth and community singers in your regions, and providing focus on originality, collaboration, learning and performance. They will be held at different venues and times across the year (pre or post the university competition – pending your calendars) and every event will be tailored to the singers in your area.

What do you think of the new changes? Feel free to leave your comments below.


15 thoughts on “University Groups to Submit Videos to VF-UK

  1. VFUK has had a death wish for the past few years and it’s finally committed suicide with this ridiculous decision. Time for somebody else to step up to the mark and run UK a cappella properly. Out of the Blue voted with their feet last year and I fully expect other big groups to follow suite this year.

  2. James has hit the nail on the head. I think a ‘video’ audition for what is supposedly the top a cappella competition in the UK is a joke. I say this having MDed a group who eventually won (The Gargoyles, 2010) and how important the regional round was in bolstering our confidence, getting incredible feedback and generally having a first-go ready for the big final day. Saying all this, scrapping regionals could mean the best groups actually get through, which can only be a good thing. The quality of musicianship should be at the core of the competition, and since about 2011 it really hasn’t been.

  3. Whoever thought of making an initial round in an a cappella competition that isn’t live is not thinking clearly. Who cares which a cappella group can make the best video if it doesn’t mean that they can deliver on stage? Plus, for the universities up north it strips them of a chance to perform in front of their university friends and family – a main reason why a lot of students take part. This decision is going to generate a lot of frustration!

    • I agree with your first two points Ellie, and can definitely see why you’d be frustrated by this. But in VFUK’s defense, why should a small, volunteer-run, London-based organisation be responsible for arranging stuff in all over the country. They called for lots of outside input, and the call was not met sufficiently to keep the nationwide events sustainable. So, frustrated or not, the way to get through this is to either help VFUK out by volunteering, set up something separate to run a rival competition, or to simply run your own events. As James Horner pointed out, this has definitely been coming for a while now.

  4. I think that talk of death wish and suicide is far too strong.

    Admittedly, the VFUK university competition hasn’t been right for everyone in the last few years. However, to me it seems like the latest step in a very simple and understandable change of emphasis from VFUK. The success and gratitude they’ve seen from the community/schools side of their work must heavily outweigh the mixed response from an increasingly challenging University A Cappella community. If that is correct, it’s a very simple business decision to reduce the emphasis in the university competition, in favour of community and schools events that will actually see their hard work be appreciated.

    It does seem very clear that the university competition is getting much smaller, with many of the bigger names not being there, and IMO it IS about time that someone else stepped up and ran a UK University Competition ‘properly’ (whatever that may mean). But without any obvious financial benefits, someone is going to need to think up a very neat business plan and/or be prepared to work a lot for very little in order to make it happen sustainably.

    When that person decides to step up (whether it be to within the VFUK team or a separate organisation), I hope they will let me know!

  5. There are some very strong words being bandied around here – some of you need to remember that you’re discussing an event organised by a charity, run entirely by volunteers in their spare time. There is a sense of entitlement from some commenters which is quite shocking.

    I am looking forward to being part of the new direction in which VF-UK is heading, and have no doubt that many more people will continue to benefit from the organisation’s incredibly hard work.

  6. I think Emily is quite right. The Voice Festival was founded by Alex and Simon to “Grow the UK a cappella artform through events, educational opportunities and projects”. That’s a really wide remit and the competition is just a small part of it. I’d also point out that Zoe’s email implies this is a transitional arrangement while the new faces learn the ropes. I would expect further changes for the 2015 season… Ixx

  7. Thanks for all your comments so far.

    I’d like to draw your attention to an article I posted at the end of August, entitled “VF-UK 2013: The Good, The Bad, and the Unsustainable”. I’ve linked it at the bottom of this comment.

    Specifically, I comment on the sustainability of the current Regional Round system while VF-UK remains a not-for-profit, volunteer run organisation:

    “It must not be forgotten that the Voice Festival is run by a team of volunteers, all of whom have full-time jobs to hold down alongside the significant effort that the Voice Festival requires on top of all that. With that in mind, I understand why the initial intention was to cut the Regional Rounds all together and incorporate the entire University Competition into the Big Weekend in London. The decision to have members of the groups themselves organise the Regionals was a good one, but as proved in Oxford when the organising committee pulled out and the VF-UK team had to organise everything themselves, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.
    Added to this is the ever increasing number groups popping up around the country, these Regional Rounds will become ever more unmanageable as more of them require organisation. Can the Voice Festival team really be expected to put so much unpaid time aside while sacrificing significant chunks of their personal lives in the process?”

    This decision, at least for this year, appears to be one in the interests of sustainability. VF-UK have been leaning towards the Community and Youth programmes for a couple of years now, and why not? They probably get a lot more out of it, and indeed have more of a positive impact on schools and communities than they do on universities.

    We mustn’t forget that the University Competition is only a very small part of what the Voice Festival does. I agree with most of you, though, when you say that taking away Regional Rounds and replacing it with video submissions is a step in the wrong direction for universities (although not necessarily for VF-UK itself), and perhaps the time has come to have a separate entity organising the university competition and only the university competition (in line with the ICCAs), leaving VF-UK to focus on the stellar job they are doing within the rest of the a cappella world.

  8. The crux of this issue is that these are essentially exactly the same plans as they submitted last year. They were widely rejected as being not a good idea then and they are still not a good idea now. VFUK hasn’t listened and will probably loose it’s University competition as a result. It’s a shame but I’m not sure it really matters actually, it’s clear VFUK no longer want to run this event and I’m confident there are many individuals in the community who will be able to run a better University competition – in my mind Mark is correct in this respect, it is time to separate the competition (at least the University competition) and the festival for good.

  9. I can’t speak for other regions, but the London regional round was organised primarily by the groups rather than VF-UK, in the style of the ICCA regional rounds. It was our responsibility to find and book a venue, get someone in to conduct a suitable workshop and organise ushers for the event. VF-UK did have staff members there on the day to assist, for which we were very grateful, but much of the organisational work was done by Vive and All the King’s Men.

    Although this was understandably stressful for us to organise, I would happily do it again rather than be subjected to a video round. Having a regional round of competition gave newer groups much-needed competition experience; with a video round, each group could film their set a number of times before finding the best take, which removes the pressures associated with competition. I also agree with Ellie’s point, in that students further away from London have benefited from regional rounds.

    In spite of the absence of ‘big names’ from last year’s University competition, which was as regrettable as it was inexplicable, it was a fantastic event. Any of three groups could have won the London regional round, and the final was a similarly close affair. I disagree strongly with geocham’s assertion that musicianship hasn’t been at the heart of the competition since 2011; the 2013 competition winners, Vive, were outstanding musically, and won despite highly impressive musical and visual performances from other groups. There has been so much to celebrate over the years that VF-UK has been running the competition, which makes it all the sadder that the university competition has been scaled down.

  10. The fact that the Voice Festival is a charity run by volunteers should not be a valid point in this discussion. Bringing it up here shuts down an important and valid discussion about the extent to which the current Universities Programme meets the needs of university a cappella singers in the UK. This is a discussion that every stakeholder of the Festival has the right to participate in, and no one should be made to feel guilty for wanting more from the Festival!

  11. I’ve seen this from pretty much every side over the last 9 years (competing, producing, judging) and I think there’s a lot of valid points here across the arguments.

    For me, actually, the biggest issue has been the loss of the automatic link between VFUK final and ICCA New York Final. For the UK’s “big” groups (OOTB/Gargoyles historically and I’d now add AtKM) there can easily be a perception that there’s a lot to lose and little to gain from competing in VFUK. After all, only one group can win each year, and to the big groups, not winning is failure. However, with the New York shaped carrot dangling, it was worth the reputational “risk”, because the reward was so life-changingly awesome. For some groups, a grant toward a tour/recording is hugely important. For others less so.

    ICCA in the States is run on a very different basis than VFUK from a production perspective. Want to host a regional round? You BUY the rights from Varsity Vocals for (say) $2000, book a venue and sell tickets like crazy. You keep the profits. Would the Oxford groups have backed out on their hosting responsibilities if they’d had serious cash invested? I’m not sure we’re ready for that over here, but if you want a competition run by a central body on a “light-touch” basis – that’s what it looks like.

    The other thing I’d say about ICCA in the States is that the famous groups just don’t enter every year. And the scene is big enough that everybody isn’t predicting the death/suicide of the competition because of it. Hopefully, in 5 years time we’ll have a scene big enough that nobody will bat an eyelid that OOTB give it a miss one year.

    Nobody should ever underestimate what Alex and Simon have built up from so little through sheer hard work, dedication and love of the genre. They’ve got a lot of other stuff going on in their lives (one just married, the other getting married!) and I’m not at all surprised that, when they look at the amazing work done and the growth potential in their schools work, they feel their charitable efforts and resources are better focussed there. If they pulled the plug and walked away tomorrow (which they won’t) they’ll have done more for the UK A Cappella scene than anybody else ever has.

    I hope a bigger, better and more enjoyable collegiate competition arises out of this, whether under the VFUK banner, ICCA banner or under a new banner. It may require some new people, with the amazing drive of Alex & Simon, to step up to the plate. Whatever happens, hopefully I’ll get the chance to judge it again…

  12. I’m an MD of a new a Capella group at the University of Newcastle. The guys have just started out in the world of a Capella this term, and as with previous groups, we were looking to performing alongside other great groups at a regional competition.
    Regionals give groups of all abilities the opportunity to perform and learn with some of the best groups in the country.
    VFUK is also about an a Capella community, and sharing a musical experience, not just the quality of a performance.
    I fear my group may loose out to more experienced groups, without being inspired by the competition.

    If anyone is willing to help organise a northern meet, let me know, I’m keen to help. Where are the Northern English a Capella groups? 😀

  13. Maybe the time has come for the evolution of a completely separate competition. Having been on the organising committee for the London round, it was a struggle when it was left to two groups to organise the rounds. The ICCAs appear as purely competitive and it is beneficial that the Voice Festival provides workshops as well as the competitive elements. This provides the opportunity for groups to benefit from coaching but it can be undermining for those groups who already receive it.

    The Voice Festival does have a strong presence in the UK and it would be foolish to deny that AtKM’s success in the past few years in the competition has helped in Edinburgh and further afield. This should not be lost and I feel like I speak for the majority that would still like a competition similar to the ICCAs. The Voice Festival has always been about socialising with other groups as well as battling it out on stage. It would be a shame if this is lost. I feel that this video round has been taken from the ICCA European Wildcard that was introduced last year. This was created to encourage others to compete aside from those in the UK. If there are issues with organisation, recruit more volunteers.

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