By 5pm, we had dropped off the kids at the Deans, loaded up all of the equipment and picked up all the members of Clearly Vocal and left Tyler. Here's the crew in front of our CVmobile ready to hit the road:
(Ben-sound, John-baritone, Don-bass, Kim-alto, Stefanie-soprano, Andy-tenor)
Since there were six of us driving and approximately 18 hours to drive to get to Durham, NC, we made a driving schedule, complete with driving buddies, three hours each. John and Ben started us off. We picked up supper in Shreveport, LA and then stopped somewhere else in LA to change drivers. Don and Andy were up next and took us the next leg of the trip, and then Stef and I took over to drove the 11pm-2am shift. And on and on we drove and switched drivers and filled up with gas and grabbed snacks and tried to sleep. Some big cities we went through were Shreveport, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Charlotte, all until we finally reached Durham at 1pm eastern time on Friday. We also included a Crackle Barrel stop, which added an hour to our overall travel time.
So 19 hours after leaving Tyler, we pull into our hotel to check in. The guys were gracious to go unload our equipment at the Carolina Theater, where we would be performing that night, while Stef and I slept!
By 4:30 we were all dressed in concert attire and ready to go through our relaxation/visualization exercise that Stefanie had created for us. Then we loaded up to head to the theater to begin our sound check by 5:30.
When we got there, Sonos was having a sound check/rehearsal. They were one of the professional groups performing that weekend. Wow. Truly amazing.
Running sound for everyone at the theater that weekend was Tony Huerta, probably the absolute best sound guy in contemporary a cappella today. He regularly runs sound for Nota, Take 6, m-pact, Sonos and others. He was also the guy who ran the sound at the Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes in which we competed last year. I just think it's pretty cool that we can claim Tony twice as our sound guy! Ben, our sound guy, was in sound engineer heaven watching over Tony's shoulder, learning, but also helping Tony know what was coming up in our songs!
We hit our sound check and worked out our inner-ear monitor kinks and other little things. It really felt rushed and we couldn't keep a consistent pitch and we were having tempo issues and hearing issues and we were getting irritated with each other, yadda yadda yadda. And suddenly our time was up. Next on the schedule was the Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL) reception, which was upstairs, but before we ran up there, we took a minute to regroup, to remember to think as a group and to breathe and de-stress. Thankfully it worked, and our shoulders relaxed back into their proper positions.
We headed upstairs and enjoyed reconnecting with the other CAL groups as well as the directors of SoJam and of the Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA). Also in attendance were the members of Sonos and Basix, the other pro group that was performing Saturday night. What an honor to rub shoulders with these people! Other "big dogs" included Dave Brown and Christopher Diaz, the hosts of the Mouth Off Show, Bill Hare, the producer of many pro, CAL and college cd's (Nota, Straight No Chaser, The Red States, On the Rocks, etc.), and Ed Boyer, one of the arrangers for the show The Sing Off. The place was packed with talent!
Friday night, the show consisted of six college groups who were competing against each other. After they all sang, we performed for 40 minutes while the judges' votes were being tallied. The theater was JAM PACKED! About 1000 in attendance. Probably the biggest audience for which we've sung.
We wore our black outfits, accented with purple and blue, like we wore in Denver, for those of you who saw that look. Of course Stef and I didn't wear our exact outfits, as we are both pregnant, so we had some wrap shirts made. I was pleased with how they turned out!
Overall, it was the best show that we five have ever done! "The Moment" of our show was when we put our mics down, stood in a semicircle a the front of the stage and sang "And Can It Be." I was really nervous about doing this song, because there were some pretty anti-Christian people in that crowd! But after the show, the two most talked about songs were Java Jive (of course--always a crowd pleaser--blows me away) and And Can It Be! They were impressed that 1. we would put down our mics, and 2. that we would be brave enough to share our faith with everyone! Seems they really appreciated both things. To all of you whom I know have been praying for the hearts of those listening, THANK YOU! I believe hearts were touched and that God was glorified.
Before our last song, I thanked Tony, of course, and then gave a little motivational speech especially to the college kids encouraging them to keep singing! Most think that if they don't plan to sing professionally, that their singing days are over after college. Our goal was to show them that they can keep singing at a high-quality level, if that's what they love to do. We can't NOT sing, and so we began Clearly Vocal.
After the show, we signed autographs, passed out business cards and received a flood of congrats and great jobs. What a night!
But wait, there's more! From the theater, everyone went to an after party where we all got to interact with other groups and more fans and relive the evening. We met a guy from NYC whose job it is to match groups with events, sort of like an agent, but more of a consultant as he's not tied to any one group. He was very complimentary, wanted a card and said he would look for opportunities for us! Of course, people in this industry are famous for their promises, but not necessarily their follow-through, but still, the compliments were appreciated, coming from someone who sees a lot of talent.
We made it back to the hotel around 1am and just crashed!
We were out the door by 8:30 to grab some breakfast at Chick-Fil-A and get to Duke University to attend our first classes that began at 9. We tried to split up the classes so that everything was covered!
My first class was called "Organic Arranging," by Christopher Diaz. He focused in on the importance of communicating the emotions of a song through the music, as opposed to just "putting together a cool arrangement." He gave examples of both poor arrangements that failed miserably at accomplishing this concept as well as ones that were very good about being intentional about it. What a difference! We were to ask the question, "What pictures are my chords and note movements painting, and does that picture line up with the words?" I was inspired. :)
Interspersed throughout the day were mini-performances by the other CAL groups. First up was Euphonism, a group based out of Washington DC. It's just neat to see other "real people" doing what we do!
Next class for me was Advanced Arranging, by Charlie Forkish. Charlie is kind of child prodigy of sorts. He dropped out of college because his arranging and recording gigs were so demanding and rewarding! Admirably, though, he is finishing his degree, recognizing its importance! Again, some amazing tips about chord building, digital arranging and arranging for recording vs. arranging for live performance.
Up next for the CAL groups was Treble, a 13-member all-female group from NYC, that we had met last year. Their director is pregnant, too, and due about a month before I am. That was fun to reconnect with her and them. Only half of their group was able to make it, so I was impressed that they performed at all!
We ate lunch on campus as we tried to process everything we had learned!
Then it was off to the class called Sell Out, by .... huh-oh, I forget. But she was a reporter for a local newspaper who has an a cappella background, She gave us some fantastic tips on how to market ourselves and communicate efficiently with the newspapers. Great dos an don'ts for Twitter and Facebook as well as for what to put into our media kits and what to leave out. I learned huge amounts of information in that class!
The last CAL group to perform was The Red States. They are also from NYC, and have the best recording of Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" that I've ever heard. Seriously, you should buy it on iTunes, it's that good. It's on my running playlist. :) Unfortunately their female soloist for that song wasn't there, so they chose other songs to sing instead. I was able to talk to the guy who arranged it, though, and learned a lot of fun facts!
Then it was off to a class called "Lady Power," which was a panel of women in various groups that discussed specific issues that women, especially all-female groups, deal with in this a cappella world. It was mostly wardrobe, costumes, stereotypes and discrimination issues. I was disappointed, though, because no one ever addressed the issues of singing while raising a family and juggling other real-life responsibilities that women have while still trying to sing. I think I'll make that suggestion when I fill out my SoJam survey. Something tells me there's a good chance I'll be on that panel next year, since not a lot of those present were currently challenged by that issue, but I still think it's important for them to think about as they plan for the future. A cappella life doesn't have to end when you begin a family.
In between that class and the next, all of the CAL groups, both partial and full, were supposed to meet together to sing three songs in a jam-session sort of format. Yeah, I don't think that went as well as it was intended to go, so I think there's a good possibility that it won't happen next year. :)
The last class of the day that I attended was called "The Cool Factor," by Claude McKnight, the founder of Take 6, and older brother of Brian McKnight, the famous R&B singer. It was fantastic. The bottom line, the take away point that Claude made is that cool=authenticity and integrity. Be who you are, sing like you do and have your own style rather than always copying other people. I certainly struggle with this since I love The Real Group so much! But I'm determined to work away from that. I'm inspired to write more original stuff and come up with original arrangements. Anytime a song or arrangement comes from the group, the group can just be who the group is and will put themselves into the song more passionately than when we're singing a song that is not ours. Great class.
We raced from there to supper where we ate with the other CAL groups. Actually, we scarfed down our food as quickly as we could so that we could make it back to the theater to change and get ready for our last performance, which was to open for Sonos and Basix.
Saturday night, we went with all black and white. We hated to upstage the pros, you know. ;)
Kind of small, but you get the picture. That's me singing "Fever," our closer.
There was only one little glitch on Saturday night. Tony did not have our inner ear monitors turned on for the first half of our first song! (Words, by The Real Group.) All we could hear was the bounce-back from the back of the theater! Therefore, our tempo was a little slower than usual! We managed, though, and when we finally did get our ears back, thankfully we were all in the same tempo and key! Ha! The show must go on!
We were told to do two songs to open for the other groups, and as we walked off stage, Thomas King, who was running the groups backstage and one of the judges for the CAL Showcase, said "That's it? You had 15 minutes! That was the first we had heard of it! Oh well. Better to leave the crowd wanting more. Plus they were really there for Sonos and Basix that night!
Then we got to join the crowd and watch as Sonos and then Basix performed. Here's Sonos:
Boy, when Basix took the stage it was an obvious step up in class and professionalism, of course from where we were, but also a step up from Sonos, which really shocked me when I realized that. I also love that Basix, who brought their own sound guy (who ran their entire system through a Mac Book Pro!), not only thanked him, but had everyone turn around and wave at him! Very classy.
As Basix was singing, I leaned over to John and asked, "Are those our mic stands they're using?" He grinned real big and nodded. If you look closely, you can see them in the background of that picture! Again, I geeked out. After the show, I asked Chris, one of Basix's members, if they enjoyed using our stands, to which he replied, "Those were yours? Oh, thank you, thank you! They were so ease to slide up and down; much better than ours!" All the members of Basix were just so nice. Chris and I are Facebook friends, you know. ;) He's the one in the middle.
The Saturday night after party was a blast, too. We had so much fun hanging out with new friends one last time and reliving the evening. We got back to the hotel at 1:30am. I had to have a shower, since I was just nasty, so I finally crawled into bed around 2.
But Sunday morning we were up and at 'em again to go to one more class and finally our master class. We got all checked out of the hotel and headed to Duke one last time.
Our first class that most of us attended had to do with the physics of the voice; what is actually going on in your body when you sing, and how we can use that information to help us sing and blend better. GREAT info in that class. We were temporarily embarrassed and ultimately honored, though, because the instructor motioned to us and said to the rest of the class, "This is Clearly Vocal in here, by the way. They already do all of this stuff I'm talking about, which is why they sound so amazing. I don't really know why they're in here!" So sweet.
And finally, we went to our master class with none other than Claude McKnight himself. The man. Of all the SoJam attendees, he most likely has the best trained ear, especially for jazz. Who more qualified than the founder of Take 6 to coach us?! What an honor.
He appreciated that we do actually make an effort to listen to each other and think that tuning is important! He kind of harped on the college and CAL groups for their lack of attention to that. Yes, we had a few tuning issues, but we knew them and he knew we would continue to work on those. His main focus was on presentation. The most flattering thing (for me) that he said to the group was, "When I watch this group, I want to watch (pointed to me) you! I like to watch you perform. You know your notes, so you can relax, have fun and let your personality shine through!" I died. Right there. Melted into a puddle. It was all I could do not to cry!
Claude also gave us some very practical tips to use on each song and worked with us on how to accomplish those things. Things like grabbing the audience from the first word, standing and moving with a purpose, conversing with the audience in-between songs rather than giving speeches, and other things like that. Those seemingly little things made a huge difference as we worked. I can't wait to apply those principles to the rest of our show!
See? We're pretty much best friends now.
Several other people sat in on our class, including Dave Brown.
I'm kind of embarrassed at how much whiter his teeth are than mine. Hmmm.
Our class was supposed to be an hour long, but since it was the last think on the schedule, we actually went about an hour and a half! Other than performing on that beautiful stage, working with Claude was my favorite memory!
One other amazing thing we learned during our class was from the photographer, Michael Elderidge. He is known for picking up on people's antics and habits. Here's what he said to Stef: "You sing up here (motioned upwards about a 45 degree angle) because that's where you look to talk to your husband." To me he said, "You sing right here (motioned straight ahead with knees bent) because you're keeping your kids' attention!" To Andy he said, "You sing down here (motioning to the ground) because you're thinking too hard, and also where you look to talk to your wife." To John he said, "You sing like this (standing up tall and motioning one arm out to the side with his palm facing upward) because your leading your congregation!" And to Don he said, "You lean forward and raise your eyebrows as if your were teaching." (Don's an 8th grade math teacher!) Amazing and so telling! Still geeking out about all of that.
We took one last picture in front of the beautiful Duke chapel before hitting the road:
After grabbing lunch, we drove out of Durham at 2pm, rotated drivers through the night, hit a traffic jam in which we were stopped for a little over 30 minutes, and rolled into Tyler at 7:30 Monday morning so the boys could go to work. Crazy.
It was so strange to be treated basically like rock stars! Everyone knew who we were! They acted nervous to come talk to us. They whispered as we walked by. One funny story was that Andy walked into one class and sat down by a guy and his friend. The guy said to Andy, "Now what's your name?" His friend slapped his arm and said in a harsh whisper, "That's Andy from Clearly Vocal!" The first guy turned red and said, "I am SO sorry! Of course I know you are! You guys did awesome last night!" Andy laughed and was like, "Dude, it's totally fine!" We are not used to that kind of treatment! It was good for us to get back home where no one knows or cares who we are!
What a weekend. So physically exhausting, but so rewarding. So many connections made or renewed. We were encouraged, had our egos stroked, inspired, humbled, challenged, refreshed and refocused. I can't wait for rehearsal tonight!!
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Location:Duke University, Durham, NC