While the overall recipe for the now-annual Voices of the (603) workshop and concert is relatively the same, event founder Jamie Saucier has incorporated a few changes to spice things up.
The event, now in its sixth year, happens Friday, Oct. 9, and includes an all-day workshop for high school a cappella students at UNH Manchester followed by a concert and competition later that night at the Capitol Center for the Arts.
As you’ll know if you’ve seen TV shows and movies like Glee or Pitch Perfect, a cappella means singers get no instrumental accompaniment. Not that it sounds that way — listeners will think they hear instruments, but everything’s created with voice.
Saucier recruits participants by sending out letters and a group song arrangement to all 159 New Hampshire middle and high schools listed on the New Hampshire Department of Education website before summer break, inviting them to send students to show off their stuff and learn more.
Saucier won’t have the final count of schools participating until the week before the event — this flexibility, he hopes, enables more to participate. More than a concert, the day-long event acts as an educational tool and encourages the art form among young singers, one reason organizers decided to alter the judging structure this year.
Instead of ranking schools first to worst, judges Saucier, Jola Leary, Briana Nelson and Amy Markoff Johnson will critique singers’ performances and give participating schools — which right now include Kennett High School, Pinkerton Academy, Prospect Mountain High School, ConVal Regional High School and Manchester West High School — a score and an award of gold, silver or bronze.
“The judges will take into account, what is this group’s potential? How difficult was this group’s song? Is this a good representation of what they can do?” Saucier said. “It’s really meant for the teachers to have another tool to take back into their classroom. … It’s more constructive criticism for them, and that’s what teachers need — reinforcement in what [students] are learning in the classroom already.”
This change is meant to encourage camaraderie and a cappella growth in New Hampshire, which wasn’t happening as much as Saucier would have liked in the old system.
“During the day, groups are 100-percent supporting each other. Put in a contest, they’re not best friends anymore. We decided we didn’t need that. We want encouragement to be solid,” Saucier said. “And ranking them, that doesn’t help them educationally. That doesn’t help them move on as an ensemble.”
Many schools have been waiting all year for this concert, Saucier said, deciding sometimes even before September what to perform come October. UNH’s new location in the Pandora Building means there’s more space to work with during the workshops, which include rehearsals for the group medley of “Shut Up and Dance With Me” and “Geronimo.” They’re bused over to Concord at 3 p.m., start warm-ups and microphone checks at 4 p.m., and sit in the balcony to watch one another’s and special guests’ performances.
“It’s nice to get up in front of audiences, especially appreciative audiences, for them to clap and know what it’s like to get up onstage,” Saucier said.
Other performers include On Air, a Granite Statesmen barbershop quartet; Milling Around, the UNH Manchester resident a cappella group; the Rhythm of New Hampshire Show Chorus; and, returning featured guest artists from last year’s concert, Ball in the House, who also took part in the day’s workshops in Manchester.
“They signed up that very day to do it again next year,” Saucier said. “I think it’s nice to have choir people impressed with what you do. The students were totally respectful and they recognize talent when they see it. [At the concert] they debuted ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and nailed it. They were able to do all the different sounds. They received a standing ovation in the middle of their set for it.”