Although a cappella is technically defined as singing without instrumental accompaniment, many a cappella singers use their voices to create instrumental textures when they rehearse and perform to create a multilayered musical experience for themselves and their audiences.
Once everyone in a group learns their part, individually, the next level of work begins, that of weaving these individual parts together into an evolving blended, balanced, dynamic tapestry of sound. Though each member of an a cappella group can learn and practice their parts on their own, the aforementioned weaving has to be done together.
That’s the challenge that’s faced `Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ award-winning a cappella group. Though the 15-member ensemble typically meets twice a week to practice, they last rehearsed together in person on March 11.
When the shelter in place order resulting from the coronavirus pandemic was issued, the members of `Til Dawn, like everyone else in the Bay Area, have been stranded at home, forcing the cancellation of all of their spring shows, auditions for new members and the cancellation of their annual spring concert.
Suffice it to say, there’s simply no way to do a lot of what the group had been doing.
“There is no way to rehearse that allows us to sing together, real-time, and hear each other,” said longtime Director Austin Willacy. “Variations in wifi access and speed create lags that make it impossible to sing together through Zoom. Truth be told, though we’re a singing group, we spend as much of our time listening as we do singing. Learning to listen to each other while singing, to navigate our individual voice’s proper place as we’re performing, is the most important part of what we do at rehearsal. It’s an ongoing dance of stepping forward and stepping back,” he said.
When they first met online, because of time lags, Willacy was only able to work with one singer at a time – which was very inefficient as it left the other members of the group waiting for their turn. At in-person rehearsals, although individual support is available as needed, the group typically learns new music by voice part; the sopranos all learn the soprano part together, etc.
Recognizing how draining that amount of waiting while glued to a screen could be, Willacy quickly adjusted, shortening rehearsal time by 30 minutes and splitting the group into four songwriting groups based on their self-assessed comfort/experience with songwriting. The check-ins, which are a longstanding attuning process at the beginning of rehearsal, have continued to allow the group to stay connected with each other as much as possible. The music-focused time in `Til Dawn rehearsals is now evenly split between rehearsal and review of existing repertoire and songwriting.
The members of `Til Dawn have been nimble and creative in finding ways to use technology to support their songwriting. One member sang her melody to a friend over the phone (he recorded a track with instruments and sent it back). Another downloaded free beats from a website. Several members play the ukulele, saxophone, guitar and other instruments and have been using those while composing.
Willacy said exploring songwriting has been an unexpected benefit for `Til Dawn members confined to home.
“I’ve been deeply struck by the level of songwriting talent in this group,” he said “I’ve also been inspired by the level of creativity, trust, and willingness to try on something new.”
For the Youth in Arts’ COVID relief fund, `Til Dawn has prepared a special video and song. To make it possible, Willacy laid down a basic piano part to a click track and received an iPhone-recorded guide vocal. After combining them, he sent an MP3 to the group members so they could listen to it in earbuds while recording their respective parts. They recorded themselves (singing mostly on their phones) and sent their audio files back to Willacy, who painstakingly edited them all together, then providing that recording to the song’s lead vocalist, Anna McShea, who was able to perform and record her own vocal in Ableton, a music recording app.
The teens also furnished video of themselves singing along to the track to Youth in Arts Program Director Kelsey Rieger, who is compiling the individual video into a video of the whole group. Watch this wonderful performance here!
Willacy, a renowned performer who travels worldwide as a solo artist and with the pioneering a cappella group, The House Jacks, said he’s been able to stay in the creative flow despite the quarantine. He’s written or co-written at least four songs and mixed and edited several more.
“I’m really lucky to have a studio at home,” he said. “It’s a huge privilege that feels even bigger right now. Being creative helps me stay present.”
It was a wonderful celebration of souls and sound when nearly 50 current and former`Til Dawn members took to the stage for the SING OUT! concert, raising over $5,000 for the group’s scholarship program, through ticket, raffle, food and beverage sales. The goal was to reach $2,020 at the event to celebrate the New Year, and the event far exceeded expectations!
The award-winning teen a cappella group performed at Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael on Dec. 29. More than 150 people attended the event to celebrate the current ensemble as well as `Still Dawn, comprised of former members.
Headliners Stevie Greenwell and Erin Honeywell started off the evening. The two sisters are both `Til Dawn alumni, and Stevie taught last spring in Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program.
Stevie Greenwell performs with the Thrive Choir and the Jazz Mafia Choral Syndicate. She is the founder and director of the Thrive Community Choir and the artistic director of the Diablo Women’s Chorale, and on the faculties of Stanford Jazz Camp and Own the Mic.
Erin Honeywell is an award-winning Bay Area vocalist and songwriter. She plans to release a full album collaboration with her soul band OTIS, as well as more of her original music. She also teaches private voice and chorus at San Domenico school and co-founded Own the Mic, a camp for middle and high school students.
“The SING OUT! offers such a wonderfully unique experience,” shares Development Associate, Morgan Schauffler who organized the event. “You get to marvel at the talent of our current ‘Til Dawn-ers, and hear them harmonize with former group members, many of whom have gone on to become professional musicians. This year’s headliners brought such beautiful honesty and soul to the concert. What a great night!”
The SING OUT! is more than just a scholarship fundraiser – It truly is a family event. Past and present members came from across the country to attend, and most had family members in tow.
Thank you to our food and beverage sponsors: Trader Joe’s San Rafael and Iron Springs Pub & Brewery , as well as our raffle prize donors: Bananas At Large, Salon Ciera, Johnny’s Doughnuts, and State Room Brewery.
Finally, thank you to our wonderful volunteer photographer Garrett Low!
By YIA Staff
“There was a wide range of emotions and ages I had to play,” Hasson said, noting her character ages more than 10 years. “The play is all about slowing down and living your daily life and paying attention to it, even when things seem boring.”
The 18-year-old senior said it was fun to play a different kind of character. Often typecast as the mother, this time she played the love interest.
Hassan, who serves as the student representative on the Youth in Arts board, said her three years with ‘Til Dawn has been excellent training. The Marin Academy senior has applied to 16 colleges and universities and plans to pursue a career in musical theater and acting.
“Without a creative outlet, it’s so hard to focus in any other aspect of life,” she said. “Being able to use the arts to express myself makes me more able to focus academically.”
Hassan also praised ‘Til Dawn director Austin Wilacy, whom she called “an incredible teacher.” Austin is a professional singer and songwriter who performs and records as a solo artist and with Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. The House Jacks.
“I can’t even put into words how having him as a mentor has changed me and changed my life,” she said.