A cappella. Let's face it— it tends to evoke squeaky-clean images of the television show "Glee," featuring high school kids with tucked-in collared shirts, coiffed hair and toothy grins. Not so. Picture this instead: Bold beatboxing, genres from R&B to electronica and entrancing upbeat performances where it's hard to distinguish the voice from a traditional instrument. Oh, and the energy.
"I do it because of the rush," says singer Joshua Clifton. "The adrenaline is like nothing else."
The a cappella scene has morphed a lot since its ancient religious roots. One can wager that the complex vocal arrangements of a cappella rival the innovation from any current musical genre. You can witness these intricate harmonies, sans instruments, at the 2017 Bend A Cappella Festival, which brings together a thriving community of 120 participants from across the Pacific Northwest.
"I want to break the misconception that the voice is not an instrument," says Clifton, 22, a second-year participant who will perform solo on the Friday night. "Not a lot of people think about the voice in that way, but it's the hardest instrument to play." Clifton is both an a cappella singer and beat boxer and says last year's festival was "Amazing... everybody was just so nice." Clifton is looking forward to this year's multifaceted program, featuring sing-off performances, competitions, master classes by renowned vocal coaches and a special concert by the headliners Naturally 7. The group, originally from New York, is famous for the ability to mimic instrumental sound in an uncanny way. If you were to have your eyes closed while listening to their rendition of "Fix You" by Coldplay, you would swear the group was accompanied by an organ, keyboard, percussion and, perhaps mostly stunningly, an electric guitar. Skip the Youtube videos and witness their stupefying show live.
Festival director Katherine Schroeder says, "We are very excited about this year's festival, which focuses on building a collaborative community of local musicians as well as teaching, bonding and competing in our small, friendly competition." She continues, "We have a fantastic lineup of competitors and master class participants and we think everyone will enjoy hearing about our judges' experiences and learning from their unique perspectives." Judges include award-winning composer and co-founder of the a cappella supergroup The Bobs, Richard Bob Greene, singer-songwriter and teacher Angie Doctor and the tenor from the 2016 International Barbershop Quartet, Drew Wheaton.
Clifton, a student at Central Oregon Community College, acknowledges that the regional a cappella community is small, with the beatbox scene being even smaller. He hopes the festival will promote the community and help expand it. "Even though there's a competition aspect to the festival, there's a lot of love...everyone just wants to share their music and be heard."
Concert goers can witness the special performances all weekend or choose from select performances. As for Clifton, his passion extends past the festival with an aim to earn his masters in music. "I want to teach vocal percussion and singing. More than that, I want to spread the artform and inspire others."
Bend A Cappella Festival
Fri. Feb. 10-Sun. Feb 12
835 NW Wall St., Bend
Tickets at bendacappellafestival.com
Friday night's Sing-Off is sold out.