Contributed by J.D. Frizzell.
In September 2018, my a cappella group OneVoice performed at the 70th Annual Emmys Governors Ball events over the course of two weekends. It was a stressful whirlwind of an experience that required me to fly the group from Memphis to LA two weekends in a row, teach a whole set of music before school even started, take care of students overheating on an outdoor stage and getting a stomach bug on the same day, and manage constantly changing wardrobe issues with high school girls. Was it worth the trouble? Absolutely.
An experience like performing at the Emmys is yet another reason why a cappella groups are so valuable to a scholastic vocal music program. Would an event like that have a choir singing Mozart on the red carpet or Whitacre on the dance floor at the afterparty? *Probably* not. On the other hand, a bunch of young people singing pop songs in black tie at the Emmys is as natural as an entourage of stretch limousines.
It started in July when I was contacted by a producer at Sequoia Productions, the company who has produced the Emmys Governors Ball events for many decades. She had seen OneVoice on America’s Got Talent and asked us if we would be interested in performing for the event. We’d need to craft a set list specifically to the whims of the organizers as well as have a medley of TV songs arranged for the red carpet as guests walk from the awards over to the afterparty. We’d also need to get ourselves back and forth to LA – twice (there are two events the weekend prior, called Emmys Creative Arts).
As I discussed the opportunity with my administration, we weighed the costs of the arranging, travel, etc. against the chance to sing at the Emmys. Our thought was that you literally couldn’t pay any amount of money to someone in exchange for singing at something like the Emmys – and we had a priceless invitation to do just that. We decided to make it happen.
In the middle of my summer break, I started quickly working with various arrangers to write custom charts and tweak stock charts based on the set list asked of us. Some amazing folks worked very quickly to make it happen (Jacob Tourjeman, Kat Bodor, Shams Ahmed, Rob Dietz, and Ben Bram)– and then, the Emmys decided to change all of the music. So we (and the other entertainment groups at the event) had to go back and change it all. Did I mention that I also had a nasty stomach bug the day this happened? Yes, when it rains, it truly pours.
By the miracle of networking and talented, devoted colleagues, we got a whole new set list together that afternoon and it was approved later that week. Simultaneously, I also had all of my new OneVoice members learning 10 songs for an hour long concert we were contracted to do in the second week of school (WHAT was I thinking?!?!?). Because we have such a well established culture and workflow, these new singers were able to do this and come into the group seamlessly. We performed that hour long concert successfully (with a sub VP – thanks, AJ Marino!) in the midst of the Emmys preparation.
The event itself was a massive production – a giant tent on the roof of the LA Live Event Deck. Most of our music was to be sung outside, on a rotating stage, with the singers facing out, not towards each other. These were all challenges. I was also mixing the group inside about 100 yards away (and there were some technical issues). In other words, conditions were anything but ideal, and yet the OneVoice members pulled through. They met tons of celebrities. They were seen and heard by thousands of the most influential people in entertainment. Most importantly, they had a transformative experience that they will never, ever forget.
My takeaways from the experience:
- Ask lots of questions, even if they seem stupid or minute.
- Always have a backup plan.
- Maintain an efficient workflow for learning new music. Of course, I use my 5-step method.
- Build your singers confidence by building their competence. All of my OneVoice members have been longtime choir members, as well. I’ve been able to train them on sight reading, music theory, tone, pitch musicality, etc. for years. This helps prepare them to step up and face something as massive as this.
This article was contributed by J.D. Frizzell, president of the A Cappella Education Association. You can find him at jdfrizzell.com.
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