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Review: Northern European Vocal Festival

Review: Northern European Vocal Festival
Kathy Alexander had the unexpected privilege of attending the Aarhus Vocal Festival in Denmark recently. We thought you might like to read her review.

If you dig a cappella vocal music, you would love a festival like this. Perhaps you’ll be able to attend or help organize a similar festival in your hometown one day.

Review: AAVF – Aarhus Vocal Festival, 2015

They say it is like a family reunion – but The Aarhus Vocal Festival (AAVF) is actually even better.

You see, the AAVF doesn’t have all the unresolved tensions you find at a family gathering – even the festival’s financial disaster two years ago doesn’t get swept under the rug around here.

AAVF 2015 gives you a stream of 50 short concerts and shows, a choir competition, a vocal group competition, a full roster of workshops and a mass choir rehearsal every morning. Singers have come from countries like Germany, Israel, Taiwan, Norway, USA, The Netherlands, and England to feel the love and be inspired.

Fonty's Jazz Choir, Netherlands

Fonty’s Jazz Choir, Netherlands

The festival’s headliner is Grammy Award nominee, Zap Mama whose groovy fusion is a high point of the festival’s nightly live entertainment.

Denmark’s own Vocal Line stirs our souls with their pioneering arrangements and exquisite vocal artistry, while The Swingle Singers from London, who have been reinventing vocal jazz for generations have everyone talking about their show the next day.

For a complete contrast to all the a cappella music, we go to Ridehuset to get our hip hop on with DJ Static and head bang with glam rock band TTA.

The vocal groups incorporate beat-boxers, vocal bass and percussion, and even the occasional looper. The music spans pop, jazz, a cappella, hip-hop, and fusion, with an emphasis on music and languages from around the world.

The only disappointment of this weekend is that it is impossible to attend everything. I go to many workshops including improvisation, rhythmic skill, and listening, but I have to forego beat-boxing, emotion, Latin American music and many more.

I notice that no matter what group is performing, the audience loves it. Maybe this is because of the consistent high quality, or maybe it is just that choir singers are the most supportive musicians around.

“There is so much love here,” said Jens Johansen the festival’s founding director, “I know you are going to be fine.” He has just been explaining the confusing schedule changes to festival participants on Saturday morning. The thing is, he could have told them that all their cars had been stolen from the parking lot and that probably wouldn’t have spoiled their joy.

AAVF Zap Mama cropped

AAVF is a festival where you have a chance to listen to the best of the best but also to mingle

You see, just a moment before, they filled that auditorium with a sound so beautiful; I didn’t want it to end. It was 500 voices synchronized in song and bound by the love of history’s most commanding instrument: the human voice.

“It’s the only musical instrument where you make the sound,” says Rhiannon, internationally respected singer, author and clinician. She explains in her AAVF workshop that when you sing, you create sound waves that come from within you, travel through the air and physically touch the other singers around you. This is what makes vocal ensemble singing so unique.

“We decided right from the beginning that we wanted to create a festival where singers from anywhere could have a chance to listen to the best of the best,” says AAVF producer Thue Thesbjerg, “But also to mingle together.”

We sing together and party together proving that the tradition of Danish “hygge” – camaraderie, friendship and coziness – is alive and well.

As the warm-up begins on Friday night with Line Groth and Morten Kjær, I stand amongst several hundred well-trained choir singers from all over the world. The sound of our voices fills the lobby. We blend, we breathe, we emote, we let the conductor mold us, and like the nerdy kid at school, we pour over every detail of the arrangement trying to bring the notes on the page to life.

Today in Aarhus, I am with my brothers and sisters – It feels like home.

For more info on the Aarhus Vocal Festival in Denmark, visit: http://aavf.dk/
Kathy Alexander is a writer, singer, vocal coach and choir director. She has appeared in Vision TV’s Let’s Sing Again, The Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria International Jazz Festival (main stage). You can see more of Kathy’s work here.