When Bay Area audiences think of Techapella, the image that comes to mind is one of a collaborative showcase featuring vocal talent from some of Silicon Valley’s most visible tech companies. Running for six years now, Techapella has brought a cappella music to the general public, highlighting a musical current in a sector that doesn’t necessarily run parallel to the performing arts. What some don’t know, however, are that these vocal groups, including Googapella (Google), The Vocal Network (Facebook), Airbnbeats (Airbnb), and a host of others, are being instructed by professional music educators at SFCM.
Techapella’s dedication to performance runs deeper than the surface-level public concerts they put on.
“For the last two years, we have sent faculty to coach a cappella groups at Bay Area tech companies in preparation for Techapella, giving techies the unique opportunity to train with expert musicians from SFCM,” says Michael Roest, associate dean and executive director of Pre-College and Adult Extension Divisions at SFCM. “In these coaching sessions, faculty work with the singers on technique, balance, tone production, musicality, and staging to take their performance to the next level.”
This sort of training is exactly the sort of instruction that benefits the Adult Extension Division’s enrolled students. Working with the faculty in prepping for Techapella offers a glimpse into music education as an adult student.
“The groups got a real taste of what kinds of opportunities are available through the Adult Extension Division at SFCM,” he adds.
Techapella President and Googapella member Lindsay Alford found the coaching sessions prior to the performance dates to be especially eye opening.
“The coaching sessions were individual and expertly tailored to the needs of each group, whether the focus was exercises in blend, tempo, or even stage presence,” she remarks. “Not only were the coaches able to support the groups musically, they are all true mentors, gracefully balancing areas for improvement with unconditional support and enthusiasm.”
The coachings also presented a unique opportunity and environment for SFCM’s Adult Extension faculty. Sessions tooks place outside of SFCM, oftentimes near or at the workplaces of the participating a cappella groups.
“Walking into the rehearsal room for Googapella, I didn't know what to expect,” says Heidi Moss, a member of SFCM’s Adult Extension faculty and a Techapella coach. “I had taught private voice at Google for two years and knew that there was a lot of hidden talent, but to say I was overwhelmed by their skills would be an understatement: they were a well-oiled machine. My role was solely positivity and polish at that point. As the objective ear, I was able to help them refine some pitch and balance issues. Although the choreography was minimal, some simple 'diva' pointers were icing on the cake: Be energetic and focused. Moves need to be deliberate. When the soloist is singing, eyes on her (no wandering gazes). It gave an extra dose of frosting on an already well-baked performance.”
Alford feels that, even though Googapella had a good foundation, the coaching sessions put it over the top for all the groups.
“Coaching for confidence was just as important as coaching for technique, and each of the SFCM vocal coaches were true champions,” she says. “Each of our performing groups raved about their experience working with a coach because they could not only hear the difference, but they could feel it, and they were able to take those learnings onto the stage with them."
Moss, taking stock of this experience, notes that Techapella holds an untapped potential, a path forward for the performing arts that can attract a whole new audience to live—perhaps classical—performances.
“At the performance, the house was packed, and I had never seen the concert hall so energized for this type of event. We could all use a dose of Techapella in our lives.”