Jacqueline of All Trades: Performing at SoJam, Producing LAAF

by Kari Francis

Well, I don’t know if “all trades” is accurate, but I do know that I’ve been afforded a great many wonderful opportunities to be involved in teaching, performing and working behind-the-scenes at LAAF these past few years!
First: every LAAF I’ve attended has been a blast with regard to both short-term fun and long-term dividends. I attended the first LAAF in 2009 and came away highly impressed with not only the organization of the event but also how much I had felt I had learned in one day as well as how many connections I had made with fellow collegiate a cappella practitioners and some of my aca-idols: Deke Sharon, Bill Hare, Dave Sperandio and so many more legends who I found to be refreshingly approachable and so experienced and knowledgeable in ways that are nothing short of inspiring. 

A few months later I trekked to North Carolina for my first SoJam, which further enlivened the enthusiasm with which I returned to LAAF the following January. I was blown away by the classes and workshops–and, more importantly, how different teachers and/or lecture styles kept content fresh such that I could attend the same class as I had at a previous festival confident in the knowledge I would still take away something I hadn’t known before (the most striking example of this possibly being Benjamin Stevens’ Essential Listening–do yourself a favor and go to it!). This is perhaps owed to the nature of the a cappella art-form itself, as it seems its inherent humanity works to keep it from being stale or stagnant; this is a performance art the success of which hinges upon perpetual change and reinvention by those who practice it (which is just one of many reasons it’s so great to be involved in a cappella!).

In 2010 I was invited to co-teach the Beginning Vocal Percussion class with Ben Stevens and Jill Clark as well as to take part in a discussion panel regarding women in a cappella that would lead to the formation of my current professional group, Musae. This, needless to say, was an amazing opportunity and a real treat! As LAAF 2011 drew near, I volunteered to help with marketing and outreach and soon found myself talking to other collegiate groups about why I love LAAF–which, not surprisingly, I found to be not only fun but also infinitely rewarding when I later saw these groups at the festival being able to take part in and enjoy the very things I had described–and more!

When I attended the festival in 2011 with The Tritones, we were able to reap the benefits of masterclasses with The Backbeats and Julia Hoffman and I was again honored to share the Beginning VP stage, this time with the illustrious Courtney Jensen. This past SoJam I was lucky to not only be able to perform on the Carolina Theatre stage with Musae and Overboard while hosting the Friday night competition, but also to teach Beginning VP with reigning world female beatbox champion and one of my personal heroes, Bellatrix! Musae also returned to the “I Am Woman” discussion joined by The Boxettes and a classroom full of women (and men!) hungry for more knowledge and conversation on the topic at hand. It’s these kinds of unique experiences that keep me coming back to festivals like LAAF.

And this coming LAAF promises to deliver more than ever: a new scholastic competition for groups to test the waters of competition or try their tunes on aca-audience before ICCA season; more workshops, classes and group clinics with more instructors from a wider variety of a cappella backgrounds; more professional concerts and showcases of talent that will uplift and inspire. Whether you come out to see the inimitable Jon Pilat give a vocal percussion lecture, receive some individualized coaching for you or your group, or just be blown away by Pentatonix’ futuristic sound, LAAF has something for you that you’ll remember years down the line.

A classically trained pianist and percussionist, Kari began her contemporary a cappella journey with directing the UC San Diego Daughters of Triton and later joined the Tritones and Orange County-based CAL septet Frequency before graduating with a B.A. in Music Theory & Composition. She currently performs with the all-female powerhouse ensemble Musae, has performed in concert with Imogen Heap as part of her “Earth” collaboration project and most recently appeared on season 3 of NBC’s The Sing-Off as the vocal percussionist in the Los Angeles-based group Kinfolk 9. Kari also enjoys barbershop a bit too much, so find her and sing a tag with her. She’ll love you forever.

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