Wanna get the inside scoop on LAAF 2012? Now you can: each week, we’ll feature a different member of the LAAF production team. Producers will share their a cappella backgrounds, favorite LAAF memories, and of course what they’re most looking forward to at this year’s festival. Check back every Wednesday for a new profile!
1. Tell us about your background in a cappella.
I’ve loved a cappella since high school, when an enlightened choir director played for us The Real Group, Take 6, and The King’s Singers; a highlight for me was The King’s Singers Good Vibrations, esp. the title track and “MLK”. Still in high school I explored a bit further thanks to a friend whose older brother was in Stanford Mixed Company (I memorized their album Unanimous): we listened to The Bobs (My, I’m Large, singing along esp. to “You Really Got a Hold on Me”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Banana Love”) and, later, The House Jacks (Naked Noise, a personal favorite). We gloried in the live sound produced by a group out of CU-Boulder, In the Buff.
At Reed College, I discovered the rec.music.a-cappella newsgroup and, through it, fellow a cappella fans at my school as well as RARB, which I joined as a reviewer in 1997. (I reviewed through 2003, when I took over as coordinator.) In college I performed as part of a group called The Seven Deadly Sins: we had two songs, Sweet Dreams (whose arrangement I lifted from In the Buffs’, supplying wailing falsetto) and And So it Goes (an arrangement we purchased; I sang the baritone lead).
At the University of Chicago, in 1998 I joined a group called Harmony 8 (now Ransom Notes); as part of my audition, I was asked whether I could do vocal percussion–I could, although in doing so I knocked over a music stand. Just before my first performance, I had cut my hand: not badly, but enough, and all throughout the concert I spat _and_ dripped blood. I appear on the 1999 recording Nine, exclusively as a percussionist; and on the somewhat later recording Most Dangerous Game. I also appear on the first Ransom Notes album, Harmony X.
After a change of scene from Chicago to Boulder, CO, in 2003, I joined a group at CU-Boulder called Extreme Measures as percussionist and tenor. Since leaving Extreme Measures in 2004, I’ve helped to found and direct a student group at Bard College, the Orcapelicans. Most of my a cappella time goes to leading workshops, including vocal percussion, and designing curricula for CASA’s festivals (BOSS, VCN, SoJam, and of course LAAF).
2. How did you first get involved with LAAF?
First involved as a workshop leader and masterclinician (2010, I think), I started designing the curriculum in 2011. I’m now in my second year of designing the curriculum.
3. What is your favorite LAAF memory?
Three memories. One, at the end of a long, workshop-filled Saturday, walking out of Royce Hall onto the quad, which was bathed in the sweetest, most honey-colored light of evening, and thinking, “Tomorrow I have to go back to the frozen wastes of New York State?! … Tomorrow. Tomorrow.” Two, just after midnight, escaping from the after-party for pizza, first, and then–at the urging of a certain other Ben–Diddy Riese for fresh-baked ice-cream cookie sandwiches. The food, the camaraderie, the lovely climate … And three, masterclasses in which groups, as well as masterclinicians, are moved to tears by discovering just how wonderful their music can be.
4. What are you most looking forward to at LAAF 2012?
See 3, above.
Benjamin Stevens is CASA educational officer for events and festivals. He also coordinates the Recorded A Cappella Review Board and judges international a cappella contests and awards. Since 2004 he has been Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Bard College, where he contributes to the Cognitive Science program, First-Year Seminar, the Language and Thinking program, and the Bard Prison Initiative. He has published on Latin poetry (including Lucretius and Ovid), sensorial anthropology, linguistics, comics, and philosophy of mind, and maintains additional research and teaching interests in the Classical tradition, science fiction, and the graphic novel.