All Vocals, All Night

by Jennifer Crain for OLY ARTS

On March 18, the human voice takes center stage at the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival. This popular event brings the vocal acrobatics and stage flair of the a cappella scene to the public in a high-energy sing-off. By the end of the evening, one group will be selected to compete at the national competition in May. It’s one of eight regional contests around the U.S. For more than two decades, Masterworks Choral Ensemble has hosted the Pacific Northwest small ensemble competition at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. “It’s an event that celebrates the voice, and we’re a choral organization so there’s a complete synergy,” says Gary Witley, the group’s conductor. “I come away inspired and impressed by the high level of vocal quality.”

Each of the seven competing ensembles, chosen by Masterworks based on an audio application, will perform a 10-minute set. Singing without instrumental accompaniment is an exposed way to take the stage. Groups rely only on each other for tuning and timing, so they have to develop mutual trust and a collective ear—and they have to be electric on stage. The participating groups, composed of three to eight members each, will be ranked on musicality and stage presentation by a panel of five judges. Awards will be given for first, second and third place, audience favorite, best original song and best original arrangement.

Last year’s regional champion, Restless Vocal Band, will host this year’s event. The seven-member Seattle pop-vocal ensemble performs fully choreographed covers from Bill Withers to Bruno Mars, The Temptations to Taylor Swift, highlighting their vocal, harmonic and percussive agility.

Glee-like vocal-pop groups are popular in the Pacific Northwest, Witley says, but pop isn’t the only style of music represented at the competition. The roster of national winners includes barbershop, gospel and jazz ensembles as well as men’s, women’s and mixed-group pop. Historically, the Northwest has made a good showing at the nationals, with five winners from our region since the competition was founded in 1985. The most recent, Straighter Road, took the crown in 2015.

What: Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18

How much: $13-$29

Learn more: 360-753-8586 | Washington Center