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SoCal VoCals History to 2011

SoCal VoCals History to 2011

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Published by BrockHarris
History of the USC SoCal VoCals 1995-2011, created for the 15th anniversary event.
History of the USC SoCal VoCals 1995-2011, created for the 15th anniversary event.

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Published by: BrockHarris on Feb 27, 2011
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VoCal History from Nov. 1995 to Feb. 2006By Matt MacPhail, Ann Lyles MacPhail and Lisa TownsendEdited by Ann Lyles MacPhailFall 1995-Spring 1996
While some East Coast schools had more than ten a cappella groups in1995, singing anything from barbershop to vocal jazz, a cappella musicwas not as widely known or as popular on the West Coast. Here at USC,there had not been a singing group dedicated to college a cappellamusic in recent memory. That all changed in November 1995 whenSoCal VoCals group founder and former musical director Brock Harrisposted a simple flyer around the USC campus looking for singers tostart a new mixed a cappella group at USC. Expecting only a handful of responses, Brock was somewhat overwhelmed when his phone rangcontinuously for several days with over 80 phone calls from peopleinterested in joining USC's new a cappella group.Needless to say, it was going to be necessary to hold auditions. To holdauditions and get the group started, Brock accepted help from AudraLevi and an experienced a cappella guru and USC Film Scoring studentnamed Gabe Rutman.  Brock, Gabe and Audra had a two-hour lunch atUpstairs Commons to make a plan.  They decided to fashion auditionsafter the Georgia Music Educator’s Association auditions that Audrahad been through every year.  They included tonal memory, scales,and singing a rock song a cappella.  Gabe said he didn’t have time tobe a member of the group, but agreed to provide a few arrangementsand serve in an advisory role, teaching cutting-edge techniques likevocal percussion.  Only a handful of college groups were trying vocalpercussion at the time, and no one on the West Coast used it regularly.In January 1996, ads were placed in the
Daily Trojan
campusnewspaper advertising tryouts. More than 60 people auditioned for theeighteen initial spots in the group.The group rehearsed for the first time on February 11, 1996 in aclassroom at VKC.  Rehearsals were held on Sunday and Wednesdaynights, and they soon moved to the living room of Marks Hall.  Over thefirst few weeks, Brock Harris explained his vision to the new members.They were not going to be just like other a cappella groups…theywould be a
rock 
a cappella group.  The fact that many members hadno a cappella experience was going to be an asset because there werefewer preconceived notions about what an a cappella group wassupposed to be.  While its size finally settled at 14 members (6 men, 8women) for the duration of the semester, the group still had no name.Indeed, some of the group's earliest arrangements bear witness to this
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fact: the sheet music for Blondie's "The Tide Is High," the VoCals' firstcommissioned arrangement by Gabe Rutman, simply notes that it waswritten for "The USC ________," with a blank where the name wassupposed to be.The founding SoCal VoCals were: Brock Harris, Audra Levi, StacyBurcham, Katie Bush, Trudy Davies, Nne Ebong, Jamie Fougerousse,Matt Green, Julianne Hanson, Vince Johnson, Ann Lyles, Matt MacPhail,Kelda Nelson, and Wayne “Gib” Wallis.  A few others attended the firstrehearsal, but decided not to continue.The group spent a considerable amount of time over several rehearsalstrying to come up with a name that was unique but also clearlyassociated with both music and USC. After going around and aroundabout possible names, it was Nne Ebong who blurted out, "how aboutthe SoCal VoCals?" After a few groans and laughs, the rhyming name(the "a" in "VoCals" is a short vowel, like the "a" in "SoCal") wasoverwhelmingly approved by the group's members, and the SoCalVoCals were born.  Incidentally, rejected names included “The US-C-Notes”, “Trojan Hoarse” and “Brock Doggy Dog”.After about a month and a half of rehearsals to build up theirrepertoire, the VoCals made theirfirst public performanceon March 22,1996 in front of Tommy Trojan on the campus of USC. Their five-songset included
The Tide Is High,
 
Loch Lomond, Come On Eileen, Only You
and
Come Go With Me.
Arrangements were hard to come by at thetime, and despite the VoCals' determination to be a rock a cappellagroup, they sang any good arrangement they could get their hands on.Within a year, their repertoire expanded to over fifteen "feature"pieces, plus a wide assortment of seasonal and other audience-specificmusic.About the same time as their first performance, the VoCals decidedthey needed a logo. After several weeks of discussions between BrockHarris, Matt Green and Matt MacPhail, and over 20 differentrenderings, the group's current logo was finally agreed upon. The logohas grown to become the group's "corporate identity."A group motto emerged as each new arrangement was learned: “This,too, shall rock”.  Matt Green took it upon himself to loosely translatethe phrase into Latin so it sounded more official: “Hoc Etiam Petrabit”.Of course, he had to improvise by inventing a future tense for the verb“to rock,” which wasn’t a common expression among ancient Romans.On a flyer advertising a VoCals concert, Brock included the phrase,"This ain't no choir, babe".  He explained that friends frequently askedif he was headed to "choir practice" or inquired how things were goingwith "the choir".  He felt it necessary to point out that this wasn't a
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typical choir.  Who knew that phrase would stick around long enoughto wind up on an album and tour jackets?By April, the VoCals were ready to hit the street, making their first non-USC performance at Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. The thrillof performing for small audiences in the bustling environment of SantaMonica's shopping district has made Third Street a favorite VoCals gig,and the group continued to perform there periodically over the nextfew years.The VoCals made their final USC appearance of the 1996 school yearwith a performance at USC's Ground Zero Coffeehouse on April 28th.The following weekend, the VoCals traveled to Pomona College for thefirst time to sing withThe Claremont Shades,the VoCals' mixed acappella counterparts from the five Claremont colleges.  Gabe Rutmansat in with the VoCals that night, providing inspiring percussion for thewhole set.  In what was widely agreed to be the VoCals greatestperformance to date, the group closed out its first semester togetherby becoming part of the greatest tradition of college a cappella:performing at other schools. Over the next few years, the Shades andthe VoCals became good friends, singing with each other on a numberof occasions.
Fall 1996-Spring 1997
August 1996 marked the beginning of the SoCal VoCals' first full schoolyear together as a group. The eight remaining members from thegroup's inaugural year held auditions for new members in earlySeptember. Over 80 people auditioned and the VoCals agonized overthe abundance of amazing singers (especially women) who couldn’tpossibly fit into one a cappella group.  They decided that maybesomeday, a women’s a cappella group should form at USC.With 8 returning veterans, the VoCals decided to accept 12 newmembers, making it easier to cover 6-part arrangements plus vocalpercussion.  The larger group also compensated for the fact that notevery person could make every gig.  In order of audition, the newmembers were: April Jones, Hylon John Heaton IV, Christopher RobinHebert, Geoff Leung, David Higgins, Christina deMille, Sarah Hagstrom,Amy Throckmorton, Eleni Gianulis, Michael Villegas, ChristopherWilliams and Adrian Staton.  With such a large group, there were fewtimes available for rehearsal.  Sunday evenings still worked, but theVoCals were forced to rehearse Wednesdays from 10pm to midnight,for lack of any better option.  The VoCals continued to meet in theliving room of Marks Hall.After rehearsing several weeks with the group, but never performing ina concert, bass Chris Williams decided he didn’t have time to continue
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