UA Students Learn from World Renowned Vocal Ensemble


Image via Andrew Paa

A member of VOCES8 coaches the students on stage at Guzzetta Hall.

By Isabella Anderson, Special to The Buchtelite

Have you ever had a fantastic educational experience when you least expected it? 

“Being able to work with VOCES8 felt surreal,” Music B.A., Kaitlyn Gaughan, said. “These are musicians who have been role models to many singers, conductors, and choral ensembles all over the world… for them to come to Akron, Ohio, having this fun energy and laughing with us, working with us, was something I never saw coming.” 

For Gaughan, it was truly that sort of fantastic experience. 

Monday, Oct. 18, The University of Akron School of Music welcomed the globally renowned choral group, VOCES8, to offer the university’s choral ensembles a workshop masterclass. 

VOCES8 and students in Guzzetta Hall.
(Image via Andrew Paa)

To open the experience, CEO of the VOCES8 Foundation, Paul Smith told the story of VOCES8 and how the group became popular worldwide. 

VOCES8 originally began as a group of friends who sang together for the holidays. After singing together for a while, they entered and won an a cappella competition in Italy. 

That achievement pushed the group to become more professional and selective in their repertoire, planting the seeds to what would grow into one of the most elite choral ensembles in the world. 

VOCES8 currently tours globally and performs about 110 concerts every year. With their international platform, VOCES8 has chosen to inspire singers through performances, as well as through their educational programs, choral scholarships, summer school, and London music education hub. 

Listening to their presentations at The University of Akron, it was clear that VOCES8 are passionate advocates for music education. 

“It is absolutely vital for every child to have music education, and I believe it is essential that every school understands that and understands that it is not just a concept that needs to be believed but one that needs to be delivered,” Smith said. 

According to Smith, the group perceives the three main problems in music education tend to be lack of time in the curriculum, lack of funding, and fear. 

“We spend our time trying to tackle those three issues,” he said. 

VOCES8 themselves were lucky to have great music educators, explained Artistic Director and member Barnaby Smith. He said that he learns more thinking as a music educator, and his favorite part of working with students is learning from them. 

The artists demonstrated this commitment to education by making their masterclass available to all music students, as well as visiting high school students who participated in Zips to UA Music Day, an annual event at the university held for students who are interested in furthering their studies in music education or music. 

“VOCES8 is not only a group of extremely talented vocalists and musicians, but also a wonderful group of educators,” senior music education major, Lauren Eckersley said. 

Not a vocalist by nature, Eckersley was nervous to be working with the well-known choral group, but felt they did a wonderful job relating to the students. 

“They showed a true passion for music education and sharing their knowledge with others,” she said. “I learned so much from the experience and can’t wait to pass on the knowledge to my students one day.” 

Throughout the question-and-answer portion of the masterclass, VOCES8 discussed their travels, hobbies and what it is like being traveling musicians, as well as providing helpful tips on vocal health. 

Soprano Andrea Haines said in addition to eating healthy and exercising, because the body is a singer’s instrument, hydration is also key. Haines also pointed out that a benefit of wearing masks during COVID-19 is the recycling of humidity, which can keep the vocal folds hydrated. 

After the Q&A, the artists offered a performance workshop. VOCES8 shared their warm-up routines that focused on rhythm, tempo, canons, and leadership. 

Leadership is crucial in singing ensembles. In UA’s choral program, an important saying is that there are the same number of leaders in the room as there are singers. That was reinforced during the performance workshop and later, at the VOCES8 performance at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. 

“They really showed us what we’re capable of and did so with ease,” Jennifer Jesser, Chamber and Concert Choir alto, said. 

“The way they guided us to create sounds we’d never made before as a choir with simple descriptions, incredible demonstrations, and unique gestures – I didn’t realize just how much I could learn from a gesture,” she said. 

VOCES8 was comfortable and highlighted their fun side while teaching and providing helpful feedback to the ensembles. They showed their unique personalities throughout the rehearsal as they demonstrated different sounds and how they related to the goal of the music. 

The vocal ensemble encouraged University of Akron students as they were preparing for their first live performance since COVID-19. 

“Having UA Choirs hear VOCES8 not only gave them perspective of sound and excellence but renewed a sense of joy in singing that I think COVID might have dimmed,” director of choral studies at The University of Akron, Dr. Marie Bucoy-Calavan, said. “I know they also reinvigorated me and ignited a fire for us to rebuild the choral program after the onset of the pandemic.” 

According to attendees, VOCES8 carried a positive, welcoming feeling that reminded students that they are more than a famous group of people, they are genuine human beings who are passionate about what they do, why they do it, and enjoy everyday activities like cooking, running, and going to the pub. 

The VOCES8 singers provided feedback and helpful information that University of Akron Choirs will go on to use in their rehearsals moving forward. Then they welcomed the student singers to what would be their first in-person appearance since COVID-19 the following day. 

As a student choral singer at The University of Akron, this reporter was deeply impacted by the experience. 

Being able to perform with VOCES8 as my first live performance in almost two years, with my former high school in the audience, was an overwhelming feeling. It felt like a milestone. I had gone from a teenager starting out to an adult performing with some of the world’s top singers. 

My emotions were flying the moment our piece ended, and we immediately received a standing ovation. 

I never realized the depth of loss I felt when not performing until I was able perform in front of a live audience again. 

Many thanks to Dr. Bucoy-Calavan, The School of Music, and VOCES8 for that feeling of fulfillment.