Nicole Cocuzza took her auditorium seat, somewhat breathlessly, after having just taken a solo in the Chamber Singers’ rendition of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” – and then having their performance coached by The Real Group, the renowned vocal group from Sweden.
She called the experience “really surreal.”
“I never thought we would have such a great opportunity, where we get actual professionals that we know and we all love their music, to come in and just give their opinions,” said Nicole, a soprano. “Everybody wants a good adjudication. I feel they know exactly what they’re talking about when it comes to our pieces.”
All 275 members of Rockford High School’s choir program, along with many instrumental students, had the opportunity to learn from one of the world’s leading a cappella groups, thanks to a grant from the Rockford Education Foundation. The foundation awarded a $25,000 Founders’ Grant to the school’s choral and instrumental programs in 2015, to bring in world-class musicians to perform and offer master classes.
The grant last year funded a concert and class by Rich and Brandon Ridenour. This year it pulled in The Real Group, a jazz and pop ensemble founded in 1984. They brought their experience of more than 2,000 concerts, 20-plus albums and exquisite vocal gifts to Rockford for a nearly two-hour master class and a public concert.
The master class was a major learning opportunity for ensembles led by choral director Mandy Mikita Scott and husband Jed, director of the Rockford Aces male ensemble.
“My goal and dream as a teacher is to expose my students to the very best that we can offer musically in the world,” Jed Scott said. “I’m really lucky the Rockford Education Foundation thought the same way and enabled us to do that.”
For his students, he said, “I hope they get an idea of the possible — that they can see how far they can achieve if they work hard and follow their passion.”
A ‘Super-Cool’ Experience
The class gave students a chance to fire questions at the group’s five members, such as how they got started. Anders Edenroth, the sole founding member, said they started singing “just for fun” at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.
“We did it because it was the easiest,” Edenroth joked. “You didn’t have to carry any instruments.”
They also named some musicians they would like to collaborate with, including Alison Krauss and Stevie Wonder as well as Bobby McFerrin, whom they have cited as a major influence. The names drew loud applause from students, many of whom clearly knew well The Real Group’s repertoire.
But the high points were when group members worked onstage with the Chamber Singers and the Rockford Aces to help polish their techniques such as breath control, phrasing and close listening.
They had the Chamber Singers’ altos face the rest of the group while all sang with closed eyes, to better appreciate how parts helped form the whole. “Did you hear the altos?” Morten Vinther asked the other sections. “Have you ever heard the altos?” he added, to laughter.
“The real instrument is up here, because we have to listen to each other,” said Real Group member Emma Nilsdotter, pointing to her head.
The Aces got pointers on performing one of The Real Group’s own numbers, “Big Bad World.” Vinther had them form a circle to get their bodies more fully into the shuffling rhythm, and Edenroth urged them to pronounce “world” more distinctly. “Take it, grab it,” he said. “Give it the energy it needs.”
Then they treated the students to a performance of a Christmas song, stunning in its interweaving vocal lines and subtle rhythms. Students listened raptly, with nary a murmur. (Readers can hear that performance, along with the Chamber Singers and Rockford Aces, in the video below.)
Aces member Bradley Sinclair was awed by the opportunity to work with such accomplished professionals.
“They’re like the best a cappella group in the world,” Bradley said. “Being able to share a stage with them and be taught by them is a super-cool experience.”