Perspectives: SoJam A Cappella Festival 2018

We asked the Executive Producer of SoJam, a SoJam Instructor, and a Competitor about their experience at SoJam A Cappella Festival this year. Read on to see how the Brooks Jordan works his backstage magic, Alexis Paxton prepares her classes, and CMU Originals gear up for the big Friday night competition.

The Competitor: CMU Originals


A great start to a new year

The last time the Originals attended SoJam was in the Fall of 2016, and it was amazing to come back with a new group, half of which had never been to SoJam before! We had a great experience in the scholastic competition, and were proud of what we put on the stage!  On Saturday, we got to have an inspiring and informative masterclass with Transit (who was phenomenal in Saturday's show!). It was helpful to get advice from a small, four person group that has such a different set of experiences and ideas about a cappella than we do as a thirteen person group. Our members all explored different classes and garnered a wealth of information that we are truly excited to take back and apply to our art! We have lots of big plans and hopes for this year and it was great to use SoJam as a springboard to move forward for the rest of the year!

The Instructor: Alexis Paxton

Why did you apply to teach?

I’m currently a choir director at Louisville Male Traditional High School in Louisville, KY. I direct five choirs, along with Bulldog Beats, our a cappella group. I founded and began directing the University of Louisville Cardinal Rule a cappella ensemble in 2014, and through them, we found SoJam. We attended as a group for the first time last year and I was blown away by the energy and positive support that everyone had for everyone else. I enjoyed attending the different workshops and concerts, but noticed that in terms of “how” to actually get things accomplished in rehearsal, there were people asking questions, but not many answers given. This is one of the few ways I feel like I can give back to the a cappella community - with my background in choral music education, I’ve been able to craft many of the same rehearsal strategies for my classical choirs as my a cappella groups. Applying to teach seemed like an opportunity to share some of my ideas to help others this time! As a vocal music director, I’m always looking for opportunities to grow and learn. This year, I received the honor of being selected to present at SoJam A Cappella Festival i. I had never served as a presenter at an a cappella festival before, so I was excited to hear I had been chosen to teach a session. I also got added to the Music Director Panel for the round table session for directors, and I absolutely loved getting to meet so many wonderful people and share ideas with them.


classes and panels

My presentation was entitled “Rehearsal Strategies Galore!” because the education director had recommended making sure the title informed everyone what the session would include. I brainstormed for weeks and ultimately organized my thoughts by common problems groups find in rehearsal & ways to help improve those issues. I walked into the session room expecting to see about ten other choir directors, who would nod politely and learn nothing new from me...but to my delight and surprise, the room filled up with people! Many of them were current students who sing and direct their own high school or college groups - I hadn’t realized how many brave people take that on! Everyone was very open to my ideas, and I think the session went well because as I would describe an issue, everyone would nod and agree - we’ve all had THAT one person who did that!, etc. The laughter confirmed our commiseration in some cases. The afternoon director panel was also enjoyable, because the panel and I were able to go face-to-face with specific questions from other directors. We shared our experiences, offered suggestions, and learned more about how other groups manage themselves. The overriding premise was exchanging helpful suggestions, getting advice from others, and learning how we can all improve by sharing with each other. It was eye-opening to me, to learn how other groups function and manage themselves. I was fascinated by the differences between high school, college, and professional groups, and the different approaches they take to achieve the same musical goals. In addition to the presentation and panel, I was able to see the other side as a group clinician, with master musician David Fowler. He mentored me through the clinic, and I took away some wonderful strategies, should I ever receive the chance to clinic again.


Engagement and Community

SoJam provided a refreshing, inspiring mid-semester pick-me-up. The Friday night Scholastic Competition groups gave me new ideas, raised my standards, and solidified my belief that a cappella music should be in every school in the country. Saturday’s events were all about communication - students talking to students, professionals networking, directors helping each other, and everyone growing and encouraging one another. The a cappella community is supportive, accepting, and expressive - everything that I believe music is. SoJam has become the perfect outlet for that community, and I was honored to be a part of that, too.

The Executive Producer: Brooks Jordan

What does an executive producer do?


Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of your favorite a cappella festival? The planning process begins by the Executive Producer (EP) figuring out what positions will be needed on the production team to help break up the giant task of planning a whole festival into smaller more manageable roles. These tasks range from finding a competition coordinator to pick competition themes, guidelines and create schedule for those deadlines all the way to volunteers that help the headliners get around during the festival. Before getting involved I always thought that there was no way a college kid like myself could help out an incredible production team like the one for SoJam or LAAF or BOSS. Since joining the team I've seen that new volunteers and people that want to help out in anyway are essential to every team.


Once the roles have been assigned to the incredible people that volunteer each year, then the weekly meetings begin! These meetings start about 6 months out from the festival. Each week the team meets and talks about action items, deadlines, and decisions that are coming up that slowly shape out the exact details of the festival. The decisions can seem daunting but the biggest step in planning big events is to just start making decisions as best as you can and then seeing how they pan out year after year and adjusting. Some of the most loved aspects of each festival start as a "what if" posed by one of the team members. Its the incredible talent and dedication of each team member that makes all the details fall into place so that we can properly communicate them to the attendees.


After all the planning is done, then the final adventure of watching the festival unfold begins! The most important task for the weekend of is to be flexible and communicate effectively so we can respond to any need that arises as a team. The time during the festival is its own magical witching hour where time seems to be going three times as fast but yet also not moving at all. After all the planning and running around the production team does during the weekend, I can safely say that the after parties are not just for the attendees!

If you're interested in joining the production team of any festival, my biggest suggestion would be to reach out to any of the production teams and ask to get involved. I got my start on the production teams for CASA festivals by just asking if they needed any extra hands with anything at all. Over the years I've bounced between different roles on the teams and always worked hard to do my part to the best of my abilities. Eventually that hard work was recognized and I was asked to be the Executive Producer of SoJam (don't let anyone ever tell ya hard work doesn't pay off)! If you have a love for a cappella and are looking for different ways to include it in your professional life, then think about volunteering for the CASA production teams in the future and see the administration side of it all. The CASA festivals are always looking for new volunteers that can help us give back to the a cappella community in the best ways possible and help bring new ideas and professional connections to people of all ages. 

Mel Daneke