The historic Hollywood Bowl is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has played host to the likes of Kristin Chenoweth and Yo-Yo Ma. The SoCal VoCals will be performing on the same stage this Sunday. This comes as no surprise, as hundreds of students packed Bovard Auditorium Monday night for the annual All Hail A Capella festival, which featured seven major a capella groups on campus. For the rest of the week, aca-hopefuls packed the hallways of the Raubenheimer Music Building, practicing scales to try and earn their place on stage. Interest was so high that many groups extended their auditions an extra day, carrying over until late Thursday night.
The SoCal VoCals, who hosted Monday’s concert, had a particularly busy week. In addition to All Hail and auditions, the group is slated to perform this weekend at ABBA Fest, the annual tribute to the iconic Swedish pop group that will take place at the Hollywood Bowl this Sunday, Sept. 8. The VoCals will be going head to head in a sing-off with “The Scattertones” and “SoundCheck,” a cappella groups from UCLA and Chapman University, respectively.
“We really had to hit the ground running,” said Richard Mattox, a junior narrative studies major and president of the SoCal VoCals. “We only had two weeks since the start of school to really put this together.”
Founded in 1996, the SoCal VoCals are USC’s oldest a cappella group. They give regular concerts at USC and perform at gigs and competitions in Los Angeles and around the country. The VoCals currently have 13 singers — five female and eight male — after three members graduated last year. Those spaces will soon be filled after the conclusion of auditions this week. Myles Nuzzi, a sophomore majoring in jazz studies and a member of the VoCals said filling the vacancies is no simple task.
“When we do auditions, we don’t say, ‘Oh, we just need three people’,” Nuzzi said. “[But] if you’re talented, we’ll take you.”
For ABBA Fest, the VoCals will be performing their own arrangements of ABBA hits “Does Your Mother Know” and “Voulez-Vous.” The process of song selection is democratic: The group meets to pitch song ideas and vote on selections. Every member helps out with arranging the music, but more experienced members typically take on a greater share of the work. The arrangements for both of the songs for ABBA Fest were done by Nathan Fertig, a junior majoring in popular music and a member of the VoCals.
“Since the audience is going to be full of huge ABBA fans, we felt like we could take a little more liberty in choosing slightly lesser known songs, compared to ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘Mamma Mia,’” Mattox said. “The arrangements we have are truly amazing.”
The a capella sing-off, which is a new addition to ABBA Fest, will take place during the first half of the show, after which a tribute band from Sweden will play a selection of ABBA’s greatest hits.
Requests for gigs such as this are not new to the VoCals, who performed in places such as Miami and Las Vegas last year.
“A lot of times, people will fly us out and put us up places for gigs, even if they don’t pay us,” Nuzzi said. “Last year we went to Vegas for 24 hours, and we got put up at the Bellagio, you know, little spur-of-the-moment things like that.”
Still, an invitation to perform at the Hollywood Bowl doesn’t come every day.
“The invitation was just an out-of-the-blue email request,” said Mattox. “When we saw it we were like, ‘Wow, of course we want to do this.’”
Understandably, with the long hours of rehearsing together, the VoCals are a very tight-knit group.
“We’re like a family, we like to have fun,” Nuzzi said.
The VoCals will be working hard for the next few days to prepare for their big performance but are excited for this huge opportunity.
“It’s easy for us to take things for granted sometimes,” said Mattox. “But we’re probably never going to be able to perform at the Hollywood Bowl again, and it’s something not a lot of people get to do, so we’re still trying to take it all in.”
Tickets for the show are available online at hollywoodbowl.com.