Vocal Jazz is an elite musical ensemble here at CB led by Ms. Gaw Vang-Williams that puts in hours of work every day in order to sound as amazing as they do. It is not an easy class and these kids have to work extremely hard to keep up with the music as well as […]
Vocal Jazz is an elite musical ensemble here at CB led by Ms. Gaw Vang-Williams that puts in hours of work every day in order to sound as amazing as they do. It is not an easy class and these kids have to work extremely hard to keep up with the music as well as balance all of their other classes. The Talon had the pleasure of speaking to some of these CB students about the rigorous course of Vocal Jazz.
“There are about fifteen of us.” Eden Kolb (’17) shared.
“For the audition, you get a song to learn and then you basically just perform that and you have to scat a little bit and sight read and test your ear training,” she added.
“Scatting” is improvised jazz singing in which the voice is used in imitation of an instrument.
“Sight reading” is an exercise that consists of reading and performing (music) at sight, without preparation.
“Sometimes the teacher will play a note and you will have to sing an octave above that or she will play an interval and you will have to say what it is or something like that,” Eden explained.
As Vocal Jazz is the most elite choir on campus, it can be seen as intimidating from the outside. Juan Alba (’17) shared his fears he held before joining vocal jazz.
“I always looked up to the Vocal Jazz people because they were so good and they were always wearing their cool outfits and it was really cool seeing them perform with their little microphones it just made them seem very elite.” Juan shared. “I think I was scared that it was going to be too difficult because I always saw them as this kind of godly figure. So I definitely feared just not being good enough.”
Juan went on to say how helpful it is to know an instrument and how important it is to keep up with the music that is assigned.
“You should be able to read music and play the piano. I had to learn how to play piano over time. With all the music, Ms. Vang-Williams doesn’t give you tracks. She just gives you a sheet of music and you have to figure out every note. She is very strict about you knowing your parts so you have to go home and pluck out the notes on the piano to figure out all your parts.”
Eden explained how Vocal Jazz meets to practice every morning before school and sacrifices their late starts in order to meet the high standards they are held to.
“We practice every single day for an hour before school,” the senior shared. “And we don’t even get late starts, on Thursdays we have to get there two hours before school starts.”
Monica Thayer (’17) went into detail about what each of the practices usually consists of. The combination of warm ups and breaking off into sections to learn different parts is what is usually goes on in the choir room every morning.
“Starting out, we get in and set up the sound and everything. We set up all the equipment and chairs and get music stands,” she said. “Then we do some warm ups and ear training exercises, later on, we break off into sectionals where each group works on their own part and each group has a section leader. Then toward the end we usually come together and we work on the harmonies and how everything sounds together as a group.”
Dave Del Rosario (’17) shares that keeping up with the class definitely requires each student to pull their own weight and practice their parts for homework.
“You have to practice your part outside of school every day in order to keep up with the music.” he shared. “We practice our sight reading and music theory on a website called ‘Teoria’ where we have to complete at least 90 minutes of that each week.”
“It’s a lot more hard work than people may think. Our teacher is phenomenal, she’s one of the best directors in the country. She definitely pushes us to work.” Monica explained.
Andrea Gonzalez (’17) adds to Monica’s explanation as she shares how much their teacher, Ms. Vang-Williams, pushes them to work and be the best they can possibly be.
“If you’re not dedicated, she is not afraid to tell you what you need to work on which motivates us to work even harder because we want to impress her,” Andrea said. We have had moments and performances where we really see our full potential and realize this is what she was talking about and that inspires us to try even harder.”
Juan explains that their teacher tests the students by randomly picking individuals and having them sing the parts they are supposed to learn.
“She makes us do quartets so she picks out one person from each part and you have to sing your part correctly and try not to get distracted by another person’s part and then she gives you a grade based on how well you do,” he shared. “It’s very intense because if you don’t know your part even on one note she will be able to hear it because the chord will sound off. You’re up there singing your part by yourself so you have no help from the people around you. If you are wrong she will get so mad and you will feel really embarrassed in front of the whole class for not knowing your part.”
The songs vary in difficulty, so some take longer to learn than others.
“It depends on the difficulty of the song,” Eden says. “For easy songs, usually a few days but for the whole group to get it down with dynamic and tone and all that stuff, probably about two weeks. But for hard songs, we continue working on them all year.”
“I would say we usually learn about eight to ten songs a year.” Dave added.
The amount of harmony parts in one song is especially higher for vocal jazz groups compared to other choirs. Juan added how learning his part as well as balancing his other classes are the most challenging part of Vocal Jazz.
“The hardest part for me personally is getting my part down. Our teacher is very strict about us knowing our parts and she tells us that we need to put jazz as a priority over all of our other classes. She teaches it like a college class so the hardest part is definitely balancing your time and learning the music.”
The group shows off their skills with around 10 plus performances a year, including Open House, Hollywood Bowl, Reno Jazz Festival, Jazz dessert, Folsom Jazz Festival, and many more. The group also performs additional gigs in order to pay for our travel expenses to go to different places.
Monica shared what makes Vocal Jazz such a special environment and how the students create such a tight community.
“I love the people. I love walking in the room every morning knowing it will be a lot of fun. Our teacher bring donuts and croissants on Thursdays so that’s probably my favorite part,” she said with a laugh.
“I enjoy the performances a lot because our songs are very different from the songs performed in other choirs. We get to do a lot more modern music which is really fun to do,” Dave added.
Andrea advises others who are thinking about Vocal Jazz to definitely audition because it is an amazing experience that exposes you to so much creativity.
“Go for it! Just be prepared for a class that requires a lot of dedication because a lot of students go in thinking that it’s just a extracurricular activity but it’s not — it’s an actual class that we get a grade for,” Andrea said encouragingly. “If you love music then go for it because it is going to challenge you and don’t be afraid because it’s worth it.”
“I think you should try it and even if you don’t get in, it’s great audition experience,” Monica added. “Ms. Williams is always willing to work with you on things you need to improve on. I really encourage anyone to audition especially this upcoming year because we have a lot of seniors leaving who have been in vocal jazz for three or four years so it’s time for us to pass on the torch to a new group.”
CB’s Vocal Jazz has a great group of students who work tremendously hard and love what they do. I had the pleasure of watching part of their practice the other day and there is no doubt that they are absolutely amazing. If you are interesting in music and are thinking about audition for Vocal Jazz, go for it and explore all the amazing talent you can uncover from taking this class.