HomeBlogsLisa Forkish's blogLisa Forkish: On The Creation Of The Women's A Cappella Assocation

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The world of contemporary a cappella was first introduced to me when I was 16. My high school boyfriend heard about auditions for the local University's all-male group, On the Rocks and I, the supportive girlfriend I was, accompanied him to the School of Music and waited patiently in the lobby.  A few minutes in and a friend from the local summer choral program came running past: “Hi, Lisa! What are you doing here? Are you auditioning for Divisi too?” I had no idea what “Divisi” was, but I followed her to one of the classrooms where it turned out auditions were being held for the brand new all-female group. I didn't have anything prepared, so I just sang the National Anthem (probably in the key of D or Eb – I was a  low alto) and was asked to join the group on the spot. I was about to be a senior in high school (the first and only high school student to be admitted to this collegiate group – I took a yoga class at U of O to make it legit) and my life was about to change.

I spent the next four years singing with Divisi, serving as music director for the last three. We sang together at least four times a week, we challenged ourselves by doing all-female arrangements that were outside of the norm, we were best friends,  many of us lived together, we toured the country, and perhaps most signifcant, we competed in the ICCA, making it to the Finals in 2005 where history was made: our 2nd place win (some argued we were robbed of 1st place) prompted a major overhaul in Varsity Vocals' judging system, an epic RARB discussion forum thread that went on for weeks, and a few years later, a book written by GQ editor Mickey Rapkin, recently made into a smash-success feature film, Pitch Perfect (maybe you've heard of it?).

Evynne Hollens and Lisa ForkishWhen I “graduated” from Divisi in 2006 (I say this because I never actually graduated from the U of O – my whole experience there was a deferral to where my actual college career would be, at Berklee College of Music where I did receive a Bachelor's degree) I assumed my stint with the world of contemporary a cappella was over and done with. As beautiful as it was, I felt it was time to move on. After all, most folks dabble in a cappella for fun in college and then go on to their real career – most often not even in music. But, (there had to be a “but”) it turned out, I wouldn't stay away for long; in 2011, after graduating from Berklee the spring prior, I took a job as Vocal Music faculty at the Oakland School for the Arts in Oakland, CA. It was my dream job – working with budding artists, young wide-eyed singers who wanted a career in the arts, in an extraordinary Vocal Music program built by fellow Berklee alum and current chair of the department, Cava Menzies. This was not your average choral program, no siree. Though it was tough breaking in – every new teacher gets put through the ringer – I had an idea for how to gain the students’ respect and hopefully inspire a new wave of young a cappella people! You guessed it, I started a contemporary a cappella group, and in our very first year, this brand new group Vocal Rush made it to the ICHSA Finals. Sadly, all of our boys (we only had a few to begin with) could not attend the competition due to prior commitments, so myself and seven stellar young ladies worked our booties off in preparation for the ICHSA Finals. As poetry and fate and full circle and life just being beautiful would have it, my girls WON the whole competition, reigning champions as the “underdogs” from Oakland who brought just over half of their group, the mixed group turned all-female group in just one month, the students of a teacher who was robbed of her first place win in New York seven years earlier. I wept and I wept, and all around me I heard little mumblings from the event producers and staff (some who have been on since 2005) saying things like “Maybe this makes up for Divisi in 2005” or “how poetic for your students to make right what was wrong seven years ago.”  In the end, this moment wasn't about me, it was about my kids, their hard work, perseverance and passion. But the moment was just too surreal NOT to recall my time on that New York stage. And that's when I fully realized just how important this a cappella scene is to me, and also how passionate I am about women's a cappella.

Evynne Hollens – one of the founding members of Divisi – and I have been friends for over 10 years. We met pre-Divisi as we are both Eugene natives and sang together in various choirs, but our relationship was strengthened by the years in Divisi. I vividly remember a phone conversation with Evynne in the spring of 2007, one year after we both moved on from Divisi. Our conversation went from reminiscing about how formative those years were and how much we learned and grew from those experiences, to how awesome all-female a cappella can be, to how sad it is that there is so few great female groups and women in general in the contemporary a cappella world,  then finally to the idea of starting an annual festival and organization for Women's A Cappella. “An exciting idea, and a much needed movement,” we both thought! And probably every other year since then, it would come back up, we'd have a serious conversation about what it would take, and then life would get in the way. This past fall, we were determined to finally make it happen. Thus, the Women's A Cappella Association (WACA) was born and the dates and venue for our First Annual Women's A Cappella Festival were locked in: June 21-23, 2013 in Eugene, OR.

The Women's A Cappella Association's primary aims are as follows:
1.    To inspire and encourage more women to get involved in a cappella.
2.    To empower women already in a cappella to do even more: get their stuff heard, take risks, make something that's never been made before, bring any and all ideas to fruition (this means behind-the-scenes ladies too, not just performers!)
3.    To serve as a forum for ideas, questions, concerns, and all topics female-aca related.
4.    To build community: women and men coming together to support the notion of not only more women in a cappella, but also louder voices, more innovation, and a bigger support system!
5.    To educate: what makes a great all-female arrangement, why aren't their more female beat-boxers, what can we learn from all-male groups, what should we not learn from all male-groups and do in our own way, how should we market our groups to the larger market, etc.
6.    To celebrate women in a cappella.

With the launch of WACA, I have heard questions as to “why” we need an organization like this. I could answer that question in depth in a whole other blog post, but I'll keep my answer simple and to the point: the fact that some folks are asking “why do we need a Women's A Cappella Association?” is precisely why we need a Women's A Cappella Association.

About the writer:
Lisa Forkish is an Oakland-based vocalist/composer/educator and graduate of Berklee College of Music. She has been singing, producing, adjudicating and arranging for a cappella since 2002 and from '03-'06 served as music director for the University of Oregon’s award-winning female a cappella group Divisi, 2nd place winners at the 2005 ICCA Finals and featured in GQ editor Mickey Rapkin’s best-selling book “Pitch Perfect." Currently, Lisa is on Vocal Music faculty at Oakland School for the Arts where she is founder and director of the school's acclaimed a cappella group Vocal Rush, 2012 ICHSA Champions and winners of the Delta Rae a cappella video contest. Lisa's arrangements have been nominated for CARAs and performed by many groups around the country including Divisi and Vocal Rush. Lisa is giddy about returning to her all-female a cappella roots with her recently founded 5-woman group, The Riveters, as well as the Womens A Cappella Association (WACA)! Lisa can be found at www.lisaforkish.com.

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