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RARB/CASA Forums • View topic - A Cappella Innovations

A Cappella Innovations

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A Cappella Innovations

Postby Innovations Participants » Sat Apr 05, 2008 11:25 pm

I am a member of a collegiate a cappella group. We’re in Albany, at A Cappella Innovations. This is the second semester that this festival has been held. Before you read the rest of our post, we’d like you to read the following articles:





Keith Raniere, who you’ve just read about, founded A Cappella Innovations last year. When we attended the first festival in the fall of 2007, it was a productive experience, which is why we decided to return this spring after being invited back. We immediately noticed several changes in format:

- A program with extensive references to Keith Raniere’s “patent-pending technology”, Rational Inquiry. The connection between this endeavor and a cappella music was not established.
- Numerous insistent requests for our personal information, including e-mail and home addresses, as well as Social Security numbers.
- Questionnaires encouraging us to consider the “Emotional Journeys” of each of our songs, rather than musical sections on which we wanted criticism.
- Workshops being moderated by employees of Mr. Raniere with tenuous ties to a cappella music. While the a cappella groups gave each other constructive, musically-oriented criticism, the moderators repeatedly attempted to steer our conversations to more existential topics, confusing some of us and unnerving others.
- Constant surveillance, including intrusive photography and video recording, even during ‘down time’, when we and the other groups present were simply talking between ourselves.
- An after-party sponsored by Mr. Raniere and promoting an entirely unrelated “social network” fronted by Allison Mack and Nicki Clyne, actresses who also have no clear ties to a cappella music.

The entire atmosphere was drastically different than that of the first festival, and our group, as well as every other group with which we discussed these concerns, feels very unsettled. Mr. Raniere and members of the a cappella group he founded, Simply Human, have posted on this board in the past. We welcome their response to this post, considering the numerous questions that remain unanswered. Events that celebrate a cappella music should obviously be encouraged, but we feel that the motives of Mr. Raniere and his constituents were not and have not been candidly presented. Our only reason for presenting this information is to encourage other a cappella groups to think about the intentions of this organization before committing themselves to something they may not be prepared for.
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Postby billhare » Sun Apr 06, 2008 12:36 pm

This is weird... radio silence since this was posted late last night - anyone else there who can confirm this? Dave? Ben? Kurt? Let us know what's going on there!

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments.

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Postby AMalkoff » Sun Apr 06, 2008 1:48 pm

this whole thing leaves a VERY bad taste in my mouth. any one of the things that the poster mentioned should raise red flags, let alone all of them together. i understand that an organization with pockets deep enough to hire some of the best groups around is alluring (especially when most events like this are run on a shoestring), but we should think very carefully about getting collectively and individually involved in something like this.

i haven't been to these events, but doing the reading sure does make this man and his organization seem insidious, if not outright dangerous (at least one person's suicide has now been attributed to them).

i spoke to a knowledgeable friend earlier about this and he'd read something elsewhere about how this organization has been known to silence and/or trail individuals who questioned them. i'm not really concerned for myself, but i do think this is worth taking a MUCH closer look at, and not ignoring the red flags because they seem to be supportive of a cappella, and they have financial backing.

if you don't want to bother reading the articles (which you really should), here's an interesting distillation from the forbes article:

John Hochman, a forensic psychiatrist who teaches at UCLA, who pored over the Executive Success manual and describes it thusly: "It is a kingdom of sorts, ruled by a Vanguard, who writes his own dictionary of the English language, has his own moral code and the ability to generate taxes on subjects by having them participate in his seminars. It is a kingdom with no physical borders, but with psychological borders--influencing how his subjects spend their time, socialize, and think."
Amy Malkoff
Now: All About Buford - www.allaboutbuford.com | ICCA Judge | CASA Board of Directors + Director of Web Content | www.amymalkoff.com/harmony
Then: Deadline Poet | Kenyon College's Owl Creek Singers
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Postby dherriges » Sun Apr 06, 2008 4:20 pm

After the extensive discussion here about these issues before the first summit occurred, I can't say I'm surprised by this turn of events. Don't want to say it's an "I told you so" vindication for the people who were skeptical the first time around... the fact is, wacko cult involvement or not, the first A Cappella Innovations sounds like it was a very positive experience for those who attended. But this now all seems very typical of a cult-like organization or scam - appear completely innocuous just long enough to hook people, then show your true colors.

At least it sounds like everybody attending the summit this time is on to what's going on, and they're talking to each other about it, so hopefully nobody gets caught up in something they shouldn't.
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Postby sparkleytone » Sun Apr 06, 2008 4:37 pm

I think we can all wait until the festivities are over and groups have returned to start passing judgements. Until then, let's take this with as big a grain of salt as anyone else who creates an account to post something controversial.
Brent Stephens, BAMF
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Postby AMalkoff » Sun Apr 06, 2008 5:05 pm

Amy Malkoff
Now: All About Buford - www.allaboutbuford.com | ICCA Judge | CASA Board of Directors + Director of Web Content | www.amymalkoff.com/harmony
Then: Deadline Poet | Kenyon College's Owl Creek Singers
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Postby bstevens » Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:28 pm

Benjamin Stevens

CASA Director of Education

Educational Officer for Festivals and Events

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Postby The Crosbys » Sun Apr 06, 2008 10:09 pm

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Postby BenjGC » Mon Apr 07, 2008 6:44 am

So hey.

I don't post frequently, but I was an attendee at the first A Cappella Innovations. I saw Mr. Raniere, did NOT interact with him (had no idea who he was or about NXIVM or whatever) and went about my business. My group got a lot out of being critiqued by Ben, Kurt Walker and Valerie Kolko, although their commentary was placed among commentary from others which, for the most part, really had no a cappella bearing whatsoever. I loved meeting the House Jacks (with whom we'll perform in a month...shameless plug...), and I found Allison Mack, Nicki Clyne and Kristin Kreuk to be very nice, delightful people, as was the case with everyone I met, and I do mean everyone.

My insight into this is limited to my dealings with Allison, Nicki and Kristin; Allison and Kristin appeared on my radio show to talk about their website. I've filled out the survey, and there seems to be nothing diabolical or Machiavellian about it; I also don't know whether they're involved in NXIVM (although Google would indicate that at least Kristin has been). Then again, I had no idea that Siobahn and Mike B (refer to the earlier thread if you don't know) were involved with NXIVM, nor did I know about NXIVM at all. In retrospect, I'm a little creeped out. That said, I'm OK with having gone the first time (we had a schedule conflict for this past weekend's event), and I'm pretty glad I politely refused to give up my SSN.

Many thanks to Ben for talking about this, and for everyone's open discussion. I'm founding my own a cappella cult next week; it will be called simply..."Groink". This is the greatest syllable ever. :-)

Ben Gellman-Chomsky
Brandeis VoiceMale


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Postby The Crosbys » Mon Apr 07, 2008 7:28 am

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Postby whataboutrob » Mon Apr 07, 2008 8:12 am

The asking for SSN's strikes me as a bit bizzare, indeed. A group from my school attended this weekend, so I'm planning on asking them for more info on how exactly the conference went down...

That being said, I'm of mixed minds about the whole thing. On the one hand, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong about an organization choosing to sponsor a festival or event of any kind, and then using the fesitival or event as a platform for promotion of their brand or product. If Pepsi, for example, were to put down the funds for a youth basketball tournament, you can bet they the backboards and maybe even the basketballs themselves would have Pepsi logos, and there would likely be at least a table at the festival/event where Pepsi would try to hawk it's products, give away promotional material, and maybe even look to hire some of the festival's participants to jobs or internships. And, really, that's all just fine. If that's what NXIVM is up to, then fine. You want to ask for festival participants' email addresses (although you shouldn't require them)? Fine by me. You want to stand up on a stage at a competition and talk about how wonderful the organization is that sponsors an event? Great. If you're paying for the theater, have a ball.

I think what we're getting at is the issue of legitimacy, and whether or not we, as a community, consider a cappella innovations to be a legitimate event, and if college groups and a cappella experts can take part in these festivals without loosing credibility.

And I think that, so far, I've yet to see a whole lot one way or the other convincing me that A Cappella Innovations is either legit or a complete scam. I mean, the website, frankly, reads like cross between a bad late night, religiously-based info-mercial (And then keith heard a cappella, and was inspired, and that's what we're founded on -- this man's innovation and desire and community, etc), and an excited, yet awkwardly worded press release (this just in: people like to sing together! Without instruments! And sometimes other people like to listen!). The judges are a strange mix of people who I think most of us would consider experts in the world of a cappella (Dave Brown, Joseph Bates), and those who simply aren't (who the hell is Ivy Nevares, other than a dancer who's written with Keith Raniere?).

What I think the festival has done well is bring outside financing to a cappella (this way groups don't have to pay for masterclasses, etc), but the way in which they've done it is a bit suspect.

I think, also, that the way in which these events have been marketed leads to a bit of hesitation on our part, as a community. The posts on this board on behalf of the conference are a bit strange, and they usually happen only weeks before the actual conference, which comes off as quite a bit sketchy.

That said, I'd love to hear from other people who were actually there this weekend. Thoughts? Comments?
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Postby livingfiction » Mon Apr 07, 2008 10:31 am

It's true, things were a little different at this event then they were at the last event. But that's understandable, at least to me. The last ACI was the first ever, I know the producers were in touch with me since the last event asking what I felt could be changed or tuned to make improvements, so I expect the next event will be different than ACI 1 and 2, as there seems a real commitment to improve and grow.

The last ACI's judging was somewhat repetitive in feedback from group to group. Emotional connection and commitment to material was a note that seemed to be repeated from group to group, this is just my observation from sitting in on the judging, so I wonder if that isn't potential motivation for the emphasis on that aspect of performance.

I have kind of an interesting opportunity to see these events from a different angle. I work with the organizers, but I'm not an organizer, I get to roam around the workshops and judging, but I'm not an attendee. So I understand that I get a little of all elements but not the full experience of any, so I can't speak to any group's experience or the organizer's intentions with full understanding, but where the social security field on the forms are concerned I can shed some light on that.

I've been working with the video team on a limited basis during my visits, as anyone who attended knows they film all the performances, as well as the event in general and the workshops. At present these tapes are used to provide the groups in attendance with tools to improve, and as a means to market the event and generate future promotional materials. Permission for these uses is included in release information, but if there was ever a desire to release some kind of DVD for purchase, or to use the footage in a way other than promotion or private viewing, additional release would be needed. SS numbers were brought up as a way to ensure the ability to get ahold of people in the future, considering that college students tend to move, and phone numbers and email addresses change. Once the forms were created it was determined that SS numbers were not really necessary and the volunteers distributing the forms were instructed to let people know that filling out that part was not necessary. In fact, a point was specifically made on stage by the producers that any and all personal information, even answering questions and participating was at the discretion of each attendee to decide whether or not they wished to disclose it.

Where all this cult business is concerned, the bottom line for me is simply this. They are who they are, that isn't changing, those articles online exsist, that's not changing, nor is there any new information there that wasn't there last year. If one goes into a situation looking to see the worst, they'll find it. I followed my wife across the country, and over an ocean to China. Because she loved me it's a beautiful romantic story. If she didn't, I'm a crazy stalker. There's nothing inherintly negative about discussing emotional content of songs, passing out emails, networking, keeping in touch, or any of that, unless you place it in a framework that is itself a negative thing.

I've been to two of these events, and I'm going to trust my own personal experience and not allow myself to be "brainwashed" by some stuff people I've never met write in articles and online. Truth is, if you want to find articles to make someone look bad, you can:




There were some things that were different at this event than last event that bothered me though. At the last event there weren't any groups tossing around containers of their own urine and feces. There weren't any groups breaking fire extinguishers and vandalizing local hotels. That was different, shameful, and embarrassing.

There have been a lot of points brought up in this thread, and I'd like to address more of them, I'm also happy to answer questions. But I'm late for lunch.

As I say, I'm not an expert, but I do get to see a pretty large portion of the event from a different perspective. So I try to report what I observe.
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Postby bstevens » Mon Apr 07, 2008 2:00 pm

Benjamin Stevens

CASA Director of Education

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Postby sonicaudio » Mon Apr 07, 2008 4:14 pm

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Postby Jimmy » Mon Apr 07, 2008 6:50 pm

Jimmy Leathers
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