My apologies for not contributing to this post sooner, but I've been playing catch-up since this past weekend in Albany.
In the interest of full disclosure, my travel expenses for the event were paid for by the organizers. No worries however... I left the bedroom only slightly full of my feces.
I want to address a couple of issues that have been brought up in previous posts.
1) The judging panel
People continue to bring up the "randomness" of the selection of judges at the event, even questioning the reasons for including people like Allison Mack, Nicki Clyne and Michael McMillian, who (to paraphrase) "have no business judging a cappella".
This kind of closed-minded, xenophobic attitude is largely what's responsible for keeping a cappella a small, insular community that will never go "mainstream".
I had the privilege of being on the panel with Michael (for a day) and Allison (for two days). We were also joined by a Maude Baum (choreographer), Elizabeth Philips (opera and a cappella singer), Valerie McCaffrey (a casting agent), Phillip Hamilton (performer), as well as a cappella regulars Joesph Bates and Ben Stevens.
While some of the judges' usefulness is self-evident, I want to talk for a moment about Michael and Allison. They offered incredibly insightful and useful comments and suggestions, focusing less on the sheer musicality of a group, and instead helping the groups to better understand how to sell a performance. They encouraged the singers to think about what the lyrics mean, consider how best to deliver them, think about movement choices. They used their acting experience to help the soloists better express the emotions of the songs they were singing. They also offered a refreshing positive attitude which helped to soften the blows from the blunt criticism that Joseph, Ben and I became so good at giving out.
I'd like to say that I can now consider both Michael and Allison to be friends of mine, and it's upsetting to see Allison directly and Michael indirectly put down for their seeming irrelevance to the a cappella scene. Also a side note, as far as I know, Michael has never taken any of the ESP/NXIVM classes, and didn't even know what it was. Kinda shoots a hole in the theory of ESP filling the judging panel with actual experts, and then random famous "cult members".
I don't care if someone is a long-time a cappella singer, actor, choreographer, or ice cream truck driver. The point of the judging was to get as many perspectives and as much constructive criticism as possible, and the groups should have been honored to be coached by actors with Michael's and Allison's resumes.
2) ESP/NXIVM's involvement with the weekend
I was picked up from the airport by a guy named Charlie. Charlie needed to swing by "the center" (ESP's building) to pick up some drums he'd had shipped there. We showed up, went in, and I met three different people who had nothing to do with the AcI weekend, didn't know who I was, and didn't try to talk to me at all about ESP/NXIVM. If ever I were expecting a sales pitch, it would be when arriving at the office of the organization that people are claiming may be trying to actively recruit new members.
Charlie and I talked a lot. We spent hours and hours together driving to and from events, we both had rooms at the same place (the farm where Claire used to practice jumping), and we jammed a bunch both offstage and on throughout the weekend. How many times did he bring up ESP/NXIVM? Almost none. It was only referenced when he would explain how he knew somebody. He never tried to convince me to take classes or sign up, and only really discussed it when I asked questions.
On Sunday afternoon, I had lunch with Clare, Allison, and Michael Eldredge. All of them have been involved with ESP/NXIVM in some capacity, and yet none of them discussed it at all until I asked what it was all about. When I asked, they simply explained the general idea of the program and what it did for them personally. They didn't pressure me to sign up for classes, say I'd be missing out if I didn't get involved, or try to trick me into sacrificing a goat before I got to the airport.
3) Meeting the scary scary cult leader and his minions
So I met Keith on Sunday night at the after party, and noticed some things.
a) He's really smart.
b) People, specifically those involved in ESP/NXIVM seem to really enjoy spending time with him, talking to him, and hearing what he has to say.
c) Some seem a little obsessed with him.
d) He asks a lot of questions.
e) He seems to genuinely care and be curious about a cappella, wanting to figure out how to make the next AcI more successful, and have people walk away much happier.
a,b,d, and e all seem like no big deal to me. c is a bit off-putting sometimes, but quite frankly, there are lots of people obsessed with other people. I saw a member of the public who was very very interested in the chance to meet one of the celebrities, to the point of having to be asked to leave the event by security. I've seen people in this community freak out over meeting members of Rockapella.
To me, it all seems relative. A person or group of people who are extra-interested in what someone has to say does not, in my mind, automatically equal cult.
As a matter of fact, most of what I saw and heard about does not add up to cult-like behavior.
4) Social Security Numbers, Private Information, and Poop, oh my!
At the very beginning of the day's events on Saturday, Keith got up on stage to welcome everybody to AcI, tell them a bit about what was going to be happening, and take a moment to explain an important part of how the day would progress. He informed everyone that they would probably be asked some personal questions, and he understood that could lead to some discomfort. So, he said please feel free to decline to answer any question or provide any information that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable. Likewise, please do not pressure others to give any information that they're uncomfortable sharing, or to pressure anyone into doing anything.
I understand that students are not always willing to stand up for themselves for fear of being ostracized, but if somebody was unhappy, they could have left. Nobody was stopping them, nobody was taunting them, there was nothing holding anyone at the event.
Using personal information and experiences to help groups connect to each other does not, on the surface, seem like a bad thing to me. It's only when the process is painted in a certain light (CULT! CULT! CULT! HOLY FUCK! A CULT!) that people seem to start to get nervous.
5) The food
Breakfast: Muffins, donuts, bagels, coffee. happy.
Lunch: Bean wraps, salad, hummus wraps. meh.
Dinner: Tamales and Mexican rice. less happy.
Breakfast: Muffins, donuts, bagels, coffee. happy.
Lunch: Bean wraps, salad, hummus wraps. meh.
Dinner: Pizza. happy.
The thing to be taken away here, is that the food originally provided was all vegetarian or vegan, and some people didn't like that. So in response to their unhappiness, the organizers brought in a ton of pizza to try to remedy the situation. I would be surprised if the food next time is similar to this most recent event, or if the organizers even provide food at all.
For the record, nobody was forced to eat what was provided. There was plenty of time to go and get other food if people felt so inclined, and there were restaurants within walking distance. I should know, since I had outside food for two different meals. The second time, there was a group of about 15 of us, including random college students, and a couple celebrity judges, so it's not like the food was part of the "cult recruitment".
Don't bitch about free stuff. It's free. Don't like it? Get something else, and let the organizers know in a constructive manner that perhaps a wider selection would be helpful next time. Seems like they got the hint when they provided the pizza...
6) The Saturday Night Party
On Saturday afternoon, Allison Mack got up and told everyone that she and Nicki were going to be throwing a party that night. $10 to get in, unless you're an attendee of AcI, in which case it would be free. People asked a couple questions about how to get there, what was happening, etc, and the organizers even made an effort to set up carpooling so anyone who wanted (there's that free-will thing again!) to go had a way to get there.
Somebody posted earlier that in order to gain entrance to the party, you were required to provide your name and email address, two very sacred pieces of personal information. Yes, there was a table where you could fill out a card with your information. No, it was not required. I actually walked right by it (as did many other people), and eventually came back to fill out my information. By choice.
There were bars nearby the party, so if people didn't like where they were hanging out, there was an alternative across the street from the party. If someone had carpooled, they could simply hang out across the street until their ride was ready, or just get a taxi back to their hotel.
7) Wrap up, and some really cool shit that happened
I understand that people are going to believe what they want, and that a lot of you reading this right now probably think I drank the kool-aid and am just the mindless shell of the spitty jackass you used to know.
Rest assured, I'm not brainwashed. I'm not in a cult. I'm still the same me, but significantly happier after my experiences this weekend, only to become significantly sadder upon reading all of the ridiculousness that's been happening on this thread.
This weekend, I got to meet a bunch of cool people, make a lot of new friends, and even perform a couple times with a variety of drummers. Kudos to Blake (Lewis), Matt (Groove Society), Mike (Simply Human), and Charlie (Manteca) for being an absolute blast to share a stage with.
Special thanks to Clare, Keith, Kurt, and the entire staff involved with putting on AcI. I had an absolute blast, and I can't wait to get involved with the next one!
I think once people in this community stop looking for the "how are we getting fucked?" dramatic side of every new thing in a cappella, we'll be much better as a whole.
Just remember... if you don't know what's up, ask questions. If you don't like the answers, you're free to leave, but please, keep the poop in the toilet.
Last edited by davebaumgartner
on Wed Apr 09, 2008 3:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.