Local high school singers will present a musical gift for the new year, the annual A Capella Extravaganza at Lincoln Theater on Jan. 19.
“This show has become one of Northern California’s largest a cappella events,” said Napa High Vocal Music Workshop director Dave Ruane. “I am not aware of any other show that boasts three local high school groups, several collegiate groups and a professional headliner.”
Along with the Napa High group and professional headliner Six Appeal, local a cappella ensembles from American Canyon High School and Vintage High School will also perform. Collegiate groups will be traveling from Stanford University, UC Irvine and UC Davis to take the stage.
The show has become so popular that Ruane is approached throughout the year from professional groups seeking the headlining spot in the show. “I spend a great deal of time listening to and scouting collegiate and professional groups. We are always attempting to bring something different to the stage each year.”
The headliner this year, Six Appeal, is an a cappella ensemble known for comedic timing and the energy of a rock band, as well as a wide array of music ranging from classic oldies, to current hits to some of their own original tunes. This all-male vocal group formed in college in Minnesota. They went on to win the title of National Champion at the National Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival in 2012, and then earlier this year they were named world champions out of 182 groups at the Moscow International Championship, an international a cappella competition in Russia.
The difference in each show happens organically. “The format of the show is the same every year, but the show is never the same,” Ruane said. “Every group that performs, brings with them their own style and level of expertise. Some groups sing more serious repertoire, while some groups deliver hilarious comedic entertainment.”
Ruane began directing Vocal Music Workshop (simply referred to as Vocal) at Napa High seven years ago. At that time, and in terms of arts funding in the schools not much has changed as of now. He was charged with making the program financially self-sustainable, or it would be cut.
Fueled both by the challenge, as well as his passion for music education, Ruane realized that he had an opportunity to take the existing A Cappella Extravaganza originally held at Napa’s 600-seat District Auditorium (which always sold out), and put it on steroids so that it could quickly grow. More people meant more revenue, which meant that the vocal music program might survive. He took a risk that paid off in moving the show to the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, which has double the capacity. The show again sold out, and has sold out every year since.
The mission of the Napa High Vocal Music Workshop is outreach to younger students to get them fired up about visual and performing arts. “The students give up their lunch hour to perform at eight elementary schools every year,” Ruane said. “We bring our show out to young people. Another part of our mission is the production of the A Cappella Extravaganza itself, providing the rare opportunity for three local public high schools the opportunity to perform with a world-famous headliner in a beautiful state of the art theater.”
“Sometimes when the group performs, I love to look at the audience and watch their reaction to the performance,” Ruane added. “It is so validating to see the smiles, laughter and sometimes tears that the students’ performances evoke. Truly, they are spreading joy and happiness to the people lucky enough to see them perform.”
This year, the Napa High Vocal Music Workshop members include Lisi Cavalli, Jada Dunn, Connor Flynn, Daniel Gonzalez, Aisley Wallace Harper, Lane Hartless, Vivian Kammerer, Julia Leonardi, McCauley Smith, Cooper Stewart, Garrett Wachendorfer and Ashur Webster.
Membership in Vocal is an honor, yet it takes a large commitment to be part of the team, Ruane says. Rehearsals are in the evenings. “Some days I wonder if I have the energy to run a rehearsal after an already long day of teaching,” Ruane said. “Yet, I am so fortunate to get to coach 12 amazing and talented young men and women, who give me so much energy at our rehearsals and make me want to come back for more.”
In addition to the musical education outreach mission of the group, as their director, or coach as he likes to think of himself, Ruane has his own mission with the 12 members of the group.
“At the beginning of the school year, I informed the parents and students that the music was not the top priority of the group,” Ruane said. “I told them that the most important part of being in this group would be the experience their students would have. They learn how to work as a team and encourage each other. They learn to become better musicians and performers and how to present themselves in a professional manner. Being in Vocal is a huge commitment, but well worth it for those students who make it through the audition process for the 12 coveted spots on the team.”