In February, Year 12 music student, Kalo Davis, received an email that may have helped set his path for life.
The message came from the US-based A Capella Academy offering him a place at their 2022 music camp in Los Angeles.
“It felt surreal to be accepted,” Kalo remembers.
“I’d had terrible imposter syndrome as I waited to hear whether I was in. I’m so proud I actually did that audition.”
Knowing he’d been selected inspired Kalo to work harder on his singing, but also made him worried about his “poor sight-reading of music”.
Kalo was sent all the music for the parts he was required to learn and had to record an incredibly unusual collection of vocal sounds.
“Because you’re only given your own part, it’s impossible to imagine how it will all fit together,” he says.
A capella singing blends different singing parts—bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano—often combined with ‘beatbox’ rhythms and other vocalisations, giving the impression of very complex accompaniment.
Kalo auditioned as a baritone, was asked to send in an audition tape as a beatbox, then at the camp was required to sing bass.
His low register means he often has to transpose contemporary music which is usually written for higher voices.
“I’ve been singing since primary school and in Year 7 I won ‘Crusoe College’s Got Talent’,” Kalo says. “It really boosted my confidence, but my nerves continued to be terrible.
“At BSSC I didn’t have a go at the open mic performances until the end of Year 11.”
Meanwhile, groups such as ‘Pentatonix’, ‘Home Free’ and ‘Acapop! Kids,’ who all make great use of bass voices, inspired Kalo to teach himself beatbox.
When he stumbled on ‘A Capella Academy Showcase 2020’ online in 2021, and then explored a whole lot of their music videos, he began to follow a couple of group members on Instagram.
“That’s how I found out the showcase was the culmination of a music camp,” he explains, “and that there were auditions coming up.”
Kalo recorded his audition on his computer and says the quality was “really bad”. He tried not to get his hopes too high as he waited to hear.
By July 2022 he was on a plane to California.
The ten days that followed were an immersion in music under Californian sunshine.
Participants explored rhythm theory, melody, songwriting, arranging and circle singing, along with regular group rehearsals.
There were eight groups and each made a music video.
Kalo’s genre was Nordic pop and his group’s song was ‘Future Forever’ by Bjork.
A further two songs were also prepared for the live public performance held at the end of the camp—to a large audience in a sell-out show.
Meanwhile, surrounded by people who love singing a capella—especially the guys who sing bass—and directed by an internationally successful and very creative production crew, Kalo says he initially felt like a ‘fan boy’.
“It was such an awesome experience and exceeded all my expectations,” he says. “We managed to build a real sense of family among 30 leaders and 68 students from across the world.
“I keep in contact with the members of my group and will re-apply to go back for the 2023 camp as a student with some leadership responsibilities.”
In the meantime, Kalo says he’d love to be part of a local a capella group, and to learn how to sight-read music.
“Long term, I want to study it at tertiary level,” he says.
Kalo also plays guitar, “dabbles” on piano and works part-time at The Good Loaf.
With a couple of weeks off school due to the camp and some time off because of illness, Kalo has had no time to focus on much other than his studies.
This year he studied English Language, English Literature, Music Performance and VET Industry Performance.
“I really like the range of choices at BSSC,” Kalo says. “People can study exactly what they want to and have a passion for.
“The college has definitely changed me. I’ve loved the expectation to conduct myself in a more adult way. And while we’re encouraged to be very independent, I also feel very well supported making the transition from school to whatever happens next.”
He’s also appreciates the more relaxed relationships with his teachers and the ease of seeking help.
“My teachers were great after I returned from the A Capella Academy and was trying to catch up while also keeping on top of new material,” Kalo explains.
“For me, I need the pressure of an upcoming exam or SAC before I get really motivated to study. Mostly I use past exams and reviewing as my method. Year 12 is definitely what you make it.”
Kalo’s greatest supporters, however, have been his parents.
“They’ve put up with me and have been amazingly supportive throughout a very intense year,” he says.