CU Denver group and lead singer Emma Wallingford win big
By: Marcia Neville | University Communications
DENVER – Qualifying for the prestigious Boston Sings (BOSS) competition was the start of another cresendo for the University of Colorado Denver’s premier a cappella group, Mix. They then proceeded to survive a three round elimination format against five other top programs to finish the school year with the biggest win in program history.
Under the direction of Erin Hackel, DMA, Mix took the BOSS competition by storm. Hackel describes the reaction of the audience as unreal. “They were with us right from the start jumping to their feet, appreciating the arrangements, the movement, and the singing. It’s fulfilling to perform for a group that loves and understands the genre so well.”
Mix features eight singers who’ve spent the school year pushing the boundaries of innovation and creativity in the world of a cappella. Their arrangements are unique. Their choreographed movements are precise and memorable.
Preparing for BOSS, Mix created an entirely new repertoire. The Boston competition has a reputation for originality, and the group wanted its final competition performance of the school year to be the best yet.
“We knew we couldn’t repeat material,” Hackel explained. “We needed to be fresh and new. We had to take a gamble.”
The gamble paid off–big time. Performing unexpected interpretations of Sugarland, the Wailin’ Jennys and Alanis Morissette, Mix bounced from pop country to an operatic version of Morissette’s “Uninvited” which included a stirring spoken-word performance by junior Michelle Ghun.
By the time the night was over, Mix stood alone in first place and junior Emma Wallingford had been named the competition’s best lead singer for her distinctive, rousing rendition of Sugarland’s “All We Are”. With lead singers featured in every song performed by every group, the competition for the honor was fierce.
“Emma’s my private vocal student,” Hackel said. “We’ve both worked so hard for this. It was exciting for both of us to see her succeed. Her voice is a distinctive instrument, smoky and unique. She draws people in with the very first note she sings, literally wrapping the audience around her little finger the moment she opens her mouth.”
Wallingford also is the lead singer in the local band Drop Switch. According to Hackel, a group ‘taking the Colorado music scene by storm.’ They play area clubs regularly including Cervantes, the Bluebird and Herman’s Hideaway. Hackel describes the Drop Switch music style as R&B with a rap vibe.
For Mix, the BOSS win coupled with an earlier victory at the Mile High Vocal Jam keeps them undefeated this year. They started the impressive run back in the fall when they finished second and were named the most original group at SoJam which is considered by many to be the top a cappella event in the country.
Hackel heads the commercial voice discipline in the Department of Music and Entertainment Industry Studies in CU Denver’s College of Arts and Media and the unprecedented run of success for Mix has been a bit of a surprise. With a background in classical voice, Hackel was asked to start an a cappella ensemble nine years ago. She and the students have been learning and improving ever since.
“We only had nine singers in that first class,” she remembers, “and, one of them was a 60-year-old dentist! Now, from that simple start, we’ve become a national presence. It’s been a personal journey for me figuring out the a cappella world. The key has been growing and improving, recognizing that originality is what makes groups in the genre successful and being able to collaborate with these incredible students.”
Mix is set for a final performance at the King Center Concert Recital Hall on the Auraria Campus on Monday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. The show is FREE but tickets are required. Wallingford and Ghun will be joined on stage by Mix singers Daniel Bailey, Luis Sandoval, Kaia Nutting, Vanessa Spear Paletta, Chris Kimmel, and Cody Carbone.
The concert will feature the 9th Street Singers and CU Denver Voices in addition to the Mix championship ensemble. They’re calling it Acapocalypse II and, just like every other performance they’ve given this year, Mix is planning to bring down the house.