Vocal Rush: Teens Find Inspiration in Black Lives Matter

[VIDEO] Oakland School for the Arts' powerhouse a cappella group, Osa Vocal Rush took their energetic, soulful sound and urban artistry to a new level this year, dedicating their performances to Black Lives Matter.

Posted by KQED Arts on Sunday, June 14, 2015

Congratulations to Vocal Rush, an a capella group from Oakland School for the Arts - Vocal Music for winning its 3rd...

Posted by Barbara Lee on Monday, May 11, 2015

Zoe Turin has been selected as a winner of a National Merit scholarship. From the National Merit Scholarship Corporation Public Announcement: 

2015 National Merit Scholarship Competition

This year’s competition for National Merit Scholarships began in October 2013 when over 1.4 million juniors in some 22,000 high schools took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. Last fall, the highest-scoring participants in each state, representing less than one percent of the nation’s high school seniors, were named Semifinalists on a state-representational basis.Only these 16,000 Semifinalists had an opportunity to continue in the competition.

From the Semifinalist group, 15,000 students met the very high academic standards and other requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. By the conclusion of the 2015 program, about 7,600 Finalists will have earned the “Merit Scholar” title and received a total of about $34 million in college scholarships.

This past weekend, Vocal Rush, an a cappella group from Oakland School for the Arts, won by a wide margin their third International Championship of High School A Cappella title in four years. Vocal Rush competed with 12 other groups in the finals representing the best of high school a cappella at Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City. 


By Margaret Huang, co-chair of the parent APT Public Relations Committee for Oakland School of the Arts, Vocal Music Department

"Next up, Vocal Rush. Twice before this group had entered the ICHSA tournament, and twice before they emerged ICHSA Champions. They also made it all the way to the finals of The Sing-Off season four, and operate under the direction of Lisa Forkish who is the real-life Divisi star who (loosely speaking) inspired Anna Kendrick’s Barton Bella game changer in Pitch Perfect. How’s that for buzz surrounding a group? But would they live up to all of this hype in 2015? The co-ed crew took the stage in black and white formal duds and opened up with Paloma Faith’s ”Upside Down.” This group has made a name for itself on bigger, higher energy music and I really appreciated the impulse to embrace something jazzier and more musically intricate here. Good groups follow the trends Great groups set them. Sensational solo work, and this was about as close as it gets to technically perfect. Dazzler of an opener."

And then there is Vocal Rush. Their sound was untouchable. Their soloists fantastic. Their staging brilliant. But rare and special are those truly gifted individuals who use their artistic platform for a bigger purpose. At the risk of hyperbole, I’ll say it—seeing the young women and men of Vocal Rush tell the crowd in New York that black lives matter may go down as the single most iconic image in high school a cappella history. Some folks will criticize that that last image had nothing to do with music, and to those folks I will reply, “You are dead wrong.” Vocal Rush expertly built their version of “Brave” to communicate a sense of sorrow and in adding those key lyrics, “speak out,” set up everyone who was listening to understand this was more than a performance. This a mission. We live in complicated times in which it’s easier not to watch the news and to roll your eyes at a politically charged Facebook rant. There are people who insist that the hashtag should be changed to express that “all lives matter,” and while I agree with that on an idealized and literal level, it’s not all lives that have systematically been treated as less than in our contemporary culture or in our nation’s history. Vocal Rush took a stand and it’s ultimately up to you whether you stand with them. I like to think of myself as a member of the a cappella tribe, though. As such, with a tear in my eye, I am proud to say that the Vocal Rush kids are champions within this community.

The group hummed into the intro for ”Awake My Soul,” originally by Mumford and Sons. I kind of loved the idea of theming this set around anachronistic sounds—all contemporary pop music, all of it in off-beat sub-genres, this one the epitome of folk simplicity, with hidden layers of complexity embedded in the arrangement. The low end was especially killer here, and the group even managed to make the instrumental segments of this song feel pretty epic, leading into a positively gossamer harmonic finish.

Vocal Rush closed with a slowed down take on Sara Bareilles’s ”Brave”--the least off-beat song choice with the most radical reinterpretation by the group. Yes, this an over-played pop song that has gone on to be over-covered in the a cappella world. Someone from Vocal Rush took the time to strip all that right down though to the core, essential heart of the song. It’s a song about being courageous enough to do and say the unpopular. To be true to yourself. To do right. The group made it about that, showing impeccable musicianship for the duration, and culminating in a moment when they sang the refrain of “let the words fall out,” stopped, froze and sang in unison, “speak out.” The moment proved a harbinger for the bigger message revealed when the group members turned around on the finish to reveal that “#BLACKLIVESMATTER” was written tape across their backs, while the leads kneeled down up front with their hands in the air. I had already had the privilege of seeing this whole set at the Northwest semifinals. Just the same, it gave me goosebumps all over again in New York.

Whether the judges had all the same rationale as me, or simply ended up appreciating the same songs, our picks weren’t so far off. Vocal Rush won it and remained on stage to cap the night with a India.Arie’s “Just Do You,” a fine way to cap a fine season of high school a cappella."

Mike Chin

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What a weekend OSA's Vocal Rush had!!  On Friday April 17th, Vocal Rush competed in the International Championship of High School A Cappella Finals at Peter Norton Symphony in New York City. Vocal Rush was one of 12 groups from all over the U.S. who traveled to compete in this culminating event. After delivering a powerful and moving 10-minute set, Vocal Rush was crowned the 2015 champion for the third time (Vocal Rush won the ICHSA champion titles in 2013 and 2012). McKenna Lindell-Wright (grade 12) also took home the award for Outstanding Soloist. Vocal Rush did something different this year with their set, incorporating the #blacklivesmatter message into their final song after singing three songs with messages about being true to who you are, living through love and showing courage by standing up for what you believe in. The group won by 110 points also scored higher on their performance than the winning group in the collegiate competition the following night! Overall it was a rewarding and successful trip. Check out their winning performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS5gM_axVS8&feature=youtu.be

IM presentation
Recently high school students from Instrumental Music participated in the Write On! collaboration between OSA, San Francisco Classical Voice, and the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Classical players at OSA were given the opportunity to see a concert at the Paramount and write a concert review with direction from Steve Winn 
from SF Classical Voice. On Jan. 29th Michael Morgan himself and Steve Winn visited the high school chamber orchestra to speak to the students about Shostakovich, OEBS, and to answer questions. Their talk was very personable, informative, positive, and honest about the industry: we greatly appreciated their time! Stay tuned for a selection of the reviews which will be published on Classical Voice.