It was one of those almost-topple-over-in-shock moments.
Stephanie Lam, an alto with the a cappella quintet Quayside Voices, still sounds more than a bit amazed as she recounts the tale of how her little ensemble managed to secure a New Westminster performance by Swedish choral superstars the Real Group.
But the fact that the world-renowned a cappella legends are coming to town for a Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 concert at Massey Theatre isn’t the bit that really caught the singers off guard.
“Not only are we producing them and bringing them out here, we almost fell off of our chairs when they said, ‘Would you guys be interested in opening for us?’” Lam says, laughing.
Naturally, the local singers said yes – and while they were at it, they also secured an opening gig for New Westminster Secondary School singers too. It will be a festival of a cappella sounds to warm the hearts of choir geeks everywhere, and Lam is delighted that a dream long in the making is finally becoming reality.
It all started on Instagram a couple of years ago. Lam – who laughs that she feels like she’s “online dating” with a cappella groups because she obsessively follows them all on social media - saw a post by the Real Group about a North American tour. She posted a joking comment about having them come to the Pacific Northwest and was surprised when the group reached out in return to ask her if she knew anyone who could help them make it happen.
Right at that moment, it didn’t come together; Lam notes that her group didn’t have the resources or the audience base to pull off something like that at the time.
“For a group like us, we’re very passionate about it, but Q5 is something we do on the side. It’s our hobby. It’s a passion project, of course, but it’s not our full-time job,” she says. “We just kind of let it slide but kept in touch.”
Then, this past summer, the Real Group emailed and said they wanted to come to the Pacific Northwest, and Vancouver specifically, and asked if Quayside Voices could help make it happen.
That’s when the locals went into overdrive. Lam talked to Ryan Holder, a professor of choral studies at Northern Arizona University, to get his input and advice, as Holder was working to bring the Real Group to the U.S.
Lam says the local singers were worried about the risk attached to bringing in a group of Real Group’s calibre.
“The Real Group isn’t small potatoes. They’ve been around since 1984,” Lam says. “They’re kind of the big foundation in that particular (a cappella) community. They’re celebrated in all sorts of choirs, whether you’re classical or contemporary or even the jazz genre.”
In the end, the Quayside singers decided they could, in fact, pull off an event this big.
Lam reached out to Kelly Proznick, choral teacher and arts department head at NWSS, to get her on board. Proznick agreed to help and is working to coordinate a workshop with the Real Group for her choral students. Lam also contacted Massey Theatre, which threw its support behind the proposal.
“We’re good at putting on what we know, but we’re not naïve. We understand that it takes a lot of help,” Lam says. “We want this to be a success.”
The New Westminster concert will be Real Group’s first performance in Vancouver in at least 20 years (in fact, Lam says, it’s not clear whether the group has ever in fact performed in Vancouver). And it will be the only Canadian date on their tour, since they jet off for Southern California right after the Massey gig.
Knowing that, Lam is hoping the concert will attract not just a big audience from around the Vancouver region but also a cappella lovers from the U.S., Alberta and even beyond.
She’s already secured a hotel partnership deal with the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown to supply reasonably priced accommodation for concertgoers, and now she’s searching for sponsorship to help publicize the concert as widely as they possibly can.
“There’s a lot of potential,” she says. “We’re just trying to work our way through to get as much recognition of the show as possible.”
Plus, Lam notes, the presence of a big-name act like the Real Group will mean extra exposure for the city to tourists.
“This is a real big deal in that there is exposure for not just Vancouver, but New Westminster,” she says, noting she’s already started talking to Tourism New Westminster about helping to get the word out. “We can say the Real Group is coming to New Westminster.”
To top it all off, there will be another special, yet-to-be-revealed treat involved in the concert. Lam is mum on the details for now but promises it will be “the cherry on top of it all.”
To book seats for the Real Group performance – or to buy them for the a cappella choral music lover on your Christmas list – see www.ticketsnw.ca or call 604-521-5050. Group rates are available for groups of eight or more.