From Juneau to Carnegie Hall: Alaskapella hits the big time

Alaskapella, a Juneau a capella group, sings Three Dog Night's version of "Joy to the World." The group has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall next spring, and they're fundraising to help make it happen.

A few months ago, local a capella group Alaskapella got some unexpected news: they’d been invited to Carnegie Hall to perform with singers from around the world. Only thing was, they hadn’t even auditioned.

 

At first, group founder and acting president Kristina Paulick thought it was a scam. Then she did some checking and saw someone she’d met — Deke Sharon, a singer she met in Juneau when his group, the House Jacks, performed — was associated with the concert, called “Total Vocal” and put on by Distinguished Concerts International: New York.

“It comes out and we’re like ‘Whaaaaat?’” said Richard Ringle, president of the group. “Kristina’s like ‘I did some checking, guys, this is a real thing.’”

Some of the members are sticking around specifically for the concert.

Andre Bunton has been performing with the group his entire college career — and, now, after it.

“I jumped into college and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m ready to study, I’m ready to have fun, and I’m ready to sing!’” he said.

Then he realized UAS didn’t have a music program. He was thinking about starting his own club when he heard Paulick talking in the cafeteria about the group.

Now a UAS graduate and the bass section leader, he’s putting off his master’s degree for one year to sing with the group and travel with them to Carnegie Hall.

Michael Rease Guggenbickler, who goes by “Gugg,” had planned to take a year off from school when Ringle called him to let him know about Carnegie Hall. Now, Gugg will go from performing at “a talent show at school to one of the world’s centers of culture.”

Though the majority of Alaskapella’s members are UAS students, many — now including Paulick herself, who has graduated — are not. Fifteen of the group’s members, including non-students, are heading to Carnegie Hall, and though UAS has been “amazing,” Paulick said, University of Alaska rules don’t allow them to fundraise through the university for a trip that includes non-students.

“Really, (Alaskapella) is just kind of an amalgamation of the community of Juneau,” she said of the group.

They didn’t think it was fair to only send students, so they’re fundraising independently (though an Indiegogo page they plan to put online in the next few weeks, after they finish a video), through the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, and through donations at their concerts. (Checks have to be written to the JAHC, with a memo line noting that it’s intended specifically for Alaskapella, or the Alaskapellicans, the group’s members.)

They’re trying to raise about $30,000.

To listen to the Alaskapellicans practice, or perform, is to realize the reason your face hurts is you’ve been grinning so long. They’re a group of fun people having fun, and it comes through in their performance.

Some of them have backgrounds in different instruments. Chris Pierce, interim president of the group, played trumpet for eight years in high school band. Denali Wentz played in the Juneau Symphony; this is the first group he’s sung with.

“I had been out of the music scene for a while, and I wanted to get back into it,” he said.

“For singing, you’re largely building your instrument,” said group member Em Rademaker. “With an instrument … you’re adapting to it. With singing, your instrument is adapting to you.”

“With singing, you can be constantly be practicing your instrument simply by talking,” Bunton said. “And with a capella music, often you’re trying to simulate sounds that are not from the voice … that adds a whole other level to singing.”

“No matter how hard you try, your trumpet is going to sound like a trumpet,” Pierce said. “With singing … you can change the tone of your voice so much more, and so much easier than you can with an instrument.”

They’re next giving a concert of Pixar and Dreamworks songs at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in UAS’ Egan lecture hall. The concert is free, though they’re accepting donations.

“We love to sing for people, so we want people to come to the concert, because then we’ll get to sing for them. We want to share our group with anybody that wants to come,” Bunton said.

“This group has been found, and that’s the coolest thing,” Paulick said.

Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/Alaskapella.

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