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Exeter's Illuminations To Host "Aca Live" On November 9th

We can officially check off television stars off of our list of "Aca Live" hosts.

At least, this will be the case come tomorrow when Illuminations from the University of Exeter host our streamed series. Hailing all the way from Exeter, England the coed group recently appeared on Sky One's "Sing: Ultimate A Cappella" where they competed against other aca-groups in a no holds barred, all-vocal contest. While this gave audiences a glimpse of what the group can bring musically in a competitive format, at their core, Illuminations are all about the enjoyment that is derived from singing and the bonds they create with each member.

We caught up with Illuminations and got the chance to learn more about their history, what the aca-scene in the UK is like and to learn more about their time on "Sing: Ultimate A Cappella." Read all about it in the interview below and be sure to tune in tomorrow when they host "Aca Live" on our Facebook page at 8:30 PM/GMT, 3:30 PM/ET.

Can you tell me about the group's founding? When did the group begin? Any specific influences, past or present that you all can point to that inspire(d) your style?

Our group was founded in 2011 by students at Exeter University though we have no idea where they got the name Illuminations from; we’ve yet to track down the original founders to ask them. As far as influences go, we try not to copy any other particular group or artist, and instead play to the strengths of the members of our group. The best example of this is when we were recently asked to sing a ‘One Direction’ song for Sky One’s new show "Sing: Ultimate A Cappella." This is quite out of our comfort zone, but our musical directors did a wonderful job in tailoring the song to really showcase our talent, for example the many wonderful beatboxers we have in the group.

2.  What makes Illuminations so special? What makes members join the group versus looking into other student organizations?

At the university, we are currently the only mixed contemporary a cappella group, which sets us apart. The mixed environment is a lot different than the all-male and all-female groups we have on campus and gives us a unique opportunity to utilize the full range of male and female voices. As well as this, when the group was first set up, it was initially more of a casual environment where people could meet up to sing with friends. In recent years we have been lucky enough to find success in a competitive environment, but we like to think we have kept the fun, enjoyable side to singing as well.

3.  What are some of you all's favorite performances/moments from the past year or few years?

Last year was the first year we managed to make the UK final of the ICCA’s (International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella). It was only the group’s second year competing, [and] it was such an incredible experience having the chance to compete against the best groups in the country. As well as this, our beatboxer won the Best Beatboxer in the Southwest award, and I don’t think you will ever see a more excitable group of people than us when this was announced! 

4. What are some things that you all enjoy doing outside of music as a group?

As a group, we all have a wide variety of passions outside of music from hockey to surfing to video games, and we all really enjoy introducing each other to these. As well as this, we always enjoy a good night out in Exeter. A favorite would have to be Cheesy Tuesdays where we can all belt our hearts out to our favorite classic tracks without any questions asked!

5. Are there any big plans for the future (upcoming trips, albums, performances, collaborations, etc.)?

We have lots of exciting things planned for the year ahead. We will be returning to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival again this summer, and have lots of new songs in the pipeline so hopefully we can put together a fantastic show! As well as this, there is talk of videos and more music being released so hopefully by the end of the year we will have lots to show for the work we’re putting in!

6. Is there a funny memory or awkward moment from a past trip or performance that stands out in your mind?

One memory which stands out has to be from the ICCA Quarterfinals last year. For some context, our outfits for the men consisted of black shirts and orange braces, and one of our members had the misfortune of his braces pinging off beautifully in time to the music! He then had to carry on with it swinging nicely behind him for the rest of the 12-minute set!

7. Sky One's new TV show "Sing: Ultimate A Cappella" is the newest reality contest bringing vocal music to the masses. As one of the featured groups for this new program, can you tell us about how Illuminations got involved with the show? How were you selected as one of the groups, what was preparation like and can you describe what it was like performing on television?

The production company for “Sing: Ultimate A Cappella” got in touch with us after seeing some of the videos we had posted online. They then came to Exeter to meet with us and tell us a bit about the show; we jumped at the opportunity! We spent weeks practicing and preparing for the show, including staying at one of the members’ house for a fortnight for a sort of ‘a cappella boot camp’. It was pretty intense!

But the preparation was completely worth it and the next thing we knew, we were there on stage with Cat Deeley singing away and having the time of our lives! Being a part of the show has to be one of the highlights of the year for all of us. It was such a surreal experience having hair and makeup done professionally, stylists choose our outfits, and professional vocal coaches and choreographers helping us with all our songs. We are very excited to finally see ourselves on the show after the long wait since it was recorded and we can’t wait to see how it all turned out.

8. What was the backstage environment like of "Sing: Ultimate A Cappella" with so many other a cappella groups under one roof? Did everyone get along, was it very relaxed or hectic, and what is something that you can share with us that the cameras didn't catch?

On the day of filming we arrived at the theatre very early in the morning, so we had a lot of time backstage with the other groups. All the groups got on fantastically well; we were all equally excited and nervous for the filming of the show. We were sure to help each other out any way possible like sharing tea bags or water...both far greater gestures than you can ever imagine in that situation.

Overall it was quite relaxing though. Most people just put their headphones on, and tried to save energy for the show in the evening. As far as things the cameras missed are concerned, one of our greatest sources of entertainment was during microphone check where most groups went with a simple “testing 1, 2, 3”, our members saw this as an opportunity to launch their stand-up comedy career, bringing out all kinds of jokes and silly songs I’m sure the technicians never thought they’d hear, and I hope for their sake never will again!

9. What’s the aca-scene like not only on the campus of the University of Exeter, but in the UK as well? How would you describe the culture? Are groups open to working together, is it super competitive, etc.? Have you noticed any differences from the American scene?

On campus there’s definitely a friendly rivalry between all the groups but it’s always good fun when we get together for socials. As for the UK aca-scene, it is such a great community to be a part of and all the groups stay connected on Facebook, and more recently Snapchat, so we always know what is going on around the country. It is rare that all the groups meet up because there are so many, but universities close to each other definitely stay in close contact and try and visit as much as possible.
There is a competitive nature of course, but I’d say on the whole, most groups just really respect what the others do, and strive to be as good as they possibly can themselves. I think a difference between the UK and American scene is that we definitely focus less on the competitive side and, for our group in particular, we do a cappella because it’s our shared passion.

10. What has been the most rewarding part about being in a college a cappella group? Likewise, what has been the most challenging aspect?

A big thing a lot of us have noticed is that being in Illuminations has done incredible things for our individual confidence. Being thrown into the deep end with performing and choreography definitely helps with that. It’s fantastic seeing how people progress from the moment they join the group to the moment they leave, and how much they improve when it comes to performing, and engaging with an audience.

There are challenging parts, for example, quite a few of us can’t read music and so that could be a stumbling block when it comes to learning new songs. However, we have managed to navigate that quite well and we make sure everyone is comfortable in the group. As well as this of course, the wonderful friends we have all made in the group make it by far the most rewarding thing any of us could do at university, because while we might not be in Illuminations forever, it’s nice to know we’ll all still be friends.

11. What are the Top 3 shows the group is currently watching/streaming?

Because we don’t all live together, as fun as that would be, we don’t tend to watch many television shows as a group. One of our favorites though would have to be “Parks and Recreation” because scarily we have found many parallels with characters in the show and members of the group. Aside from this, I know lots are excited about the new season of “Stranger Things”, and of course there are always the classics like “Friends” that will never grow old!

12. Anything else you'd like for our audience to know about the group?

One of the things we are proudest of as a group is the fact that we have no outside help. From the musical arrangements we perform, to the choreography you see, it is all put together by people within the group. At the start of each year we establish roles, for example we have our musical directors who teach the music, a choreographer to teach the dances, and then things like publicity officers to manage the Facebook page, website and so on. It is quite nice having complete control over the group and the direction it takes, as everything you see has been decided and produced by us.

13. Lastly, could you give us some background on the below photo from your Instagram? What was the event and what was memorable about it?

This was a picture from our Edinburgh Fringe performance taken in August. It was the group’s first time there, so it was a scary and exciting experience for all of us! We thoroughly enjoyed our time there though, and it was incredibly rewarding to end with a sell-out show. Because of this we definitely want to return again next year, and bring an even better show!

For more information on Exeter's Illuminations, connect with them on their WebsiteFacebook, YouTube and Instagram.