After more than a year apart, ´ Til Dawn is about to start rehearsing in person again – and is holding auditions this Saturday for coveted spots in the award-winning teen a cappella ensemble.
It’s one more way that Youth in Arts is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“People are really excited,” said longtime director Austin Willacy. “Just to be together in person, let alone actually sing together, feels really amazing.”
´ Til Dawn has been around more than 25 years and is one of the longest-running ensembles of its kind in the Bay Area. During the pandemic, ´ Til Dawn has continued to rehearse twice weekly, although online rehearsals have been shorter to allow for Zoom fatigue.
“At the end of a 6-hour Zoom-based school day, another 3 hours online doesn’t energize us the way rehearsal does when we’re in person,” Austin said. “We also miss out on the joy and excitement of hearing our voices locking together.”
That’s about to change. In-person rehearsals resume this week at the Youth in Arts office. To get ready, Youth in Arts has purchased new fans, air filters, and special masks for the comfort and safety of the singers.
This Saturday, the group will hold auditions for new members for the 2021-22 school year – outside in the parking lot for the first time. The ensemble is open to any student entering grades 9 -12 in Marin County. There is a fee to participate, and thanks to a scholarship fund, no one is turned away for lack of funds.
The process is competitive, and singers who are admitted as 9th graders usually stay until they graduate from high school. In previous years, Youth in Arts has received as many as 40 applications for a handful of spots.
This year will be a big change. About half of the 13-member group is graduating from high school in June, and most are leaving the Bay Area for college, work or other plans. Before they go, Austin said, ´ Til Dawn plans to release an EP with a song featuring each of the outgoing members.
As ´ Til Dawn members will tell you, the program is much more than a way for singers to practice and perform contemporary hits, jazz, pop, rock, soul standards and original songs. In a typical year, there are retreats and activities designed to create “safer and braver places that encourage members to become deep listeners and build the emotional intelligence they need to address conflicts – and whatever else life hands them,” Austin said.
“Another important part of the experience of being in ´ Til Dawn is the cultural piece,” he added.
Every rehearsal begins with a check–in, which invites members to share openly about what’s going on in their lives. Many alumni and current members credit ´ Til Dawn as being a key part of the support system that got them through high school.
And, like everyone, one of the things that ´ Til Dawn has had to do is pivot to do their best amidst the shifting possibilities of our times. Instead of focusing on learning new repertoire and preparing for concerts, ´ Til Dawn has been recording and working on songwriting. For the Youth in Arts COVID-19 relief fund last year, ´ Til Dawn made a music video of Love’s In Need of Love Today, by Stevie Wonder. The group members recorded themselves in isolation (singing mostly on their phones) and sent Mp3’s to Austin, who painstakingly edited them all together. Listen to it here.
Although most rehearsals will now be in person, some will continue to happen on Zoom because it offers singers the quiet, private spaces they have at home that are conducive for writing. Group members are now in their third songwriting group. “Rather than 15 people all singing melodies and playing chord progressions in the same room at the same time, Zoom affords ´ Til Dawn the opportunity to have focused, simultaneous collaboration time without creating cacophony. We’ll continue to use Zoom for recording and songwriting, even as we’re able to be in person once again,” Austin said. “I’ve been deeply struck by the level of songwriting talent in this group and deeply inspired by the level of creativity, trust, and willingness to try something new.”
Austin, who has directed ´ Til Dawn for nearly 24 years, is also a renowned solo artist and member of the a cappella band, The House Jacks. He’s extremely proud that ´ Til Dawn – and Youth in Arts – have managed to thrive despite COVID-19.
“Youth in Arts was founded by people who were paying a lot of attention to the needs of young people in the community and the county, and they came up with a way to innovate and meet that need,” he said. “One of the things that has been extraordinarily impressive to me about this past year is the way Youth in Arts has adapted.”
Much of that, he said, is because of Executive Director Kristen Jacobson.
“Kristen and the staff have done an incredible job of keeping Youth in Arts vital, vibrant and really meeting the needs of young people and their families when the needs shifted so abruptly. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in the past year, and am grateful for Kristen’s visionary leadership.”
´ Til Dawn auditions will be held from 11 am to 2:30 pm this Saturday, May 8, in the parking lot behind the Youth in Arts office at 917 C St. in San Rafael. Find out more about ´Til Dawn and the application process here.