• Southern California Vocal Association

History of SCVA Festivals

Compiled by Jennifer Stanley

SCVA was established in 1939 by several prominent LA area choral conductors as an organization to support choral conductors and advance vocal music in Southern California. Charter members of SCVA included:
- Ralph Peterson (Los Angeles City College, 1935-65, and first SCVA President)
- Howard Swan (Occidental College, 1934-71, and first SCVA VP of College Level)
- Charles Hirt (USC, 1941-76, and Hollywood Presbyterian Church, 1941-71)
- Joseph Klein (Glendale private vocal studio, 1932-1988, and Glendale First Presbyterian Church, 1939-65)
- Ray Moremen (UCLA, 1937-66)
- Wilbur Schowalter (Redlands HS, ca. 1950)

Many early members of SCVA were school choral directors in Los Angeles County school districts including LA City Schools (now LAUSD), and districts in Long Beach and the San Gabriel Valley.

The organizational structure of SCVA influenced the design of other professional choral organizations including ACDA, founded in 1959.

Festivals were one of the original purposes for the creation of SCVA and have remained a major part of the organization throughout its history. SCVA members, led by Howard Swan and Charles Hirt, saw a need to provide non-competitive festivals for choirs and glee clubs where the singers had the opportunity to hear other ensembles in a collegial, educational environment. They established the SCVA festival system that is still in use today: a volunteer festival host schedules a non-competitive festival for choirs of the same grade level (high school or middle school), and the choirs are evaluated by two certified adjudicators. The festival is designed so that each choir hears the performances of all the other choirs.

The original SCVA festival adjudication form (written by Howard Swan and Charles Hirt) provided space for written comments and the assignment of letter grades for each selection sung. The original categories were Interpretation & Artistic Effect, Intonation, Accuracy, Rhythm, Tone, Diction, Presentation, and Appearance. This same form and grading system are still in use today, and now include categories for Blend, Balance, and Repertoire. For a PDF of the current form, go to http://www.scvachoral.org/festival_adjudication_form.pdf

In the 1950s, many SCVA festivals added a required piece to be performed together under the direction of one of the festival adjudicators. The combined piece was sung either at the middle or end of the festival. Over a 20 year period, adjudicators at these festivals included John Alexander, Don Bremer, Jester Hairston, William Hall, Jane Skinner Hardester, Hall Johnson, Albert McNeil, Frank Pooler, Ray Moremen, Paul Salamunovich, K. Gene Simmonds, and Howard Swan. Some choirs were not as prepared on the combined piece as others, so a drawing was initiated at the beginning of each festival. The choir "winning" the drawing was required to add the combined number to its own performance.

In 1955, it was reported that SCVA sponsored 25 choral festivals; festivals at that time usually had 10 choirs enrolled. In a 1959 interview for Jane Skinner Hardester's master's thesis, Lois Wells, then President of SCVA, stated that, "SCVA sponsors some 32 [choral] festivals in the southland each spring, covering an area from Ventura to San Diego and from Palm Springs to Santa Monica. In 1959, more than 35,000 singers participated in festivals."

The 1960s brought many improvements to SCVA festivals. Training sessions for current and potential adjudicators were scheduled to improve the level of effective and informed adjudication. To help adjudicators make more specific comments to the choirs they heard, the adjudication form was revised to include information on the experience level and ages of the students, the school and its choral program, and the experience of its conductor. To ensure the quality of music sung at the festivals, SCVA started the Festival Music List. At that time two of the three pieces sung by a choir were required to come from the SCVA Festival Music List.

In 1977, a San Gabriel Valley newspaper reported that 35,000 choral music students annually participated in SCVA festivals. SCVA organized 46 high school choral festivals in 1979. During this time, adjudicators also began making taped festival comments in addition to the written adjudication forms.

The early 1980s was a time of rapid change for school choral music in southern California. Reduced support of music programs in public schools (starting with the implementation of 1978's Prop. 13) created many challenges for choral programs that included less experienced music students, and reduced enrollment and instruction time. The required piece in concert choir festivals had become somewhat controversial with some directors finding the literature very challenging, and some finding the literature under-prepared. There were also new choral directors coming into the profession interested in the relatively new areas of vocal jazz and show choir. To meet the changing needs of its membership, the SCVA Executive Board decided to eliminate the required festival piece; SCVA also began organizing specialized festivals for vocal jazz choirs and show choirs to meet their specific logistical and musical needs.

The use of festival ratings (superior, excellent, good) was a topic often discussed by the SCVA Executive Board during the 1980s and 1990s. Some board members felt that the original intent of the organization was to have non-competitive and unrated festivals, while other board members encouraged SCVA to bring their festival practices closer to organizations like SCSBOA (Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association) which included ratings and sight reading as a part of each festival.

In the mid 1990s a system for rating choirs was established and implemented. The system assigned a rating (superior, excellent, good) based on the average score of the letter grades from both adjudicators. To match the festival practices of other organizations, festival certificates were replaced with festival plaques at this time. This transition was enacted the SCVA Executive Board led by presidents Anne Cherchian and Vance Wolverton, and by Todd Helm, VP of HS Festivals. The scoring system was adjusted in 2000 to have more rigorous standards, and in 2005 to correct a scoring omission.

SCVA continues to be the primary sponsor of choral festivals in southern California. Since the 2000 launch of the SCVA website which includes online festival listings, SCVA has organized 30-40 middle school and high school choral festivals each year. In 2009, SCVA organized 39 choral festivals that were attended by approximately 70% of the SCVA membership and an estimated 9,000 students. Online festival host registration and online festival evaluations were implemented during the year. For more information on 2009 festivals, see http://scvachoral.org/news/news1109.html

In 2010, there are 45 SCVA festivals for middle school and high school concert choirs, as well as specialized festivals for show choirs and vocal jazz. SCVA continues to offer annual adjudicator certification workshops. The 2009-2010 SCVA Executive Board has implemented online festival registration, is working to replace adjudicator cassette recording with digital recording, and is updating the Festival Music List to include newer and more diverse choral repertoire. To suggest literature for the SCVA list, go to http://www.scvachoral.org/song_submission_reg.html

Many thanks to the people who provided information for this article: Tony Azeltine, Karen Bluel, Don Bremer, Don Brinegar, Anne Cherchian, Donnelly Fenn, Greg Ellis, Mark Freedkin, Maria Fritts, Scott Hedgecock, Todd Helm, Mark Henson, Warren Marsh, Debbie Montpas, Sheri Nelson, Shirley Nute, Mary Purdy, Lori Marie Rios, Nancy Schwartz, Grace Sheldon-Williams, K. Gene Simmonds, Ron Soderwall, Jennifer Stanley, Ken Tuttle, Christine VanderLeest, Vance Wolverton, and the Arroyo HS A Cappella Choir Historians (1955-present).

To correct, add, or update information in this article, please email Jennifer Stanley at scvaexecvp@gmail.com