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The voice: Behind the scenes at Napa High School’s A Cappella Extravaganza

Members of the Napa High School Vocal Music Workshop include, from left, Isabella Christman, Maya Prouty, Julia Bui, Jean Perez, Olivia Hall, Luke Simon,Carly Pennycook,Everett Butler, Olivia Bui, Seth Daniel, Mia Hernandez and Matthew Corrigan. (Photo by David Ruane)

When the curtain opens for the 18th A Cappella Extravaganza on Saturday, Feb. 3 at the Uptown Theater, Napa High School Vocal Music Workshop Director Dave Ruane can finally take a breather as he finishes the introductions and hands the mic over to his vocal students who manage and emcee the show.

The break for Ruane however is short, just a few hours, maybe a day at most. The day after this year’s Extravaganza, he will begin working on the next show. “Acquiring a venue that can accommodate our show and booking a professional, headlining act must happen far in advance,” he said.

The format of A Cappella Extravaganza is a fully vocal (no instruments other than the human voice) benefit concert experience that features a professional headliner and “opening acts” including semi-pro, college and groups from three local Napa Valley public high schools. This year, the entire cast will total around 70 singers, with the headlining act Naturally 7, an all-male, seven-member group that tours around the world. Ruane admits that he stalks a cappella pros on Instagram year-round, always seeking something a bit different from years past for the steadfast local audience.

The event began at, and quickly outgrew, the Napa Valley Unified School District Auditorium. Today, without a local non-profit arts venue in the Napa Valley, it has become even more challenging to present the show. As A Cappella Extravaganza grew, for several years Yountville’s now dark Lincoln Theater was a fitting venue. This year marks the third at the Uptown Theater in downtown Napa, which Ruane describes as an ideal location adding that he has “immense gratitude” for John and Michelle Truchard of the Uptown for providing the venue for a “highly-sought Saturday night date.”

In addition to the intensive work Ruane puts in with his students in Vocal Music Workshop, an elite ensemble comprising 12 singers, his multi-dimensional role with this bene1t concert has dramatically grown. “I am the producer, director, administrator, grant writer, coach, hospitality director and talent scout,” he explained. In the weeks leading up to the show, he is managing rehearsals, finalizing sponsorships and donations, confirming all acts and the program, paying the deposits, and closely watching the ticket sales.

Directing Vocal Music Workshop is not Ruane’s only job; he also teaches weekly piano lessons to more than 24 children and adults and is the piano accompanist for all Napa High School and American Canyon High School choirs, as well as a professional pianist who plays all over the Bay Area.

A sell-out of the venue is just one of his goals, as a significant portion of the funds raised at Extravaganza are used specifically to continue the Napa High Vocal Music Workshop, as well as the group’s mission to expose local elementary schools to vocal music as part of education.

In addition to performing at both public and private functions countywide, the singers also spend hours of personal time, including lunch hours and part of a class period up to eight times per academic year, to travel to Napa elementary schools. There, they perform for the next generation of Napa High singers, recruiting them via song and teaching them about music in a fun, relatable and engaging way.

“I remain grateful to Duncan Cooper, director of choral activities at Napa High, for his work in musically educating all of the vocal music students, especially those who audition for one of only 12 spots in Vocal Music Workshop,”said Ruane who understands the commitment it takes to begin with freshmen, and then teach them vital musical skills, before they are ready for the rigor of Vocal Music Workshop or another elite group such as the school’s Chamber Choir. “There have been so many cuts to visual and performing arts that most of our incoming freshmen have little to no prior musical training.”

Ruane is deservedly proud that there is no other show that brings together and features so many different genres of a cappella music, “The students gain inspiration from each other. They watch, listen and learn. 0ere is so much we can all learn from each other in this amazing collective atmosphere. We want our choir students at Napa High to remain involved in music well past their high school years.” Napa High alumni in college and semi-pro groups have such warm memories of performing at this show that several have returned to take the stage later in life year after year.

The biggest reward for Ruane, who remembers that choir was his safe place where he made most of his friends in high school, is “making amazing memories for everyone involved. My students know I can get a little intense in the weeks before the show, but at our last rehearsal before showtime I tell them that we will all work together and have fun. I am surprisingly calm the minute the show starts. They do such a great job in their roles as performers and ambassadors for Napa High Choir.”

Outstanding vocal harmonies and beatboxing performed by high-school, college, semi-pro and professional vocal groups are the hallmark of A Cappella Extravaganza. A ticket to see the headliner alone would typically range from $60 to $ 70 per ticket, according to Ruane who says that the show is for all ages beginning at age 5 on up.

Everyone who sings in the show is also rewarded with a seat in the house to watch the other groups in the show for free, learning from both their idols and their peers. Backstage at the Uptown theater is a tight space, with groups warming up in an outdoor greenroom, then shuffling on and off stage.

“One would think that an event that has seven or eight performing groups sharing the same stage all in one night would be purely chaotic,” Ruane said, “Quite to the contrary, it runs like a well-oiled machine. I am backstage playing quarterback while my students run offense.

Each performing group has a Napa High Vocal Music Workshop student in charge of making sure they are backstage and on deck when the group before them is performing. I love seeing the teamwork and camaraderie backstage. The groups are so great at encouraging each other. It’s a little crazy, but always seems to stay in control.”

Ruane, wearing his critically important fundraising hat, says his gratitude is vast for sponsors whose donations range from $100 to $5,000. The Platinum event sponsor is the Gasser Foundation, with signature event sponsors including Jean-Charles and Gina Gallo Boisset, Napa Valley Presents and The Edward L. Anderson Foundation.

The final piece of success is the support and involvement of the community. “There are very few events that are affordable for our community. The student ticket price has remained low for many years, and we work very hard to keep it that way,” Ruane concluded, “While it is awesome to live in a town that thrives on tourism, it is even better for the locals to have the opportunity to come out and support the arts, simply by buying a ticket and attending this show.”

The full line-up of performing acts for the 2024 A Cappella Extravaganza: Naturally 7, Stanford University Fleet Street Singers, The UC Berkeley California Golden Overtones, Western Addition, Napa High School Vocal Music Workshop, PDA (American Canyon High School) and Vintage High School Vocal Music Workshop.

A Cappella Extravaganza is setfor Saturday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. at the Uptown Theater in Napa. Tickets $20 for students with ID and $35 for others, are available by visiting NapaChoir.org or UptowntheatreNapa.com.

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