A noteworthy passion

Tech companies spawn a cappella groups that spotlight the importance of creativity

Caroline Wu sings background with Facebook’s The Vocal Network during a recent Techapella rehearsal in an alley behind the Fox Theatre. The Vocal Network and Googapella were the founding groups of Techapella. Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac

Last month, employees from some of the largest local tech companies gathered at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City. But they weren't there to hear a keynote speech for the unveiling of a new AI product.

They were there to sing a cappella.

On Oct. 20, the concert series and nonprofit Techapella hosted the first show of its seventh season featuring in-house a cappella groups from the tech industry. Google's Googapella and Alphabeat, Facebook's The Vocal Network, Linkedin's InTune, Apple's The Keynotes and the mixed-company group Internote belted out their versions of catchy tunes like "Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?" by Rockapella and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk."

"I think there's a lot more overlap between tech and art than people see at the surface," said Divya Mouli, a member of Googapella since 2016 and a software engineer for Google Books since 2015. "Ultimately, a lot of tech is innovation and creativity."

Jameela Huq, a software engineer for Linkedin's Germany team and the musical director of InTune, said that her coworkers encourage her to merge the skills she uses at work and those as a leader of the singing group.

A total of 18 groups performed over the four performances this season one on Oct. 20 and three on Nov. 10. Some of those groups include Pinterest's Pintunes, Dropbox's Syncopation, Twitter's The Songbirds, Airbnb's Airbnbeats, and 23andMe's Chromotones.

Lindsay Alford, the executive director of Techapella and a Googapella singer, helped found nonprofit seven years ago when Googapella, then two years old, and the brand new The Vocal Network decided to host a holiday concert at the end of 2013.

Alford says they are expecting the network to increase to more than 30 groups next year. The expected growth in participation and ticket sales is what pushed Techapella to seek nonprofit status, which it reached this past September.

The organization was already donating 100 percent of proceeds to charity partners Music for Minors and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, said Alford, and being a nonprofit allows it to do this more effectively.

"We want to donate to organizations that donate to the arts," she said. "We are bringing arts to tech, so want to bring that to all lives."

Sonja Wohlgemuth, the executive director of the Peninsula-based Music for Minors, estimates that after this season, Techapella will have donated about $30,000 to $40,000 to the nonprofit, which sponsors music lessons in elementary schools.

"Money is good, but music and music education is wonderful," said Wohlgemuth. "Groups that are part of Techapella don't just want to perform and have a good time, they actually want to serve communities."

Two years ago, Alford reached out to Wohlgemuth about deepening their organizations' partnership. They sent members of Googapella out to a local school to teach songs to about 25 students. Googapella and the students then performed at Music for Minors' annual gala.

Moving forward, Wohlgemuth would like to see students performing with in-house a cappella groups on tech campuses. Taking kids to tech companies would let them see themselves doing that kind of work, she said.

"We just want music to be a part of their lives and to benefit them," she explained. "To have a relationship with a community adult in the same endeavor brings validity to what they are doing. They recognize that what we are doing is going to have an impact on them."

Huq, who used to be a science teacher, said that she wants kids to be exposed to these companies so that they can see what opportunities they have in the area.

"Tech can seem like this sort of unattainable or secluded portion of society, and we do have a lot of influence," Mouli said. "So the ability to use our platform to raise passion around the arts is important. None of us would be in tech without art. Some of the best folks in tech are creatives and innovators thinking outside the box."

Alford says that Techapella is just starting to figure out what the next few years will bring. In the short term, it will continue to donate to music education. Further down the road, Alford would like to explore the possibility of developing community spaces for the arts.

Until then, Techapella encourages performance groups, such as choirs, improv teams and orchestras, across industries in the Bay Area to reach out to the organization to see how they can get involved.

"And if you're looking to bring a creative hobby to your company, we want to talk to you and help you do that," Alford said.

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2 people like this
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2019 at 10:27 am

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?! That's a commercial song. You can't sell tickets to singing it unless you license it from the owners, which somehow I doubt this group did. This point of this article then is that a crime was committed in Redwood City.

Like this comment
Posted by I'd like to buy the world a coke
a resident of Bailey Park
on Nov 16, 2019 at 11:16 am

> unless you license it from the owners

So every cover band in the world should go to jail.

2 people like this
Posted by Sean Altman
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2019 at 9:37 pm

As the founding former leader of Rockapella and the composer of the “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” PBS theme song I hereby grant whichever group sang my song a retroactive license to perform it. This license is contingent upon their having sung it well. If they sang it poorly this license is hereby revoked.

Yours, Sean Altman

2 people like this
Posted by Boomer
a resident of Bailey Park
on Nov 17, 2019 at 7:10 am

An article on local tech millennials working for billion dollar companies was long overdue. I've always been worried what they were up to in their spare time. I know it's been on everyone else's minds.

Like this comment
Posted by Seer
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2019 at 7:33 am

Now you're setting up an argument with yourself? This should be good.

6 people like this
Posted by DoctorData
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 18, 2019 at 8:59 am

DoctorData is a registered user.

> An article on local tech millennials working for billion dollar companies was long overdue.

As a one of several over-40 members of our a cappella group involved with Techapella, "OK, Boomer".

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Michel
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2019 at 8:07 am

Human Voice Show: 1-3rd Tuesdays 7-10a KKUP 91.5fm

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