The following is an interview with Kayla Gautereaux and Angel Mannion, co-founders of the Folklore Guild, a San Diego-based music ensemble that melds pop culture songs with a classical choral approach. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Gautereaux and Mannion about the mission of the Folklore Guild, the opportunities available to its members, the geeky bend to their music, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: As the co-founders of Folklore Guild, you have educated, trained, and supported countless singers in an effort to engage via larger audience with the arts. How would you describe the mission of Folklore Guild, and through what programs do you carry out this mission?
Kayla Gautereaux: The mission of Folklore Guild is to bridge the gap between media music (like film and video game soundtracks) and classical music. Unlike most choral ensembles, our main focus is not live performance, but music videos. We record music and make films to accompany the projects. The videos are posted online, and we try to reach as many people as possible with our social media-driven marketing strategy. Our hope is that, as people get to know us primarily through our media music, they will stumble upon our classical recordings as well, enjoying both genres of music that are very much intertwined.
BD: What inspired you to initiate Folklore Guild, and how do you feel that your own musical backgrounds prepared you for the organization?
Angel Mannion: I started Folklore Guild to gain conducting experience. It was originally going to be a year-round high school honor choir, but when we decided to do soundtrack music, a lot of our friends became interested in getting involved. I grew up playing an obscene amount of video games, so the music and culture has been a big part of my life since I was little. Experience wise, I wasn’t all that prepared to start such a big organization, but we had a good enough idea for people to trust me and take the leap with us. I’m lucky to have professional mentors that are local to San Diego and Los Angeles who invite me to observe their ensembles on a regular basis, and I try to improve my leadership skills as often as possible.
KG: Angel said, “Do you want to make a choir and call it Dragon?” And I said, “I want to make a choir, but let’s not call it Dragon.” But, I did let him have a dragon in the logo, and then Folklore Guild was founded. As a vocalist, I have always gravitated toward choral ensembles. I just love working in groups, and I get a lot of satisfaction leading people to a high-quality, unified sound. I am an active professional vocalist, and I am privileged to be able to perform many genres including opera, choral music, and solo concerts. I also serve on the board of the San Diego chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. All of my previous experience has definitely enabled me to imagine my ideal ensemble, one that builds up its members to be better contributors, and exists not to serve itself, but the musicians and ultimately the music. And, that’s the environment we strive for with Folklore Guild.
BD: There are a number of individuals who give their time to ensure the longevity and high quality of the group. What can you tell us about the group’s leadership and their contributions?
KG: The “Guild” part of Folklore’s name is consistent with how the leadership has built our organizational structure. We have “Wizards,” who are active professional musicians that operate as mentors to our “Mages” and “Apprentices.” A “Mage” is classified as a college-aged future professional musician, or a highly skilled amateur musician. An “Apprentice” is a high-school aged musician who is potentially on track to be a college music major.
To take it one step further, each member of the Guild creates their own Folklore name based on a favorite fictional character. Angel’s Folklore name is Merlin (from Arthurian legend), and mine is Denna (based on a character from my favorite book series, The Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss). We try our best to use these names in rehearsals, and they often stick when we see each other in real life, too. While it seemed a bit odd at first, the use of fictional names has been an important part of building community inside the ensemble.
AM: Our roster has grown from about 40 singers when we started last Summer, to close to 100 today. There’s no way we could keep everything organized and exciting on our own. Our team consists of our “Firestarter” Megan Maher (a.k.a. Megara) who organizes monthly social gatherings and birthday cards. Chorus Manager Kelsey Young (a.k.a. Elaine) keeps track of who is participating in each project and keeps record of our concert robes. Our Associate Conductor Juan Acosta (a.k.a. Kvothe) is actually the most experienced conductor in the group, so he provides an extra set of ears and guidance. Social Media Coordinators Sydney Carteris (a.k.a. Luna) and Julia Covington (a.k.a. Nieve) post daily updates on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. Recording Manager Paul Young (a.k.a. Augustin) is our on-site audio engineer, and Resident Musicologist Aaron Bullard (a.k.a. Raistlin) enlightens us with historical context for both the classical and gaming pieces we do. Lastly, our Film Director Kristian Rodriguez does the incredible task of directing, filming, and editing our music videos.
BD: Many of the songs that you and the guild’s members perform fall within a wide range of genres, from sacred and secular hymns to scores from sci-fi and fantasy films, TV shows, and video games. Do you feel that this broad library of music is better able to appeal to a larger audience?
KG: It’s hard not to find something to like among our repertoire. If choral music isn’t your thing, maybe you really like the game Skyrim, and the theme has stuck with you. If you’ve never played a video game in your life, you still might find the music engaging and powerful. Video game music has come a long way since the 8-bit sound card era.
BD: Are all interested performers welcome to join Folklore Guild, or is there a specific application process for admission?
AM: It’s an auditioned-based group. High school and college singers need to be able to read music at an intermediate level. Singers that aren’t students are required to be proficient readers and have exceptional vocal technique. The repertoire we record is challenging, and we don’t have the luxury of rehearsing every week like most community ensembles do, so the ability to read at a strong level is essential. Plus, we want to make sure that our high school singers have experienced college singers to look up to and the same for college to professional. More importantly, our members need to be team players and have a positive attitude. Great music can only be made if we have a high level of morale.
BD: What kinds of benefits do you feel that the group offers to its members?
KG: One of the most exciting things about being a musician is that every rehearsal is different, and each Folklore project lasts only a few weeks. In most ensembles, when the rehearsal process is over, we have a concert, and everyone goes home until the next performance is scheduled. Folklore Guild is active all the time. Even when we are not in the midst of a recording project, we take pride in being socially connected on a daily basis. Professional musicians (Wizards) actively mentor high school musicians (Apprentices), and we post employment and audition opportunities for other ensembles on our private group Facebook page.
BD: Are there any upcoming events or activities that you are currently working on that you would like to share with our readers?
AM: We are currently recording music for two fan-made video game compilation albums: Ecco the Dolphin: Sound Waves (2015) and Pokémon: Harmony of a Champion (2016). We’re also recording an arrangement of the Halo theme, as well as an organ cover of the Back to the Future theme – both being released in the next two months.
BD: What do you hope that listeners will take away from performances by your group and its members?
AM: I hope that listeners will gain a larger appreciation of choral music. Our generation is so heavily driven by electronic music, which is why I think a cappella music is so valuable and relevant. To me, there’s nothing more beautiful and haunting than a good choir singing in a reverberant space.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about Folklore Guild or who may want to donate their time and/or resources?
KG: Like us on Facebook! Our Facebook Page is extremely active and is a great resource to learn more about what we are doing, and what other ensembles in the San Diego area are up to. You can also learn more about Folklore Guild at www.FolkloreGuild.org. We are in the process of applying for our non-profit status and are currently 100% volunteer supported. We always are looking for Knights to help us in our quests!