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.