The man behind Voctave, Jamey Ray, talks acapella, Disney and YouTube success

Voctave first caught my attention when I saw the YouTube video of their “Disney Fly Medley.” At a time when acapella music is more mainstream than it’s ever been, the vocalists in Voctave harken back to the early sounds of Disney movie choirs, something timeless and classic. I caught up with arranger Jamey Ray to talk about the group, YouTube success and what’s next.

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When did you realize you had a knack for arranging vocals?

For a long time, I thought I was fooling people. It’s not that it immediately came to me easily, but I thought what I was writing were normal, plain arrangements. I’d surrounded myself with such crazy talented people that they made me sound good. At the “Love Medley,” I started believing I was good at this. I love it so much and I enjoy it so much. I started arranging in college during undergrad. It took me a year to arrange The Star Spangled Banner. Contrast that with now, the other day I wrote one in an afternoon. I’m thankful people like the arrangements but I’m really lucky in that I have these music freaks I can hand music to and they make it sound as good as it sounds in the videos.

Voctave stemmed from the group Voices of Liberty which has been performing at Epcot since the park opened and there have been different iterations of the group over time. How did you get to where Voctave is now?

Everyone in our group is either currently in Voices of Liberty or was at one time. Voices of Liberty has been at Disney since before Epcot and when they would perform elsewhere, instead of being called Voices of Liberty, the group was called Liberty Voices. They made a few albums of music under that name and two years ago, I wanted to do another album. I renamed the group Voices, used a lot of the VOL founder Derric Johnson’s music and added three of my own charts. I happened to video us recording it because I thought it would be cool to put on YouTube. Over the past two years of singing together outside of the park, we’ve found the best combination of people for the sound we were going for as Voctave.

Now that you’re racking up the YouTube hits, what’s the goal for Voctave?

That is a wonderful question. Our group formed by accident and we didn’t all sit down and decide to do certain things. It’s been one thing at a time. We are looking more at the very short term. I get emails and messages asking about tours and events but we are not planning to go on the road. Part of the great draw for the singers is that they are performing in a world premiere group and then get to go home to their families at night. I am a professor at Rollins College, Professor of Music, others have full time jobs of their own, we aren’t leaving our families and jobs for months to tour. That’s what our goal is not. We just want to keep creating great music with each other. When we finish a session, the next day we are texting each other wanting to do another one. It’s fun to put the videos up and have people like them, but what’s most fun for us is the actual process. The whole time we record, it’s so fun. They hear that it sounds good and know they are producing a really good product.

It’s more than a good product! I’m fanning out here but the blend and mix is stunning. And the sopranos are other worldly! I’m sure these people inspire you daily.

I’m never going to call myself the best singer. There are a lot of different types of singers in the group but I can hold my own. These people have made their living out of their voices. Seeing someone like Tiffany Coburn, how she still feels these songs that she’s sung daily for twenty years, how genuine she is and how she loves to perform, that’s inspiring. What’s interesting to me, now that I have this group, every note I write, I know who is going to sing it and what they will sound like on it. I try to give them something to shine on and that they will love to convey. I write the black dots but they make it real.

 How about a tangible goal for the group’s next step?

Our next goal is to somehow get enough funding to do a Christmas album. The good things about VOL who isn’t a VOL fan, the novelty of the high notes and chords, but they aren’t necessarily going to put it in their car on the way home. But there are certain types of music everyone will listen to which are Disney music and Christmas music. Hopefully in the near future, we are going to find enough funding to do so.

How does arranging for Voctave differ from the other arranging you do; for instance, choral music?

I love writing choral pieces for choirs and that’s for a mass audience for whoever will hear it. But the more and more we do this here, the more we work together, it’s becoming a really great working relationship. Without them, my music would be black dots on a page.

What keeps you going beyond working with your friends?

It’s the best feeling being able to give parts to different people who will sound good on it. I love that. I’m trying to do everything I can to make them as successful as possible.

So what’s next?

The Christmas album. We have a couple different artists who are going to be a part of it who are exciting to us. That’s our main goal right now. We are going to keep doing what we’re doing as long as people are enjoying it.

Interview by Ryan Brinson
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