As Lisa Hawkins sits down with me at Frostline Studio an early afternoon in March, she sways ever so slightly as we arrange ourselves on bar stools around a studio table. The momentary imbalance is not fatigue after “last night’s musician’s excesses” – Lisa is still jet-lagged after traveling halfway around the world from Dubai, where her a capella trio Pipeline Vocal Project was featured at the USA Pavilion of the Expo 2020 Dubai. For four days, they sang for global audiences from the huge Expo stage to illustrate the convention's theme that “freedom enables creativity, innovation, and opportunity.”
Performing at the World Expo may at first seem an extravagant contemplation for an Alaskan group. As it turns out, the one-of-a-kind glamorous vocal troupe based in out-of-the-way Anchorage was a perfect fit for Dubai – so thought the selection committee for Expo 2020, when they first heard PVP’s demo back in February 2021.
What does it take to make the cut and get invited to a world expo?
Professional success for creatives takes focus, hustle and hard work. As the founding manager of Pipeline Vocal Project, Lisa puts in the time crafting and rehearsing vocal arrangements, updating press packages and photo shoots, building social media pages, exploring and creating performance opportunities, all while refining her vision for the a capella group consisting of herself, Adriana Latonio, and Molly Dieni.
By the way, if you haven’t heard Pipeline perform yet, take just 20 seconds right now to sample their tight vocal arrangement of Big Energy.
Lisa forged her a cappella prowess outside of Alaska, but returned a few years ago with her unique skill set as checked luggage and plugged right into the Alaskan music scene. As a vocal coach, Lisa quickly recognized the potential of a cappella singing to supercharge music education in our community, but there wasn’t a local role model or group that could demonstrate and lead this work.
That is why she began envisioning and building PVP. The fledgling group was kicked into performance mode by an(other!) unexpected call, this one from UAA. They needed a headliner on short notice, so PVP went from having 3 minutes of repertoire to a 45 minute set in record time!
This time of growth was also an opportunity for Lisa to clarify the vision of PVP. She saw that women’s a cappella empowers women to lead. Lisa herself is also passionate about the role that creative practice can play in engaging our youth, and sees opportunity for musicians to lead as educators.
Her ideas about music, women’s empowerment, and education resonated with me, and so when I got an unexpected call from the Alaska State Council on the Arts looking for nominations for Alaskan delegates to the Expo 2020 Dubai, PVP was one of a handful of groups to come to mind as a good fit. Ultimately it was up to the Expo committee to book the talent they wanted. Time was short, as is often the case with unique off-the-cuff-opportunities, and PVP was ready with music, promo material, and – during Covid – an open performance calendar.
It was Michael Jordan who said about his own incessant hoop practice: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” All that practice resulted in a legendary 3-pointer legacy. The importance of being prepared, having a plan, and having a “regular practice” of good habits are vital to artists and athletes alike.
I ask Lisa: “What are your top three habits for Alaskan musicians who want to succeed?” and she rattles them off without hesitation: persistence and hustle, as well as passion, which she sees as a reason to create beyond simply loving the music.
The result has been not only the performance in Dubai and the headlining show at UAA, but also a recent selection for the American Music Abroad program and an engagement performing on a Vancouver - Hawaii cruise ship route, which they hope to continue into the future. They are on their way to achieving their vision and more.
There is no one easy explanation as to how such opportunities come about, but we at AKIMI/Music Alaska hope to make Alaska a place of expanding opportunity for musicians with persistence, hustle, and passion.
Pipeline Vocal Project on the main stage at Expo 2020 Dubai (which took place in 2022).
Yngvil Vatn Guttu is a composer, performer, and collaborative multidisciplinary artist based in Anchorage and Homer. She's the director of Northern Culture Exchange and a founding member of several Alaska music projects, including AKIMI, Music Alaska, Spenard Jazz Fest and more.