November 18, 2015
Review - King’s Singers offer their polished template
Small musical ensembles — a quartet, an a cappella chorus — are inextricably bound up with their members, and as they age, they will either change members or shut down. The King’s Singers, the beloved male vocal sextet founded in 1968, has opted for the former; it has had 24 members, and the group that stood at the front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown on Sunday seemed fresh as a caterpillar that has just shed its skin.
Youth, indeed, is one of the group’s stocks in trade. Its particular hallmark is a kind of adult boy-choir sound, a sweet, sexless, tight-knit, pillowy blend. It has turned this sound into a versatile vehicle for a brand of music that dances along the line between art and artsy. Its program “Postcards,” featured on a recent CD and at Sunday’s concert, offers songs from around the world, such as the Korean folk song “Arirang,” a Welsh lullaby and the familiar strains of “Volare,” all linked by the four parts of a commissioned work by Elena Kats-Chernin, “River’s Lament.”
Choirs can be jolly, and they can be earnest, and they are the tiniest bit sanitized. The King’s Singers offer a slick package, polished to a fault — down to the boyish, G-rated banter with the audience — and beautifully balanced. They do justice to unfamiliar music (such as the stirring “Horizons” by Peter Louis van Dijk, a tribute to a lost South African tribe, that opened the program) and offer adroit arrangements, like clever little rebuses that have to be worked out to find the familiar answer, of well-known works such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (a word they unaccountably pronounced as “chari-OH”).
November 6, 2015
TV project seeks a cappella groups
The Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival is pleased to announce that Emmy-Award-winning TV production company One Louder Productions are developing a new TV series based around our 2016 events. Now in our fourth decade of finding and presenting top vocal harmony groups we are excited that veteran TV producer Bob Kusbit (MTV) is interested in creating a reality television series focusing on the groups as they rehearse, prepare and perform in the competition.
Casting director Ellen Berkman Davis is seeking groups with big personalities, great talent, with interesting and unique musical choices. A cappella groups of all styles, genders and ages with between two to eight members are welcome to apply.
November 3, 2015
Original Voices of Liberty singer taking final bow
On the day that Epcot opened in 1982, Debbie Johnson was there, singing.
More than three decades, meetings with four presidents and thousands of "Skip to My Lou" performances later, one of the theme park's original Voices of Liberty is on the edge of retirement. Johnson's swansong with the a cappella Americana group is Saturday.
That's a lot of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" over the years.
"You do pace yourself," said Johnson, 62, of her regimen. "And you're just wise and you hope allergies don't get the better of you. You get your sleep, you drink your water and you avoid — I mean, I do — smoking and drinking, those kind of healthy things."
The Voices of Liberty perform seven 15-minute shows daily in the American Adventure pavilion. Park visitors sit on the floor in front of the 12-member group, dressed in 1800s-style clothing. They are known for gentle songs such as "Shenandoah" and arrangements with big, powerful finishes. Folks feel the vibration beneath the rotunda.
A former director dubbed that effect "85-103," Johnson said.
"We hit that last chord at 85 percent of volume and then we pump it to 103 and add the vibrato," she explained. "It's something you can feel from your toes to the top of your head. … It's absolutely thrilling and just satisfying and rewarding."
Johnson moved cross-country from Washington to be part of the group and Epcot's debut. She had studied music at George Fox University in Newburg, Ore., and traveled with a musical group called Re'Generation, but Disney World was her first long-term paying singing gig.
"This was something that had never been done in a theme park: This kind of music, this kind of message. Who would expect it in a theme park?" she said.
Now, she is the final of the original Voices to be with the group.
Johnson's experience is valuable to the Voices' newer members, some of whom are younger than Epcot, said Melissa Hoepner, entertainment guest-service manager.
"She definitely brings heritage to the group — the history and traditions," Hoepner said. "She's a fabulous storyteller. I love just sitting and listening to what happened in 1982."
Johnson has been married for more than 30 years to Derric Johnson, who was the first show director for Voices of Liberty as well as the primary arranger. They have three grown children and four grandchildren scattered from Miami to Oregon. In retirement, Johnson intends to travel with and support her husband, who has several creative projects in the works.
"We enjoy spending time together," she said. She will now be more available to attend conferences and workshops with her husband, she said.
October 29, 2015
2016 Queens of Harmony - Speed of Sound Quartet
Congratulations to Carter Maysilles (bari), Ashley Wright (lead), Peggy Jones (bass) and Debbie Landers (tenor) of the Speed of Sound Quartet who recently won the Sweet Adleines International Quartet competition are are now the 2016 Queens of Harmony. The Scottsdale Chorus are the new chorus champions.
October 28, 2015
Elizabeth Banks to direct Pitch Perfect 3
Universal Pictures announced today that Elizabeth Banks is confirmed to return and direct Pitch Perfect 3. The movie has a release date 8/4/2017. Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and Rebel Wilson have already closed deals to return, with Kay Cannon on board to pen the script.
The 2012 original grossed $113 million worldwide, while “Pitch Perfect 2″ has more than doubled that, grossing $286 million worldwide to date on a $29 million budget.
And in other great a cappella news the new release by Pentatonix is currently number 1 on the Billboard 200 charts..
October 27, 2015
Not even lights out could dim Tenebrae’s glorious singing
Dallas Morning News:
Starting with the King’s Singers, founded in 1968, England has spawned a succession of outstanding professional chamber choirs that have toured and recorded extensively. On Thursday evening, the excellent group Tenebrae, founded and directed by former King’s Singers member Nigel Short, came to Highland Park United Methodist Church, performing in the church’s Tower Arts Series.
The 17-voice group’s name, Latin for “darkness” or “shadows,” refers to Holy Week services in which candles are progressively extinguished. But the name was inadvertently dramatized in the concert’s second half, when a power outage plunged the church into darkness.
The lights came back on, went off again, came back on and then finally stayed off. Not to be deterred, the singers briefly exited, attached battery-powered lights to their music folders and returned. Singers and the sizable audience gamely soldiered on. At the end, with only muted light on Short spreading animated shadows around the church, the choir sang Anton Bruckner’s motet “Locus iste” from memory, and gloriously.
The first half of the program of unaccompanied sacred music was devoted to Spanish and Italian works spanning roughly 50 years around the turn of the 17th century. The sensuous counterpoint of excerpts from Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories and the funeral motet “Versa est in luctum” by the contemporaneous Alfonso Lobo was exquisitely woven, and twisted tight at dramatic moments.
October 9, 2015
Ysaye Barnwell brings a new song to Cantus
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Composer Ysaye Barnwell is in Twin Cities this week to hear her commissioned work by the vocal group Cantus. She took a break for lunch Thursday before a late afternoon rehearsal and a subsequent performance at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis.
Wednesday night, Barnwell spent 90 minutes directing a community sing of spirituals that she had arranged.
“You find out in a hurry who wants to wade in the water and who is a motherless child,” she said.
Barnwell sang and composed with Sweet Honey in the Rock before retiring in 2013. It was all amicable, all good. “Thirty-four years was enough,” she said. “That’s all. I needed to not do that anymore.”
Barnwell wrote “Tango With God” for Cantus. It’s one of four songs the chorus commissioned for its fall program, “The Four Loves,” which will be performed five times (including Thursday night) over the next ten days.
October 3, 2015
Home Free on the move
Before Home Free won NBC's "The Sing Off" in 2013, the a cappella group was releasing albums on its own and trying to win over season ticket-holders and other strangers to their revamped tunes as they toured theaters, fairs and colleges beyond their Minnesota home base.
"Nowadays people are showing up to see us and there's a palpable energy and excitement in the air before we take the stage," Tim Foust, who provides the lowest notes as the group's bass voice, said by phone from the tour bus a day before their New York City debut. "We all just have a good time from the minute the show starts."
Known for rearranging country and pop classics, from Johnny Cash and Alabama to 'N Sync and One Direction, Home Free is on its third national tour, which arrives Wednesday at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, and follows it with a holiday tour and its first European date, the London A Cappella Festival in January, with their VIP packages already sold out.
"Our YouTube presence is the main driver at this point," Foust said.
It also doesn't hurt that the guys aren't too shabby looking.
"The bulk of our demographic is women ages 30 to 50," said Foust, 34, whose voice had maternal nurturing early on.
"My mom said I was singing and humming along with her before I was even able to form words as a baby. She would sing to me and I would match pitch," Foust said. "My mom really liked those vocal groups from the '50s and '60s … the Beach Boys, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons … and my grandma played me a lot of southern gospel as well. That was definitely a big influence. I was lucky that music was in my household."
September 30, 2015
A celestial lunar season opener
San Francisco Chronicle:
The transformative powers of the moon were on full display at Mission Santa Clara on Saturday night, when the men’s chorus Chanticleer opened its season with an ingeniously programmed and beautifully sung evening of music old and new. From the pull of the tides and the intoxicating force of moonstruck love to the magic of the full moon, this was a program full of mystery and enchantment.
Yet the most remarkable sorcery on offer was in the group’s singing itself, which sounded more polished and finely blended than I’ve heard it in years. The sonorities of the 12-man ensemble reconfigure themselves subtly season by season, as new members join up and old members move on. Like the sea itself, these shifts produce a vocal landscape that is at once unbreaking and ever variable.
The current lineup, though, has clearly reached some new pitch of excellence. Maybe it’s the arrival of William Fred Scott, who recently joined Chanticleer as music director. Maybe it’s the inevitable outcome of changes in the particular vocal qualities of the membership.
Whatever the cause, Saturday’s concert was nothing short of thrilling, from an opening set that interspersed music by Monteverdi with those of English composers, to a final run of pop songs and spirituals. The choral textures were impeccably focused and clear, with a strain of translucency that seemed to speak directly to the evening’s lunar theme.
September 22, 2015
Gareth Malone's Naked Choir to keep clothes on
Gareth Malone, the presenter of the BAFTA-award-winning TV series The Choir, is launching a new show on the BBC called The Naked Choir which will feature a cappella groups only. Here is an interview with him about the new show.
September 19, 2015
Home Free releases new CD
Fans of a cappella group Home Free will be happy that one of their most popular performance songs, a cover of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road,” has finally made it onto an album. The group's third album, entitled Country Evolution, is out Friday, Sept. 18, and the song is featured on the record.
“It’s one of the most requested songs we’ve had for about eight years,” member Rob Lundquist tells Billboard. “We had sent out a poll to our Facebook followers, and that was the second most-requested song behind ‘Elvira,’ which is also on the album. It’s one of our favorite tunes, and we filmed the video all over Minneapolis at different locations. It was a blast to film.”
September 17, 2015
Sir David Willcocks, choirmaster - obituary
Sir David Willcocks, who has died aged 95, was the most influential choirmaster of his generation, spending 17 years as director of music at King’s College, Cambridge, and 38 years in charge of the Bach Choir. He was a man of immense courage in both musical and military fields, earning an immediate MC during his war service in Normandy.
Throughout his long career Willcocks was at the centre of British choral music, moulding voices and raising standards. He injected it with a sense of purpose and redefined its sound while building up a strong base of support through his connections with choral societies across the country. Every note he conducted had to be articulated with precision and every phrase expressed with clarity; the result was an intense beauty of sound. Everything was meticulously rehearsed, including a choir’s entrance and exit from the stage.
For many listeners the pure, vibrato-free sound of the choirboy’s voice cannot be bettered: it is smooth, perfectly in tune, and unconcerned with the cares of the adult world. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s, with which Willcocks was indelibly connected thanks to his descants to carols such as O Come, All Ye Faithful and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. The service is broadcast throughout the world annually on Christmas Eve.
September 14, 2015
Want to be in Pitch Perfect 3? Here's how
In a stunt to promote Pitch Perfect 2 on DVD and Blu-Ray, the movie is launching a Dubsmash contest called "Pitch Smash".
Participants must compete via Dubsmash where they’ll find a “Pitch Perfect 2” gallery. They then go to their favorite soundbite and submit 10-second videos of their best “Pitch Perfect 2” spoken line or song and upload the videos to Vine, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #PitchSmash.
Pitch Perfect 3 is scheduled for summer 2017 but submissions are due September 17. The winner, announced on Good Morning America on September 22, will get a walk-on role in the movie.
September 10, 2015
Shenanigans at Yale's a cappella scene
It appears they take their a cappella rivalries seriously at Yale as there has been a big brouhaha there this past few days. A cappella group Society of Orpheus and Bacchus (SOBS) have been banned from the Rush process by the Dean's Office and will not be allowed to recruit members for a year after some dimwit decided it would be funny to leave a severed deer head at the Spizzwinks auditions. With a touch of the Godfather movies it seems there is bad blood between the groups and this was in retaliation for a previous prank. Read about it at the Yale Daily News.
September 4, 2015
Can’t Sleep Love – Pentatonix
Here's the new single "Can't Sleep Love" from the upcoming Pentatonix album release. Well they have certainly embraced the show business as I remember them way back when they were kinda dorky looking and not particularly hip. They are the hep cats now and certainly looking (and of course sounding) great.
September 1, 2015
Pentatonix to release new studio album on RCA
Pentatonix have left their Sony label Madison Gate and are now signed with RCA Records and will release a new studio album on the label on October 16th. The self-titled album features original songs with the first single, “Can’t Sleep Love” being released September 4th. The group's last album "That’s Christmas To Me" sold more than 1.2 million copies in the U. S., making the group one of only four acts to reach platinum status in 2014.
August 25, 2015
A Reluctant Teenager, a Barbershop Quartet, and a Revelation
New York Times:
The memory is hazy, but I can’t imagine that I went enthusiastically into a concert hall in Portland, Maine, on May 18, 1974. The groups on the bill were not the kind that most 19-year-olds were flocking to see. Yet my mind was blown just as thoroughly as if I’d seen Kiss or Queen. It was blown by a barbershop quartet named the Gentlemen’s Agreement.
I was in my first year of college at the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham, still living with my parents. I realize that a lot about that sentence says “loser,” but I was at least making an effort to be cool. My record collection had three Frank Zappa albums in it.
Why my father secured tickets to a barbershop concert is unclear. My mother, now 94, thinks that perhaps my Uncle Larry, a barbershopper in his college days, was visiting. Also unclear is why I agreed to go along on an old-fogey outing.
It was, I believe, a concert put on by the local chapter of the preposterously named Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, which these days is generally called the Barbershop Harmony Society. As I remember it, the show included a number of groups, all building up to the headliners, the Gentlemen’s Agreement. When those four men started to sing, an unremarkable evening turned into a revelation. I don’t remember what they sang, but I remember being astonished by the seamlessness of it, the intricacy of the harmony, their ability to invest the songs with personality, no guitar or drum kit in sight. I had expected stodgy and instead got stunning.
This is a great article and a ringing endorement of all we like about a cappella harmony. A highly recommended read.
August 22, 2015
Home Free cover Oak Ridge Boys, and it rules
Maybe you think you don’t need to watch a cappella quintet Home Free cover the Oak Ridge Boys’ 1981 ditty “Elvira,” but that’s where you’d be wrong. The legendary gospel and country group join the season 4 Sing Off winners and it’s warm, fuzzy, borderline corny, and accented with a few amazing beards.
Home Free’s third studio album is due out this fall. And lest you forget, their 2014 debut, Crazy Life, hit No. 1 on the iTunes Country chart and No. 4 overall. On traditional charts it reached No. 40 on the Billboard 200 and No. 8 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums.
August 21, 2015
Former St. Olaf Choir conductor Kenneth Jennings dies
St. Olaf College Professor Emeritus of Music Kenneth Jennings ’50, who led the St. Olaf Choir for more than two decades, died Aug. 20. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“The world of choral music lost a great giant,” St. Olaf Choir Conductor Anton Armstrong ’78 told Minnesota Public Radio. “He was an immense influence on many of the leading choral directors of his time, both those who were able to sing under his baton or his beautiful hands, and those who experienced his performances with the St. Olaf Choir and the other choirs he conducted. We will remember him with great love and great admiration, and most of all, with great appreciation for the beauty he brought to the world of choral music.”
Jennings became the third conductor of the St. Olaf Choir in 1968, taking the helm of a renowned ensemble that up to that point had only been led by founder F. Melius Christiansen and his son, Olaf Christiansen ’25.