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February 9, 2008

A cappella group right at home in Marin

Marin Independent Journal (CA):

So popular is the women's a capella group Solstice that when they sing in Marin, it's standing-room-only. This year there's even more reason to hear them when they perform Saturday at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center. Since its last concert at SGVCC more than a year ago, the group has taken first place at the 2007 San Francisco Regional Harmony Sweepstakes and placed in the top three in the a capella national competition - an indication not only of the form's increasing popularity but also of its musical growth. Solstice fans are not surprised. "Our audiences have been enthralled by Solstice," says Hannah Doress, SGVCC's event coordinator.

Solstice is just as thrilled to be performing in Marin, says Emily Bender, a Fairfax resident who has been singing with the group since 2004.
"It's one of our favorite venues," she says. "San Geronimo is the most fantastic audience, so we want to bring them something great. We're trying to do as many new songs as we can that we haven't sung there before."
And that's one reason the group is so popular, because of the wide range of music they offer - everything from classical to folk, jive to pop. For example, Bender will be the soloist in an arrangement of the Edith Piaf song "La Vie en Rose." At the other end of the spectrum, the group will perform a piece by the 16th century Roman Catholic composer Giovanni Palestrini, who wrote hundreds of pieces and changed the history of music with his style of polyphony.

Between Palestrina and Piaf, there will be bluegrass, a song by eclectic pop star Bjork, Bulgarian folksongs. Solstice member Becca Burrington won top honors at the Regional Harmony Sweepstakes for her arrangement of "Blue," a Joni Mitchell song. It is one of Bender's favorites.

"When I sing that song, it almost transports me to another place," Bender says of the Solstice version of "Blue." "The chords are so rich; it's like eating something really delicious." Another of her favorites, one the group will also perform on Saturday, is a song by the French impressionist composer Claude Debussy. "If you sing it right, it's like a warm bath," she says.

Bender attributes the group's growth from regional to national award-winning level to two things. One is the extra effort the members had to put in to prepare for the national a cappella competition. "We did an enormous amount of work on presentation, sound, costumes, everything," Bender says, noting that the work really paid off.

The other factor has been the process of making its first recording, which Bender explains has given the singers a whole different way of relating to the music and to performing. different way," she says. With the concentration in the studio on music instead of performance, the singers are freer to focus on their cohesiveness, the musical interactions among parts and emotional expression. This practice translates to the stage where the musicians, knowing their technique is solid, can then focus on the interactive experience with the audience.

"When you're on the stage, you have this holistic experence," Bender says, noting that listeners' reaction is part of that. "You see people, you feel this vibrant emotion, the intention and feelings behind the music." Making music with others is an experience that's hard to describe to those who don't. But Solstice comes close to giving that experience. As Bender says, "We love singing together, we sing music we love, and we love singing for the audience. We really enjoy what we're doing."

Certainly one of our favorite Bay Area groups and as current regional champs they will be hosting the Bay Area Harmony Sweeps on March 8

Posted by acapnews at February 9, 2008 12:02 AM

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