December 24, 2003

We are having a few days away to celebrate Christmas. We hope our readers will have a holiday full of harmony. - John

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December 23, 2003

New York Times

The Mount Pleasant Home Primitive Baptist Church on the outskirts of Birmingham is a long way from Hollywood, literally and figuratively. So it was a little strange one Sunday to hear a group of people in the tiny bare-walled church swapping stories about Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director of "The English Patient," who was pronounced by one elderly Alabamian that day to be "a pretty decent guy."

A woman near him agreed, but as she loaded her paper plate with lunchtime chicken casserole, she added, "I do wish they'd hold the premiere in New York instead of out in L.A."

Her preference was only practical: she and a handful of others would soon fly to the premiere of the new big-budget movie directed by Mr. Minghella, "Cold Mountain." They would also hear their own clear, strong voices booming from the theater's speakers as they watched the movie for the first time alongside the director and two of its stars, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.

When this Civil War drama opens nationwide on Christmas, the hope among these singers is that it will accomplish something more meaningful than a glamorous trip to Hollywood. They hope it will introduce their kind of music — a powerful and beautiful but relatively obscure form of a cappella choral singing known as Sacred Harp — to a broader audience.

The music, also known as shape-note or fasola singing, has been waiting a long time for that attention. The style of singing, whose rudiments stretch back at least to Elizabethan England, flourished in Colonial New England and in its present form took deep root in the rural South, where it is still sung today in four-part harmony. But many of its practitioners — whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents sang it in little churches and town squares throughout the South — fear it could die out. So they are waiting eagerly to see whether the use of Sacred Harp music on the movie's soundtrack, released on Dec. 16, could do for their music what the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," the Coen brothers comedy, did for rural blues and bluegrass. (The "O Brother" album unexpectedly sold more than five million copies and won the album-of-the-year Grammy in 2002.) More

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NPR - All Things Considered

Liberty Baptist Church, in the northeast Alabama town of Henagar, has cradled the sound of Sacred Harp singing for 110 years. There's no harp in Sacred Harp singing -- no instruments at all. Just the power of voice, in four-part harmony. The origin of the music goes back centuries -- first in England, then in colonial New England, then the music migrated south, where it took root. NPR's Melissa Block reports on the enduring appeal of Sacred Harp singing and the people who keep the tradition alive. Listen

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Navy Newstand

Ten-time Grammy Award-winning gospel group Take 6 entertained Sailors aboard USS Vandegrift (FFG 48). The group was in Japan for a week of shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo and Vandegrift’s operations officer, Lt. Edmond Aruffo, used his connections to invite the group aboard the ship for a lunchtime acapella concert.

“Through a mutual friend, I was able to make contact with them and ask them if they had some time to come down and sing some tunes for the crew,” said Aruffo. “They just opened up and said they’d love to be here.”

This show marked the first time Take 6 had ever performed aboard a U.S. Navy ship. They sang in the helo hangar in front of a small, but enthusiastic group of about 80 Sailors. Band member Mark Kibble was excited about this opportunity to bring some holiday cheer to the crew members in attendance.

“Coming out here to perform was awesome,” said Kibble. “It was such an honor to be able to do it because these are the people who ‘have our backs.’ We’re so proud of you all. Just to come and share a little bit of joy with you during the Christmas season, and share some of God’s love, was the biggest honor for us. We realize you guys have a tough job to do so, we’re praying for you while you’re out here and we ‘got your back’ too.” The Sailors appreciated the free show and, while not all were gospel fans, by the end of the performance, most had become Take 6 enthusiasts.

When asked about any advice they could offer to youngsters who are interested in pursuing a career in music, Kibble said, “Be free to do it. Don’t be shy. Keep practicing, and remember to keep a song in your heart all the time.”

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Japan Times

New Jersey born, but a Japan resident of five years, Davis -- a former member of the legendary R&B group The Platters -- has assembled a choir, mainly comprised of Japanese singers, but with a smattering of others from the United States, the West Indies and the Philippines, which proves on stage that even if it gains few converts, Christianity can still ripple the spiritual surface of this country.

When they launched into "Oh Happy Day" -- called Japan's gospel anthem -- feet were stomping, hands were in the air and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. With all reticence and reserve joyously thrown to the wind, this was no staid Japanese Christmas event. Davis and his singers are onto something hot. Gospel -- the musical amalgam of West African call-and-response, Protestant hymns, jazz and the blues that is on the rise in the West -- is taking root in Japan as well, both at grassroots level and in the mainstream.

Springing up around the country are ensembles with names like The Far East Gospel Singers, and The Tokyo Voices of Praise. Not to be left out of the gospel act, some 7,000 people around the country -- mostly women in their 20s and 30s -- have enrolled for gospel courses at branches of the Yamaha Music School alone. Lessons there include not only voice control but also body movement and English pronunciation. Davis begins each practice session with his own group, called the Tokyo for Christ Gospel Workshop Choir, with a prayer and a brief explanation of each song's religious meaning.

Despite this, only a few of Japan's gospel singers are regular churchgoers. However, for all concerned the experience of raising their voices in harmony is nevertheless an emotionally charged affair, a method of overcoming the reluctance many Japanese feel about openly expressing emotion.

"You should see their faces during rehearsals," Davis said of his students, while warming up for the show. "They go from looking forlorn and timid to looking energized. They're learning they can be a part of this music."

Besides inspiring Japanese to move their bodies to the rhythm, the movie also helped foster interest in such Japanese pop acts as the five-member a cappella group Gospellers, whose 2001 CD "Love Notes" sold more than 1.8 million copies, said a spokeswoman at Sony Music group company Defstar Records.

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BBC World Service

BBC World Service's World Today programme focuses on five different choirs and five different musical communities - all united by a common goal of maintaining or reviving their respective traditions and making these relevant to the present.

The Real Happy Singers, like fellow musicians Ladysmith Black Mambazo, come from a choral tradition rooted in the lifestyle of South Africa's migrant workers. They perform in identical suits - jackets, trousers, shirts, together with a white shirt and tie. The shoes are polished - which the singers maintain shows that "everyone in this kind of music should be smart". The choir's songs, performed with a witty, sharp style, often have a serious message.

"We've got a song that says 'phusa gusa gwe xle', that shows... 'you are overdosing the alcohol'," singer Maxwell Majola told BBC World Service's The World Today programme. "We try to teach all those people with this song that when you drink, you have to have a limit of drink." The choir's music is isicathamiya, an a cappella genre from the townships. "It comes from the word to describe a stalking cat or a lion stalking its prey, and it describes a kind of dance," said Angela Impey, an ethnomusicologist based at the University of Natal in Durban.

Real Happy Singers have won first prize over 100 times at the weekly competitions in the YMCA hall of their hometown. Up until the 1990s, the judge would always be a white person - on the reasoning that a white person was very unlikely to know anybody in the choirs and so was unlikely to be biased.

"Sometimes they would be homeless people, sometimes they would be just people going home after certain events, and they would be confronted very politely," Ms Impey added. "And often they were frightened, they'd never been to black areas and they would feel that 10 people surrounding them and asking them to come and listen to choirs was a very strange invitation.

"That person would be brought in and very politely lured into the hall and made to sit through the whole competition, which would normally start at about 4pm and go until about 9pm, 10pm on a Sunday morning." This practice stopped in the early 1990s, when the competition became more politicised. More

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Downbeat

Virtually dormant as a studio group for almost four years, the Manhattan Transfer has inked a three-album contract with Telarc and will venture into the studio at the beginning of 2004. The quartet joins its female vocalists, Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne, who have solo deals with Telarc. The live Transfer album Couldn't Be Hotter came out in September, albums by Bentyne and Siegel are due in January and March respectively, and a surround sound studio date by the group is slated for release next August.

A Telarc artist since 2001. Siegel's latest project is a set of Broadway tunes arranged by Gil Goldstein. Though her choice of composers are familiar--Sondheim, Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein--Siegel avoided the Broadway warhorses. "I wanted to stay away from the tunes that everybody does and knows," Siegel said. "There's so much material to choose from."

Bentyne, who until recently has been largely invisible as a solo recording artist, recorded three CDs for the Japanese label King in 2002 and 2003, which have only been available as imports. Telarc is handling the stateside release of Talk Of The Town, her first King album. Produced by her husband, pianist/arranger Corey Allen, and featuring guest appearances by Take 6 and Chuck Mangione, the collection of standards marks Bentyne's first solo record since 1992's Something Cool. "I wasn't ready for a solo career," Bentyne said. "'Then I saw some of these young singers coming up, getting successful doing standards and doing music that I should be doing and I'm thinking, 'I've got to get out them and do something.'"

The Transfer is still selecting material for their first Telarc studio album. "The concept may end up being just the four of us doing songs that we love," Siegel said. "That seems to be where we're all at right now."

"There's no real theme," Bentyne added. "The theme is pure inspiration and what's sparking us. That's got to be the foundation, but I'll tell you it took a long time to realize that's where we had to begin."

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December 20, 2003

Boston Globe

For years, Go! has been badgering and picking on the a cappella band Five O'Clock Shadow. In retaliation, the members of the quintet showed up at The Boston Globe and sang to us in person. We learned our lesson and quickly backed off. You don't know true pain until an a cappella band shows up at your place of work and starts singing to you. Talk about embarrassing. But it seems that Go! is the final victor in this battle of good taste. No doubt tired of our witty cruelty, Five O'Clock Shadow is breaking up. On Saturday night, catch the ensemble's final show at the Regent Theatre. Go! will be there to throw Junior Mints and heckle accordingly.

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IBerkshires

Take 6 has forged a reputation as one of the most innovative and successful vocal groups performing today, earning them wide admiration in the music industry. The group has collaborated with an impressive list of artists including Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Don Henley, Queen Latifah, and James Taylor, and has added tracks to numerous film soundtracks, including Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” The group has consistently found ways to blend new influences and techniques with their own music, resulting in a musical experience that defies categorization. Since its formation in 1980, this innovative a cappella sextet has racked up millions in album sales, received seven Grammys and scores of other awards for their albums, which bass singer Alvin Chea describes as “uplifting…a positive in a world of negativity.”

But while Take 6, comprised of Chea, Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Joey Kibble, Mervyn Warren, Cedric Dent, and David Thomas, has evolved and grown throughout the years, their message remains the same. “We don’t want people to forget the roots of where the best ideas come from, where kindness comes from,” says Mark Kibble. “It’s all about expression and reaching people where they are,” says McKnight. “We present the message in an attractive package, and hopefully the folks will leave the show humming a tune.”

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REVIEW

Philadelphia Inquirer

So the Manhattan Transfer's Friday show is sold out at the Keswick Theatre. This disc can fill in. It represents a rare occasion of capturing the vocal group's unique live sound on digital. You can hear the quartet's effect on a crowd on "Couldn't Be Hotter," recorded in concerts in Japan in December 2000. They wheel through mostly swing numbers with fresh elan. Trumpeter Lew Soloff lays out some imperial work on a zesty "Up a Lazy River." Some tunes are a little precious and schmaltzy, but the good can overwhelm even the most cynical synapses. These singers have always managed to make the campy compelling, and this set's example, "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone," lets them ride on a disco high horse.

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December 19, 2003

The London Times

They have have probably performed more carols over their 35-year history than there are Christmas lights twinkling on Oxford Street. Yet with inexhaustible energy the King’s Singers are off on another Christmas tour of the United States, leaving audiences at home with a new album simply entitled Christmas. Listen to it, or catch the King’s Singers in a Radio 3 Christmas Day broadcast of their recent concert at Grosvenor Chapel in Mayfair, and you will hear that they sound as fresh as ever.

This is a very different programme from their last Christmas album of a decade ago, which featured souped-up carols with an orchestra under Richard Hickox and no less a soprano than Kiri Te Kanawa. The new programme returns to their traditional sacred roots with some of the least tacky Christmas music you will encounter all season. Its sober tone will surprise those who think of the King’s Singers as sort of musical Pythons.

One of the group’s special achievements has been to maintain their act without going stale. True, some serious music lovers might sniff at the idea of a King’s Singers concert, but anyone who has actually heard the group recently will find their style hard to resist. It’s natural to assume that a group such as this might have lost their original identity, yet the uniquely smooth blend of just six male voices — in the slightly unusual configuration of two counter-tenors, one tenor, two baritones and bass — remains undiminished.

Some other British musical institutions of similar vintage must be looking on enviously. The Swinging Sixties were good years for classical music in London, with the emergence of groups who were to change the way the world thought about performance style. But that same change eventually saw many of them being left behind or superseded — while no one has yet managed to beat the King’s Singers at their own game.

One key to the group’s success has been their stability. Over the years, their hairstyles have altered more than their personnel, and the King’s Singers can boast of having had just 18 members over their long existence. All that has changed is the connection with King’s College, Cambridge. Though it happens now that one singer is a former Kingsman, the link was loosened when the first departure of a member — ten years to the day after the group’s founding — brought the realisation that they could not continue indefinitely as a group of college friends. Though they remain rather respectable fellows who just happen to be as good at singing silly songs as serious ones, the only background they tend to have in common now is the solid training they all received as cathedral choristers. More

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The Daily Herald

We're not sure just exactly where the a cappella group Moosebutter derives its name -- and frankly we're afraid to ask. (Were Moosejam, Moosemargarine or Moosecreamcheese considered and cast aside?) When similar groups perform, do audience members slap their heads partway through the show and exclaim, "I can't believe it's not Moosebutter!"?

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Fox News

Wayne Newton has received plenty of standing ovations in his day, but the response he got on a USO tour of Iraq was still extraordinary. "(The soldiers) stand up when you walk out onstage," Newton told The Associated Press in a dressing-room interview after a recent performance here. "They're so happy to see somebody from home."They visited a few military camps each day for handshakes, hugs, snapshots and to talk. At a school, Newton, actor Gary Sinise and singers Neal McCoy and Chris Isaak sang a cappella for Iraqi children. They rode out in a military convoy.

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December 18, 2003

CBS 60 Minutes II

Choirmaster John Rutter is an English composer who writes more Christmas carols and choral music than just about anyone on earth. Correspondent Vicki Mabrey found the maestro in a small church in Edinburgh, Scotland, giving singing lessons.

“You don’t realize how good it is until you’ve tried it,” says Rutter. “It is wonderful to go to a choral concert, to hear a choir sing. But I think the deepest joy of all is to actually sing.”

Rutter holds these singing days about 20 times a year. “When I agree to do these, I make just one condition, which is that anybody is welcome,” he says. “So long as they are willing to come and bring their voice, they’re welcome.”

The cost of admission: donation to charity. Singing lessons from the master: priceless. After a full day of tinkering, fine-tuning and some candid critique, these people – who’d never sung together – sounded amazing. How does Rutter get the sound that he wants? “Communication through body language or through face language perhaps seems to take over,” he says. “There’s a kind of alchemy or magic and if I probe into it too deeply maybe I’ll lose it.”

Although he’s gained an international reputation, Rutter’s career has centered around Clare Chapel and its choir. For several years after college, he was the choir director. He got married there, and his oldest son, Christopher, was baptized there as well. Christopher followed in his father’s footsteps, and sang in the choir. But in 2001, right after choir practice, Christopher was struck by a car and killed - it happened just outside Clare Chapel. His funeral was held a week later, in Clare Chapel.

“The sadness, of course, never goes. Anyone who’s been bereaved knows you never really get over it,” says Rutter. “I think anybody who’s experienced what our family has knows that it draws you closer together, and perhaps from that closeness comes a sense of inspiration.” For two years, Rutter couldn’t find the inspiration. But when he finally emerged, he wrote “Mass Of The Children.” More

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Professional newlyweds Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey stopped by. Simpson brayed her hit "With You" to a backing track and an acoustic guitarist. Lachey sang "This I Swear" with the acoustic guitarist. Then they sang "O Holy Night" together, a cappella, thus proving that singing without instrumental backing is a privilege, not a right. Oh well; they got to talk about next month's premiere of the second season of their MTV show, and that's clearly all they cared about.

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San Francisco Bay View

SoVoSo’s Christmas Concert was simply beautiful last week. Yoshi’s was decorated with holly, sequins and poinsettias, the silver and gold bells ringing lyrically from a group that doesn’t need instrumental accompaniment - their voices alternating between saxophone, contrabass to snare drums, their “Seasonings” a perfect gift for Christmas.

Joey Blake’s “Holiday Season” and Sunshine Baker’s arrangement of “Christmas in Questa” were two of my favorite selections for their lyrical and thought provoking beauty. Last week the concert featured old company members and friends such as Destini Wolf, Nicolas Bearde and Rhianna. SoVoSo puts an extra “a” in a cappella.

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December 17, 2003

REVIEW

San Francisco Chronicle

Now that the economy is improving and scary dictators are in custody, it is time to turn our thoughts to something that makes any holiday season festive: bad taste. Bad taste is the booster rocket propelling "Oy Vey in a Manger," a drag musical revue by the decade-old San Francisco a cappella singing group the Kinsey Sicks, which bills itself as America's Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.

The two-hour holiday-themed show at the New Conservatory Theatre Center is rife with high camp, low puns, gut-busting song parodies and outre outfits. The "girls" -- Irwin Keller, 43 (as Winnie); Ben Schatz, 44 (Rachel); Chris Dilley, 31 (Trampolina); and Kevin Smith Kirkwood, 27 (Trixie) -- weave their voices on the hum-along ditties "God Bless Ye Femmy Lesbians," "A Lay in a Manger," "I'm Dreaming of a Vanna White Christmas" and "Where the Goys Are," among others.

The perky performers also saddle unsuspecting audiences with puns so awful that jail should be in the offing. On a set decorated as a manger, the "girls" recall the birth of Christ, which included the visit of "the three Weismans" and catering by Judas' Carryout and Pontius' Palate. Says one member: "Lox was key." "There would be a lot less groaner puns if we had an editor," Keller said, chuckling, by phone Thursday, his voice a flu-zapped whisper. "I think it's OK for the audience to have the opportunity to groan. And you'd be surprised at what today's audiences get and tomorrow's miss." More

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December 16, 2003

The Desert Sun

He was laid to rest alongside local legends. Sinatra, Bono and, on a clear December day in the desert, Jimmy Beaumont. Pompadoured teen idol, juke box king of the Pittsburgh dance floor when doo-wop dotted the dial, Beaumont and his Skyliners rode the charts in the late 1950s and early ’60s with now-classics "Since I Don’t Have You" and the ballad "This I Swear." Forty years later, listeners still remember the magic in those songs.

"When you hear the hook and chorus, it stays in your head. It’s like going to Disneyland and hearing ‘It’s a Small World.’ It stays in your head," said Bob Crosby, president and chief executive officer of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Pennsylvania, an artist-run foundation that honors the bygone bands of the 1950s and 1960s. Beaumont and The Skyliners were named to the hall of fame in 2002. "They hear that hook and you know it’s a hit."

But Beaumont isn’t at Cathedral City’s Desert Memorial Park. Not because he isn’t qualified to share a granite marquee with the other legends. He just isn’t dead. He’s in Pittsburgh.

It’s a bizarre tale that began as a lot of stories do, from an interesting, but random tip, this one from an obituary on a small blues Web site. More

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REVIEW

Souix City Journal

If Tonic Sol-Fa edges into Contemporary Christian Music, does that mean Plastic Santa will have to go? If that's the deal breaker, we don't want to see the shift happen. Yet at the popular a cappella group's Christmas concert Friday night at the Orpheum Theater, there was a definite tip in the CCM direction. In addition to the traditional Christmas carols, the four (Jared Dove, Shaun Johnson, Mark McGowan and Greg Bannwarth) sang several original numbers that seemed ready for Dove Award consideration. "Joseph's Song," a Johnson composition that put the spotlight on Mary's husband, and "Who Will Love Me," a new cut from the "Red Vinyl" CD, had a distinct gospel feel that could net them plenty of concert dates and lots of airplay. They're fine songs. But part of the group's joy is the fun it has with the secular aspects of the holiday. The "Ice Ice Baby" Christmas medley (done as an encore) is a tribute to the quartet's ingenuity; Plastic Santa's original number was a chance for Bannwarth to show his worth as a comedian. As dumb as it sounds, a lawn ornament that sings has real merit. Friday, the jolly old polyvinyl did himself proud. More

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REVIEW

Korea Times

The Swingle Singers' origins were remembered in the first piece of the evening: the D minor fugue from Bach's "The Art of the Fugue." The choice of sounds they actually make owes much to scat singing, with careful selection of syllables for their sound qualities. There followed three other Bach favourites: "Air on a G string," in a subtly respectful rendering; the largo from the Harpsichord Concerto, with a fine solo supported by bell-like resonances; and finally in this section the "Badinerie" from Orchestral Suite No.2, in which the singers captured well the bantering quality of the original.

The compulsive and whimsical qualities of Mozart's little bit of "Nightmusic" seemed to have been conceived with the Swingle treatment in mind, so natural did it come. The movements of the figures on the stage also echoed well the contrapuntal patterns in the music. They then moved on to the Romantic period and three pieces evocative of Spanish culture: the famous "Aranjuez" by Rodrigo, a slow tempo, jazzed up version of a tango in D major by Albeniz, with some of the qualities of a brassy big band, and the anonymous "Romanza Espanola," characterized by some delightful descant sequences. More

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December 13, 2003

Nelson Mandela on stage with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in a scene from Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony

The Guardian (UK)

Archive footage shows a South African crowd in the 1980s singing the anthem Senzenina. Over and over they repeat the title in those inimitably moving harmonies, as the subtitles translate for us: "What have we done?" The second verse suggests an answer. "Is it because we are black?"

Not even the American civil-rights movement of the 1960s could match the anti-apartheid movement for the power of its music. But the thousands who packed the Free Mandela concerts or who bought the Indestructible Beat of Soweto compilations will have little idea of the depth and power that the music has in situ. The hymns and chants that underscored the movement come from a long history of Zulu, Xhoza and Sutu singing. At its most complex and sophisticated, it has given us the harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the elegant piano pieces of Abdullah Ibrahim. In its most vividly political form, toyi-toyi dancers mime movements from the hunt as they chant joyful threats at police holding sjamboks and machine guns.

These scenes are part of Amandla!, a prize-winning documentary by Lee Hirsch. Hirsch and his producer Sherry Simpson spent the better part of a decade putting it together, and the result is not just revelatory and moving, but also a consummate piece of documentary film-making. More

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December 12, 2003

The Oregonian

Listening to the Tallis Scholars perform Palestrina's sacred Renaissance music is like standing under an enormous arch in a Roman cathedral. The sound soars overhead, suggesting height, grandeur and space defined by classical coolness and grounded in sonorities perfectly crafted to give a solid sound.

Allegri's "Miserere" has become a calling card for early-music choirs, with good reason. Repeating sections offer opportunities for understated ornamentation, but the soprano's high C's are the notes that pierce the heart. Phillips placed four singers, including the soprano soloist, at the back of the church and five singers and the cantor in front. Five times, the soprano soared over the texture, less ethereally than some, but still embellishing the descending line with pitch-perfect poise. Fluid, shapely singing marked Palestrina's "Stabat Mater" and "Nunc Dimittis," which were originally sung by the Papal Choir in the Sistine Chapel. The singing was vibrant and rich in detail, with exquisite rounding of phrases.

With a program of such elegance and restraint, harmonic dissonances took on added importance. Subtle changes of texture and rhythm assumed consequence. Palestrina was a supremely vocal composer, rarely writing leaps of more than five notes, and favoring stepwise motion. The Tallis Scholars knew exactly how much weight to give those dissonant moments. It was a concert to cherish. More

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Ann Arbor News

Sweet Honey in the Rock has been named the 2004 Distinguished Artist Award winner by the University Musical Society. The ensemble will perform and the award will be presented May 15 at the annual Ford Honors Program in Hill Auditorium. UMS President Kenneth C. Fisher said one of the reasons for conferring the prestigious honor on the group "is the quality of the relationship we have with the women of Sweet Honey. We have been presenting them here over the past decade and they have been extraordinarily popular with young people, adults and students." In addition, he said, Bernice Johnson Reagon, the group's founder, was both commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at the U-M's 2002 spring commencement. Reagon retired from the group earlier this year, but will be honored at the Ford program. More

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December 11, 2003

REVIEW

Santa Cruz Metro

But the biggest innovation of this wild new ride is SoVoSo, the jazz-flavored vocal quintet who supplied all the music for The New Nut. Strong on style, the five singers, each a soloist at one point or another, dominated most of the first half of the matinee with original songs and arrangements that included "O Holy Night" and "Down by the Riverside." For the longer second half, they led the Nutcracker parade in arrangements that imitated the Tchaikovsky dances but, for lack of the original orchestral colors, deflected nearly all attention to the dancers, jugglers, acrobats, gymnasts and skaters. Even so, with only voices the quintet came up with amazing effects of rhythm and timbre. More

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GRAMMY winner Joseph Jennings, director of Chanticleer, has a new radio program on the Vox Channel of satellite station XM Radio. Airs every Thursday and Sunday at 10PM ET.

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St Peterberg Times

It seems like every holiday song this time of year is about the baby Jesus, Santa, reindeer or snow. Maybe occasionally someone plays that Adam Sandler song about Hanukkah. But the Jewish Festival of Lights has inspired stirring music that spans centuries and crosses cultural boundaries.

The music isn't well known, even to musicians interested in traditional Jewish music. So when the members of the Western Wind, a New York a cappella ensemble, wanted to put together a celebration of the Jewish holiday, they had to do some research. "It started when some of the Jewish members of the group, myself included, remarked that there wasn't much Jewish music being played on the radio," said William Zukof, a founding member of the Western Wind. "We delved into the songbooks and we found a lot of wonderful songs, some of them set to contemporary Hebrew poetry." More

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December 9, 2003

INTERVIEW

KARE 11

"Our family actually harmonized a lot together in church. My mom was a big music fan. She loved to perform in church," says Darren Rust, who grew up with his younger brother on a farm north of Fargo and had performed with him in a group, Total Eclipse. While each Blender is a superb soloist, it's the sound of their voices blending that gives them a distinct sound. "When it comes down to it, we really, really take every note seriously and every harmony seriously, and that if it doesn't have that ring to it, every chord, then we do it again," Darren Rust says. It's just luck that The Blenders' four voices blend so well together, Kasper says. But he says the group's members also have "a certain selflessness" when sharing the spotlight. "A lot of groups maybe have four guys just kind of singing lead over each other, and we actually try to harmonize and blend with each other when we're singing in the background," Kasper says. More

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First-time hosts Vietnam offended the Philippines delegation members by playing the wrong national anthem during a medal ceremony an official said yesterday. The Philippines judo team won two golds and two bronze medals Sunday, when the wrong anthem was played. Philippines ambassador Victoriano Lecaros was among those in the crowd who began singing the real anthem a cappella along with the athletes, said Bong Pedralvez of the Philippines Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.  “We didn't know (which one it was), but it surely wasn't ours,” he said of the song.

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December 8, 2003

Washington Post

The hundreds who braved Friday's slushy roads to hear Chanticleer perform its annual Christmas program at George Mason University's Center for the Arts found their risk was amply rewarded. The all-male a cappella group from San Francisco rarely faltered during its sonic journey through time in a program enhanced by simple choreography.

Walking onstage with lit tapers, the singers delivered a Gregorian chant with monastic solemnity, 12 voices blending effortlessly as one. A tambourine added a dancelike flavor to selections of Spanish Renaissance pieces. Shimmering chords marked the end of each polyphonic work.

The group achieved an orchestral sound in several modern pieces. For John Tavener's haunting "Village Wedding," the singers periodically rotated their circular formation and turned one by one to face the audience during solos. Such movement had a meditative effect upon the music, rendering it slightly incantational; at times Chanticleer's voices sounded like mystical oboes and bassoons. The work's last chord clung like mist and slowly dissipated.

Mimicking bells and cellos in the second half, the group explored traditional folk tunes and Christmas carols. The concert's only flaw occurred near the end of "O Holy Night," when an exuberant counterpoint drowned out the soloist -- a surprising phenomenon during an otherwise remarkably balanced performance. The evening concluded with "Christmas Medley," a toe-tapping rendition of carols and spirituals arranged by Chanticleer's music director, Joseph Jennings.

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INTERVIEW

Advocate Messenger

"Really, trying to put in one sentence what The King's Singers are is very difficult," said Stephen Connolly, the bass voice for the six-strong ensemble, in a telephone interview from New York Thursday. "We say we're the ambassadors of choral singing - we can sing anything that can be sung.

"We had friends who looked at the scientific thing about light, such as certain colors mix together and make pure white. We thought, 'We're kinda like that.' We're six different guys, with different personalities, different voices, different ranges. You talk about a perfect blend - we're a blend of like a pure white, really. We're like colors coming together to make pure white."

Connolly, a Devonshire, England, resident, said The King's Singers like to use "a lot of vocal colors in one song." Thus, they focus on "the colour of song." "It's like a palette for artists," he noted. "It is not often you get groups that experiment with vocal colors. We try to specialize in making this sound so interesting. ... We try to make the hairs on the listener's neck stand up." More

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Seattle Post-Intellencer

The highly esteemed English vocal ensemble was here on its 25th anniversary and Friday night at St. Mark's Cathedral on its 30th anniversary. Needless to say, after three decades of international touring and recording, the 10 singers, led by Peter Phillips, were greeted by a full house of connoisseurs who listened raptly to a program of Italian and Flemish Renaissance polyphony.

Founded by Phillips the Tallis Scholars is arguably the finest exponent of Renaissance sacred vocal music in the world. That expertise could be heard in every phrase in Friday's concert: the stylistic surety, brilliant sound and refined and vivid musicianship. As informed by scholarship as Phillips and these singers are, they are never buried in the details of ancient traditions. Rather, they are fully engaged in what they do and bring this remarkable music to life.

Their approach -- so polished and sophisticated -- is carefully calibrated, but seemingly spontaneous. Pitch for the Tallis Scholars is never a sometime thing despite singing highly difficult music all night a cappella. It never wavered and provided its own sense of vocal rightness. The ensemble is tight and focused and marvelously balanced. The sopranos possess that purity of sound for which English singers are well-known, warmed by the lyricism of the tenors and basses and altos (a woman and man). All together, a transpired blend of timbres. More

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Rockapella wants to let you in on a secret. "'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town' has an introduction that I'd never heard before," says Scott Leonard, the a cappella quintet's high tenor, principal song writer and producer. Leonard rattles off the four-line intro - in key, of course.

"When you hear that, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, it's that song?' It just gets my boat floatin'," says the Indiana native, who's now a resident of Tampa, Fla. "I like to find a Christmas song [for us to sing] that has a verse or an intro that was written for it that nobody ever does ... Little twists on songs that make people go, 'Oh, that was cool.'"

"[Our shows are] pretty energetic. The thing about a cappella is it's kind of organic and fluctuating and continuous," Leonard says. "It's not when like you pluck a string and it's always the same ... everything's kind of spinning around in our throats, and it's very 'of the moment' and spontaneous and accessible. I barely even think of us as a cappella. I think of us as just making music that happens to come from our mouths only." More

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December 7, 2003

Alameda Times Star

The group's sound is a mixture of the seemingly mysterious modes, harmonies and rhythms of Bulgaria (Kitka means "bouquet" in that country's language), the Balkans, Greece, the Baltic republics and the former Soviet Union. As showcased on Kitka's new album "Wintersongs" and tour by the same name, the sound is irresistibly evocative of a picture postcard holiday season in all its crystalline, snow-blessed beauty. Sometimes a capella and sometimes accompanied by folk instruments, the massed voices transcend time and place.

"I think it's what makes everyone love the season, no matter what spiritual background they come from," says Shira Cion, lead vocalist on one of the album's songs and the group's executive director. "(The music) taps into something really ancient. You think about the solstice, the nights which are dark and cold and long, and a lot of our songs just encapsulate that mood." More

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December 4, 2003

GRAMMY nominations were announced today and some a cappella recordings are included:-

Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album
"A Cappella"
Gaither Vocal Band

Best Choral Performance
(Award to the Choral Conductor, and to the Orchestra Conductor if an Orchestra is on the recording, and to the Choral Director or Chorus Master if applicable.)

"Argento: Walden Pond"
Dale Warland, conductor
The Dale Warland Singers

"Baltic Voices 1"
Paul Hillier, conductor
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Best Classical Crossover Album
"Our American Journey"
Joseph Jennings, conductor
Chanticleer

Best Traditional World Music Album
"Sacred Tibetan Chant"
The Monks Of Sherab Ling Monastery

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Boston Globe

Many of us have heard the Tanglewood Chorus already, whether in the haunting choral soundtrack of "Saving Private Ryan" or the voices in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The group sang on Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" soundtrack, recorded in the director's presence at Symphony Hall.

"Considering films and the many recordings made by the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops, the TFC is among the world's most listened to choruses, and in New England the most beloved," says Keith Lockhart, who will conduct the group in about 30 Holiday Pops concerts beginning Tuesday. "It's axiomatic at Symphony Hall that if you want the audience to love you, get the TFC involved." Many of the 250-plus members shape their lives, careers, family duties, and vacations around their addiction to singing behind the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, both in Boston during the concert season and summers in residence at Tanglewood. Aside from the satisfaction of making spectacular music, none is paid a dime.

"After food and sex, singing with the TFC is my other priority," says one 20-year veteran soprano. Her priorities reverse, she adds, during concert times.

The Tanglewood chorus' rise was not meteoric. It took up most of the 29-year tenure of Seiji Ozawa. In its first two seasons as the voices of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the fledgling chorus followed a long tradition of joining university choruses onstage. Not until the summer of 1971 at Tanglewood did the chorus stand alone on the risers, and since then it has not ceded the territory.

In its first overseas performances, the chorus joined Ozawa and the symphony on tour in Japan and Hong Kong in 1994. In 1998, singing from the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, the chorus became the collective voice of the United States.

Ozawa conducted the Winter Olympics Orchestra with six choruses on five continents -- including the Tanglewood chorus -- all linked by satellite, in the choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to close the inaugurating ceremonies of the Nagano Olympics. More

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INTERVIEW

St Louis Post Dispatch

"For me, it's the best of both worlds," says Siegel during a recent tour stop for the Manhattan Transfer in Jacksonville, Fla. "On my own recordings, I get to make my own creative decisions and follow whatever muse I want to follow. By the same token, I love working with the group, and I love singing harmony and also writing arrangements for the group and hearing what I've written." In addition to singing lead on such perennial Transfer tunes such as "Operator," "The Boy From New York City" and "Birdland," Siegel also wrote the vocal arrangements for "Birdland" and many of the songs on the group's albums.

But Siegel has plenty of energy left over for her own solo recordings and frequent guest appearances with other musicians and singers, both live and on record. She's the only member of the Transfer who still lives in Manhattan, and one of the primary reasons is the rich, diverse live-music scene in the Big Apple.

"That's why I live there," she says. "I'm out listening to music whenever I'm there, and I listen to a lot of different things at home. My house is overflowing with music - it's out of control! And when I'm hearing music, I'm always cataloging it. I'm doing A&R work whenever I hear anything that might work as a Transfer song or something that might fit one of my solo projects." More

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing "People Get Ready" with Phoebe Snow on the recently released Putumayo World Music 10th Anniversary Collection, a double-disc various-artists set.

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December 2, 2003

NEW RELEASE

The Real Group, glorious, award-winning mixed-voice a cappella vocal quintet from Sweden, has long been one of the most respected and admired artists of vocal harmony music. In Sweden they represent the highest of musical and artistic quality, regardless of genre, and have collaborated with many of Sweden's finest musicians. Year after year, the group ranks among our best sellers. "Julen Er Her," their second Christmas album, is simply marvelous and reflects the ample talents in both singing and arranging that have made them one of our favorites. Several tracks are in English including a great live 8-minute "American Christmas Medley" ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas" and a swinging, jazzy "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), plus John Lennon/Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas," and a bluesy "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". Most songs arranged by the amazing Anders Edenroth. 14 tunes in all, with a bonus 5-minute video (MPG) of the live tune "Clown of the Jungle". "Julen Er Her" is a highly recommended holiday treat for all a cappella fans! Listen to Happy Christmas and The Big Juleblues.

Primarily A Cappella is currently the only US retailer to have this title in stock.

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SING A SONG OF SPAM

Singing at the Spam Museum this holiday season are:-

The Second Edition. A group of 16 women who perform choral, pop and jazz tunes. The Second Edition was formed in 1987 to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the SPAM(R) family of products. -- Sunday, Dec. 7, 2 p.m.

The SPAMETTES(TM) singing group. Four musicians who sing only about their favorite food - SPAM. Their repertoire includes everything from big band sounds and '50s rock'n'roll to The Beatles and country music, which are accompanied by lyrics that pay tribute to the SPAM family of products. -- Saturday, Dec. 13, 2 p.m.

InSynque. A popular female a cappella quartet from Austin, Minn. InSynque's shows include upbeat, favorite songs that appeal to all age groups. The quartet is known for its tight harmony and unique musical style. -- Sunday, Dec. 21, 2.p.m.

(This is our favorite press release received so far. Keep 'em coming. Thanks - editor@acappellanews.com)

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REVIEW

Indianapolis Star

Anonymous 4's expert command of fine choral literature was most evident in a series of contemporary a cappella pieces. Effortless technique came across in an enchanting interpretation of "The Lamb," John Tavener's challenging setting of William Blake poetry, with singers moving from unison into tight harmonies full of melting dissonances. Text painting was superb in Peter Maxwell Davies' "A Calendar of Kings," which is an account of the journey of the three Magi, rich with images of stars and snowdrops. Urgent antiphonal phrasing did honor to film and TV composer Geoffrey Burgon's wonder-filled "A God, and yet a man?" More

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TECH NOTE

PG Music Inc. has released the 2004 Version of its Band-in-a-Box intelligent music software for Windows. With over fifty new features, Band-in-a-Box 2004 offers a major upgrade in features and functionality. With the new 32-bit engine program operations are much faster, including up to 3 times faster notation redraws, song and soloing generation. Playback timing is improved with all versions of Windows including the newest XP and Media Center operating systems. Enhancements to the graphical user interface include floating/dockable toolbars.

With the new Audio Vocal Harmony routines the user can apply a harmony to the audio part and automatically create up to 4-part vocal harmonies. Band-in-a-Box 2004 employs TC-Helicon Vocal Technologies engine to generate the harmonies. The user simply has to record a vocal part, choose a harmony, and Band-in-a-Box will generate the vocal harmony automatically.

Band-in-a-Box 2004 can also automatically "fix" vocals to the correct pitch with Melody Pitch Tracking. The user can set the low-high harmonies range to ensure that the root played will always be at least one octave from the melody note. This is useful for a cappella harmonies where the lowest voice is playing the bass roots.

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The Kinsey Sicks, returning to Bay Area roots after off-Broadway success, opened Nov. 21 in "Oy Vey in a Manger!" The self-styled "Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet" runs through Jan. 3 at New Conservatory Theatre Center (call (415) 861-8972). The Sicks' show is probably not for anyone who doesn't get a chuckle out of such song titles as "Lusty the Snowman," "A Lay in a Manger" or "God Bless Ye Femmy Lesbians."

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Imagine a bunch of guys in green smocks and red hats standing on a Christmas tree-shaped platform. Actually, don't. Because the South Street Seaport's singing chorus tree is one of those things that's more than the sum of its parts. The bunch of guys, who are members of Big Apple Chorus, sing a cappella Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs with so much good cheer -- and exquisite harmonies -- that it's impossible not to get swept up in the spirit of the season. And their finale of "New York, New York," complete with campy hand gestures, will make you glad you made the trip downtown.

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King's Singers December US tour dates

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A cappella was impressively represented at the star studded Nelson Mandala 46664 concert Saturday when The Corrs invited Ladysmith Black Mambazo on to the stage to sing Lelilungelo Ngelakh.

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