January 30, 2004
After years of being noisily vilified and then quietly rebuilt, the National Endowment for the Arts is poised to get a 15 percent raise, its largest in 20 years. At a news conference at the NEA headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the first lady announced that the White House would recommend to Congress next week that the NEA receive an additional $18 million each year for the next three years to underwrite an initiative called "American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius."
NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said the program would highlight the country's achievements in all arts forms, "from painting to modern dance, theater to jazz, classical music to literature." He said the musical emphasis the first year would be on American choral masterpieces, which would likely include productions by singing groups VocalEssence of Minnesota and Chanticleer of San Francisco. More
The York Theatre Company, devoted to musical theatre, is hosting seven new musicals in a reading format as part of its winter 2004 Developmental Reading Series, Feb. 12-April 12. For fans of musicals, Off-Broadway York's free and open to-the-public series is a first-glance at potential future hits by emerging (and some established) writers. The reading series includes:
# Along the Way, "a new a cappella musical," book, music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Gregory Christopher, James-Allen Ford, Russell Kaplan, Karla Momberger, Sara Levine, additional material by Shawn Churchman. "On an N train deep beneath the city, six strangers explore the ups and downs of trying to be somebody in New York. Coincidentally, they all have relative pitch. Along the Way burns through a slew of topics, employing every musical genre the authors can get their hands on. Come along for this ride where theater and a cappella collide!" 7:30 PM Feb. 11, 4 PM Feb. 13.
This is Bentyne's Telarc debut, and producer Corey Allen has done a fine job of surrounding her with exceptional players for this studio project. Bentyne is well-known as the soprano voice of the vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer, but she has done a few solo albums as well. "Talk of the Town" might well make her the talk of the New York jazz scene. Bentyne has a knack for cozying up to a standard like "Love Me or Leave Me" or "They Can't Take That Away From Me" without smothering the tune. Her voice is full of light, but that doesn't mean lightweight. Bentyne's a wise stylist, and there's nothing chilly about her soprano; she has an inviting, warm vocal tone. Favorite tracks include a Latinized version of "It Might As Well Be Spring" and a moody rendition of "The Meaning of the Blues," abetted by Kenny Barron's piano
January 28, 2004
Yale Daily New
As if it wasn't enough to redecorate her entire room, the crew of ABC Family's "Knock First" will surprise Bobbi, a contestant on the show and an a cappella fan, with an opportunity to sing with Yale's Society of Orpheus and Bacchus. The show, which will air this Thursday at 5:30 p.m., features the group singing "Ride the Chariot" in Bobbi's backyard. "Knock First" is similar to TLC's popular home redecorating show "Trading Spaces." A young contestant and his or her parents spend a day away from their home while the contestant's friends and the show's design team redecorates the contestant's bedroom. In addition to redesigning the contestant's room, the crew usually brings along an additional surprise for the end. For Bobbi, that surprise came as a group of a cappella singers in full tuxedos.
"Her understanding was that it just gonna be a few guys, not an entire dashing group of men from Yale," Chaim Bloom '04, the group's leader, or "Bacchus," said. Though the SOBs have connections to the show, they did not discover them until after they had made plans to perform on "Knock First." Director Krista Katsoulis e-mailed business manager Justin Noble '06 to ask the group to perform at Bobbi's home in Boston in early November.
"We were all going to be in Boston seeing alumni in the area," Noble said. "It worked out surprisingly well." Katsoulis later told the other hosts about the idea, and discovered that host John Gidding is a former member of the SOBs. On the show, the group sang "Ride the Chariot," a jazz-style spiritual, and invited Bobbi to join them for a verse, group member Nash Hale '05 said. "They gave her the sheet music beforehand, and they did a couple takes so she could get it down," Hale said.
President of the Coors Brewing Company, Leo Kiely gave up baseball for football in high school, and played for a time at Harvard before dropping football to sing with the Harvard Krokodiloes, an a cappella group, said his wife, Susan Kiely.
But the soundtrack's most astonishing offering is the superlatively joyful "I'm Going Home." The Sacred Harp Singers recorded this rapturous, two-minute a cappella choral piece at a Baptist church in Henagar, Alabama; Burnett says he "put out a call for everybody to meet at the Sand Mountain church and 80 or 90 people showed up from all over the country." Given Cold Mountain's Civil War-appropriate themes of death and hopelessness, this untentative burst of shape-note singing stands out in a forlorn landscape.
I was standing facing the altar in a small Baptist church in this isolated town surrounded by thick jungle canopy when I was surprised by the sound of a choir singing behind me. A haunting, rhythmic version of the Lord's Prayer was struck up as young men and women dressed in red cassocks half walked, half-swayed down the aisle singing acapella. Something about the scene brought a lump to my throat. The singing was beautiful, and if I were a Christian I'm sure the words of faith would have meant a great deal to me. But you didn't need to be a Christian to be moved by the sight of people clinging to ordinary, decent things like a church service despite all the brutal Liberian war has thrown at them. More
New York Voices performed a cool gig this weekend by singing at The 2004 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards concert in Washinton DC. They shared the stage with Dave Brubeck, Billy Taylor's trio, Hubert Laws, Paquito D'Rivera, The Heath Brothers and Clark Terry.
January 24, 2004
New York Times
When school investigators called for Walter J. Turnbull to step down as the director of the Boys Choir of Harlem, it was understandable given that he had covered up a case of sexual abuse at his school. After learning that a 14-year-old student had been molested by a counselor over a two-year period, Dr. Turnbull, the choir's founder, failed to notify the authorities and allowed the counselor to continue supervising students at the Boys Choir Academy.
He also paid the counselor's $2,000 bail out of the choir's coffers and punished the victim by not allowing him to take a Japan trip and suggesting he needed counseling, according to a memo from the special commissioner of investigation for the city's schools. Yet the Department of Education and the choir yesterday completed an agreement under which Dr. Turnbull will stay on as artistic director, though he will resign as chief executive on Feb. 17. His brother, Horace, the choir's executive vice president, who was also implicated in the memo, will resign all his duties by the same date.
Despite Dr. Turnbull's conduct, his continued involvement with the choir was deemed essential for the survival of the world-renowned singing group. A spokesman for Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said last night in a statement: "The goal of the agreement was to preserve a unique opportunity for the children of our city to participate in the choir's renowned programs, given the choir's remarkable history and the promise it holds for future generations. At the same time, we strove to send the clear message that every adult in the public school system will be held accountable for the safety and well-being of every child in our charge."
Last night, Dr. Turnbull said in a statement: "I am delighted that I will be able to maintain my position as artistic director of the Boys Choir of Harlem, and that I can continue to contribute to the artistic development of the children of Harlem." To counter any resulting impression that it was soft on child abuse, the Education Department instituted safeguards - an independent monitor, a new dean of students position and a new principal.
So what changed? What made the Education Department move off its initial ultimatum: the Turnbulls go or the city severs ties to the school? In the end, it seems the choir's board forced the Department of Education's hand. By voting unanimously on Jan. 14 to keep Dr. Turnbull on - albeit in a modified capacity - the board left the Education Department with an almost impossible decision. If the department cut its ties to the academy, the choir would lose its school, ending a music program that has benefited thousands of Harlem children.
Ousting Dr. Turnbull further threatened to injure the choir in a larger way, damaging fund-raising at a time when the group has been struggling financially. The decision also had potential political pitfalls. The choir is a beloved Harlem institution, a major point of pride in the community. If the City's Education Department played a role in killing off the choir or seriously jeopardizing its future, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg could pay the price with black voters - a constituency he has already struggled to cultivate. Moreover, Dr. Turnbull and his supporters effectively made the case over the last two weeks that Dr. Turnbull was contrite and that the choir could not continue without him. There were rallies at which the fresh-faced members of the choir sang. Dr. Turnbull publicly acknowledged his error, saying on Jan. 13, "I handled it badly."
Dr. Turnbull's lawyer, Alan L. Fuchsberg, sent a letter to Harlem politicians on Wednesday asking them to express their support to Dennis M. Walcott, the deputy mayor who oversees education. Even without these efforts, Dr. Turnbull already had built up considerable good will in Harlem. Representative Charles B. Rangel of Harlem said on Wednesday: "It is hard for me to believe that Walter has been guilty of anything except poor judgment. He loves those children and they love him."
Dr. Turnbull had also established strong relations with the Giuliani administration, which paid off. Anthony P. Coles, a former deputy mayor, became the choir's point person in negotiations with the Education Department. Bart M. Schwartz, who was chief of the city's federal criminal division under Mr. Giuliani when the former mayor was the United States attorney, consulted with the choir on its proposal. Mr. Schwartz has worked with Stanley N. Lupkin, a former city commissioner of investigation, who will be the monitor of the choir.
The raging debate over worship music has surfaced in a most unlikely place--within the Churches of Christ, which bear the historical distinction of shunning all musical instruments in worship. Over the past two years, at least five major congregations associated with the Churches of Christ have added instruments to some worship services, according to the Christian Chronicle, a 60-year-old Church of Christ newspaper.
The highest-profile case involves Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, a 3,800-member congregation led by pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado. No one is willing to predict whether these breaks from tradition signal the start of a sweeping change or are "isolated tragedies"--the description favored by Hardin University professor Flavil Yeakley. But they do illustrate the ages-old tension between making the gospel message "user friendly" and defending the purity of "the truth once delivered to the saints."
The absence of instruments in the early church may have been influenced, ironically, by Greek philosophy. The Greeks argued that emotions stirred by music could be dangerous. In later centuries, Richardson said, instruments became part of the Roman Catholic Church "about the same time as instruments became widely accepted by society at large." During the Reformation, clear divisions began to emerge. Some groups influenced by Martin Luther retained the instruments. Those influenced by John Calvin placed strict limits on music in worship. Still others, influenced by Ulrich Zwingli, disallowed music of any sort.
Calvin's influence was greatest among Baptists and later the Churches of Christ. He placed three restrictions on music in worship: scriptural songs only (mostly the psalms), human voices only, and unison singing only."Most Churches of Christ and Primitive Baptists long ago gave up the restrictions on text and part-singing but cling to the one against instruments," Richardson pointed out. Baptist groups traveled differing routes. For example, Seventh-day Baptists, strict sabbatarians who know a thing or two about defending a minority position against steep odds, were early promoters of hymn singing, despite criticism from other Baptists.
At various times in Baptist history, instrumental worship was rejected because it was practiced by the Church of England, which persecuted the free-church followers like the Baptists. Organs often were rejected--and later violins--because they were used to provide worldly entertainment. All those historical precedents support one of Richardson's theories: "We are all Amish. We all have some idealized culture that we find more faithful to the living of the gospel as we understand it," he elaborated. "That culture is typically one in which we never lived, though we have sought to preserve it in some way to 'protect' the faith." More
January 22, 2004
San Antonio Express
It's a cacophonous world. From pop music to talk radio to the screamers on TV shows, we're living in noisy times. But cutting through the racket, as they've done for three decades, come the women of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
"The human voice is the original personal instrument," said Carol Maillard from her New York City home. "Singing and making sounds with the voice have been with us since long before physical instruments were developed. The human voice can relay healing and inspiration to every person. And even if one has no physical voice, there's an inner voice."
This is the farewell tour for Reagon, who is retiring from the group. "She's not retiring from the world," Maillard said with a laugh. "She'll be able to do many projects — and rest. She'll write books and songs and continue to make a difference."
For years, Sweet Honey in the Rock worked for 10 months and took two months off. This year the group is taking a four-month hiatus. Despite being a founding member, the Philadelphia-born Maillard doesn't describe herself as a singer. "I always say that first, I'm an actress," she said. "But my acting was not able to continue." Still, Maillard did land a small part last year in an episode of "Law & Order: SVU." "I hope to be able to do a little more of that during the hiatus," Maillard said. But the actress/singer did offer some voice tips. "Learn how to breathe properly," she said. "Don't try to sound like anybody else. Find your own voice. Discover what's unique about what you do and work it. And there are so many people out there who are making good money and are poor singers. Don't imitate them." More
A throat-singing performance is not something that's easily forgotten, and if you've seen practitioners of the form produce this eerie, hypnotic sound, chances are you remember where and when. Throat-singing -- or overtone-singing -- is an extraordinary vocal technique in which a singer simultaneously produces two or three vocal notes, one being dominant and the others being harmonic. Princeton-trained ethnomusicologist Ted Levin was equally captivated when he first heard throat-singing.
"I belonged to an overtone-singing group in New York City called the Harmonic Choir," he says, "and one day, we received in the mail a little package from the physicist Richard Feynman, which included a cassette wrapped in a scribbled note, 'Thought you guys might be interested in this...' It was a recording of Tuvan throat-singing dubbed from an old Melodiya record. I remember very clearly listening to that cassette for the first time, and thinking, 'I must meet the people who make those sounds.'"
Levin didn't just meet the people who made those sounds. He became the first American to do ethnographic fieldwork in what was then the Soviet Autonomous Republic of Tuva and he is widely credited with introducing this ancient musical tradition to the West through his field recordings.
Levin explains why he got hooked on their harmonics. "It's a combination of things: first, it's so primordial," he says. "It's impossible to say how old throat-singing is, but it seems to open a window on the distant past, when sound art and what you might call 'sound technology' were closely bound together in human practice. Second, I was fascinated by the way throat-singing illuminates one of the basic building blocks of music everywhere: the harmonic series. And third, I find throat-singing really beautiful and moving. The way to listen to it is to allow your attention to float freely up and down the frequency spectrum -- not to get caught up in listening to a melody, as we habitually do in Western music, but to focus on what's going on inside each tone," he says. "This goes not only for throat-singing, but for the wonderful instrumental music performed on bowed instruments that are rich in harmonics. The instrumental techniques illustrate the same focus on timbre, or tone quality, that you have in throat-singing."
January 21, 2004
After 40 years together, which must be a record for a vocal group, the venerable Persuasions will be losing a founding member as legend Jerry Lawson will no longer be performing with the group. Here is the letter addressed to the band members that is posted on his web site.
After 41 wonderful years with you & the guys I've decided to focus strictly on my solo career and I will no longer be appearing with the Persuasions. Since my mother passed away I look at life very differently. I realize that I have a lot of musical dreams left to fulfill and time is marching on. I wish the guys nothing but the best in all their endeavors. Hopefully I'll be performing in your town in the near future. Hope to see you there. Thanks for your understanding and I hope to have your continued support.
We wish Jerry the very best but with some inside knowledge we question the wisdom of such a move. Anybody see the movie Spinal Tap?
Christian Science Monitor
"And while New England's Tom Brady won a Super Bowl for the Patriots two years ago, his steady play and boy-next-door personality are more fitting to a college a cappella group than a league where many players are most identifiable by their tattoos and jewelry".
The Birmingham News
Within the next month or so, ground is to be broken in Bessemer, Alabama on the Sacred Harp/Shape Note Music and Cultural Center. The $1 million center is to be built on five acres at 320 Eastern Valley Road. It will feature a 3,500-square-foot auditorium and will be 11,000 square feet in total. The auditorium will seat 500. Smith, who lives in Bessemer, said she hopes the center can host the National Sacred Harp Convention in June. The convention has been in Birmingham for 23 years. Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood has hosted the event the past 10 of those years. In sacred harp singings, each person takes a turn leading the group in song. Each shape represents a different pitch. "Shapes are easier to learn (than notes)," said Gary Smith, Sarah's husband. "I can't read round-note music to save my life." More
January 16, 2004
A song lauding the joys of an "enormous penis" is not obscene because the object of the lyric's affection isn't necessarily sexual, a Canadian regulator ruled on Friday. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council was reacting to a complaint from a Calgary radio listener to a joke song that declared: "I've got the cure for all of my blues/I take a look at my enormous penis/And my troubles start a-meltin' away." The listener's complaint that the song was obscene fell flat before the council's members, who said the item did not break its code of ethics. "The discussion of penis size is not in and of itself sufficiently unequivocally a sexual matter that it can be said to be in breach of the code," the council said. Calgary's CJAY-FM replied to the complaint by saying most of its core audience -- men from 18 to 49 -- enjoyed such items as "Enormous Penis" by Da Vinci's Notebook, which also features the line: "I gotta sing and I dance/When I glance in my pants."
"One thing musicians do not like to be is pigeon-holed, whether that be by the critics or fans or whatever," says Take 6 first tenor Claude McKnight. "Even though you may be stronger at certain things than others, you want to at least have the thought that you have the ability to do any and everything."
Take 6's very first self-titled album in 1988 not only won a Grammy, it went platinum, very unusual for a jazz release, and almost unheard of for an a cappella debut. McKnight chalks it up to God's will. "Yeah, it was a surprise to us 'cause we were six guys who had just gotten out of college who walked into this recording contract with Warner Brothers Records who basically told us if we sell 30,000 - 40,000 copies of this, it will be a success. It went on to sell a million. So, everybody was surprised at that, but at the same time we believed the Lord had a plan in all of that. He wanted the music to get out there. By the time the first Grammys had rolled around, we had sold 100,000 records. We performed at the Grammys, and everything took off."
Changes in technology and the rules of doing business are having a distinct effect on Take 6 as a group. After 10 albums and 15 years with Warner Brothers, one of the behemoths of the recording industry, the jazz vocal group is striking out on its own. "A lot of artists are realizing they don't have to go the way of the major record companies and ourselves included. We've decided we're starting our own record company. Our next CD, which we're going to start working on next month, will be on our own label." The group already has distribution deals in the states and in Japan. The next album will be mostly originals and they expect to release it in the fall. More
Lake Park Life
Jared claimed they all play rugby. Greg insisted that the four of them know the Backstreet Boys. And they play rugby with the Backstreet Boys, Mark said. Shaun’s rolling eyes and chuckle may have hinted at the playfulness of the exchange. A newcomer meeting the a cappella quartet, Tonic Sol-fa, for the first time might believe the claims the singers made. Their music career took the stage after auditioning with an agent in front of a desk.
“Then we did colleges first, now mostly theaters,” Johnson said, describing the group’s road to success. Tonic Sol-fa has won many original song and album awards and has been nominated several times for the “Entertainer of the Year” award by the National Association of Campus Activities. In a review published in the “New York Times,” Tonic Sol-fa was described as “improvisational and passionate . . . their music is neither boy-band slick nor remedial. It is real, multi-generational, and positive.
“Our stuff is all our own arrangements. Some of it is our own songs, some is cover music, but it’s all arranged by us,” McGowan said. Johnson described the group’s well-rounded background and its eclectic talents. “We were all in choir. We all played sports. We all loved music and wanted to do something with it,” Johnson said. “Since Tonic Sol-fa got started we’ve been lawyers, agents, managers, writers, arrangers. We do it all and we love it.”
Asked why it is an a cappella group, the quartet admitted, “None of us can play any instruments. Besides, this is a very good way to go,” Bannwarth said. “We travel light. It’s not technical. We can go on any radio station and sing – we don’t need a track or back up, just our voices.” More
The MIT Tech
It’s not too great a time to be a Log (member of MIT Logarhythms). I can remember a time when the Log, regardless of his lisp, his looks, or his height, was respected -- even desirable -- for all of his self-aggrandized splendor. So many times would the hallways resonate with their voices during their many unsolicited attempts at music. They were like MIT’s own version of the Jets -- singing, fraternal, not so dashing, but cool nonetheless -- and people ate it up. They did, after all, win national a cappella awards, and one of them almost qualified for American Idol. But the well has run dry, and the currency that once took them to the status of Kresge headliners is nearing bankruptcy.
Christopher D. Vu ’04 opened up the concert with Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover.” Stevie Wonder has always been good to the Logs, and Vu is by far the stand-alone vocalist among the bunch. It was delivered like everything Vu sings: Michael Jackson meets a cappella. The song was crisply delivered and, if anything, left an optimistic aftertaste, soon to be lost by a string of forgettable covers.
William E. Baker ’05 delivered a surprisingly good version of Beck’s “Lost Cause.” I’ll admit this much: he’s certainly mastered the drone. Though the interpretation as a whole only demeaned the song, Baker did a fairly decent job in keeping “Lost Cause” alive. Two good songs aside, the Logs brought us roughly 15 terrible renditions. Though a bit more fun than listening to karaoke, their concert was punctuated by my many impulses to leave early, which I resisted in hopes of being able to write this tribute. I began to realize that the key to good a cappella is simply choosing to cover good songs with bad original singers. For example, a good cover would be a Weezer song, as they’re catchy but sung fairly poorly. And an awful song to cover would be a Boys II Men song, as it’s difficult to surpass the original song’s glory.
With that in mind, the Logs delivered a version of Weezer’s “Island in the Sun.” But as imperfectly as Rivers Cuomo delivers the catchy song, the Logs still managed to do worse. This is a song that’s unimpeachably catchy and that has tremendous potential, and yet the Logs found a way to kill it. The repeating melody definitely has the potential of being intoxicating in the way that a song like “Take Five” can go on for twenty minutes and still be interesting. And yet, the Logs proved their innate brilliance at the drone in this long, boring Weezer cover. Particularly memorable was junior Kaliq Chang’s rendition of Craig David’s “Seven Days.” The song left me wondering if Chang was indeed singing in English. Though David’s original was perhaps a tad nasal, Chang went Tevin Campbell on estrogen with this song. The Logs brought to Kresge several other bludgeoned hits, from a prepubescent “Stacy’s Mom” to a voice crack spectacular in the form of Coldplay’s “The Scientist.”
For all their efforts, the Logs have clearly become a vestige of what they once were. Their skits aren’t funny, their voices aren’t solid, and their song selection is terrible. Basically, it’s high time that the Logs retire their Kresge credentials for a few years of ego deflation and practice in 10-250. More
January 15, 2004
20th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival, a national competition for vocal harmony groups. Began as a regional event in the San Francisco Bay Area the event has grown over the years to become the premiere showcase for up and coming a cappella groups and offers them an opportunity to reach a wider audience and gain further recognition. Most all of the past champions are still performing professionally including M-Pact, The Coats, SoVoSo, Naturally Seven, Toxic Audio, The Edlos and the Knudsen Brothers. Deadlines are approaching for groups who are interested in participating in this year's events so groups should contact their regional directors as soon as possible. More info
January 10, 2004
"We may be trashy, but we are smart and trashy. We are a mix of the highbrow and the lowbrow," says Ben Schatz, one-fourth of the "dragapella beauty shop quartet" known as the Kinsey Sicks. Well, the trashy, lowbrow part is pretty obvious. You've got four men portraying four gals named Rachel, Trixie, Winnie and Trampolina. The costumes are gaudy and over-the-top in a way that makes the old Carol Burnett Show look subtle. As for the smart, highbrow aspect? Well, a lot of the songs are surprisingly pointed. No cover tunes here, just parodies and originals. The Jackson Five's jovial ABC becomes AZT, a tribute to the AIDS drug. Locked Out of the Chapel of Love takes the Dixie Cups' oldie and turns it into a statement about gay marriage.
"Some stuff is just silly and fun," says Schatz, whose group performs Saturday in Scottsdale to benefit Phoenix Body Positive, a non-profit agency that provides support to people affected by AIDS. "But a lot of the songs have political and social commentary to them, because that's important to us. We're never pedantic about it, like, 'This is what you should think.' We like to make people think, and we're able to get away with it because we make people laugh in the process." The guys have been getting away with it for 10 years now, mixing silliness and seriousness. It's a blend that keeps audiences entertained, in clubs and at benefits around the country. The other element that makes the Kinsey Sicks so surprising is the members' voices. These aren't funny guys who happen to sing: They're talented vocalists whose harmonies can sometimes send chills down your spine. "Basically, we're a serious a capella group," Schatz says. "Our goal was to succeed as a musically talented a capella singing group and as clever lyricists and as comedy writers. "And what we wound up as is tasteless drag queens. Oh well."
The New York Times has an interesting article on the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters which is happening this week in New York city. This is the best showcase for any performing artist interested in the presenter market and over the years we have helped several a cappella groups secure spots on stage. This year the Persuasions are performing and Sweet Honey are featured speakers. Read the article.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Anonymous 4, the New York-based, female vocal quartet known around the world for its ethereal interpretations of centuries-old European sacred music, has turned its attention to the music of this country. The group, consisting of Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner and Johanna Maria Rose, performed a program of American folk hymns, gospel songs, camp revival songs and psalm tunes at the Pabst Theater Friday evening for an audience of 900 hushed listeners. The same pure, a cappella sound, sure harmonies and uncluttered interpretations with which the women have carved a significant niche in the early music world were applied to the plaintive melodies and longing lyrics of an earlier America.
The women gave earnest, soulful deliveries of these deeply spiritual melodies. As they made their way through the 90-minute program, which was performed without intermission, one could hear bits of early America's British roots and also the seeds of what would become the American folk, gospel and country music we know today. The program, called "American Angels," mixed familiar tunes with unfamiliar and included lyrics set sometimes to an expected melody and sometimes in a uncommon setting. The women took "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Sweet By and By," hymn tunes we are accustomed to hearing in hackneyed Hollywood renditions, and made them new again. They balanced musical intensity and gentle sounds to bring the hymns' vivid imagery into clear focus, illuminating the old melodies and familiar lyrics. The lyrics to "Amazing Grace" appeared in three distinctly different musical settings, each one giving the tune a unique meaning.
"Wondrous Love," a staple of today's choral repertoire, was also heard in an eye-opening setting that gave new meaning to each word of the often-heard lyrics. The smoothly blended sound of the four women singing in close harmony, or sometimes in solos, duos and trios, gave a unique dimension to the music. One heard the loss and hardship of the lives that relied on this music for comfort. Using gospel songs such as "Angel Band" and "Idumea," the fuging tune "Blooming Vale" and the folk hymn "Wayfaring Stranger," the women sang of hard lives and simple faith and handled our American sacred music with tremendous dignity and respect. The women answered enthusiastic applause with an encore.
January 9, 2004
New York Times
It was the spring of 2001 when an employee of the Boys Choir of Harlem went to Walter J. Turnbull, the founder and director of the world-renowned group, with shocking news: a 14-year-old student in the choir's academy had just accused the school's chief counselor of having molested him repeatedly for years. The police were not called. Afraid for his beloved institution, Dr. Turnbull chose instead to meet with the boy, investigators for the city say. The boy asked that the counselor be dismissed. "You don't make that decision," investigators say Dr. Turnbull replied. The counselor remained, and the school did not investigate, investigators say.
That silence was eventually broken when the student's mother went to the authorities that fall. The counselor was arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison on a two-year term for sexual abuse. Now, the behind-the-scenes activity at the choir has been revealed in a startling memorandum on the case that was sent last month to the choir's board of directors by investigators for the New York City schools. The existence of the memo, which urged the choir's board to dismiss Dr. Turnbull, was first reported yesterday in The New York Post and The Daily News. The board has asked for the resignation of Dr. Turnbull and his brother, Horace, the choir's executive vice president.
At a news conference yesterday where they released the memo, investigators said the two men had let the counselor, Frank Jones Jr., stay in contact with students even after city officials explicitly banned him from the 650-student academy, a public school that is overseen and financed in part by the Department of Education.
Later, talking to reporters outside the academy on Madison Avenue in Harlem, Dr. Turnbull, 59, defended himself against the accusations and begged the board to keep him on. "The board of directors has asked for my resignation," he said, even as the outraged parents of several choir members gathered around. "I'm saying it's unfair. I have asked the board to reconsider." Horace H. Turnbull, 54, also speaking outside the school, said he and his brother had 35 years of experience with students and had never before had problems. "I accept responsibility for the mistake," he said, "but is the punishment warranted?" Also yesterday, the abuse victim filed a $20 million lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the city, the school, the Department of Education, his abuser and several choir officials, including the Turnbulls, The Associated Press reported. The accusations against the Turnbulls have dealt the choir and its academy a painful blow at a time when both are struggling with their finances, as they have on and off for many years. The crisis could signify the end of an era for the group, which has performed from Yankee Stadium to Tokyo, and the beginning of a decidedly shaky future. More
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Singing for a Christian charity in exchange for an education held irresistible promise for 9- and 11-year-old Zambian boys used to crushing stones for almost no pay. Money raised from singing in African a capella folk style at U.S. churches, schools, malls and on the streets was supposed to benefit many, on multiple levels, the boys were told. It would pay for new schools in Zambia, allow the singers to earn money to help their families and enable the boys to get the schooling they longed for.
"It was like a dream come true," recalled Mophat Chongo, a former choir member who is a 19-year-old senior at Lake Dallas High School. "They told us they were going to give us free everything -- free clothes and money." But in Texas, the promises proved false for Chongo, his cousin Given Kachepa, 17, and more than 60 other young men who toured over the years with the choirs sponsored by the former TTT: Partners in Education throughout much of the 1990s.The operation basically dissolved in January 2000 when immigration authorities took the young men in the latest group from the organization's custody and placed them in the care of American families. In the case of the Zambian singers, the young men said they never received money for their work, which often involved singing three or four concerts a day. The groups performed across North Texas and in at least 28 other states. "We weren't going to school. All we were doing was singing and singing," said Kachepa, who now lives in Colleyville with an adoptive family. More
January 8, 2004
Broomfield hasn't exactly been known as a haven for fans of high quality vocal ensembles or any kind of live music, for that matter. Slowly but surely, the 2-year-old auditorium has begun building a reputation for its startling acoustics and intimate setting. Landing KITKA, which has been featured on National Public Radio's "A Prairie Home Companion" and has recorded tracks for movie soundtracks including Mel Gibson's "Braveheart," is the latest boost to the foundling venue's standing.
"They're quite a coup to have in the Denver area, let alone in Broomfield," said Alisa Zimmerman, cultural affairs manager for the City and County of Broomfield. "I think the word is getting out about the venue. It's so intimate. It's like sitting in a large room. That sense of connection, especially for our folk artists, they love it." Their latest CD, "Wintersings," showcases material ranging from rousing Slavic folk carols and lush Eastern Orthodox sacred choral works to pre-Christian incantations and Hebrew folk songs. It's a sound that has drawn praise from the likes of pop/folk music icon David Crosby and "A Prairie Home Companion" host Garrison Keillor. Lancaster, who was a member of KITKA in the late 1980s, said the group's commitment to the study and execution of the music — known for its intricate ornamentations, asymmetric rhythms and stunning dissonance — is inspiring and the results are difficult to delineate. More
News 10 - New York
It's a far cry from performing to sell-out crowds at Ithaca's State Theatre. It's an even further cry from opening for groups like The Temptations and Lonestar. But it may be what they do best--instilling a love of music, especially A Cappella music, in our area's youth. "They come for two days and they have us, they teach us the background to a song and then we sing the song with them at the Ithaca High School," said Annelise Schuepbach, 5th Grader at Belle Sherman Elementary.
When it comes time to whittle down school budgets, music and arts programs always seem to be the first to go. But, one musical group is doing everything it can to help kids continue to benefit from the arts. Ithaca's five man A Cappella group "Sons of Pitches" is leading workshops at Ithaca's Belle Sherman Elementary School, training kids to sing songs like "Kokomo" and "In the Still of the Night" with them at a community concert. "The part that is more special for me is especially being able to come in and share this with kids and get them to like not only A Cappella music but just music in general and strengthening programs," said Ross Mizrahi, Member of Sons of Pitches. More
January 7, 2004
1999 Harmony Sweepstakes champs Naturally Seven are riding high as they currently have the number one single on the German pop charts with "Music Is The Key", their duet with pop star Sarah Conner. The group has been very busy conducting a slew of interviews on German TV and radio including an appearance on the top rated TV show "Vettendas". We are all very big fans of Naturally Seven and we predict even greater success for them in the future.
In a scene from "Cold Mountain," Ada and Inman exchange glances from hard wooden pews as they sing from their "Sacred Harp" hymnals. The congregation keeps time to the jubilant a cappella tune, rigid hands slicing the air, strong voices lifted in praise. When news of war interrupts the service, the male parishioners eagerly file out of the church and the women continue to sing: "I'm glad that I am born to die / From grief and woe my soul shall fly / And I don't care to stay here long!" Despite its heaven-bound theme, "I'm Going Home" is a ray of light in a brutal film of survival, personal growth and enduring love. "It's really a joyful song, and Anthony [Minghella, who directed the Miramax film] wanted some brightness in there," says Tim Eriksen, a Minneapolis-based musician who taught Nicole Kidman (Ada) and Jude Law (Inman) how to sing Sacred Harp music. "There's considerable darkness in the film. But in the church scene, there's white light streaming in, and everybody's just really enjoying themselves singing." More
National Endowment for the Arts announced its first round of grants for 2004 which included large grants to the women's vocal ensemble Kitka ($37,000) and the men's ensemble Chanticleer ($35,000).
The 100 channel XM Satellite Radio station has a program featuring barbershop music called "Harmony Square". Sundays 8PM ET on channel 4.
New York Post
Every singer wants to knock 'em dead, but not the way it happened at Rao's. After Broadway songbird Rena Strober sang to applause at the East Harlem hangout Monday night, one patron dissented loudly. For that, Albert Circelli, 37, paid the ultimate price - he was gunned down by a low-level hood. Gunman Louis Barone, 67, told cops he shot Circelli "to defend my honor" in a battle over the performance. Barone said Circelli had been heckling Strober and started cursing him when he asked Circelli to cool it. "I lost face. I had to defend my honor," he told cops. "I had no choice but to shoot him. I had no choice but to kill him." Circelli was at the bar paying his tab when he began to trash Strober, a patron who was singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" a cappella, according to Barone's account to police. More