February 28, 2004
You won't find the following playlist on any radio station. Only a Martian would mix ABBA with R. Kelly, Beyoncé with Gene Autry, and the Rolling Stones with Rodgers and Hammerstein. Or someone pretending to be a Martian. The eclectic playlist is Mars rover Spirit mission manager Mark Adler's way of waking exhausted engineers and scientists who are working and sleeping on Mars time and dealing with a sometimes temperamental rover millions of miles away. And with entries like the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated," it shows that NASA people are anything but stuffy. The music can lighten tense times. During the nail-biting moments before Spirit's descent and landing in January, at the suggestion of team member Rob Manning, Adler played Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
The Bobs are on the playlist (See Sol 34) with "Pounded on a Rock" - Ed. More
Duluth News Tribune
"Maasai music is like a window into Maasai culture. Each age (group) writes their own songs. They don't take from the old ones," Johnson said. "Songs live and die with each age set. I couldn't find any songs that were over 70 years old." Since 2001, Johnson has made it his mission to try to preserve the traditional a cappella music sung by the Maasai. After his first three-week trip in 2001, Johnson released "The Music of the Maasai" on compact disc and its sales allowed him to provide Saitoti with enough money to finish high school. Now numbering about 250,000, the Maasai have struggled to maintain their pastoral lifestyle while becoming surrounded by development and urbanization. Many warriors and young men earn a living by singing traditional songs at tourist lodges in the nearby wildlife preserves.
Maasai culture is threatened once more, this time by the lodges that exploit the Maasai as tourist attractions and develop the region with no regard to environmental and cultural preservation, said Serena Wilcox, executive director of the Maasai Heritage Preservation Foundation. "The problem comes in when there's big money in the Mara," Wilcox said. "There's half a billion dollars generated in the Maasai Mara alone." Singing is an important element in Maasai culture, Wilcox explained. Songs can identify groups, tribes or age sets. They serve as encouragement, entertainment and capture the immediate history of the people writing them. More
San Francisco Chronicle
Actor Robson Green is beloved in Britain as a brooding everyman, but he's barely known in the United States. That may be changing. Green headlines two series airing this winter on BBC America. In "Wire in the Blood," he plays a deeply eccentric criminal profiler. In the six-episode legal drama "Trust," Green stars as a career-obsessed attorney who masters the art of the deal as his marriage falls apart. Beyond these imports, Green is seeking to boost his visibility in the States by snagging his first American project. For five days, he's been booked solid in Los Angeles "taking meetings" with "CSI" producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Ron Howard and scads of other film and TV executives.
"Singing has always been a large part of my life," Green says. "I was a singer before I was an actor. I formed an a cappella group called the Workey Tickets, and we toured Britain for four years performing renditions of popular music."
Green decided he could live with one-hit wonder status and returned to acting full time after giving a traumatic performance for the queen of England. "It was quite surreal," Green says. "I'm singing in front of the Queen Mother -- the wheel was turning, but the hamster was dead. It was all just too much. I was just like, 'Oh, my God, what am I doing?' My mom had a gold dress on and she's sobbing: 'Oh, there he is, he's made it.' So that did it." When it was over, Green says, laughing, "I didn't bow. I ran."
Military chaplains say it's a tiny package that's making a big impact with U.S. soldiers facing danger in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, far away from their families and their churches. With the help of an anonymous donor, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., is shipping copies of its renowned choir's 1999 recording, "Great Hymns of Faith," to any military chaplain who asks. More than 2,000 have been shipped to the service branches since the program started last May, drawing thanks from many who said the hymns have been a comfort in difficult times and places.
The Rev. Gorden Estenson, a Lutheran pastor in Winneconne, Wis., was at Fort McCoy preparing to go to Iraq as a chaplain with the Army Reserve when the unit was instead sent to Afghanistan. Estenson's hymn player and music had been shipped to Kuwait for use in Iraq, so he was without music for Afghanistan.
Estenson called his wife, Rikka, and asked her to send his copy of the St. Olaf Choir CD. She did that but went a step farther. She and her mother, Kay Hoffland, talked with Bob Johnson, manager of the college's music organizations, about the possibility of donating copies of the $17 CD to any chaplain who asked. Johnson contacted the head of the military chaplaincy service in Washington, D.C., and went looking for a donor to underwrite the cost of the project. "One phone call and we had it. We had a donor who was thrilled to be able to support our military services and the chaplaincy program like this," Johnson said. The $10,000 donation covered the college's costs, he said. The CD includes traditional hymns such as "Blessed Assurance," "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "Abide With Me" and "Beautiful Savior."
Anton Armstrong, the choir's conductor since 1990, said the music of young voices can give soldiers hope and comfort "when some of them are facing death eye-to-eye. This wasn't about supporting the war. This was about supporting our young people who were putting their lives in harm's way so that we can continue to do what we do in freedom," Armstrong said. "I can't fight in their stead and I can't lift the weapons that will protect them, but I can give them courage, and I can give them this album," Armstrong said.
February 27, 2004
Akron Beacon Journal
Jim Elliott confesses his passion for barbershop quartet singing compels him to behave impulsively. He likes to commandeer street corners and restaurants, crossing his heart with his hands and crooning for strangers, smiling from ear-to-ear. Elliott belongs to the not so secret society of like-minded souls in SPEBSQSA, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, an ungainly acronym devised in 1938 to poke fun at the alphabet soup of FDR's many New Deal agencies.
Barbershop is a true American art form, the practically perfect G-rated family fare, a respite from television, cell phones, video games and cyberspace. The genre is popular. SPEBSQSA has 35,000 members worldwide despite the name. That means dark-eyed troubadours on the far side of the planet are also slipping into something more comfortable, a few silky octaves, a melody -- harmonics -- and a fearlessly optimistic outlook.
Members of the audience are sure to experience the harmonic convergence of barbershoppers, known as ``expanded sound'' or ringing of the chords, a phenomenon that occurs when a quartet of four voices in perfect balance and pitch produce the sound of a fifth voice that is NOT there. Goosebumps surface and chills run up and down your back. It's electric. Barbershop harmony is not rap, nor is it rock. It's popular, but far from the mainstream, a cousin to the currently popular a cappella, a melting pot product, a blend of minstrel, vaudeville, gospel and pop typified by simple, straightforward melodies and heartfelt, commonplace themes and images. More
Starting this year, campus musicians are receiving a little more credit -- literally. This past fall, the College Curriculum Committee passed a Music Department proposal that calls for undergraduate students who participate in department-sponsored music groups to have the option of receiving academic credit. Primosch added that the department can only give credit for groups that it sponsors because those groups are supervised by faculty members.
"I haven't heard folks complaining about, 'Hey, why is my a cappella group not being granted credit?'" he said. "The Music Department can't really give credit for activities in which we have no supervisory capacity, however worthy that activity may be. Certainly, there are many activities on campus that are worthwhile. This is not meant as a put-down to any of them."
College freshman Evan Schapiro, who is a member of the a cappella group Counterparts, said that he is not offended by the department's decision to offer credit to only department-sponsored groups. "It doesn't really anger me that much," he said. "I wouldn't expect to get any kind of credit for the things I do. My group's really fun, and we get a lot of other kinds of rewards." More
February 26, 2004
The Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival, now celebrating it's 20th anniversary, has announced the complete list of this year's participating groups. Always a grand evening of vocal harmony singing the shows are also a chance to hear a variety of new and different styles of a cappella music and to perhaps find some inspiration for your own group.
February 24, 2004
New York Daily News
Don't strike up the band. Instruments are no-no's at the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival at Symphony Space. The event, now in its 20th year, always draws big crowds to see the best a cappella groups compete for the New York regional title. "It's a roller-coaster ride musically," says producer Townsend Belisle. "People in the audience always say, 'I never could have imagined that being done a cappella.' Each group gets eight minutes to do what they do." And their repertoires are definitely diverse.
Nine ensembles, including single-sex and mixed groups, will perform everything from jazz standards and contemporary pop to doo-wop and Eastern European folk songs. Six groups are based in the city. The others are from upstate Ithaca, Baltimore and Hershey, Pa. Tonight's winners, along with champs from seven other regional singoffs around the country, will be flown to San Francisco for the national finals in May, and a shot at a recording contract.
"We've rehearsed nonstop for months," says Brooklynite David Deschamps, 43, who sings in the quartet Vox Bop. They won this contest three years ago. "You must be committed," says Vlada Tomova, 35, a professional musician and leader of Yasna Voices, a women's choir based on Brooklyn. Her group specializes in folk songs from Bulgaria, where Tomova grew up. The rest of the singers are ethnically diverse, but they'll compete in colorful Slavic costumes.
"Singing a cappella refines your voice," says Tomova, "but it requires great concentration." It's worth all the effort and weekly rehearsals, adds Tomova, a firm believer "in the power of harmony to uplift both singer and listener."
Rachel Wallins' sextet, the Sirens, blends its voices to a very different sound - songs by Radiohead and Lenny Kravitz - which it'll perform tonight in jeans and black tops. "We gravitate to arrangements that are as complex as they are fun," says Wallins, 35, who works for MTV. But achieving the desired sound doesn't come easily. "Any a cappella group will tell you when you first learn a piece that it's cacophony," says Wallins. "It sounds like New York City at rush hour."
At a recent a cappella festival, we waited for the Amherst College group to sing a fruit-related song. It would have explained the one banana costume among the singers in chinos and blazers. Not a calypso or nutritional lyric was sung, however, so we figured this singer was making a potassium statement.
York Daily Record
Since winning “Showtime at the Apollo” in York two weeks ago, the Rossums are pinching for practice time. On March 31, the sibling a cappella quintet will perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, forcing them in the meantime to squeeze in singing drills between all their extracurricular activities. “When we practice, it’s intense because it’s hard finding time. Everyone is busy at school,” said Oscar Rossum, the group’s assistant coach and father.
He first discovered his children’s collective voice when they sang at their grandparents’ wedding renewal in 1995. Since then, Oscar and his wife, Sharon, have been teaching the still-developing voices of Ciara, Carissa, Ryan, Corrinne and Casey. Before the family moved to York in 1996, the Rossums lived in Harrisburg, where Oscar served as a church pastor. The children were in the church’s youth choir, directed by their parents. “It gave us the confidence that we could teach them music,” Rossum said. More
February 20, 2004
Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, authors of the musical, Harmony, have won back the rights to the show from the producer who failed to bring the work to fruition in late 2003. According to composer Manilow's publicist, a panel of three arbitrators of the American Arbitration Association rendered an interim award in favor of Manilow and lyricist-librettist Bruce Sussman in their arbitration proceeding involving the musical play.
According to a statement released Feb. 19 by Manilow spokesman Jerry J. Sharell, "The arbitration panel unanimously and unequivocally ruled that the rights of the former producer of the play, Snorkel Productions, Inc., have terminated; that Snorkel is to return to Manilow and Sussman all literary materials relating to Harmony; and that Snorkel is to immediately cease acting as producer for Harmony or dealing with Harmony in any manner. The unanimous award of the arbitration panel represents a vindication of the position taken by Manilow and Sussman in the arbitration proceedings."
Sharell added, "The authors couldn't be reached for comment. They're out getting drunk." This would seem to pave the way to reconstruct the physical production that had been created and resuscitate the company that had been rehearsed. The late 2003 plan, one could speculate, may shift to a fall 2004 plan, if details can be worked out.
Cast members have scattered to other shows and it's not thought that Harmony will surface this season on Broadway (although theatres are apparently available in spring). The set has remained in storage, and new producers would have to be brought in. No word has been released on the progress of interesting new money people to the project.
A collection of Guns N' Roses covers of classic, mainly punk, songs that had influenced the bandmembers since their early days includes an unlikely cover of The Skyliners' '50s doo-wop gem "Since I Don't Have You." will be released March 23.
February 19, 2004
The English a cappella group The Swingle Singers will present four or five Beatles tunes, including "Because" and "You Never Give Me Your Money" from "Abbey Road," during their performance Wednesday at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. "Growing up, I thought they were nice songs to listen to," Swingle soprano and music director Joanna Forbes said in a phone interview from London. "When I began to study the music I realized more and more how incredible they were," she added. "I was overwhelmed by their quality."
Forbes, who was born in 1971, grew up listening to the Swingle Singers. She joined the group in 1998 and became its music director a year later. Today's roster also includes soprano Meinir Thomas, altos Kineret Erez and Johanna Marshall, tenors Tom Bullard and Richard Eteson and basses Tobias Hug and Jeremy Sadler. Since Swingle founded them, the Singers have recorded 47 albums and won five Grammys. Forbes said the Swingles have endured because audiences are "moved by the sound" of their voices. The group sings into microphones, but members use them to complement their voices rather than enhance them. "The mics give us an instrumental sound," she said.
And, yes, Ward Swingle still plays an important role with the group. The Singers, Forbes said, had lost touch with their founder in the late 1980s and 1990s, but Forbes has made it a point to bring him back into the fold. Ward is now the group's musical adviser. The Singers will rehearse from time to time at his residence in Paris. "We've been working closely together, and he's happy with the things we've been doing," Forbes said. "It's been lovely for me because we see eye to eye on a lot of things." Including singing the Beatles. "There have not been many bands with such fantastic original material," Forbes said of her English brethren. "They are great."
Jazz great Wynton Marsalis upcoming Blue Note debut release, "The Magic Hour." features guest vocalists Bobby McFerrin and Dianne Reeves.
The regular school day had ended at Cherry Hill High School East, but members of its Madrigals, a group of Renaissance singers, gladly stayed after on Tuesday for a workshop. What made the session special, said East's vocal teacher Laurie Lausi, is that it was led by Gabriel Crouch, a former member of the King's Singers. The select six-member British group specializes in madrigals and religious tunes. Crouch, 30, met with East's various a cappella groups throughout the day, ending with the Madrigals.
He put the group through its paces in two madrigals, love poems set to musical harmonies - "What If I Never Speede" - speede being an old English word roughly equivalent to "decide to tell you of my love" - and "Let Go, Why Do You Stay Me?". "This is all about interplay," said Crouch, focusing on the repetition of the word "come" in one song. "Everything you do in a madrigal has to be done in this very English, very dainty way," Crouch said. "If you're really feeling something, you have to say it in a very British, understated kind of way, because the English can't express themselves very well."
The Londoner proved the exception, however, as he got the students to focus not just on the words and the pauses, but on the emotions behind them. "Can you do desperate? Do desperate. It's almost as if the sound is carrying on even though it's not there," he said about one pause. "Make the breath part of it. The trick is when you sing softly, you want to draw people in," he noted.
When the session was formally over, the students didn't want to leave. "I learned a lot of new techniques, such as how to sing softer. It's going to improve my style," said senior soprano Rohini Khillan, 17. Added senior alto Viviana Pabon, 18, "I learned we have to pronounce with very good diction. We are not singing for the conductor. We're singing for the audience." Junior bass Seth Alomar, 17, agreed. "I learned you don't have to count out when you're singing. You can just breathe. If everyone is connected in that same way, your tempo will be on," Alomar said.
It was a learning experience for Crouch, as well. "I'm blown away by what you have here. I worked with six choirs today. We don't have anything like this in the U.K., where normal state (public) schools have no choirs. In the U.K., it's an elite institutional thing," he said. That's why he'll do many more of these workshops now that he's a free-lance vocalist, he said. "I'm not interested in excellence for its own sake. This is something anyone can do, and enjoy it. Life can be so much more joyous if you've got an opportunity to sing," Crouch said.
Once upon a time, there was a certain a cappella group that always made women swoon, fluttered their eyelashes and drop to their knees. This a cappella group traveled from house to house, surprising the giddy girls with serenades of love. Most of the time they were received with open arms and big smiles (brightened by Crest White Strips, but that’ll be our little secret). But on one particular Sunday, as the clock tower chimed 9:15 p.m., this group of singers knocked on the doors of a house full of girl — but not a sound was to be heard.
“Where are all the lovely young ladies?” inquired a debonair tenor. “All their carriages are in the lot, and I know of no social gatherings supplying barrels of Natural Ale that would distract them at this hour. I wonder where they’re hiding.” But the story does not end in this sad, confused state — a sole female stepped outside and politely informed the gentlemen that all the girls were watching “Sex and the City,” and that they could not be disturbed. More
February 18, 2004
Any fears of Orrin Hatch suffering a "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2003 Washington Area Music Association Awards were put to rest early Sunday night when the singing senator from Utah -- yep, he was nominated -- failed to show at Falls Church's gala-gussied State Theatre. Not that the politico, up for best gospel/inspirational vocalist, would have gone home with any hardware from this raucous ceremony toasting the local music industry. Hatch lost to the shining star of the 18th annual Wammies, Sweet Honey in the Rock's Bernice Johnson Reagon, who was also presented with a special appreciation award for her heaven-sent work with the legendary gospel group she founded in 1973.
Getting the collective gooseflesh rippling, Reagon reared back and sang half of her acceptance speech -- one of the rare times the capacity crowd cut the chitchat to pay attention to what was going down onstage. With the second half of her thank-you, she told the awed crowd, "I don't know if there is any other region in the world where I could have done the work I've done here in Washington, D.C."
It was the night's transcendent moment -- then everyone started clinking cocktails again, which was just as well, since the sketchy sound system was routinely gremlinized, and most of the other speeches were pretty ho-hum anyway. But no matter: For an awards ceremony, the Wammies are one heck of a shindig. Schmooze and booze trumped ceremony and speeches, as close to 1,000 sharp-dressed music-industry notables from the District, Maryland and Virginia gathered to share some local pride, swap business cards and run up one doozy of a bar bill. Most of the people who won an award usually just sauntered onstage, murmured thanks -- and then made a beeline back to where the real action was. More
That is the concept that lingers after taking in A Gaither Family Homecoming, the sprawling Southern gospel revue playing at the American Airlines Center. Harmony is the single musical concept that unites most of the numerous acts in this diverse show, headlined by Christian music star Bill Gaither. There are plenty of fine solo performances, but the most impressive presentations were those that featured the tightly blended vocalizing that is the common well from which most Southern gospel music drinks. The Florida Boys, a quintet of very large men who look like extras from a 1930s movie, are perhaps the most definitive example of what this musical genre is all about, with their barbershop quartetlike high harmonies riding over a bone-rattling bass. All their songs are great, and their a cappella work is particularly stunning. More
New York Daily News
The week-long lead-up to the celebrated lovers day ended for me with an ever-so-sweet concert of the Yale a cappella group Redhot & Blue in Manhattan’s Cityspire space, as a fund-raiser for the group’s upcoming European tour. The toe-tapping arrangements of popular odes like “I Get a Kick Out Of You” and “Embraceable You” revived a charming innocent tone for love.
Washington Square Times
Ten members of the Cleftomaniacs a cappella group had a run-in with the cops on Friday, but it wasn't because they were caught stealing. Instead, the female vocalists were ticketed $25 each for performing in the Union Square subway station without a permit. "It is kind of a ridiculous thing to be charged with," said Elissa Kranzler, the group's treasurer and a Steinhardt School of Education sophomore. "You would think they would give us a warning."
The Cleftomaniacs - or "Cleftos," as the all-female group often calls its members - sing at the station about once a week, pulling in $75 to $80 an hour, said the group's musical director, Laura Hartshorn, also a Steinhardt sophomore. And until now, the performances have been incident-free. One time, the NYU vocalists even spotted a police officer listening and dancing to their tunes, she said.
But on Friday, a man was singing religious songs in the group's usual spot, so the women tried out a new stage, Hartshorn said. Unluckily, the new spot was right across from an underground police precinct. Five officers approached the Cleftos in the middle of one of their songs, saying their superior officer had ordered them to issue tickets because the group was singing near his office, Kranzler said. "[The officer] told us that we should all go to court and fight it," she said.
The 10 members of the group who were present - there are 13 members total - will need to pay a collective $250 or stand before a judge on March 12. The women are still debating whether to fight the tickets. "I think they will go to court just to make a point, because it's kind of stupid," Hartshorn said. Cold temperatures aside, the subway is a good alternative to NYU concert spaces, which have become increasingly hard to secure since the Kimmel Center opened and the Violet Cafe closed, Hartshorn said. "It's cool because we get fans outside of the school," she said. They usually attract a ring of people around them, and occasionally they have a returning audience, she said.
February 16, 2004
It’s only fitting that a group that plays all of its instruments (from harmonicas to drums and trumpet) with their mouths would have an off-beat story about how they made it into the music business. Naturally Seven, seven African-American men from New York City, auditioned in the country music capitol of Nashville, Tenn., for a Swiss record label (Festplatte), which picked them up and put out a record that had a single ("Music is the Key") shoot to No. 1 in Germany.
Around since 1998, the band was birthed in the church when Roger Anthony Thomas and his younger brother Warren Andrew Thomas formed a group. Their gospel quintet that was dabbling in some traditional a cappella arrangements, began experimenting and building the sound that is now the group’s trademark.
"We decided not just to have the bass singing but to slap that bass vocally, and it become an instrument," Roger Thomas said. "Warren was able to do vocal drums. When he started it, he could do it for about two minutes. Now, he can do it for more than two hours. "Then, we found different guys with different capabilities from harmonica to horns to guitars to a DJ scratching. It’s been a blessing."
Drawing from a well of inspirational and uplifting songs, Naturally Seven grabs songs from God-inspired originals and the 1980s pop hit "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mr. to "Amazing Grace" and a nod to their NYC roots, a Simon and Garfunkel medley. "People will hear all sorts of things mixed into the bass line," Roger Thomas said by phone before the group’s show at the Clay Center in Charleston this past week. "Like sampling, we’ll take a lot of vocal things. You might hear the Bee Gees’ ‘Nobody Gets Too Much Heaven Anymore’ to a whole Beatles song. We got so many things that people don’t expect us to do." More
Tap dance king Savion Glover and legendary vocalist Bobby McFerrin play Detroit's Fox Theatre at 8 p.m. April 30.
I wonder if this is a one-off or part of a tour. Seems like a great match up to me. Editor
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Six chaps with microphones brought down the house at Uihlein Hall on Friday evening. The King's Singers, the British male vocal ensemble that has toured the world for the last three decades with a repertoire ranging from Renaissance madrigals to contemporary pop, appeared with the MSO Pops under the baton of Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Gregory Vajda. Although the King's Singers, an ensemble consisting of two countertenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass, performed several numbers accompanied by the MSO Pops, it was in their various a cappella selections that one really heard what makes these singers special.
Performing an a cappella arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call," the group effectively became an instrumental ensemble. They used their hands in front of their faces, in their mouths and on their throats to create the sounds of reed and brass instruments, complete with plunger mute effects. In the program's second half they managed to mesh barbershop, doo-wop and the Beatles in a delightful rendition of Lennon and McCartney's "Honey Pie."
The singers have a fantastic blend, spot-on ensemble skills and an apparently endless repertoire - this program ranged from North American folk songs to jazz standards and Beatles tunes. But they also have fun, and a lot of it, when they sing. They seem as entertained as their audience when they perform. They closed the evening with rollicking renditions of Lennon and McCartney's "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "All You Need Is Love," followed by a funky, fun encore of "Yellow Submarine."
February 14, 2004
Rocky Mountain News
Formed in 1988 by singers from some of England's most respected choral groups, the Orlando Consort sticks to the vocal music of Europe before 1520-30 - a time when one singer took each musical line. The concept of Wine, Food and Song, Smith noted, "was always lurking out there." Once a decision was made to assemble the program, inquiries were sent out to the world of early music scholarship.
"We found some wonderful pieces that way," the tenor said. "Some are directly related to an item of food, some do so through association. We found songs by such familiar names as Dufay and Mauchet, but we also uncovered some stunningly beautiful pieces by lesser names."
Smith and his colleagues also found a surprising number of off-color ditties. "Some are absolutely obscene," he said. Others coyly use food items as anatomical symbols. The anonymous Florentine carnival song Canto de' cardoni, for example, is a boast to the ladies by "master growers of cardoons," a relative of the globe artichoke, but here representing something less mentionable. Read as such, the lyrics might make a modern rapper blush. Today, these songs, written in single lines or composed in rich harmony, have an infectious bounce and energy to them - just as they may have entertained listeners long ago. More
Singapore Straits Times
More than 50 concert-goers kicked up a fuss at the Esplanade on Thursday when they were locked out of the one-night-only Bobby McFerrin concert for over an hour. They had showed up after 7.30pm, and while some were able to watch the concert from viewing rooms, others were kept outside the hall. Furious, they yelled at the ushers, calling for ticket refunds and demanding to be let in.
One concert-goer who wanted to be known only as Mrs Chan, said she, her husband and son flew in from New York for the concert. Livid, she was overheard telling ushers: 'It's ridiculous! We were two, three minutes late, and were told we would be let in at 8pm. But 8pm came and went! There were short breaks in between. Why couldn't we be let in?' Even the world-famous Lincoln Centre in New York, she added, does not penalise latecomers in such a manner.
But Esplanade's management held firm, letting them in about an hour later, 15 minutes before intermission. McFerrin teased the latecomers when they were let in: 'Was it traffic?' he asked. 'They wouldn't let us in!' a few voices wailed back. To which another member of the audience replied: 'You should have been on time!'
The Harvard Crimson
After announcing plans for major renovations of the Hasty Pudding building last spring, College officials continue to search for a donor to finance the much-delayed, multimillion dollar project. Although an overhaul of the Holyoke Street building—which has housed the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ annual productions since its construction in 1888—was originally slated to begin in May 2002, it has since been pushed back to 2005. The College purchased the dilapidated structure from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals in 2000. “We hope to start renovations in the spring 2005, following the Pudding show,” said Alan P. Symonds ’69, technical director and adviser for College Theatre Programs.
Like the source of the project’s funding, the College has yet to determine which student groups will use the refurbished space. The Pudding building will continue to house its current residents—including the a cappella groups the Harvard Krokodiloes and the Radcliffe Pitches and the Theatricals
—and will likely offer office, rehearsal and performance space to a wider student community than ever before.
February 13, 2004
February 12, 2004
Claude Morrison wants to encourage everyone to just belt it out. "I think the saddest thing in the world is when someone is told not to sing," he said. "People are traumatized at the age of, like, 5, when someone tells them they can't sing. That is such a tragedy. Singing is wonderful, it feels good in your throat, it feels good in your whole body. Everybody should sing, all the time. There's nothing better." Morrison and three fellow singers, better known as The Nylons, will be performing at the Heritage Theatre this Friday at 8 p.m.
"The show will be a greatest hits with an emphasis on stuff from the new album," he said. "We're working with a live drummer for the first time which we are very excited about. It's something we've talked about for a long time, and I think it really brings a new energy, a shot in the arm to our live show." The tour stops in Brampton just in time for Valentine's Day.
"So much of the stuff we do is already romantic, so we don't need to change the show much for Valentine's," said Morrison. "Maybe we'll all come out in red, of course it's also Friday the 13th, so maybe we'll bring some black cats."
"I saw something recently on CBS, that a cappella is making a big comeback on college campuses," said Morrison. "It's like a wheel coming back around again, vocal music is always popular, there's something inside people that just responds to it, especially a cappella. It's hard to be pretentious when you are talking about a cappella."
"We only do a cover when we can bring something of ourselves to it, to make it our own," said Morrison. "A few years ago they made a remake of Psycho, with the same script, the same camera shots. Why? What's the point? There has to be something new to it, or why bother. We try to choose new material as democratically as possible," said Morrison, with a laugh. "Every member has a 25 percent say in everything, because everyone has to live with the decision. If anyone came in and tried to force something, whoa, stand back and watch the fur fly."
Morrison, the group's tenor and falsetto, is the last original member of the group. Bass Arnold Robinson joined in 1981, tenor Garth Mosbaugh, a former host of Polka Dot Door, joined in 1994 and baritone Mark Cassius, a musical theatre veteran with credits including Cats and Miss Saigon, became the newest Nylon in 1997.
"All together, we've had more than 11 people go on stage as The Nylons," said Morrison. "It's been a bit of a roller coaster, and sometimes the fit wasn't exactly right, but every time we add someone new, we try to trade up, to improve our musicianship, and I think the group we have together now is just about perfect."
It's how his mother sang hymns. How generations of blacks sang hymns, before. Before they could read. Before they could afford instruments. Before they let tradition die. Some traditions, such as tannings with the switch, wouldn't be missed. But as Demps sees it, hymn lining -- a singing style in which a leader recites a line and then sings the verse along with the congregation -- is a tradition worth preserving. Which is why upholding the tradition has become a mission for Demps, the winner of a 2003 Florida Folk Heritage Award, and an art he tries to pass along to younger men. "It's black history, really," says Demps, 76. "It's something that belongs to us -- and it's dying -- and I don't want it to die."
Culturally linked with black slaves and African-American spirituals, the art of hymn lining has European roots, and became established in the American colonies in the 1640s. Few colonists could read, so a literate church elder or preacher would recite a line from a hymnbook, then troll with the faithful. Read, sing, repeat, until the hymn was finished. With the Great Awakening, the first broad revival movement in the American colonies, evangelism swept through in the early 1740s. Not even slave owners were immune to the evangelical spirit; some permitted slaves to worship in segregated or separate church services. But as literacy and hymnals became more widespread, whites gradually abandoned hymn lining.
Slaves, legally prohibited from reading, embraced the call-and-response style, which recalled African oral traditions, and infused the sacred with an earthy power that was at once sorrowful and expectant, elongating words, wringing rivers of pathos from a drop of word. Jesus becomes Je-ee-ee-ee-suh-uh-uh-us, and families passed on the tradition, according to a booklet from the Florida Folklife program. More
February 11, 2004
St. Louis University grad Eric Yoder, 25, is among 32 finalists who have made the cut on Fox's American Idol. Yoder starred in SLU Theatre's production of "Godspell" in 2001 and was in the school's all-male a cappella group, Bare Naked Statues. The Sullivan, Ill., native is a 2002 graduate of SLU's Parks College of Engineering and Aviation. Live broadcasts of the show begin Tuesday.
The Barbershop Society has set up a web site for their annual Singing Valentine program. The price of a typical Singing Valentine starts around $35 (depending on location) and includes two songs sung in barbershop harmony, a card, a rose and perhaps a box of chocolates. "It's especially fun to deliver a Singing Valentine from a woman to her husband or boyfriend," says Reed Sampson, Managing Director-Public Relations. "One year, a quartet went to the Chrysler factory here in Kenosha, and caught a guy going off-shift. He was stunned. His co-workers gathered around, and were ready to start razzing him — until they saw the tears welling up in his eyes." SPEBSQSA offers a toll-free number to connect callers to a Singing Valentine in any of 400 cities across the continent. Just call (800) 876-SING and ask for a Singing Valentine.
Binghampton Pipe Dream
"Squooshy, squooshy, squooshy!" was the appropriate remark of a student waiting to enter the lecture halls to see the Dollar Show on Saturday night. The concept of a line was too much to handle for him, as was the tremendous crowd of anxious a capella fans who rushed in to see BU's improv comedy team, the Pappy Parker Players, and a cappella groups perform. Three large lecture halls were quickly filled, and the audience got much more than their dollar's worth. What followed were highly impressive performances by 8 student groups, filled with music, laughs and gimmicks.
The show, although delayed by 20 minutes, began energetically with the Binghamtonics, BU's oldest a capella group. The Tonics were wise to select a female soloist for the typically male-led Guns 'N' Roses hit, "Sweet Child of Mine" -- it proved them both bold and talented.
Kaskeset, the Jewish a capella group, performed three lovely songs -- capped off by installing greater meaning into Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey's duet "When You Believe," from The Prince of Egypt soundtrack. The Vibrations were well prepared for their segment, according to Tom Larson, a senior English major and member of Vibrations.
"The first weekend of classes we went up to Albany and stayed at a member's house," Larson said. "We spent the entire weekend getting to know each other better and working on our repertoire. I think it really showed." The Vibes' rendition of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy," brought smiles to faces throughout the audience, especially when the soloist remarked, "I'll give you my phone number, I'll make you happy," and the group held up signs with his number and a smiley face, followed by one that read "That's really his number!"
The all-female Harpur Harpeggios' rendition of Dar Williams' "As Cool As I Am" was powerful and well presented, with multiple vocally strong soloists alternating the lead. The Pegs recognize the advantage of being a single-sex group, and take advantage of it to the fullest.
Koinonia, the Christian group, performed a harmonious, spiritual rendition of Steven Curtis Chapman's "Dive" as part of its set. This group, which began by telling the audience that it was there to bless them, blessed all (including the non-believers) with its music.
Rhythm Method was more than ready for its performance, according to Terry Edelman, a freshman and Rhythm Method member. "Preparing wasn't much of a task at all since we had been rehearsing heavily in preparation for competition this weekend, so we were confident going in and got to enjoy the thrill of being on stage," Edelman said. The group's method proved it could take on any nation with its enthusiastic performance of "Rhythm Nation," which concluded its set. The members have a knack for imparting joy on their audience by always looking like they are having the time of their lives.
BU's pride and joy, the Crosbys, performed a lengthy set, highlighted by Outkast's "Hey Ya," in which the soloist was vocally indistinguishable from Andre 3000. Two Crosbys hilariously outlined the top-ten reasons to be in the Crosbys, mooning the audience in the process. The Dollar Show is a BU tradition that is fun for performers and audience members alike. "Every group sounded fantastic," Edelman said. "The size and energy of the crowd showed that the a capella scene here is really thriving."
February 10, 2004
The gospel according to Joseph Shabalala is rollicking, humble, funny, and sweetly, amazingly graceful. That was the revelation of Friday night's Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert at Sanders Theatre. At the end of a snowy day, Shabalala's 10-man South African a cappella group promptly melted the sold-out crowd. The singers jogged onstage, waving and jumping like an Olympic track team warming up in leopard-print dashikis. Then they launched into the title track from their new CD, "Raise Your Spirit Higher (Wenyukela)."
It was an invocation. Shabalala, who founded the Grammy-winning group four decades ago, began a call and response. Deep, rich harmonies filled the hall. Then Ladysmith began to dance. There was a lot of clowning -- the kind of shtick that makes 5-year-olds (or 50-year-olds) anywhere laugh. Shabalala has brought four sons into the group, and they mimed, waggled their butts, blew kisses, and pretended to fight at various points. Between tunes, the singers joked about traveling so much they didn't know where they were: "Is this Boston Chicken?"
Many of the numbers were soothingly repetitive, with gentle melodies, soft harmonies, and the rhythm of a casual walk around the block. But the dancing looked anything but casual: intricate steps, stomps, hand flutters, chops, waves, and high kicks, all while singing. Imagine the five-man Temptations, multiply by two, and add Zulu lyrics, and you get the idea.
Some of their songs were lighthearted, while others had serious themes: missing their native land, or the difficult transition from apartheid to democracy. When Shabalala, who is a Christian minister, introduced a song about homelessness, some fans recognized it and began to clap. For a moment, we faced the embarrassing prospect of Cantabrigians in the good seats singing along in a heartfelt chorus of "We are homeless." Thankfully, it dissipated. More
A successful franchise can place a real burden on arts organizations, year after year requiring them to come up with new and exciting programs. This was the 14th year of "Witness," VocalEssence's annual celebration of African-American classical music, and Saturday's concert, focusing on the works of women composers, was one of the most compelling of the series. Many of the compositions had their roots in the spiritual tradition. The Leigh Morris Chorale performed pieces by Lucie Eddie Campbell and Deidre Robinson and joined VocalEssence for works by Lena J. McLin, raising the energy level of the celebration. The first half of the concert was a broad sampling of works by contemporary black women, many performed as excerpts. Brunelle seemed interested in squeezing in as many pieces as possible, showing off works he is obviously passionately committed to.
A highlight was Ysaye M. Barnwell's "Truth, Pressed to Earth, Shall Rise," set to King's words. True to her roots as a member of the quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock, it was a powerful call to social action, blending gospel, chant, anthem, even a military march.
Patrice Rushen (who was music director of Sunday night's Grammy Awards) opened the evening with a jubilant vocal fanfare, "Herald the Day." But Evelyn Simpson-Curenton nearly stole the showwith her comic duet, "Scandalize My Name," with Janice Chandler and Jearlyn Steele. Most of the first half was a cappella, sung with sweet, simple clarity. In the second half, the chorus soared intensely over a full orchestra. Throughout, they sang with commitment and heart. More
Harry Christophers’ vocal ensemble the Sixteen kicked off their 2004 UK pilgrimage in Edinburgh last night with A Golden Age - a fascinating programme of music written in Portugal during the 17th and 18th centuries. As royal composer and chapelmaster in Lisbon, Domenico Scarlatti brought the Italian traditions from Rome as well as absorbing the local music. His Stabat Mater is one of the most beautiful and dramatic works in the repertoire and it sounded glorious in the cathedral’s acoustics. It’s a forward thinking work, with its adventurous chromaticism and intricate vocal layers, and Christophers’ ability to bring out the mellifluous middle parts helped reinforce these luxurious textures. More
February 7, 2004
To those unfamiliar with Bobby McFerrin, he's a one-hit wonder. But to those who saw him perform in his first featured appearance in Korea last Thursday, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was probably the last song on their minds. The world's best-known vocal innovator wowed audiences with his on the spot, vocal pyrotechnics. But the spontaneity and infectious joy that McFerrin brings to music making was a rare treat to Seoul Arts Center audiences who usually aren't accustomed to being so taken to task by the performers on stage. By the end of the concert, which started politely enough with Mozart's overture to "The Marriage of Figaro," the whole audience literally found themselves singing along with Bobby.
"It's as simple as a kid walking around in circles in his room, making up things," he explained to reporters following a rehearsal Wednesday. "It's like having a musical adventure. Everyone can do it." His program, which included duets with cellist Yang Sung-won, and him conducting the Korea Symphony Orchestra and a young concert choir, also showed his wide range of musical interests outside his activities as a solo vocalist.
McFerrin has always been regarded as a natural wonder of sorts, with a limitless vocal technique and an imagination to match, since he ventured as a soloist in the early 80s. Then came his 1987 song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," a Grammy award winning hit that inspired nothing less than a worldwide cultural phenomenon. But since, that ditty has often casted a disproportionately large shadow over everything else, especially to foreign audiences who have had less exposure to some of his more recent ventures.
"I know it's still working. I know it's still alive," he said of the song he has refused to perform since 1988. "I sang it a hundred million times and I just got sick of it." In the past 15 years, McFerrin pursed more unconventional projects for an artist of his commerical stature. Most notably, he focused much of his attention towards conducting classical music. "Conducting is a strange profession," he explained. "But the approach is basically the same (in conducting as in singing): be as spontaneous as possible and to have fun."
Albert Mazibuko of South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo can see the good in everything. He's even looking forward to the cold of a Michigan winter when the group plays at Grand Rapids' Calvin College on Thursday. When he spoke during a recent interview he had just arrived in Chicago, where at the time temperatures were in the teens, from South Africa, where temps were in the upper 80s.
"It's cold, but I enjoy the cold weather because at home it's too hot," Mazibuko said with sincerity. "The music is coming from above, and coming from the blood," Mazibuko said. "That's why we don't need translation for the words -- the music speaks for us." Mazibuko has been with Ladysmith since Shabalala formed the group in 1965. South Africa is now celebrating the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid, and Mazibuko remembers with pride how the group bore witness to one of the pivotal points of historic change. There are still problems. This year, South Africa is gearing up for national elections to be held in the spring, and there have been some incidents of election-related violence. "People are running around, politicians are campaigning, promising people what they are going to do," Mazibuko said. "Otherwise, things are very good."
Unfortunately, crime is rampant in the country. Nellie Shabalala, Joseph Shabalala's wife of 30 years, was shot by a masked gunman outside their church in 2002. Though Nellie "was the backbone of the music," the group refused to succumb to anger. "We realized that music and singing can give you a power that you don't even know is within you," Mazibuko said.
The group, which also includes sons and grandsons of the Shabalalas, sang at the memorial service. "It was a very sad day, but as we sang we felt the strength come back to us," Mazibuko said. "We could see the hope in our hearts and the feeling that life must go on." One has to raise up, he said. "You have to be above your problems." Mazibuko said that in Zulu tradition singing is the way to transcend one's problems. "We know that the singing in our culture has been our inspiration all the time. I remember when I was a young boy working on the farm, there was a time when things were so tough, but we would just sing and everything would become lighter."
Now there are younger members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, singers who never had to work on the farm and barely remember apartheid. They brought some new energy to the group, Mazibuko said, and even managed to get a bit of hip-hop on the new CD. That's fine with Mazibuko. "What we would like to share with the whole world is just to show people that if I am old, I can work with the young. The old men can bring the wisdom, and the young can bring the energy and the new ideas. You put that together and it can accomplish great things in the world," he said.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Take five lead singers/songwriters, mix in a rich history of a cappella singing experience, blend with impeccable improvisation skills, and you have SoVoSo. A spinoff of singer Bobby McFerrin's highly successful "Voicestra," the San Francisco-area ensemble - whose name is derived from the phrase "from the soul to the voice to the song" - has been wowing audiences with its unique musical style and polished vocal talents since 1994. "We fall into the world-music category," says David Worm, one of the founders of the group. "We tend to gravitate more toward soul music and are more Afrocentric than a standard choir. With this group, you are getting a vocal band' - bass, drums and all the various instruments."
The concert will also include a few improvisational vocal segments. "During one of our songs, we may just elicit something from the crowd and have them add something to the chord or something to the piece in a musical way," Worm says. Another improvisational technique the group is known for is "circle singing." Sometimes referred to as "add a part, change a part," circle singing is a vocal style that has ancient roots and involves the introduction of an ostinato (a short melodic phrase persistently repeated) to a group of singers, which turns it into a song. Worm says he and his fellow singers do not employ any predetermined cues to signal one another during an improvisation when to begin or end a solo. "In our case, because we have been working with each other for so long, we are just prepared to let go and be open to the moment," he says. "You just pick it up in the air as it is going by. We start things, and we don't know where they are going to end up." More
February 6, 2004
This is an except from a lengthy artice about the joys and benefits of harmony singing. A good read - Editor
It has been observed for millennia: Singing can be a tonic for both body and soul. Kelsey Menehan knows that firsthand. The Silver Spring-based therapist, a member of the Washington Chorus, offers a talk on music every year at Washington's Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
"It's such a joyful thing, to sing. I think it does something chemically," she says. "Maybe in the same way that exercise does." And although you may get an endorphin rush from running, singing provides "the added benefit of beauty." Lifting one's voice in a gorgeous piece by Beethoven or Bach is not just a respiratory workout but what Menehan calls "a transcendent spiritual experience."
On a more basic level, singing plugs into some of the calming effects of other disciplines. "In order to sing well you have to learn how to breathe," she says. "The kind of breath [you find] in yoga and meditation." But Menehan knows all too well that few people feel yogic calm at the prospect of singing. Aloud. In public. She has heard stories in her therapeutic practice -- stories about people who have been asked politely to just mouth the words when singing in grade school, for example. "People carry that around all their lives," she says.
Carolyn Sloan, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based singer and teacher, and the author of "Finding Your Voice: A Practical and Spiritual Approach to Singing and Living," agrees that singing intimidates many people. The sources of that fear are as complex as the human psyche, in her view. "It's many, many reasons," she sighs. For starters, singing "feels very exposing. We feel very naked -- emotionally naked -- when we're singing." Joining a choir is a great way to discover -- or rediscover -- what your voice can do. And making music with a group does more than provide protective cover. There's a special zing that comes from singing en masse. More
Los Angles Times
by Don Heckman
Cheryl Bentyne has been a member of the Manhattan Transfer for a quarter of a century, an integral cog in the smoothly functioning vocal quartet. Taking a break from the group with her own engagement at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, she included plenty of musical reminders of that successful and familiar association on Monday.
There was, for example, a romp through Annie Ross' tongue-twisting lyrics to "Farmer's Market" -- the sort of rapid-fire vocalese that is a Transfer stock in trade. Bentyne's rendering of "Sweet Butterfly" recalled a more lyrical Transfer style. And as a climax to the set, she called up Transfer partner Alan Paul from the audience for a spontaneous, swinging version of "Route 66."
But the evening also included other, more personal facets of Bentyne's considerable performing talents, particularly evident in ballad numbers such as "Everything Happens to Me," "Little Girl Blue," "Sophisticated Lady" and "Black Coffee." It was in songs such as these that her very real skills as a solo artist were most apparent. Beautifully shaping her melodic lines, finding the inherent drama in harmonic progressions and, above all, singing the lyrics with a clear understanding of their storytelling nuances, Bentyne became much more than a member of a well-known vocal quartet.
All of which underscored the dilemma she faces as a solo artist. It's understandable that she might wish to remind her listeners of the Transfer connection. But Bentyne's larger-than-life delivery on her brisk, up-tempo numbers was far more appropriate for big-venue Transfer performances than it was for the intimate environs of Feinstein's.
And her performance would have been more consistently engaging had she risked setting aside the collective Transfer energies in favor of the personal, illuminating, but no less swinging, stylistic manner she brought to her entrancing balladry.
The voices we usually associate with New York are not the kind we'd rush to see. Who'd want to pay for a sitter and drinks just to hear a couple of guys trading insults? Fortunately, New York Voices, the vocal quartet appearing at Scullers tonight and tomorrow night, have long used their gifts in the service of great harmony. whether offering their unique take on a song by Duke Ellington or Paul Simon.
"We've been together for 16 years now -- longer than a lot of marriages I've known," jokes Darmon Meader by phone from his northern New Jersey home. The Voices' tenor, arranger, and occasional saxophonist, Meader started out as an instrumentalist. But, he says, he "always loved to sing. I was in every kind of choir. In college, someone introduced me to the music of Manhattan Transfer and Singers Unlimited, and I was fascinated by that sound. When you're singing in ensembles, feeling those chords vibrate, it feels so good."
Meader met soprano Kim Nazarian, bass baritone Peter Eldridge, and two other founding members of the group while all were students at Ithaca College in the mid-1980s. Originally formed as a quintet, they released their first, self-titled record in 1989. A couple of subsequent personnel changes resulted in the downshift to a quartet. The current lineup, with alto Lauren Kinhan, has been together since 1994. In addition to the half-dozen recordings they've made under their own name, New York Voices has been a guest on numerous recordings, including two Grammy-winning collaborations with the Count Basie Orchestra and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera. The group's last album was 2001's big band tribute, "Sing! Sing! Sing!" (Concord). Recorded at the tail end of the swing revival, the CD is getting a little long in the tooth, a fact that Meader is happy to explain. "Both Lauren and Kim have had their first child since the CD came out," Meader says. "It was the group's priority to let that settle in. They've both done an amazing job keeping up with our touring schedule."
The vocal ensemble sound can reward even the most dedicated instrumental jazz fan. Listening to the group sing a familiar favorite can help you appreciate the song's harmonies all over again. And the pure power of a quartet, particularly when backed by a rhythm section, as New York Voices will be at Scullers, can quickly make you a fan of new songs as well. But let's be honest. At times, those same pristine harmonies can sound -- well, just too darn perky. Meader acknowledges that vocal groups don't float everyone's boat. "It's a small niche in the jazz world," he says. "Not everybody who enjoys jazz digs the vocal ensemble sound, but those who do really seem to be very avid fans."
"They knock me out," says vocalist Jon Hendricks, whose vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross put jazz singing on steroids with their 1957 debut, "Sing a Song of Basie." The spry 82-year-old continues to tour the world and is in his fourth year teaching music at the University of Toledo. Speaking from his Toledo home, Hendricks explains that the jazz vocal group can often reach audiences in ways instrumental groups cannot. "When someone sings, it's easier for the audience to hear it," he says, "because words are what the audience uses to communicate with each other." Hendricks, who has shared the stage with New York Voices, has nothing but praise for the group. "When you can look at their faces but can't tell who's singing what, that's when you know a group is blending," Hendricks says.
February 4, 2004
Take a group of men from the northern Finnish town of Oulu - population 100,000 - dress them in dark suits with black ties made from the inner tubes of car tyres. Next, send them out on to the ice floes of the frozen Baltic and get them to shout - in choral unison - at a stranded 10,000-ton ice breaking vessel, and you have got something called Mieskuoro Huutajat. Otherwise known as the shouting men of Finland, it is more than a bunch of Finns getting things off their chests by upping their decibels.
It is a new art form, and it is taking parts of the world by arctic storm. Audiences in France, Iceland, Britain and Japan - to name but a few - have already been either entranced or baffled by the choristers of Oulu. In fact, the choir has grown so successful that one of the screaming Finns, Mika Ronkainen, has just directed a film about them.
"It is like a normal choir", he says. "The compositions are carefully planned - but we do not sing, we scream in unison. "People seem to like our collective yelling and even pay to hear us. The Finnish national anthem is especially popular." Mieskuoro Huutajat (Men's Choir Shouters) was formed in 1987 in Oulu, by a group of young men who confess they had nothing better to do.
The idea was to dress about 20 men in distinctive black attire, white shirts and black rubber ties, and train them to shout some of the most beloved songs in Finland. Since its formation, the choir has toured Europe several times, in addition to the former Soviet Union, the US and Japan. Its latest venture is taking place on the arctic pack ice where the choir - dressed like penguins - has been performing before the crew of an ice-bound ship. "It is always something the choir has wanted to do," says Mr Ronkainen, "because such antics create a form of absurdity which we find works the best."
I can't imagine many choir directors alive who haven't fantasized about conducting the St. Olaf Choir, or at least one like it. For, when it comes to college choirs, St. Olaf is simply the Gold Standard. It just doesn't get much better. And just in case there was any doubt, this amazing choral ensemble demonstrated Monday evening that the reputation which preceded it is well deserved. Well deserved enough to draw a huge crowd to the large Conn Auditorium on the campus of Lee University for the latest in its Presidential Concert Series. And not only did this mass of humanity come out on a cold, rainy Monday evening, they even paid to attend. And that's something few college choirs in the nation can even dream of; most are just happy to have a crowd.
The current director is Anton Armstrong who has molded the choir in his musical image since the early nineties. And what an amazing job he has done. From the opening "Jubilate Deo" by Orlando di Lasso to the final encore, Armstrong led his musical charges through an inspired evening of impeccable choral singing--although singing might be too inadequate a word. Musical expression would come closer, for the concert was not just a treat for the ear but also for the eye. For while most choirs stand relatively placid or sway to pre-choreographed movements, these singers' bodies came alive in a visual polyphony that flowed, bobbed, and pulsated in a thrilling visual expression of the music.
And strangely, it wasn't at all detracting. This was particularly true with the choir's fourth selection, Bach's brilliant motet, "Lobet den Herrn" (BWV 230). Throughout this major polyphonic work, the group possessed an animation that literally captured physically what was transpiring in the music. This amazing performance seemed pretty close to my idea of the definitive performance of this seminal work, leaving even the most skeptical listeners to Bach's choral music with nothing but praise. More
February 3, 2004
Singer Barry Manilow has returned home following a 24-hour hospital stay for stress-related chest pains. The 57-year-old was released from the California hospital after doctors said his heart rate had returned to normal. The pains were brought on by stress after two days in legal arbitration involving ownership of the musical Harmony, his spokesman said. "My heart was broken, but the doctors put it back together, and I will continue to fight," Manilow said. The singer is trying to win back the rights from producer Mark Schwartz, whom he blames for a Broadway failure. "It literally broke my heart to sit for two days and watch these beautiful people of the creative team testify because of the incompetence (that) brought down our show," he said in a statement on Monday.
The show's run in Philadelphia was cancelled in November, an event which Manilow called the most devastating day of his life after his mother's death. Manilow had a string of chart hits in the 1970s and early 1980s including Mandy, Could It Be Magic, Bermuda Triangle and Let's Hang On. His musical Harmony was based on the true story of the Comedien Harmonists singing group living through World War II. Before it was revived in Philadelphia, a 1997 production of the show closed in California after mixed reviews.
The nominations for the 2004 CARAs (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards) have been announced. The full list of nominees can be viewed here.
February 1, 2004
Autumn belongs to Bernice Johnson Reagon. It's her season. Maybe it's because Reagon, founder of the world-famous a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock was born on an early October day. Some of her favorite childhood memories are of starting school on those crisp mornings in southwest Georgia. Things seem to work right in her life in the fall. Like the founding of Sweet Honey, which debuted 30 years ago in November, on Howard University's campus in Washington, D.C..
So in the autumn of 2002, when Bernice Reagon turned 60 and began to wonder what it might be like, feel like to move on, to leave the group for which her name has become synonymous, she didn't resist the idea. Instead, she let it blossom. She eventually settled on an early 2004 retirement. Reagon is a woman people talk about in cliches: "a force of nature," "a powerhouse," "bigger than life."
She was the stalwart as 22 women have passed through Sweet Honey's ranks, coming and going and coming back. She has guided the group as its primary songwriter, composer and artistic director. Under that direction, Sweet Honey has gone from a revolving-door quartet to a sextet that's known worldwide, a Grammy-winning collective that celebrates the music of the black church -- spirituals, hymns and gospel -- while creatively blending it with jazz, blues, R&B, pop and now rock, thanks to a collaboration with Reagon's daughter, Toshi, 39.
Reagon is formidable, accomplished. Her work with Sweet Honey alone has made her a cultural icon, but Reagon is also a distinguished scholar. She has a doctorate in history and spent 20 years as a curator at the Smithsonian, where she is now a curator emeritus. In 1989 she won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and is the Cosby Chair Professor of Fine Arts at Spelman College in Atlanta and also professor emeritus of history at American University in Washington. Ysaye Barnwell is the new president of Sweet Honey's corporation. Apart from Reagon, she has been with the group for the longest uninterrupted period -- 24 years. More
DELAWARE WATER GAP — A decision made "across the pond" is forcing an historic business out of this little borough, and 15 people out of their jobs. Music Sales Corp., based in England, is shifting the warehouse operation of Shawnee Press to its distribution center in Chester, N.Y. The music publishing company started by famed band leader Fred Waring is moving from the old Castle Inn property in downtown Delaware Water Gap to an office in Jay Park Plaza in Marshalls Creek. The former Waring estate includes 3.74 acres, the main building — which contains the Shawnee Press offices — the building that housed the inn's restaurant and dance hall, and a storage building. The old inn burned to the ground in 1985.
For more than 30 years starting in 1947, Waring used the Castle Inn to host workshops for musicians and teachers. Those workshops continue to this day, but they are now held around the country and at East Stroudsburg University. The workshops have become a forum for introducing choir directors and teachers to Shawnee Press' new offerings. Shawnee Press grew out of Waring's own musical life. He started it in response to the many requests he got for printed versions of his music.