May 31, 2004
They got a standing ovation before they even sang a note. The packed audience at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis jumped to its feet as the Dale Warland Singers entered for their last performance Sunday after 32 years as a Twin Cities cultural institution. The 40-voice choir responded with an emotional concert that both audience members and singers hailed as one of their finest. Warland, the creator and leader of one of the country's most influential choirs, took a moment in the middle of the concert to thank singers, musicians, composers, staff, family members, audiences and the Twin Cities community for their support. "Time flies by so quickly," Warland, 71, said. "I'm a very lucky man. To be able to find something in life that you're passionate about is a very rare thing."
Much of the audience shared Warland's passion. The seats were full of singers and choir leaders and lovers, including Warland alumni, church choir members, school music directors and VIPs of the choral world who traveled from around the country to see the last show. They showered Warland and his singers with affectionate applause. "Walking out there was unbelievable," said Warland bass Eric Harstad. "The crowd, it was incredible. The feeling from the audience." Harstad said the choir delivered a powerful performance in return. "We were pumped," he said. "It was just what we wanted to have happen." More
Straights Times (Singapore)
After hearing The Lion Sleeps Tonight a few hundred times, you'll never listen to a cappella music the same way again. Or so you'd think. The song is after all an official Earworm - a term invented by a 2000 American academic study to describe killer tunes that loop themselves in your ear for no good reason and refuse to leave. However, the Soweto Gospel Choir is here to make sure that its signature tune gets another hearing - this time, on the composer's own terms.
'It started as a folksong by our own gentleman from South Africa called Solomon Linda years ago,' explains David Mulovhedzi, 55, leader of the 32-strong group which performs as part of the Singapore Arts Festival on Friday and Saturday. 'He sang it as Eeem, Boombuh! when he first performed it. That was before the lyrics were changed and so many people overseas grew to love it as Wimoweh,' he adds. 'We are not tired of the song, oh no, we are so proud of it. From that one song of Mr Linda, so many new songs grew out of it, spreading the music of our peoples everywhere.'
Mr Linda, a poor farmer, was paid a mere 10 shillings for his tune called Mbube (Zulu for Lion) by music producer Eric Gallo in 1939, only to have it consigned to the rubbish bin 10 years later by distributor Decca. Mbube would have become extinct, had it not been saved by folk artists and collectors Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger who chanced upon Decca's trash. Seeger picked up the tune in the United States and recorded his own version with The Weavers in 1952. Translated clumsily but musically still faithful to Linda's original, the song became the chart-topping Wimoweh. However, the Communist purge during the McCarthy era forced the openly-pacifist Weavers and their song into oblivion.
But in 1961, things changed. American songwriter George Weiss resuscitated the tune by shaving off the intro and layering his own 16-word English translation to the original music. The Juilliard-trained musician, who knew his way around the industry, claimed copyright to the composition, renaming it The Lion Sleeps Tonight. This version has since brought Weiss and the American industry more than US$72 million in royalties. Artists as varied as R.E.M. and Brian Eno have recorded it. Linda, however, got nary a cent and died in poverty in 1962.
The Soweto Gospel Choir can't redress the injustice, but it is presenting the song in a version as close to the original as possible in its Singapore stint, which has been extended for a matinee on Saturday by popular demand. 'We sing in our own way, the South African gospel, different from American gospel,' Mulovhedzi says. Of course, Mbube isn't the only tune the two-year-old choir will be doing.
Peopled by Christians from 11 different African ethnic groups, it prefers to call its concerts 'worship'. American hymns like Amazing Grace and Oh Happy Day will also make the bill, alongside South African ones delivered in languages as diverse as Xhosa, Venda and Swahili. 'But when it comes to singing, the message of our joy and emotion is universal,' Mulovhedzi says. Just in case you want a bit more variety, though, the chorus will add a pinch of R&B and hip-hop into its happy brew. 'That is the way the world goes today,' he says. 'And we will join it with the spirit of the Lord in our hearts.'
May 27, 2004
There was just dead silence -- and a few tears," Dale Warland said, recalling the time a year ago when he announced after a rehearsal that after 32 years he would fold the Dale Warland Singers at the end of this season. He explained to the singers that, at 71, he wanted to do other things and that there was no point in keeping the group's name going if he weren't in charge. It was a difficult speech to make, but he got through it. "After all," he said, "this has been my whole life." Reflecting on that speech a year later, he said, "I'm not sure, even today, that it was the right decision. But I'm comfortable with it."
At this point, it's irrevocable. In a concert Sunday at Orchestra Hall, Warland and his 40 singers will say goodbye. The program, titled "I Have Had Singing," will include milestones in the singers' career, including Dominick Argento's song cycle "Walden Pond," the recording of which was nominated for a Grammy this year. Choral directors from around the country -- among them Thomas Hall of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and Robert Summer, founder of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay -- will help pay tribute to Warland on Sunday.
Dale Warland's musical roots go back to his hometown of Badger, Iowa. The farm boy attended a one-room school where the kids sang every day. Another big musical influence while growing up, he says, was Ann Severson, the choir director at his church. "(She had) perfect pitch, could play keyboard, could sing. I'll always remember her because she could also whistle," Warland says.
After college at St. Olaf, and during a stint as music professor at Macalester College, Warland formed his choral group in l972 with a mildly radical notion. The singers would be paid. "When we first started, it was such a separation between the musicians and the singers," Warland says. "And I would be very defensive, (saying) 'We are all musicians.'" However, art, not money, was always the guiding force of the Warland Singers. The demanding auditions for the group were legendary. Every singer auditioned every season.
From the beginning and to this day, Warland championed new music. The commitment pleased composers, but didn't sell many tickets. Warland struck a balance by mixing the new with old favorites. British composer John Rutter, the conductor of the Cambridge Singers, says the formula paid off. He says Warland's vision kept hope alive among composers that their new works would be heard. And, Rutter says, blending them with the familiar kept audiences interested. "(They were) always refreshing their approach, always refreshing their repertoire with new material, always looking for new ideas, always moving with the times," says Rutter. "That's really quite a remarkable achievement, when you consider how few choirs there are that operate on that sort of basis worldwide."
Warland intends to stay busy in the next few years. For one thing, he wants to spend more time with his family, including a granddaughter in California and another grandchild expected in August. He will be teaching at the Eastman School this summer and at a school in Ohio. And although it hasn't been announced yet, he will spend one week a month during the upcoming school year teaching in the graduate choral conducting program at the University of Minnesota. He said he makes more money in a week of guest conducting than he did in a month here leading his singers.
The archives of the Dale Warland Singers -- 1,500 scores, including the 270 works that Warland premiered over the past 32 years -- will be donated to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Ten of the group's 26 recordings are still available. The demise of the group will leave a hole in the life of 40 singers. Some are talking about staying together and forming a spinoff chorus under another name. Jo Halversen, an alto who has sung with Warland for 26 years -- the longest tenure of anyone still in the group -- plans to start an orchestra in her church. Her favorite memory: the singers' performance at the World Choral Symposium in Helsinki, Finland, in 1990. "I'm going to miss the friends that I've made in the chorus, Dale in particular," she said. Halversen already is steeling herself, trying to make sure she doesn't burst into tears during Sunday's concert. "Of course, that's easier said than done," she said. "Even in these last concerts of the season, it's been difficult."
There were no electric guitars in sight at Jammin' Java on Tuesday as two local a cappella groups powered rock ballads with nothing but their voices. Vox Populi, 15 men and women, opened by alternating between chaotic arrangements of radio hits (Duran Duran's "Rio" and Linkin Park's "In the End") and mellow renditions of older songs (Stephen Bishop's "On and On" and a soulful version of Van Morrison's "Moondance"). Next came the Tone Rangers, a group of eight strait-laced men who spend their days as lobbyists and lawyers. The octet shed those preppy images, singing not one but two Elvis tunes -- complete with pelvic swivels and facial tics. Baritone Mike Beresik even sang "Viva Las Vegas" out of the side of his mouth, just like the King.
Flawless harmonies are a given in a group with eight voices that are consistently pitch-perfect, but the Rangers supplemented that precision with a congenial stage presence. Their arrangements transitioned smoothly (they somehow worked both the "Flintstones" theme and "Chopsticks" into the middle of a love song), and each voice filled the space where a rock band would have put a guitar, a sitar or even a trumpet. The Rangers had their serious moments, too, performing a Yeats poem set to song ("Down by Salley Gardens"), an original composition ("Helen" -- as in, of Troy), and Paul Carrack's "I Need You," which featured Gil Keteltas's sweet tenor gliding gracefully over the melody. Throughout their 50-minute set, the Rangers showed that through their voices alone they could make any song their own -- and if those "real jobs" on Capitol Hill don't work out, they have a truly solid talent to fall back on.
A balancing act between a genial performance and a musical clown's joke: Bobby McFerrin's first concert in Hungary was a true success for audiences starved for the experience. But the majority of the audience had come for the second part of the concert: jazz, not the classical music and not for Don't Worry, Be Happy either. This fact was all the more underlined by the clumsy applause, that McFerrin tried to hush demonstratively, coming between movements during the classical pieces. That was not the case in the second part of the program when the musician encouraged the audiences to sing along.
The line between delivering an artistic production and degenerating into a popular musical clown act is pretty thin - I felt that this line was transgressed more than once in the sing-a-long songs. Although at one point, he addressed individuals to accompany him - and two out of four attempts proved to be a wonderful success - when Bach's Ave Maria was performed, it seemed a whole choir seated in the middle of the audiences joined in. I was not convinced that the community singing aspect does not harm the artistic value of the performance. But nonetheless, the inclusive elements could not spoil the experience of McFerrin's virtuosity, whether it was singing solo, based on jazz, pop or classical music, jumping from one tone to the other over four octaves, making an effect of not one but two or three people singing or instruments playing. This was his true talents revealed, in a harmonious, fine, graceful form. A real musical jewel box: The lid was lifted and McFerrin's genius rose
May 26, 2004
After a hiatus of over 6 years the acclaimed vocal jazz quintet Vox One has announced they are reforming with their original members Jodi Jenkins Ainsworth, Yumiko Matsuoka, Paul Stiller, Paul Pampinella and Tom Baskett. Long a favourite of ours we are so pleased they will be performing again. Their first performance will be June 5th at the Spring Jamboree, a choral festival in Lexington, MA.
On another note those wacky guys of Da Vinci's Notebook have announced they are beginning a hiatus of their own. A busy and long touring schedule has taken its toll and the guys look forward to a well deserved long rest. We hope they also will return one day.
The Manhattan Transfer has announced they will be releasing a new CD in the fall named "Vibrate".
Some 90,000 people turned out for a classical music concert held in the grounds of Vienna's Schoenbrunn castle to welcome 10 new countries into the European Union, organisers said. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the American musician and singer Bobby McFerrin, played pieces by Mozart, Ravel Sibelius and the Strauss dynasty. Among the spectators were Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and several members of his government. The concert was broadcast on television in Austria and in its neighbours Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, all four of which were among the 10 countries who joined the EU on May 1. Tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims, joined by leaders of their central European nations, gathered at a town in the Austrian Alps at the weekend for a mass promoting reconciliation across the region newly reunited in the EU.
May 25, 2004
As its third season draws to a close, "American Idol" has taken on a distinctly Southern-fried flavor. When North Carolina's Fantasia Barrino and Georgia's Diana DeGarmo perform Tuesday and Wednesday in the TV talent show's season finale, they'll be following footsteps that have most often walked south of the Mason-Dixon line. Past winners of the Fox contest include Texas's Kelly Clarkson and Alabama's Ruben Studdard. Last year's runner-up, Clay Aiken, is from North Carolina. Even season one's second-place finisher, Justin Guarini of Pennsylvania, actually grew up in Georgia.
Asked to respond to the theory that the South is rising again -- this time, on the wings of its crooners -- Robert Thompson of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television chuckled, then conceded "there may be some things happening." He cited the Grand Ole Opry and Southern churches as reasons why Southern singers may have an advantage. "Right up to the final 32, contestants are singing a cappella that goes maybe 30 seconds," Thompson said. "Certain types of singers when backed up by loud bands can sound good, but make no impression when singing a cappella. ...The tradition of modern church gospel singing is great training for a cappella." Southern humorist and frequent National Public Radio commentator Roy Blount Jr. agrees, noting that most popular music -- blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll -- has Southern roots. "Southerners can sing the way they talk," he said. "They don't have to force it."
Sharon Stone and Liza Minnelli dazzled the crowd at the Cannes Film Festival by hosting a charity dinner to raise money for AIDS that left the French Riviera town feeling star-struck, reports Hello! magazine. With tables costing up to $100,000, the Amfar dinner is one of the highlights of the annual film festival. ''I've never done this before,'' said the visibly nervous star before paying tribute to her mother, Judy Garland, with an a cappella rendition of "You Made Me Love You".
May 21, 2004
Newly-crowned Harmony Sweeps champs Chapter 6 have themselves a great gig. They will be headlining in Branson, Missouri at the 900 seat Opera House Theater at Silver Dollar City for a three month run. They will be performing 3 shows a day, Wednesday through Sunday, from June 4th through August 22nd. With a cappella shows now playing off-Broadway, in Las Vegas and now in Branson perhaps our favourite musical form is becoming more mainstream after all.
The Spring radio book is in and "Going Beyond Words", the weekly choral show, was the number one rated show at KVNO drawing more listeners than any other hour during the week. The program is hosted by Stanley Schmidt - a distinguished music educator, choral director and businessman who recently founded the Clarion Record label. Mr. Schmidt is also President of CollegiumUSA.com, one of the country's largest and most celebrated distributors of recorded choral music. Now in its eleventh year "Going Beyond Words" originates in the studios of KVNO FM, located in the campus of the University of Nebraska, in Omaha. The show can also be heard on the Web at KVNO.org and is broadcast at Noon on Sundays Central Time.
They've serenaded U.S presidents current and past, including fictional President Joel Bartlett on television's popular "The West Wing." International luminaries the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa have heard their fine musicianship as do many thousands throughout the world every year. They are the famed and venerable singing ambassadors of Yale University known as The Yale Whiffenpoofs.
Founded in 1909, the nation's oldest and most prestigious collegiate a cappella male singing group keeps their membership to a fixed 14 Yale seniors selected annually by each preceding chorus. Each year two of the 14 "gentlemen songsters" are tapped as leaders. They are the business manager and the music director, also known as the "Pitch Pipe," who oversee all aspects of Whiffenpoofs activities from picking the repertoire, recording and rehearsing songs, to tending minutiae of the singers' world tour. In the musical world, Cole Porter, creator of American musical classics Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate, ranks as the best-known former Whiffenpoof. The list of noteworthy Whiffenpoofs alumni also includes Senator Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of the American Presidents Bush. In fact, being tapped into the Whiffenpoofs these days can be such an intense commitment of time and energy that some members set aside their senior studies for the year. Marc Freed-Finnegan, the Whiffenpoofs' business manager this year, took the year off in order to devote all his time to the ensemble.
In addition to the ambitious summer tour -- which will take the 14 singers to such exotic places Japan,China, Thailand, Nepal South Africa, India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Russia -- the 2004 Whiffenpoofs plan to make a contribution to children's literacy by donating a portion of our world tour proceeds to the cause.
"Our hope is to act as junior 'ambassadors,' traveling the world and bringing international attention to the importance of reading and writing," said Freed-Finnegan. In addition to a financial contribution, the singers want to visit schools, orphanages and homeless shelters to perform for children, spend time reading with children, and help establish local literacy centers through gifts of books, pens, pencils and notebooks. On May 29, the Whiffs will be working with the Salvation Army in a special literacy outreach program for local disadvantaged children.
So, where did these intrepid Yale singers get such an unusual name? It seems that back in 1908 one of the men had just seen the Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo," which included a fantastic tale about a Whiffenpoof fish. The word had a freedom and exuberant fancy that appealed to the choristers and it was immediately adopted as the group's new name.
The A Cappella Singers, one of the few all female chorus groups in New England, have not only been a unique musical voice in the area but a persistent one as well. Tomorrow, at the Plymouth Church in Framingham, the locally-based group will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a performance titled "Songs Through the Years. "Certainly, it is a point of pride to think about it from the point of view of 40 years ago," said Astrid (Sandy) Thalheimer, a Natick resident who founded the A Cappella Singers.
"There is a special sound we have that is brought out of us by our conductor," said Ann Powers who has been with the A Cappella Singers for more than 30 years and will be one of the featured soloists during the 40th anniversary concert. "There is a certain quality to your voice, with altos and sopranos and so forth, that is different. There is a certain purity and lightness, a warm, glowing, human feeling to it," said Thalheimer.
"There certainly is a different dynamic," said A Cappella Singers music director Sharon Brown, adding that women's shared experiences play into the emotion they bring to the music. Brown, a Framingham resident who conducts The Boston Conservatory's women's choir, is a full-time member of the school's Special Programs Department, and is also the conductor of the Simmons College Women's Chorale, said tomorrow night's musical bill will also include pieces from the A Cappella Singers' first public performance, in 1968. More
May 20, 2004
The Barbershop Society will be presenting it's annual international convention in Louisville, Kentucky from June 29 thru July 3. As well as the competition events there are many other opportunities to both sing and hear great groups at the Gospel Sing, the AIC champions concert, a special one hour Vocal Majority concert and a full evening concert by The Swingle Singers. And as a bonus this year there are many great door prizes including a brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle.
The Hannover International A Cappella Festival runs thru May 23 and is presenting groups such as The King's Singers, Rajaton, The Magnets, Anuna and many others.
May 19, 2004
Who are those folks in the rock-star clothes, with the long black coats and sultry corsets, the big metal snaps and rivets and chains? Why, it's the five members of Orlando's own Toxic Audio, dressed to kill for the big city, conquering new audiences eight times a week with their very own off-Broadway show -- and winners Sunday night of a 2004 Drama Desk Award for "unique theatrical experience."
The Drama Desk Awards, voted on by more than 140 theater critics, reporters and editors, were organized in 1955 to counter Broadway's Tony Awards by honoring Broadway and off-Broadway alike. Hometown fans will recognize the glorious harmonies and the goofy humor of Loudmouth, the Toxins' bid for fame and fortune just blocks from the glitter of Broadway. But anybody who has known the group since its start six years ago at the Orlando Fringe will be impressed by the glossy trappings -- and the gung-ho response -- at the New York show.
Reviews have been slow in coming at the height of the Broadway theater season, although early this month The New York Times' Lawrence Van Gelder called Loudmouth "an amiable evening of song." On ameri cantheaterweb.com, critic Andy Propst described the virtuosity of the Toxins' vocalizations as "nothing short of extraordinary."
On one recent Monday night, the slowest theater night of the week, Toxic draws a healthy crowd of 100 or more, at $50 a head, to the John Houseman Theatre on West 42nd Street. Most of the audience members are young -- teens, 20s and 30s -- but there is a good sprinkling of middle-aged people and oldsters, who quickly get into the spirit: After one elderly woman is called onstage for a mock-sentimental number, she obligingly pretends to weep. The younger folk go nuts. A row of very young women giggles and squeals all the way through, and one rocks so hard in her aging theater seat that the kneecaps behind her must suffer semi-permanent damage.
That's become a typical response for the Toxins, who have been winning young fans for years, especially the kind who boast on Toxic's Web site of getting close enough to touch Paul Sperrazza or Jeremy James in the flesh. And the Goth-like rock-video costumes, flashy Broadway-style lighting and two-level scaffolding set certainly should make the group's younger fans feel right at home. Those new trappings never get in the way of Toxic's music, a collection of styles from standards to New Age to rap to rock classics, all created with nothing but five voices, a set of microphones and the wizardry of the sixth member of the group, sound man John A. Valines III.
Like all Toxic shows, Loudmouth slides from one style to the next, and there's something for everyone: If you're too old to appreciate "Bring Me to Life," Shalisa James' version of the Evanescence Top-40 hit, you'll probably adore Michelle Mailhot-Valines' beautiful "Autumn Leaves" or Jeremy James' riotous "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" Director René Ruiz, Toxic's bass, has taken advantage of the Houseman's large stage by sending the group up and down the scaffolding and scampering up the aisles. Beyond that, though, Loudmouth is pretty much the same show the group performed at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center in March -- funny, exhilarating and sweet on the ears.
The Toxins still try to hype up their singing with a few too many gimmicks. Shalisa James' rendition of Carole King's "It's Too Late," straightforward and lovely, doesn't benefit from the candle-laden mock-funeral going on at the same time. Jeremy James' impressive improv-rap number has been interlaced with the group's version of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," and the latter arrangement, which may be Toxic's weakest, doesn't help the former. And is it heretical to say that some of the baser sound effects -- the retching and the belching -- would be better off out in the street? Still, most of the gimmicks are hilarious -- Sperrazza singing "Dream a Little Dream Of Me" as if he's a speeded-up, slowed-down or skipping record on a turntable, Ruiz making the most of his four syllables in the audience favorite "Mahna Mahna," Sperrazza miming his way ridiculously through the lyrics of "The Rose." And the singing is just plain gorgeous.
An experimental bridge of cooperation between a Catholic school and a gay choral group collapsed Thursday when Rosarian Academy canceled two concerts scheduled for this weekend by the Voices of Pride Gay Men's Chorus of the Palm Beaches. The academy had allowed the 30-man chorus, formed last year, to use the school's music room since October for rehearsals. Members had sold more than 500 tickets for their debut performances Friday night and tonight in the Machlin Memorial Theatre on Rosarian's North Flagler Drive campus. Each side claimed Friday that the other had violated their contract and was responsible for the cancellation.
Carey O'Donnell, public relations spokeswoman for Rosarian, said Pilecki agreed to change material that Sanders found objectionable when she attended a rehearsal six weeks ago. O'Donnell would not say what the material was. "He gave her repeated assurances that it would be modified or deleted," she said. "He totally understood her objections." The principal attended the Wednesday night dress rehearsal and found the material hadn't been changed, O'Donnell said. "She gave him the choice of modifying the show as previously agreed or canceling, and he said cancel," O'Donnell said.
Pilecki couldn't be reached for comment Friday, but attorney Trent Steele said it was "absolutely not true" that Pilecki called off the concerts. "They absolutely were not given any options by Sister Corinne," Steele said. "She told them in no uncertain terms the event was canceled." He said the show contained no obscenities, vulgarities or nudity, or anything inappropriate. "To suggest that any of these numbers is of an 'adult' nature is akin to suggesting that the Carol Burnett show or the Milton Berle show was of an 'adult' nature," he said. "There is some humor on a subject that is quite timely and one that needs some discussion, but there is no intent to offend anyone. Sometimes comic relief is a good channel to open up communication."
The chorus sang at a recent West Palm Beach City Commission meeting, and Mayor Lois Frankel had proclaimed Friday and today Voices of Pride Days in honor of its planned debut. The group said it is looking for another venue and will honor tickets already sold. Frankel said she was disappointed and surprised by the concert controversy. "As a city, we are so proud of our diversity, which includes gender identity diversity," she said. "We heard this choir at our commission meeting, and they have beautiful voices. It was uplifting. I feel confident this group can find a different venue in this city for people to enjoy the choir." More
For its final performance in New York, the ethereal vocal quartet Anonymous 4 returned to basics, presenting a program of the spare, uncompromising 12th century chant of Hildegard of Bingen at Corpus Christi Church Sunday evening. In a way, it was a surprising move for the a cappella foursome. Having been at the forefront of the early-music scene for the past 17 years, the group has performed and recorded Hildegard before, but recent seasons have seen it branch out into Americana, Christmas music, even some contemporary fare.
Retreating to Hildegard might seem like a commercial ploy, since the curious abbess' fame as a writer, healer, mystic and composer has, in the past two decades, surpassed the bounds of classical music stardom into New Age, feminist and pop culture circles. Turns out that a program devoted to Hildegard's music places subtle yet daunting demands on the performers and the audience. Clad in conservative black dresses, the four singers sang the chants devoutly, passionately and with an exceptionally pure tone. As is often the case for this period music, all four sang in unison, which, among other consequences, placed a microscope on even minute technical blemishes.
Anonymous 4 showed few signs of the exceptional difficulty of this enterprise. A stray note here and there aside, the technical prowess of the performers was as impressive as the sincerity with which they invested each word. Always thinking programmatically, they divided the evening into a series of "visions," interspersing Hildegard's music with her writings, which they have retroactively set to music. They performed without applause and without intermission, the effect being a continuous consideration of Hildegard's advanced, colorful poetry.
As for the music, truth be told, it is purposefully uniform. As the erudite program notes point out, it was vainglorious in this time to be identified as a composer, and if the music stood out too much and distracted from the interpretation of the words, the composer had overstepped her bounds. That's not to say that Hildegard wasn't innovative; her melismas (melodic elaborations on a syllable), for example, are unconventional, and numerous theorists have written about her unique compositional style.
Still, the lasting impression from this aural experience is one of sonic distillation, of concentrating, even meditating on a single pitch. The effect is similar to that of the "holy" minimalist compositions of Arvo Pärt and Sir John Tavener, the latter of whom Anonymous 4 has collaborated with before. Despite the fact that the compositions involve text, a concert of Hildegard is a kind of absolute music. In that way, it was a fitting tribute to a group that has done much so much for the art form. Two encores of Americana (including a stunning "Wondrous Love") and a champagne reception followed. Anonymous 4 is disbanding soon, but with yet another CD due out, its work will not fade into anonymity.
May 18, 2004
Contributors to the a cappella choir Renaissance Voices are grouped under gemstones, from topaz through ruby. The system is appropriate, because each of the group's concerts is a carefully faceted jewel. The Spring program, "To Music," at the Chestnut Street Church on Saturday night was only a little longer than an hour in length, but more satisfying than many concerts twice as long. It was also revealing. Many of the late Renaissance pieces are not often heard, and they were interspersed with equally unfamiliar works from the modern repertoire and the increasingly recognized upsurge of American vocal music that occurred around the time of the Revolution.
The choral works by Boston's William Billings (1746-1800) and Maine's Supply Belcher (1751-1836) hold their own, to a modern ear, with Dowland, if not Purcell. Conductor Harold Stover programmed a wonderful piece by Billings as an encore. Entitled "Modern Music" and written in 1790, it musically illustrates the construction of one of Billings' famous "fuging tunes," beginning with the bass line and building through increasingly complex additions to an appeal for applause.
His "Creation" was sung during the scheduled program. Supply Belcher's own "Creation," from "The Harmony of Maine," was also worthy of close listening. Both Billings and Belcher stem from the shaped-note singing school tradition, in which the shapes of the notes indicate the pitch, and the harmony and counterpoint operate in glorious American disobedience of the rules. If you want to hear real shaped-note harmony, get the Anonymous Four's version of "Amazing Grace." More
Congratulations to Toxic Audio for winning a 2004 Drama Desk Award for best "Unique Theatrical Experience".
Naturally Seven willl be performing "Amazing Grace" at the 2004 CMA Music Festival/Fan Fair. The legendary 32-year old event takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13, in Downtown Nashville.
Almost a decade after their first Wango Tango On-Air festival, the Backstreet Boys gave a preview of their upcoming album in the form of an a cappella song called "Movin' On."
May 15, 2004
After the hard work on the recent Harmony Sweeps and with family visiting from overseas we are are having a little bit of a break and posting has been light. We fully expect to be back in full swing next week. Editor John.
May 14, 2004
Ithaca long has been known for its grassroots music scene; indeed, many local bands have made themselves known on a national basis. But when it comes to creating a buzz among locals - at least a certain segment of them-one band stands out from the rest: Sons of Pitches. Formed about six years ago at Ithaca College, the a capella quintet made its mark early on by packing the historic State Theatre for a pair of shows - a feat unmatched in recent memory by other local bands, or even by many national ones. Sons of Pitches have done particularly well in attracting the attention of teenage and younger fans, especially girls, but the band members' vocal talents, business savvy and willingness to work hard have enabled them to work full-time in a variety of musical venues around the northeast.
Sons of Pitches, or SOP as they are also known, have released three albums in their career. While the band originally focused on vocal arrangements of popular and alt-rock songs, the latest CD, "What You Have It," finds the group stretching in new musical directions, with more original songs and added instrumentation.
Original members Ryan James, James Wheal and Ross Mizrahi are still with the band, along with Tommy Morris, who joined up in 2002, and Eric Toyama, the most recent addition. Friday night, the band returns to the State Theatre for what looks to be another big show. Earlier this week, Ticket interviewed Morris and Mizrahi about the upcoming show, the band's origins and evolution, and the quintet's future plans. More
May 12, 2004
Rudy Maugeri, co-founder of the 1950s doo-wop group The Crew-Cuts and co-writer of the hit "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby," has died. He was 73. Magueri, who sang lead vocals on the band's hit cover of "Earth Angel," died Friday of cancer at his home in Las Vegas, said longtime band manager George Brown.
The Crew-Cuts band was formed in the early 1950s by a group of friends who grew up together in Toronto, Canada. "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby" was released in 1954 and quickly climbed the charts. The song is immortalized in the Broadway show "Forever Plaid." After signing with Mercury Records, The Crew-Cuts recorded a series of rock 'n' roll versions of R&B songs. While the practice of white artists covering songs by black artists would draw criticism in later years, the group's version of the Chords' "Sh-Boom" began a string of Top 10 hits.
"We were taking black music and giving it that white twist," said group member John Perkins, 72. The rest of the group included Perkins' brother, Ray, and Pat Barrett. The group's "Earth Angel" was a cover of The Penguins' song and also reached the top of the charts. Other hits included "Gumdrop," "Angels in the Sky" and "Ko-Ko-Mo (I Love You So)." The group performed in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. After the band broke up in 1964, Maugeri worked in broadcasting with radio stations in New York and Los Angeles. Maugeri and his wife of 43 years, Marilyn, moved to Las Vegas about 25 years ago.
It's not often that choral ensembles are willing to tackle Sergei Rachmaninoff's grand Vespers (All-Night Vigil). And with good reason. The religious Mass for unaccompanied chorus is considered one of the most difficult works in choral repertoire. But it's no surprise that Thomas Morgan and his Boulder- based Ars Nova Singers took on the challenging, ardently spiritual masterpiece - fans of the 43-voice ensemble are accustomed to its first-rate delivery of rarely performed music from the Renaissance to the present. And in Friday night's concert of the Russian Orthodox Church music at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Denver, Ars Nova didn't disappoint.
For starters, the group has the striking ability to stay on key and on pitch without a piano or other instrument to ground it. And the work's libretto - a transliteration of the traditional Old Church Slavonic language - was delivered with remarkably cohesive articulation, especially evident in the unison melodies. Alternating between praise and plea, the Mass embodies a reverential human encounter with ultimate divinity. The often haunting and tranquil melodic material was delivered with great passion and tenderness, evoking a sense of awe and serenity, and revealing the naked beauty of a cappella voices.
Morgan, artistic director of Ars Nova, masterfully conducted the hushed phrasings of the integrated folk influences and traditional chants of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the rich, resounding acoustics of the cathedral, the lambent songs of praise enveloped the audience in a wash of celestial sounds.
Deemed by the composer to be one of his finest works, the 15 linked psalms and hymns - separated by chiming tubular bells played by Brian du Fresne - are a lush, romantic score with a dense harmonic foundation. The 20th-century work also showcases high soprano lines and maximal low bass passages that would easily defeat singers of lesser caliber. Of note was the exquisitely sustained finish of each movement. And solo contributions by bass Philip Judge in the opening prelude, and tenor Adam Finkel throughout the work, soared effortlessly above the undulating voices beneath.
May 11, 2004
HARMONY SWEEPSTAKES NATIONAL GRAND CHAMPIONS - CHAPTER 6
A full house of 2,000 a cappella fans were treated to a wonderful night of top notch singing at the 20th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival National Finals. This event is probably the most prestigious showcase for a cappella groups, not only in the US, but possibly worldwide with groups performing from Australia, Canada and Puerto Rico. All the performers represented their regions admirably and thanks also to the support of the audience we look forward to another 20 years of great a cappella singing.
And the results are:-
1st - Chapter 6 (Chicago)
2nd - Clockwork (San Francisco)
Mosaic - (Mid Atlantic)
Inpulse - (Rocky Mountain)
Audience Favorite - Chapter 6
Best Original Song - "Obsession" - Marcus Hanson - Inpulse
Best Original Arrangement - "Theme And Variations On It Don't Mean A
Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing". - arr. Mark Grizzard - Chapter 6
Here is the complete set list
And by happy coincidence Chapter 6 are today releasing their latest recording "Swing Shift", which is currently on sale at Primarily A Cappella. Listen to the winning arrangement of Theme And Variations On It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" which is on this release.
May 7, 2004
Not only is there one really great a cappella show playing off Broadway, "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth", now the talented and funny Minimum Wage makes their off Broadway debut at Dillon's Theater starting today thru June 26. With the music being cowritten by Sean Altman (Rockapella) and directed by Samrat Chakrabarti (Five o'clock Shadow / The Hyannis Sound) these Harmony Sweeps national audience favorites winners should be presenting a highly entertaining show. More info
May 5, 2004
Will the real Drifters, Platters, Coasters or Tams please stand up? Gov. Mark Sanford is expected to sign a bill designed to protect music fans from being duped by impostor bands and acts, a measure sponsored by Rep. John "Bubber" Snow and supported by the Beach Music Association International and the Recording Industry Association of America. The legislation will require performances in South Carolina to be identified as a "salute" or "tribute" if the group in question does not contain at least one original member of the outfit responsible for its hit recordings. "There are a lot of phony groups out there," said Harry Turner, president of the BMAI.
Legal wrangling over the rights of group names is a common occurrence in the music business but especially problematic for early R&B and vocal groups that fall under the umbrella of beach music, South Carolina's official form of popular music. "Lawsuits always surround those groups," said Bob Wood, president of The Alabama Theatre, which presents concerts by various beach music and oldies acts.
The bill, ratified April 20 by the General Assembly, has been nicknamed the Bill Pinkney Bill after the only surviving original member of The Drifters, who is an S.C. native.There have been up to 40 versions of The Drifters drifting about, Turner estimated, but Pinkney won the right to use the name The Original Drifters. Wood questioned whether, if the Pinkney bill is signed by the governor, the law would prohibit a group with legal rights to a name but no original members in the lineup from performing.
Columbia attorney/lobbyist Kelley Jones, who wrote the original draft of the bill, said it isn't intended to prevent anyone from performing in the Palmetto State. "It just means there are some standards that you have to meet if you do perform in South Carolina," he said. The BMAI Web site explains it like this: "Even if the group has the trademark for a group name and can legally use it, our bill would require a disclaimer that there are no original members in this group."
Local beach music promoter Skipper "Water Dog" Hough disagrees with that provision. "They are leaving themselves wide open for lawsuits," Hough said Friday. "Some of these artists are dead, but their namesakes carry on. And several groups have members that have been with them for 25 to 35 years that weren't original, but who knows the difference?" he asked. "They have rights to the group names, and they've earned that right." Wood said The Alabama Theatre had been burned by this issue in the past, so venue officials are diligent in making sure groups that perform there have legal rights to their names.
Baltimore City Paper
Tradition might be too strong a word, but after a dozen years of enthusiastic, competitive, unpaid performances, vocal music at Hopkins has definitely evolved beyond fad status. Hopkins boasts at least seven groups, several of which originated in the early '90s and have continued to be replenished, year by year, with fresh voices. The present array includes the all-male All Nighters, the all-female JHU Sirens, the mixed-gender Vocal Chords and Octopodes, the humor-oriented Mental Notes, the Jewish group Ketsev, and the Christian group Adoremus. While some of the groups come up with original songs, the bulk of the repertoire is cover material performed in styles ranging from doo-wop to hip-hop. Some popular songs come all but ready-made for noninstrumental treatment--think of classic Beach Boys hits--but much of the fun of modern a cappella lies in clever vocal adaptations of current instrumental music, including percussion.
By nature, a cappella music enforces a fusion of musical and social relationships. Without instruments to keep voices on pitch (and to mask mistakes), the singers must listen to each other intently. Individuals get their turns at the lead--some individuals more than others--but it's clear that a cappella is not a breeding ground for prima donnas. "Every once in while you have a girl or guy come along who has a great voice and wants to be a diva, and that doesn't last very long," says Hopkins senior Michael Vu, president of the Octopodes. In-group coziness is spiced with friendly intergroup rivalries and contests of skill. Some years ago, Hopkins a cappella was drifting toward a Yale-ish elitism, with different groups understood to be the A, B, and even C teams in their respective gender categories. The school and the student-run Performing Arts Council discouraged such stratification. These days, the groups tend to sort themselves out according to style. More
May 4, 2004
NY Times reviews "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth."
New York Times
Just when the musicians' union is battling the advent of the virtual orchestra, and conductors are facing a future populated by baton-wielding pint-size robots, along comes "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth." Although the ear may tell the brain it is hearing bass, drums, guitars, brushes on cymbals and maybe even an occasional horn, this amiable evening of song boasts that it all its sounds are produced by the human voice. The voices of the five versatile and appealing singers, are, however, aided and abetted by an assortment of microphones as they work their way through numbers like "Autumn Leaves," "Dream a Little Dream," "Paperback Writer," "Thriller," "Lean on Me" and television themes. The song selection is sure-fire, the presentation is frequently clever and the cast is talented; but at bottom "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth" is the musical equivalent of a one-joke comedy. This crowd-pleasing show remains an agreeable novelty without being extraordinary. The youthful "Toxic Audio" cast — Jeremy James and Shalisa James (husband and wife), Michelle Mailhot-Valines, Rene Ruiz and Paul Sperrazza — performing singly and in various combinations on a bi-level framework is thoroughly at home in all manner of pop and jazz, including scat. And, to its credit, just when "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth" shows early signs of sinking into monotony, mischief enlivens the proceedings. — Lawrence Van Gelder
Sweet Honey in the Rock still flows sweetly, even with the retirement in February of its beloved founder, Bernice Johnson Reagon. The legendary female African-American a cappella ensemble takes its name from Psalm 81's promise to a people of being fed by honey out of a rock. It was formed in 1973 by Reagon, who had served in the original SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers -- the historic vocal group that emerged during the '60s civil rights movement. Returning to the fold now after a 27-year absence is founding member Louise Robinson, who performed in such Broadway and off-Broadway productions as "Ain't Misbehavin"' during the interim.
The reconstituted group's April 17 concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark led off with the "Sweet Honey in the Rock" refrain from its 1976 self-titled debut album, followed by an updated version of longtime member Nitanju Bolade Casel's "A Tribute" (from 1993's "On the Journey"), which documents and celebrates Sweet Honey's extraordinary history -- now involving 22 members altogether -- while invoking Reagon's continuing legacy. The show's finale was "Trust," a new song written by founding member Carol Maillard. "Trust in your blessings, and all will flow like sweet honey from heaven," Maillard says, reciting a key lyric in her song.
"It's another expansion of the idea of who Sweet Honey is," she adds. That includes not only a broad repertoire of traditional and original songs, largely shaped by the sacred music of the black church, but "all the messages and ideas and stances that Sweet Honey has held and shared with the public over the last 30-odd years" -- specifically, the struggle for justice. "With the new ensemble, we're remembering the past and moving on to the future," Maillard continues. "We're creating new sounds but always being sure that fans of Sweet Honey past, present and future recognize that there is a continuum from all the formations of the group." Maillard says that "Trust" will be recorded and utilized as a promotional tool for performing arts buyers, concert promoters and radio programmers and will be sold in a limited edition at Sweet Honey concerts in the fall.
Meanwhile, longtime member Ysaye M. Barnwell reports that the group will collaborate in composing a piece for the 40th anniversary of the Washington Performing Arts Society, to be performed with the Children of Gospel and the Men and Women of Gospel in 2005. Additional collaborations with the likes of Bobby McFerrin, Andre Watts and Cuban composer Jose Maria Vitier are being discussed. Sweet Honey, which records for Earthbeat Records, appears on "Creole Bred," Vanguard's May 11 CD tribute to Creole and zydeco music. As they continue in their 30th anniversary year, they're the focus of award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, who is preparing a documentary to be aired later this year on public television.
The Hudsen Reporter
Jimmy Hayes, one of the founding members of the famed a cappella performing and recording group "The Persuasions," vividly recalls his 26th birthday party. "My friends gave me a surprise party and everyone was there," Hayes said. "All of the members of 'The Temptations' were there. It was a real surprise to me." During that party, Hayes asked Otis Williams, one of the members of the original Temptations, to sing him a special song. "I asked him to sing, 'Don't Send Me Away,' which he did," Hayes said. "And all the members of the Temptations and Persuasions got together and sang the background. It was something I'll never forget. I hadn't seen Otis since my 26th birthday. That was 30 years ago."
Just last week, Hayes hooked up once again with Williams, who is the only member of the original Temptations still performing with the legendary Motown group, when the Persuasions opened for the Temptations at a concert in North Hampton, Mass. "It was 30 years ago, but Otis still remembered that night," said Hayes. This May, Hayes will be performing locally, albeit without the Temptations. But he will lead the Persuasions in the May concert as part of the UBS Atrium Concert Series Thursday afternoon at 12:30 p.m., presented by the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center. More
The theme "Steal the Show" set the stage for a formidable musical battle on Friday night as to who owned the Spring Sing spotlight in the Los Angeles Tennis Center. And with the good weather this year, Spring Sing drew a crowd of about 5,000 who came to be both entertained by and cheer on their fellow students' performances and laugh at the hilarious banter of Company's between-set sketch comedy.The two-song performance by James Taylor, this year's recipient of the George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Achievement Award, at the end of the first act had the audience on its feet chanting for more. Despite the legendary folk artist protesting that he did not "want to hijack your show," he will no doubt be the one performer audience members will boast most about having heard.
The a cappella/ensemble category ultimately became a duel between Random Voices with a lounge rendition of "Baby Got Back," and Awaken A Cappella's remake of Styx's "Mr. Roboto." But the 12 girls in Random Voices proved that good harmonies and a bit of booty shaking were enough to outshine Awaken's much more elaborate and showy performance of Styx's popular piece, complete with costumes and glow lights. More
When Dick Van Dyke said goodbye on Sunday, he left behind a new generation of fans and a lifetime of memories. Van Dyke, 78, returned to Danville for what's likely to be his last homecoming, to be honored as a DHS distinguished alumnus and to attend a student performance of "Bye Bye Birdie." Van Dyke, who was a member of the Dramatic Club and a cappella choir, also spoke about the importance of school music and drama programs. "All over the country, school budgets are being shaved to the bone, and the first thing to suffer has been music programs," he said, urging the community to continue its support. "Kids have got to have music in their lives. These kids will walk around with more confidence and more grace just having done this kind of a show. Believe me, it will change their lives." Van Dyke's friendliness, down-to-earth personality and natural charm endeared him to students as soon as he pulled up to the school's circle drive, got out of his car and broke out into a grin, which seemed to stay on his face throughout the weekend.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Van Dyke when he both performed, and helped judge, last year's LA Harmony Sweepstakes. He is a customer of Primarily A Cappella and a keen barbershop fan and this article tells how he performed with his high school a cappella choir. He is probably cappella's biggest celebrity fan. Editor
May 1, 2004
The European Union expanded deep into eastern Europe at the stroke of midnight with the accession of eight ex-communist countries and two Mediterranean islands. The entry of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia swelled the EU's ranks to 25 nations and its population by 75 million to 455 million. "Welcome to the new Europe," trumpeted European Commission president Romano Prodi, feting an event that for many marks the definitive end to Europe's Cold War divisions.
People in the three Baltic states burst into song to celebrate joining the EU, 14 years after singing their way out of the Soviet Union. "Latvia has prepared for the EU, Latvia has strived and argued and achieved a result. Now it is time to celebrate," President Vaira-Vike Freiberga said to a crowd of 30,000 new Europeans gathered on the banks of Riga's Daugava river. The Baltic states' choral tradition hit the international spotlight during the so-called Singing Revolution of passive resistance against Soviet rule, when on August 23, 1989 two million people held hands to make a human chain from Vilnius through Riga to Tallinn.
San Francisco Chronicle
It seemed an unlikely place to hear the sweet sound of music, this bustling stretch of Page Street. But there it was late on a Tuesday afternoon, a chorus of treble voices gliding through opened windows, a delicate cloud of sound drifting over screeching buses, rumbling delivery trucks, honking cars. It was coming from the middle of the block, from a handsome white building whose front door could be found under a red awning stretched regally across the sidewalk -- the home of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
The girls will be singing in Chinese, English, Latin and Spanish -- four of the 16 languages in their repertoire. They will also be singing the sounds of crickets, night creatures and flowing water when they perform five pieces based on ancient Chinese poems and folk songs, including one titled "Picking the Seedpods of the Lotus.''
During a recent rehearsal of "Chinese Poems for Children's Choruses,'' 15- year-old Jennifer Che of El Cerrito raised her hand, concerned about how the members of Chorissima were pronouncing "si," one of the Chinese words in an ancient folk song about the people who once lived on the Chile Plains of inner Mongolia. Conductor Susan McMane, who joined the San Francisco Girls Chorus three years ago as artistic director, called for the group's attention. "We're getting some Chinese help here,'' she told the group. Jennifer and 13-year-old sister Alice coached their fellow singers in the correct pronunciation. McMane helped, pointing out the subtle differences she could hear between the right and wrong pronunciations.
"What extraordinary voices,'' Michael Tilson Thomas, the Symphony's music director, has said. "Only the highest standards of professional training can produce such voices.'' The chorus, whose budget is $1.5 million a year, is committed to expanding the library of music for treble voices by commissioning new works. It has commissioned 21 pieces since it was founded in 1978. The Thursday concert will mark the world premieres of two such pieces: "Anne Frank: A Living Voice,'' by Linda Tutas Haugen, and "Runes: Three Choral Songs on Elizabethan Verses,'' by Alice Parker.
"When we first started commissioning pieces, it was because there wasn't enough challenging music for treble voice for our girls,'' said Elizabeth Avakian, who has been the director of the chorus school for 15 years. "Now we commission pieces because we feel that it's part of our mission to be able to help create pieces for the treble voice, for these girls. If we don't commission music, there won't be new music written for our posterity.'' More