June 26, 2004
There will be a temporary break in blogging as I am off for the week to Louisville, Kentucky to exhibit at the mens' Barbershop Society's International Convention. Always a lot of fun (and hard work) the week is very busy and I doubt if I'll have the chance to make any posts. I also look forward to hanging with the Swingle Singers, who will be doing a special concert, and there certainly will be some great a cappella music being sung that week.
June 25, 2004
Recorded on tour in Japan in June of 2003, "Live in Japan" puts us in the excited audience of one of Rockapella's fabled live performances. We have heard these songs before, the patented smooth, dynamic arrangements by Scott Leonard and Sean Altman, Jeff Thacher's flawless, rock-solid beatbox, and the soaring leads of Kevin Wright and Elliott Kerman on the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun,", the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun,", the Motown hit "My Girl," and Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." These 22 songs have all appeared on other Rockapella CDs, but with their fresh, crisp sound and new arrangements it's as if we're hearing them for the first time. And the group has changed—just listen to (excellent addition to the group) George Baldi's gravel-deep bass lines on "Use Me" and "Summertime Blues," his sweet backup anchor on "My Girl" and his powerful lead on "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." There is a looseness here, an easy confidence, a showing off just exactly how good they know they are, that adds up to some big fun—and another winner for legendary Rockapella! Currently on sale at Primarily A Cappella - Listen to House Of The Rising Sun
Unfortunately Rockapella has had to take it's former record label to court and some of those J-Bird titles are currently unavailable. We hear that there is hope for a resolution over the summer and it is hoped those releases will be reissued. As their original recordings "Primer", "Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego" and "Lucky Seven" are also out of print we are glad the band has released this title.
The 135-member The Michael O’Neal Singers were just awarded a $25,000 grant from The Metropolitan Arts Fund in Atlanta who gave a total of $487,000 to mid-sized arts organizations in the metro Atlanta area.
Beyonce will be featured in a TV ad campaign for True Star, a new cosmetics range, singing Wishing On A Star a cappella.
June 24, 2004
Glasgow Daily Record
Rock legend Bob Dylan dozed his way through a graduation ceremony yesterday as he was honoured by Scotland's oldest university The star appeared to nod off for a while at St Andrews before he stepped up to get his honorary doctorate. The singer closed his eyes as the 20-piece St Salvator's Chapel Choir delivered an a cappella version of his classic Blowin' In The Wind.
After working their way through the pieces listed on the programme, the choir made the unexpected addition, prompting a muffled gasp. They say nobody sings Dylan like Dylan and St Salvator's Choir did not try. The students performed in perfect harmony. Dylan looked nervous, studying his order of service as if it was the only object in the room. As the choristers sang their last note he looked in their direction.
Several hundred eyes scrutinised the legend for a reaction. There was none. Dylan was inscrutable. As the congregation of parents, students and fans cheered he did not even clap. Dylan had earlier upset the university, which boasts Prince William as a student, by moaning about the length of time he would have to spend there. He also refused to follow tradition by sitting through the full ceremony at the university's Younger Hall or by meeting with other graduates. Instead, he only agreed to attend after being allowed to slip in a side door at the last minute.
One member of the choir said: 'He came in side of stage just as the choir were about to start. He then picked up his honourary degree and was out again within half an hour.'My friend is a doctor who thought Dylan looked ill, grey and tired. He didn't seem too happy to be there.'
Bernice Johnson Reagon, composer and founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, found inspiration in the life and work of Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, for her new choral piece, Liberty or Death Suite. MUSE, Cincinnati Women's Choir, will premiere Liberty or Death Friday and Saturday at Allen Temple A.M.E. Church, Bond Hill. Reagon, a winner of a Presidential Medal, distinguished professor of history at American University and curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, spoke about her work.
What led you to choose Harriet Tubman for your subject?
"My first story as a child growing up in southwest Georgia about the Underground Railroad was a story about Harriet Tubman. At several points in my career I have come to the subject of the Underground Railroad (including Reagon's film score to Roots of Resistance)."
What are some of your favorite texts in "Liberty or Death"?
There's something I call "Harriet's Leaving Song." In her narrative, there are lyrics to the songs she sang as she left the plantation. One of the refrains is, "When that old chariot comes, I'm going to leave you. I'm bound for the Promised Land; I'm going to leave you."When I looked at that lyric, I knew I'd never heard anybody sing it. ... This was a 20-year journey for me - trying to place old tunes that I knew onto the lyrics. The refrain, "Liberty or Death," comes from when Tubman says, "I have reasoned this out in my mind. There was one of two things I had a right to: Liberty or Death."
Where do you find your musical inspiration?
I live in southwest Georgia, so my earliest music is unaccompanied - in church, in school and on the playground. So for this piece in particular, I went to the older part of my repertoire.
"...Every performance is a first performance, and every song a swan song. For this moment never has been shaped by this sound. New-time, new-artist. This instant of life within the now become the past. Clay that vanishes as you shape it. It is the purpose of Music to give shape and meaning and beauty to Time." Robert Shaw.
Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier
Sometimes it's fun to act like a kid again. Christian trio Go Fish has made an entire album for just that purpose. Known for its a cappella musical stylings, the group's latest release is titled "Splash," and is filled with sing-along worthy songs. The trio will perform some of the tracks during a visit to Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on Sunday.
"The songs are very simple, very singable," says member Jason Folkmann. "I walk around all day and can't get them out of my head, and that's a good sign. That means they'll stick in kids' heads too." The songs on the album include Sunday school favorites like "This Little Light of Mine" and "B-I-B-L-E," as well as tunes penned by the group. Though Go Fish shows have always been kid-friendly, and the crowds are consistently peppered with the under-18 set, the group specifically set out to make "Splash" for a certain demographic.
"A lot of kids' products out there speak down to kids, but we wanted to bring kids up to our level," says Folkmann. "We put just as much time and effort into this CD musically as anything else. We wanted kids to have a product like that." Folkmann says the trio recognized the tendency of some children's fare to be wearing on adults, so there was an effort to choose songs that "kids would not only enjoy but wouldn't drive parents nuts."
As a result of trying to reach a different market, Folkmann says members of Go Fish have seen the doors open for the CD and their careers. The group was recently invited to perform at the Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis, where Go Fish is based, and hold a CD release party for "Splash." Over 1,000 people showed up to meet the trio. "We've gotten a lot of opportunities we've never gotten before, and it makes us so excited," says Folkmann.
June 23, 2004
Every day, we navigate the public spaces of New York—bucking the tide, swimming with it, eel-ing around obstacles. "Dancing in the Streets," now celebrating its 20th anniversary, commissions works that make us see our city differently by setting up a tension between the everyday and the extraordinary. Stephen Koplowitz, who's been doing impressive site-specific pieces since the late 1980s, begins his The Grand Step Project by exploiting that tension.
While the New York Choral Society is singing its last enjoyable selection on the steps of the World Financial Center's Winter Garden (the first of six major staircases the work will travel to), 50 dancers file down behind the chorus. And disappear! The singers leave, and the grand staircase is empty.
It turns out that when the performers are lying flat on the staircase's large landing they’re invisible from below. They materialize rolling down the steps, wearing the sort of clothes seen daily in the WFC. When a person reaches the bottom, he or she climbs to roll again, stepping over those on their way down. Not your usual sight.
As the piece accumulates complexity and the movement expands slightly beyond the ordinary, I'm struck by how skillfully Koplowitz articulates the space. The Winter Garden's stairs fan out at the bottom, so his human designs—often comprising several squads, each with its own pattern—not only occupy vertical space, but create a virtual triangle, narrower at the top.
Quentin Chiappetta recorded score, with its buried voices, might almost be an artistic ordering of the random sounds that usually fill the space. Koplowitz, too, teases us with near clutter and incipient chaos, then tidies up. He keeps our eyes busy as he splits the group into polyphonic subgroups, with motifs invading now this clump, now that one. The dancers make so many changes that I relish the moment when all of them suddenly coalesce in rows of tight seated lines, staring at us before they begin to lean sideways and raise their arms in unison. I want them to keep at this longer so I can ponder human architecture and the witty illusion of harmony and cooperation in a space that resonates with our own restlessness and private goals and ringing cell phones.
June 22, 2004
Ben Shabalala, a longtime member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was shot and killed in unknown circumstances, the group's record company has said. He was in his late 40s. Shabalala, whose brother Joseph founded and still leads the group, was killed on June 16 in Durban. The police have not identified a suspect. Mr. Shabalala sang alto in the 10-member group from the late 1970's to 1993, when he left to start his own business. Ben Shabalala is survived by his wife and four children.
"Ben was not just my brother, but is a part of my history," Joseph Shabalala said in a statement. "He is a part of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's legacy. While his life has ended in this terrible way, his voice, his memory and his spirit will continue on with Ladysmith Black Mambazo." A funeral is planned for Saturday in Durban.
The Shabalala clan has had a lot of tragedy in their lives in recent years and this quote from a recent article in The Village Voice explains further:-
"Joseph Shabalala's genius is no reason to elevate him into a feel-good saint. His history is that of a taskmaster and patriarch, and his emotional resources far exceed the antimodern, apolitical positivity he preaches, not to mention Western comprehension. Shabalala's quietism remained resolute in 1991, after his brother Headman died in a roadside shooting by a white security guard. And it sustained again when, in May 2002, as this relentlessly positive album was being recorded, his wife of 30 years, Nellie, was shot and killed, and he himself injured, outside their home. A month later, Joseph's son and Nellie's stepson Nkosinathi was accused of hiring the assassin in what police claimed was a funding dispute between Nellie's group, Women of Mambazo, and Nkosinathi's, White Mambazo, now known as Junior Mambazo. Six months later, Joseph married a woman he'd just met. Last September Nkosinathi's trial was suspended after a witness disappeared."
Three noted Barbershop Society arrangers, Lou Perry, Val Hicks, and Walter Latzko
One of the most legendary of barbershoppers, Dr. Val Hicks, died Monday evening in Salt Lake City. Val became a Society member in 1952 and received his early barbershop training in Salt Lake City with the Beehive Statesmen chorus. While he worked on his masters degree at the University of California, Val coached and arranged for the Osmond Brothers on the Andy Williams Show, the Clinger Sisters on the Danny Kaye Show, and the Larry Hooper Quartet on the Lawrence Welk Show. In addition, he was coaching and arranging for the Dapper Dans of Disneyland.
His coaching and arrangements helped the Evans Quartet (1960) and the Gala Lads (1962) win their international championships. Additionally, his work had a marked influence on the careers of the Western Continentals, the Boston Common (1980), and many other fine quartets and choruses.
Val earned his Ph.D. at the University of Utah in 1971. He taught at California State University for four years and at Santa Rosa Community College for 19 years. He was active in the Young Men in Harmony program as a music advisor and editor; taught arranging in the HEP schools in the 1960s and served on many Society-level committees on category revision, contest rules and the music curriculum for schools and workshops. He was the editor of “Heritage of Harmony,” the 50th anniversary history of the Society; researched the history of male quartets for the Smithsonian Institution; and received a national award from the Music Educators National Conference for his barbershop contributions to music education.
“The Star Spangled Banner” is his most frequently performed arrangement; the oldest and most enduring is “Love’s Old Sweet Song”; the most complex is “This Little Light of Mine”; and the simplest was the verse to “Shine On Me.” Val has composed 80 songs with the best, in his opinion, being “That Summer When We Were Young.”
Val said, "Barbershop can be loud, out of tune (with certain voices grating and dominating), with corny lyrics, trite melodies and silly interpretations, or it can be beautifully crafted, wonderfully in tune and performed with exciting vocal artistry worthy of any audience in the world. It's your choice."
June 18, 2004
The release this month of Volume Two of "Great Hymns of Faith" by the St. Olaf Choir presents good news for lovers of choral music. But there's another story here worth the attention of just about anybody in the record business. Volume One, released in 1999, has sold 270,000 copies. That's a phenomenal number in a time when a choral disc could be expected to sell a couple thousand copies -- and when a classical recording that sells 20,000 is considered a hit. There's no guarantee that the choir's new disc will match Volume One, but sales are likely to be brisk.
Among college and university choruses, St. Olaf is a big name. The Northfield, Minn., choir has toured domestically every year since its founding in 1911 and has made 13 international tours. (It will tour Norway next year.) In all those years it has had just four directors, providing remarkable consistency and tradition. The choir's founder, F. Melius Christiansen, was succeeded by his son Olaf in 1943; Kenneth Jennings took over in 1968, and Anton Armstrong, a St. Olaf graduate, has led the 75-voice ensemble since 1990.
It's a bankable name, in other words. Beyond that, the people at St. Olaf Records, the label in Northfield that produced both the "Hymns" discs (along with 17 earlier choral records), really work at sales in a way that dwarfs most college efforts. First, the label did what any commercial record company does: It ran ads, not just in such obvious publications as "The Lutheran" and "The Choral Journal" but also on the A&E cable network. Bob Johnson, manager of music organizations at the school, estimates that these promotions, along with direct mail to alumni, sold 40,000 copies of the first "Hymns" CD. And the choir sells records at its concerts -- about $70,000 worth during the February tour of the southeastern United States.
The biggest boost came when Bruce Nicholson, president and CEO of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and a St. Olaf grad, bought 40,000 CDs to give as gifts to his clients. "The order eventually grew to more than 210,000," Johnson said. Two thousand were bought by an anonymous donor to be donated to the U.S. military chaplaincy for worship services among troops in Iraq and around the globe.
Although the sales figures grew gradually, Johnson remains surprised by the final numbers. "It was like winning the Powerball," he said by e-mail from Norway, where he was making preparations for next year's tour. "Whenever you achieve this level of success, there's an element of surprise. However, both Anton and I had a lot of faith in what we were producing in these recordings. We knew it would sell well, but we didn't expect sales surpassing a quarter-million."
June 17, 2004
Toronto Eye Weekly
To describe Janet Cardiff's crowd-pleasing, Millennium Prize-winning "Forty-Part Motet" as a religious experience is redundant: the sound sculpture consists of 40 speakers, each playing 40 separately recorded voices singing Thomas Tallis' "Spem in Alium," a complex 16th-century polyphonic choral piece written, of course, in praise of The Almighty Himself. But Cardiff enlarges the adulatory qualities of Tallis' work, giving special credence to his and the Salisbury Cathedral Choir's beautiful creation by having gallery-goers navigate around the speakers so that the harmonies modulate and rebound in intimate, varied and deliciously sinuous ways. The result is so sublime, so all-encompassing that it may be the closest you'll ever come to seeing, touching, smelling and tasting sound.
Think of a choral recital and a rather dull image might spring to mind - rows of singers dressed in white shirts and navy pants, standing stiffly on risers and droning hymns in Latin. Come to a performance of the Detroit Together Men's Chorus, however, and your view of choirs will never be the same. For example, one year, the group mulled over the appropriate attire for their aria about Valkyries - female spirits beloved by Viking-era northern Europeans.
"We thought, how will we pull that off - we just can't stand there and sing it," said Tad Green, vice president of the DTMC. "We made plastic breastplates. We got out the hot glue gun and we decorated them with everything we could think of, including kitchen implements." Their Madonna-like conical breast coverings and colander "helmets" with long blond braids helped make the number the hit of the evening. The 28-voice chorus likes to blend humor and serious music to bring their message to their audiences. Their spring and holiday performances might include anything from a medley of civil rights ballads to an onstage "melting" wicked witch of the West, visiting from the land of Oz.
The group will go international when they attend the seventh annual GALA International Festival in Montreal, Canada from July 17-24. During the quadrienniel festival, up to 10,000 singers drawn from the organization's 200 member LGBT choruses in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America gather together to perform, attend workshops and socialize.
"We thought, 'Wow, we're taking the Detroit banner to the show, why not do Motown?'" says Green. Green was cagey when asked if sequined evening gowns were packed in the group's costume trunks. "You never know what you will see, but I'm sure there will be something for everyone," he said.
New Zealand Herald
It was a mammoth sing - 19 secondary school choirs competing in the Auckland finals of the annual Big Sing, a key event organised by the New Zealand Choral Foundation. Philip Sherry was a smooth and avuncular MC, troop movements on and off stage went without a hitch, and the young voices delivered loud and strong. Judge John Pattinson may have commented on the paucity of classic repertoire (a Bach cantata movement from Carmel College was the only substantial nod in this direction) but the programme was not lacking in cultural diversity.
A number of choirs went Celtic (particularly St Cuthberts with exquisite two-part singing in My Heart's in the Highlands), Baradene College brought out the heart of the Jewish Sophia (with violin and tambourine on the side), and Epsom Girls Grammar pinned just the right Slavic tone to their Bulgarian offering. The Pacific wasn't forgotten when five ranks of full-voiced choristers from Tangaroa College sang a Samoan hymn, or when Otahuhu College presented a sprightly gospel-styled number written by its pianist, senior student Kiri-Miree Kainamu-Wheeler.
There were also moments of weirdness. Beautiful singing did not prevent Manurewa High School's version of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from being a strange choice of song, even with censored lyrics. And the sight of the formally blazered Kings College choristers letting rip on Reach out and I'll Be There was simply bizarre.
These few hours in the town hall had brought many together to celebrate the joy and communication that is possible through the human voice. You could see all of this in the faces of the youngsters and feel the community spirit the audience brought along. Above all, you could sense it in the dedication and lively personalities of the music teachers involved. These men and women are keepers of a flame that too often is just burning when it should be blazing.
June 16, 2004
Several members of this class are participating in a national study of aging and creativity that examines whether creative pursuits can benefit people 65 and older. In groups in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., they sing, write or create visual art for at least an hour a week in programs taught by professional musicians, artists and writers. Then they perform or display their work. Researchers hoped participants would experience fewer health declines than seniors who didn't participate. And results from the first year of the Washington portion of the project, the first results in, have exceeded their expectations. Participants not only maintained their health, but they actually improved it, says project director Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University.
The group of 75 older adults, average age 80, sing at least once a week in a choral group led by a professional conductor. Everyone in the study lives independently, whether in assisted-living communities or at home. Participants reported that they fell less often, needed fewer medications, felt less depressed and less lonely, and became more active than a comparison group of 75 seniors in similar health and living circumstances. "It's extraordinary that they actually improved," Cohen says. More results will be available after the study, which is financed primarily by the National Endowment for the Arts, ends in late 2005.
The positive early results don't surprise those who have been working with seniors in the arts for years. "People need a reason to live, and arts give you a sense of connection to life," says Susan Perlstein, who heads the New York portion of the study and is executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging/Elders Share the Arts in Brooklyn, N.Y. "They give you a passion; they give the skills. Just the artistic process itself is one in which you have to focus and concentrate on many levels." Paula Terry, director of the Access-Ability office with the National Endowment for the Arts, spearheaded the project because she wanted data that would measure whether there was any scientific basis for what she's been hearing for years.
Artists who work with seniors tell her that older people's "depression goes away; they become healthier; they form all these new relationships and on and on." She and others hope the project not only will encourage more arts participation among seniors but also that it will spur Congress to increase spending for programs such as these because health benefits can translate into saved health care dollars. More
June 15, 2004
The first order of business when reviewing a concert by the Suspicious Cheese Lords is to explain their curious name. They are an a cappella male chorus specializing in medieval and renaissance music, and their name is based on a witty mistranslation of the name of a motet by Thomas Tallis, "Suscipe quaeso, Domine" ("Accept, Lord, I ask"). "Suscipe" morphs into "Suspicious," "quaeso" is close to the Spanish word for "cheese" and "Domine" is Latin for "Lord." The 14 members of the Suspicious Cheese Lords are resident artists at the Franciscan monastery in Northeast Washington, where they gave a concert of English sacred music titled "From Bede to Byrd" on Sunday afternoon. The repertoire included several top-40 items in this specialized category, notably Tallis's magnificent, superbly polyphonic "Lamentations of Jeremiah" and William Byrd's simpler, elegant little "Mass for Three Voices."
The medieval segment of the program included a plainsong, "Te Deum," that was exactly suited to the monastery's resonant acoustics in the group's beautifully styled performance, and a fascinating Middle English adaptation of the "Stabat Mater." Singing with precise ensemble in Latin and in English, the Lords showed exemplary understanding of the words and a fine awareness of their proper pronunciation. The acoustics enlivened further the sprightly dance rhythms of "Angelus ad virginem" and were ideal for John Dunstable's "Ave Maris Stella" and Robert Parsons's "Ave Maria." -- Joseph McLellan
June 14, 2004
The first-ever National Convention for The Performing Arts just concluded it's week of discussions and seminars. A wide array of guest speakers and performers enlivened the meetings. They included National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia, musician Bobby McFerrin, Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt, and English choral composer John Rutter. Last Wednesday through Sunday, 4,000 members of 13 arts-service organizations representing five different disciplines gathered to talk about an enormous range of industry issues, nearly all relating to an absence of money. These ranged from how to nurture effective leaders, engage audiences and cut costs to how the arts' effect on economic development and education may be used to change public policy. Virtually every topic related directly or indirectly to funding. It was thought by participants to be the largest arts meeting ever held in the United States. More
Recording artist Kid Rock sang an a cappella rendition of America The Beautiful at Game 4 of the NBA final, and yes, he did remove his hat.
Look for a reunion of En Vogue in 2005. Robinson says she and fellow original members Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron and Maxine Jones will begin working on a new album in 2005 following Herron's pregnancy. The project will be released through Los Angeles-based Movemakers and Herron and Ellis' Funky Girl label. Next month, En Vogue will be heard singing background on "What the Fuss." The track is featured on Stevie Wonder's forthcoming album, "A Time 2 Love," due July 27 via Motown/Universal. En Vogue is widely credited as a precursor to such contemporary R&B/pop female groups as Destiny's Child. The quartet's scintillating harmonies graced a series of No. 1 R&B hits in the 1990s, including "Hold On" and "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)."
A mother of three and grandmother of seven, Mary Wilson looks not more than 35 years old. One of the three members of The Supremes came to Gaborone on a three-day visit to Botswana to talk with students in Lobatse, and make her premier live performance at Maitisong on Friday. Before Wilson took to the stage, it was local groups, KREM, KTM and The Saints. Wilson evidently enjoyed herself and particularly the performance by Dula Sentle Children’s Choir. When the children’s choir came onto the stage, Wilson could not refrain from approaching the stage to watch the children perform HIV/AIDS message songs.
She covered her gown with the corner of one of the stage curtains to conceal it, but in her excitement she forgot about the curtain. She ended up revealing her gown to the audience, and was clapping along in glee. She, along with the audience screamed encore to the children who indulged. “Music has given me so much. It is time for me to give back,” she said. US Cultural Ambassador, Wilson will lead master classes for the four local choirs and choral groups - KREM, KTM, The Saints and the Dula Sentle Children’s Choir.
June 11, 2004
News 24 - South Africa
Lagos - Nigeria's police force, notorious for its strong-arm tactics in dealing with street protests, unveiled Friday one of the more melodious weapons in its armoury - an impromptu male a cappella choir. On Wednesday a squad of officers was caught on camera by the international news network CNN apparently singing along with a crowd of workers and a well known pop star in a Lagos market on the first day of a general strike.
But police spokesperson Chris Olakpe, in a strongly worded statement, insisted that the officers were not, in fact, protesting or even enjoying themselves, but instead using the power of song to calm a potentially tense situation. Olakpe said the squad had followed the popular musician "Charly Boy" and a large group of motorcycle-taxi riders to the Tejuosho market in Lagos during a day of protests against rising fuel prices.
"Consequently a large crowd of onlookers gathered around Charly Boy's convoy and started chanting songs," the statement said. "In order to disperse the crowd and considering the market location and attendant market psychology, the police embarked on a distracting ploy of singing Mobile Police parade songs, which caught the fancy of the crowd, who became spectators," it explained. "The crowd, having satisfied themselves, dispersed peacefully."
Choir rehearsal was supposed to end at 5 p.m., but Patrick Lundy is still plowing ahead at 10 minutes past the hour. The director of the Eastern High School Choir seems oblivious to the time and the exigencies tugging at his young singers on this September afternoon: One girl has to catch a bus for night school; another is supposed to baby-sit her sister; a third needs to get to an after-school job at Best Buy. Don't do that, Lundy warns when he catches someone eyeing the clock. He places his hands on the electric piano and, once again, makes the singers repeat a string of lofty notes from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." They've been rehearsing this section of the song for 30 minutes.
"It sounds like your house is sinking," he tells the altos, where one girl is singing as flat as Kansas. Facing them, Lundy rolls up his shirtsleeves. If they sing this right, the Battle Hymn should be able to lift an audience right out of its seats. He won't be satisfied until it does.
This dogged demand for excellence has been the Eastern High School Choir's hallmark for more than three decades. It's how Lundy and his predecessor, Joyce Garrett, built the ensemble into one of the D.C. public school system's most renowned cultural institutions. It's how the Eastern High School Choir has come to perform for every president since Ronald Reagan, to make frequent appearances at the Kennedy Center and on national television, to back up Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera and Stevie Wonder, and to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for college scholarships along the way.
But as the new school year gets underway at Eastern, those glories are only a distant memory. The choir -- and the school that houses it -- is struggling. "Sit at the edge of your chairs," Lundy commands. "Don't slouch . . . I want it to sound like this." He strikes a note on the keyboard and belts out the elusive part. His hands sweep back and forth like a broom, showing the rhythm he wants. "You can go home when it's perfect," Lundy tells his singers. Loretta Miller listens from the second row of the alto section. Some of the other girls chatter when Lundy looks elsewhere. Loretta, however, remains quiet, with her hands folded in her lap and her spine as rigid as a rod. The 16-year-old junior doesn't care what time rehearsal ends. Let it last all night. Few things make her as happy as being in the choir. More
June 10, 2004
Corvallis Gazette Times
While most Oregon State University students will be spending late June learning the ropes of their summer jobs, trying to wake up in time for their summer classes, or hitting the beach, a group of OSU women will be forging international relationships through that universal language, music. Bella Voce, the OSU women's chorus, will travel to Estonia with their director, Tina Bull, to participate in the Estonian Song Fest, an annual event that draws 20,000 singers from all over the world. The Baltic nations have a renowned tradition of choral singing, and being invited to attend the festival is a great honor for the group.
"The tradition of singing in the Baltic countries is quite spectacular," said Marlan Carlson, chair of the music department. "These song fests are really a big deal. It's the experience of a lifetime." International touring is an important part of a well-rounded musical education, Carlson said. "For a serious music student in a top performing group, we want them to go on at least one international tour in their four years here," he said. "It's an extremely important part of the undergraduate experience."
But going on tours is an expensive business. No state money is used to fund the trips. Instead it takes a combination of fund-raising and a financial investment from the students. The Bella Voce trip fund-raiser didn't quite meet its goal, so the students have had to pay for a majority of their travel expenses. Carlson chipped in his own money to help out, and ensure the women were able to participate.
"It's no secret all public institutions in general and the arts in particular are facing financial challenges," Carlson said. "We do think this is a worthy cause." Visiting other countries and interacting with musicians around the world is an important component of mutual understanding and international relationships, Carlson said. "It's part of our obligation to be good international citizens," he said.
Native American Times
Marla Nauni's gift is obvious the very first time you hear her sing. The Comanche hymns she loves so much are haunting with their rhythm and their message. And that is, perhaps, one of the reasons the Concho, Oklahoma native's first CD, "Comanche Hymns performed by Marla Nauni", has been nominated for an Indian Summer Music Award (ISMA). The awards are the result of a partnership between Indian Summer Festivals and the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Office of American Indian Student Services. The ISMA is devoted to the recognition of artists, both established and emerging, and their "outstanding contributions toward indigenous music". Thirteen categories of awards are expected to be given out. Nauni is nominated in the "Traditional Vocal" division.
The album is composed of 13 traditional Comanche hymns and took about six months to record. Nauni said she has been singing since she was just 7 years old with the Comanche Children's Choir. She now sings almost exclusively a cappella (only one song on her CD has accompaniment). "Music alone has its own melody," she explained. And Nauni has been getting a lot of feedback from her elders. She said that they like how she pronounces her words - in a clear and resonating way. "The feedback I have gotten is positive," she said.
"One of the reasons I do this..." she began, "I like to perform blessing songs." Nauni said that those songs seem to touch people spiritually. "That's what I enjoy most about any of my performances." Nauni grew up in Cache, Oklahoma and is currently working on her MBA, but what Nauni wants most is to be known as Oklahoma’s Native Entertainer (ONE). “I like the entertainment industry,” she said. Nauni is a model, actress, and recording artist. She said she hopes that people will use her CD as a tool for cultural preservation.
June 9, 2004
Could a lesbian / feminist choral group succeed - and thrive - in an area best known for confields and conservatives? One ensemble proves that it can in this inspiring story of commitment, community and triumph. (PBS Press release)
Award-winning women's choir Amasong are the subject of a new documentary called "Singing Out" which will be broadcast on PBS on June 15th in most US markets as a part of their "Independent Lens" series. Noted documentary director Jay Rosenstein produced the film and whose other documentaries includes the short "Erased", which premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and won a Director's Citation Award from the Black Maria Film Festival and a Special Jury Award from the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
June 8, 2004
When Anonymous 4 gave its first concert in the 1980s, the group's four women couldn't have known that medieval chant was about to become the Next Big Thing in the music world. Seventeen years later, the renowned vocal ensemble is calling it quits so its members can pursue other projects, ending a highly successful run that's responsible for teaching music lovers (and critics) a lot of what they know about the music of the Middle Ages.
Sunday's sold-out concert was Anonymous 4's penultimate live performance, and the group -- Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner, and Johanna Maria Rose -- seemed intent on leaving the music scene much the way it entered: with a demanding program illustrating the astonishing variety of medieval music. The program was "La bele Marie," songs of praise to the Virgin Mary from 13th-century France, drawn from both sacred and popular genres. As the program note observed, the "cult of devotion" to the Holy Mother sometimes reached a fever pitch, and when it did, the artistic results were fascinating.
Medieval music often calls to mind vast, reverberant cathedrals. So it was a special treat to hear this wonderful program in the intimate acoustics of the Rockport Art Association's Hibbard Gallery. In that space the music took on an immediacy and presence that energized it, and its surprising dissonances stood out in bold relief.
Anonymous 4 is known for the ethereal way its voices blend, and one could hear that blend, and the group's supple phrasing, in chants such as "O maria o felix puerpera" and "Beata viscera." But in the polyphonic works, the distinct timbres of each voice were clearly audible, as in the complex textures of "Pia mater gracie." Amid the dazzling vocal fireworks, individual lines wove in and out of the whole, each with its own color. The ease with which the singers not only negotiated the dense polyphony but infused it with grace and agility was stunning.
Each member also took a solo turn on a chanson, a French song that adapted existing melodies to texts honoring the Virgin. Horner's song, "De la mere au sauveor," was a wonder of unadorned beauty. Genensky's slightly nasal rendering of "De la tres douce marie" contrasted with Hellauer's earthier tone in "Mainte chancon ai fait." Rose fared less well, her voice sounding pinched without her colleagues' support. But overall it was a wonderful demonstration of the union of artistic skill and passion for historical accuracy.
The four women shifted gears for their encore: "Wondrous Love," an early American hymn from their most recent CD, "American Angels." The rousing sounds of this simple folk tune may have been the ones that resonated longest. Judging from the enthusiastic response and the throng that lingered to meet the singers after the concert, they'll be sorely missed.
North Fulton Times
The 136th annual June Sing in Alpharetta will again raise voices in the songs of the traditional shape-note singing that once filled thousands of Southern churches. As always, the sing will be at Alpharetta City Hall 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 13. The longest continuing tradition in North Fulton, the June Sing used to attract thousands of visitors to what was then a small hamlet in old Milton County for a weekend of praise singing. In the days when few broadcast radio signals penetrated deep enough into the Georgia piedmont and a movie or "flicker” was a rare treat, the June Sing was one of the big social events of the year. People came to Alpharetta in the 1920s and ‘30s from surrounding towns to take part in what was then a three-day celebration of Sacred Harp singing, but it was also an opportunity for young people to become acquainted and for families to renew old ties.
Various sings are held all across the Southeast, and singers travel to each for the opportunity to hear and to sing. Sacred Harp is the name of the hymnal that gave its name to the body of songs with roots going back to Elizabethan times. It is famous because of its use of shape notes, a four-note system that singers can read by the shape of the note.
The singers arrange themselves in a square formed by bass, tenor, soprano and alto voices. A leader stands in the middle of the square and measures the beat with an upraised fist. All the music is sung a capella. The emphasis is on participation, not the performance. The people sing because they enjoy it. Many churches still employ the shape-note singing, distinctive in that the singers sing the notes B fa, so, la B first, then sing the lyrics. Big Creek Primitive Baptist Church holds a sing on the third Friday of each month, except during the summer. That’s when the singers are all off across western Georgia and Alabama to attend annual sings in towns dotting the Southeast. But this Sunday, the shape-note singers will be in Alpharetta, just as in the 135 previous years.
Former Whiffenpoof musical director, James Glicker, seems to have quite a mess on his hands as he takes over the Baltimore Symphony according to this Baltimore Sun article.
June 7, 2004
Wingham Chronicle (Australia)
Wingham choral group Wingsong has used the power of song to protest Greater Taree City Council's decision not to fly the Aboriginal flag at its council chambers. The peaceful demonstration occurred on Thursday afternoon when the Aboriginal flag was lowered after being flown during Reconcilliation Week. With Reconcilliation Week overshadowed by Council's decision not to support a notice of motion by Cr Mave Richardson to fly the flag at the chambers, Wingsong decided to use the power of song in a gesture of reconciliation.
"We decided to sing to support the aboriginal community in their campaign for reconciliation - to give them strength and to show that there's support from the white community and what better way to do that than by song. "Song has always united people - it's a powerful way of healing and giving people strength," said Janeece Irving a member of Wingsong.
At around 4pm the group accompanied by some female aboriginal singers started singing. They chose various religious songs including Amazing Grace and an Aboriginal lullaby. The group sang for half an hour until at 4.30 the Abroginal flag was removed. By this time a crowd of over 30 people had gathered and according to Janeece the scene was charged with tears and emotion. As the flag came down the choir stopped singing and local Aboriginal man, Jeremy Saunders began playing the didgeridoo.
June 4, 2004
The Beatles, the O'Jays, the Jordanaires and 14 other groups will be inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame's class of 2004. This group, representing the seventh annual Hall induction, features a cross-section of the most popular and influential vocal duos, trios, quartets and quintets in popular music history. The Beatles' opening act for their famed Shea Stadium concert, the Ronettes, are also among those entering the Vocal Hall, along with the Everly Brothers, a duo whose tight harmonies were cited as one of the Beatles' early influences. The Jordanaires, who backed Elvis Presley on many of his hits as well as on Jim Reeves' classic "Four Walls," will also join the class. Other new inductions include country supergroup Alabama, rock act the Doobie Brothers and soul combo the Stylistics.
"I'm particularly excited about this year's inductees," says Vocal Hall CEO Bob Crosby. "It continues to broaden the spectrum of inducted vocal groups in all genres -- Alabama and the Doobie Brothers are a good example of how vocal group harmony extends beyond the doo-wop and Motown groups." In an extremely close vote, the pre-1940's "Pioneer Award" will be given to the American Quartet, a group from the era of cylinder recordings whose members included first tenor John Bieling, second tenor Billy Murray, baritone Steve Porter, and William F. Hooley on bass vocals.
Further inductees include Motown girl group the Marvelettes; the Tokens, famed for their hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"; the Four Tunes; the Cadillacs, the Crests of "Sixteen Candles" fame; the Dells; the Penguins, whose song "Earth Angel" is an oldies staple; and the Diamonds. The induction ceremony and celebratory concert will be held in September.
New York Times
The two premieres that Peter Martins has choreographed for New York City Ballet could not be more different. In "Chichester Psalms," he has visualized Leonard Bernstein's most popular choral work (with the same title) and its plea for world peace. The end result is an affecting, simple allegory that beautifully integrates dancers and choral singers on the same stage.
As a ballet, "Chichester Psalms," like its music, is a rousing call to spiritual arms. With its six psalms or excerpts sung in Hebrew, "Chichester Psalms" is not timely but timeless in its universal appeal for harmony and brotherhood. Mr. Martins has invited the Juilliard Choral Union, directed by Judith Clurman, to share the stage with the dancers for his ballet's performances. His ballet is in the tradition of the Balanchine and Robbins works with chorus seen at the company's 1972 Stravinsky Festival. At that festival's close, the dancers sat onstage and listened to the singers.
Mr. Martins puts the chorus and dancers on equal footing with stirring impact. Standing on a semicircle of steps, the two groups cannot be told apart. Catherine Barinas has costumed all in biblical cool: white chiffon skirts and laced bodices for the women, black robes for the men. (The male dancers have see-through tops.) Mark Stanley's lighting is on a stunning, dramatic plane, transforming the stage and two sets of hanging ropes behind the chorus according to mood.
Commissioned by Walter Hussey, the dean of Chichester Cathedral in England, Bernstein wrote a deliberately accessible composition and joked that John Cage would find it square. On Wednesday, the 13-year-old James Danner was the "boy soloist" Bernstein required. At its first performance in Chichester (July 31, 1965), the choir was all male. But the mixed chorus here allows for contrast, as Mr. Martins translates Bernstein's images of joy, strife and harmony.
The Vantastix (with Dick van Dyke) will sing the National Anthem at the start of Game 1 of the N.B.A. Finals on Sunday night.
June 3, 2004
Off-Broadway's new a cappella revue with the cryptic title, "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth," may not appeal to all tastes, but its unusual brand of entertainment offers something always welcome in musical theater — originality. The production, at the John Houseman Theater, involves little more than five singers with microphones. Despite the show's apparent simplicity, it won a Drama Desk award last month for best unique theatrical experience.
Each of the vocalists in Toxic Audio — as the Florida-based group has been known since 1998 — display a distinctive, complementary flare in covering a mix of pop, jazz and original material. Performing entirely without instruments, the retro-clad musicians (think big hair and zipper pockets) employ more than just their voices to keep the audience engaged. Throughout the show, they dip into the bags of a couple of enduring standbys — physical comedy and audience participation.
Holding down the low end is the group's founder and director, Rene Ruiz, who lays a solid foundation of thumping and swinging bass lines. Musical arrangements are handled by the group's two female singers, Shalisa James and Michelle Mailhot-Valines, both competent balladeers. Mailhot-Valines' imaginative, multilingual version of "Autumn Leaves" is one of the clear highlights of the 90-minute program. Jeremy James' niche seems to be geared toward comic presence, though the baritone does provide subtle, fluid accompaniment. His improvised rap number, while daring, falls a bit flat.
The ensemble's most versatile and engrossing performer is Paul Sperrazza, whose bodily contortions and facial expressions reveal a captivating ability in clowning. He also flaunts slick dance steps and impressive vocal range in his parody of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Audience members periodically are called up on stage to participate in numbers. A video screen displays instructions during a pre-performance vocal excercise and flashes ironic definitions from the dictionary during the show.
Despite all its originality and enthusiasm, "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth" probably won't win over many people who weren't already inclined to listen to an a cappella performance. Many of the pseudo-instrumental effects the singers generate (bass, drums and guitar, to name a few) are enhanced or made possible by amplification — in a sort of barbershop quintet meets human beat box. The pumped-up volume unfortunately sacrifices much of the intimacy a small theater can offer and may leave theatergoers wondering if the curious title refers to the booming speakers. The harmonic and rhythmic sophistication of the group shines through in some songs but becomes temporarily obscured in other, more jingly numbers. One of the funnier bits is an 'N Sync parody entitled "God Must Have Spent a Little Less Time." But the boy band sketch is exemplary of much of the show's silly humor — suitable for all audiences, but not necessarily appealing to all.
The Backstreet Boys are more than halfway finished with their still-untitled new album, which will also feature a collaboration with Boyz II Men produced by Walter Afanasieff (Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey) and a teaming with a cappella veterans Take 6. "Howie [Dorough] wrote a song, and Take 6 arranged it for us, and we performed a little bit of it tonight a cappella," Kevin Richardson said.
The concert Tuesday at the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington had a special ring to it. The combined choirs of Epiphany and St. John's Parish added another lovely installment to Epiphany's noontime concert series, which is marking a quarter-century of luring nearby office workers, even suburbanites, who prefer music to lunch. The hour-long concert offered works chiefly by American and British composers reflecting the Episcopal/Anglican anthem tradition. Epiphany's Eric Plutz and St. John's William Bradley Roberts alternated as conductors.
Of the 10 works (some a cappella, some accompanied by Plutz at the organ), most effective were John Ireland's "Greater Love Hath No Man" and the Latin motet "Haec est Dies," questionably ascribed to the Renaissance composer Jacob Handl. The singers excelled in the Ireland, giving the music a determined buoyancy and varied sonic contours aided by clearly shaped dynamics. For the Handl motet, the chorus was divided between the front and back of the sanctuary, resounding with marvelous antiphonal effects, its echoing timbres timed beautifully to the millisecond. Though one wonders if the choruses wearied of works mostly in major keys and tame harmonies, all the music was sung and conducted with skill, concentration and enjoyment.
CBC News, Canada
Three young Canadian singers are in France this week to take part in the World Chamber Choir, assembled for the 60th anniversary D-Day ceremonies. Kristopher Snarby of Liverpool, N.S., Edmonton's Benila Ninan and Kevin Skelton from Kelowna, B.C., joined 40 young choristers from countries in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America for a series of performances commemorating the anniversary this weekend. It's a privilege to participate and to pay tribute to those who fought in one of the most important battles of the Second World War, Snarby said. "To be invited to be there for this special anniversary is an honour," he said. "It will be a special time for everybody there and everybody back home in Canada who are watching the ceremonies on TV."
The singing group, which features the world's most talented youth choir members, will perform a variety of works: from Arnold Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth) to selections of popular French music. Jean-Marc Poncelet, executive director of the Belgium-based International Centre for Choral Music, organized the World Chamber Choir and also runs the World Youth Choir program. He hopes that the choir's upcoming performances will convey a message of world peace, hope and friendship to those listening. "Gathering people from different parts of the world with different cultures [shows] a different idea of what could be a world without war," Poncelet said. "We won't change the world, but if we can change the minds of several people, it's a good start."
June 1, 2004
News 9 San Antonio
The Texas Children's Choir was the only U.S. singing group invited to France for ceremonies remembering the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. The Texas Children's Choir is made up of 40 San Antonio kids between the ages of 8 and 14. The group sings spiritual and patriotic songs and for over a year the children have put in hundreds of hours preparing to sing in the official 60th Anniversary D-Day ceremonies in Normandy. "They will participate with a choir of 250 adults and they will sing the solo and soprano parts for the Requiem by Gabriel Faure. It will be late at night and it will be right on Omaha Beach and it will be for the Allied leaders of the Allied Nations," Texas Children's Choir Director Thomas Hardaway said.
The kids raised $150,000 to pay for their trip and are excited about the opportunity. "It takes a lot of time and effort and we have to do a lot of work but it's really fun and it's rewarding because we get to go to France," Texas Children's Choir member Ashley Taylor Hughes said. If going to France isn't exciting enough, the choir has just recorded its second CD. Proceeds from the sales benefit military families. The choir, along with their chaperones, will make their way to France Monday morning. The majority of the choir's members come from military families, but any child in San Antonio can audition for a spot.
Botswana Daily News
Tebelopele Testing Centre in Gaborone will be temporarily under siege on Saturday as the 15 member Botswana Boys Top Ten acapella harmony choir descend on it to undergo HIV/AIDS testing. The group leader Tshotlego Sepako says in a statement that as role models to other youths they decided to test as a group because it would have more impact and encourage other youth groups in the country to emulate them.
Sepako says their decision to test was also part of the group's response to President Festus Mogae's call encouraging Batswana to know their HIV status. "We want to demonstrate to President Mogae that as the group and youth of Botswana we have heard his call," he says, noting that some of the group members hold influential positions in certain organisations, hence they would be exemplary to their people.
Botswana Boys Top Ten was formed in Gaborone in 1985 with the main objective of promoting and contributing to the development of music, art and culture preservation in the country. It was also established to mould young Batswana to appreciate the importance of music in their lives and as a means of entertainment as well as cultural enrichment and preservation. The group sings among others hymns, wedding songs and Setswana traditional songs of all occasions enriched with vernacular maxims and proverbs.