July 30, 2004

Indianapolis Star

Backstreet's back, all right, but the mega-selling boy band plans to re-enter the pop world in low-key fashion -- with lower expectations. The Backstreet Boys -- who have sold an industry-wowing 68 million albums -- say they will put out their first album in three years either this year or early next year. That album will be more diverse, with more rock and more hip-hop/urban sounds than on albums past.

And the arena-packing Boys will introduce the album and reintroduce themselves to U.S. audiences with a series of intimate shows at 1,000-seat venues. "That way you can really see them sing, but there'll be some choreography like the Temptations or the Four Tops. The idea is to reconnect with fans without the flashes and the booms," says band manager Johnny Wright, back with the band after being dumped along with famed boy band creator Lou Pearlman several years ago.

All three Boys said the new album would be far more eclectic than the straight pop diet they've been feeding their mostly teen fans since hitting the scene in 1996. Among the collaborators for the new album: R&B group Boyz II Men and Nashville faith-based a cappella group Take 6.

None of the Boys expected the 1.6 million in sales their last album, "Black & Blue," generated in its first week in 2000. Tentative plans now call for the Boys to tour 3,000-seat venues in England in the fall before hitting stadiums in China and arenas in Japan. Then the Boys return to the United States to play smaller venues before hitting U.S. arenas again in either February or March.

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The Star (Malaysia)

For over two decades, the all-male Ivy League a capella outfit The Harvard Din and Tonics have been singing for their supper around the world to great acclaim and enthusiasm, building an enduring reputation for musical and performance excellence. Malaysian audiences will now be able to sample some the group’s music and zany antics as they arrive in Malaysia to perform four dates.

Founded in 1979 by a group of undergraduates intent on entertaining the Harvard community as well as lending their services to local charitable organisations, The Dins, as they are affectionately known, are a 13-man a capella group composed entirely of Harvard University students. Their repertoire centres on American jazz standards from the 1920s through 1970s but also includes selections from other musical genres such as rock ’n’ roll, calypso, swing and folk.

The group has also performed at numerous prestigious events such as the annual Royal Ascot races, aboard Queen Elizabeth II during the presidential inauguration of President Clinton and on TV shows. As part of their whistle-stop Malaysian stint, The Dins will be at the Royal Lake Club Dinner and Performance today. Tomorrow, the group performs at Genting International Showroom. Sunday sees The Dins performing for the Harvard Club of Malaysia at The Grand Ballroom, Equatorial Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

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July 29, 2004

New York Daily News

Arthur Crier worked for many years with the people of the Bronx, and he also sang the music of the Bronx, especially 1950s-style vocal group harmony. So it was fitting that for many years he often dropped in at a Bronx radio station, WFUV (90.7 FM) at Fordham, to help spread the music through the "Group Harmony Review," the long-running show heard at midnight Saturdays with Dan Romanello. This Saturday, Romanello has the sad task of announcing Arthur Crier died last Thursday, 69, of a heart attack. "He meant an awful lot to me and to this show," says Romanello. "He helped at fund-raisers. He found vintage artists. He would come by all the time to play the music and talk about it. He was always upbeat, always had a smile. He brought out the best."

Born in Manhattan on April 1, 1935, Crier grew up listening to groups like the Mills Brothers. As a teenager, he sang with a Bronx gospel group called the Heavenly Five, and in the winter of 1953, he formed his first rhythm and blues group, the Chimes. He also sang with the Mellows, but had his biggest success with the Halos, who had a hit in 1961 with "Nag" and backed dozens of singers, from Dion to Johnny Mathis. That's Crier's bass voice on Curtis Lee's "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" and Gene Pitney's "Every Breath You Take."

Years later, when the '50s sound fell from commercial and radio favor, Crier worked to keep it alive, often spreading the word via WFUV. He organized the 1999 "Another Great Day in Harlem" photo, which has hundreds of vocal group singers and now hangs in the Smithsonian. He organized recording sessions and produced a local TV show called "Doo-Wop Is Alive." "He was a galvanizer," says longtime friend Bobby Jay of WCBS-FM. "He really worked to ensure that this music got its proper recognition." Also, Jay notes, another of the few remaining great bass voices is now gone. Romanello plans a tribute on WFUV next week. "This wouldn't be the same show without Arthur," he says.

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Albany Democrat-Herald

Jamie Dieveney, tenor and musical director of The Coats, holds the mike Monday evening for Jason Ritz, with son Glenn, 5, on his lap. Ritz mimicked an "acoustical rap" that Dieveney had just performed for the crowd during the Mondays at Monteith concert in Albany's Monteith Riverpark. Dieveney picked a good candidate from the audience. Ritz, who works in marketing for a turf company, sang for one year in the Brigham Young University Men's Chorus. The Coats, an a-cappella quartet, delighted the crowd of 3,100 - a record for the 10-year Monday series - with more than an hour of their songs. Tim Ryan and the Pit Bosses, featuring Chanteuse, also performed. Donations collected Monday totaled $1,600, also a series record. "On Monday nights we usually get $200," said organizer Jan Taylor of the Albany Parks and Recreation Department. The Coats will be on next summer's River Rhythms Thursday concert lineup, Taylor added.

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Backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra, Bono sang a passionate tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy on Tuesday night at Symphony Hall, part of the convention's salute to the senior senator from Massachusetts. On "In the Name of Love," Bono revised the lyrics to mention 1963 and 1968, the years two of Kennedy's brothers were assassinated, and praised Teddy's "American heart/Irish blood." Then they not only let Kennedy sing -- backed by an a cappella quartet, he tortured his part of "Sweet Adeline" -- but he also got to take the podium for the closing number.

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July 28, 2004

The Boston Fire Department A Cappella Choir sang "America the Beautiful" and the national anthem at the Democratic National Convention's "Salute to Veterans" event last night. The crowd spontaneously joined the choir, whose microphones had gone dead, for "God Bless America." "Whenever do you see a crowd break out into song?" said Dill Dooling of Holliston, a member of the DNC Committee and one of the event organizers.

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July 26, 2004

The sound of music is about to be heard from another generation of the Von Trapp family. Four grandchildren of the clan whose story was told on the page, stage and screen are to embark on the first world tour since their grandfather, Werner, retired, Agence France-Presse reported. As "The von Trapp Children," the youngsters - Sofia, 15; Melanie, 14; Amanda, 12; and Justin, 9 - are to sing their way through Australia and New Zealand from Aug. 13 through Sept. 11 before making the rounds of the United States and Europe later in the year. Their repertory will include German folk songs as well as tunes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein score for the Oscar-winning film "The Sound of Music,'' based on Maria von Trapp's 1949 book, "The Trapp Family Singers.'' Werner von Trapp spent much of his life singing around the world with his siblings after they and their parents fled Nazi rule in Austria just before World War II. The family tours ended in the late 1950's. The only currently available recording by the original singers is all a cappella and available, of course, at www.singers.com

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July 24, 2004

Palm Beach Post

Shaquille O'Neal entered Miami in an 18-wheeler diesel truck Tuesday to media coverage normally reserved for the Popemobile or a slow-speed Bronco chase. Miami television stations carried it live with helicopter views. Some 250 reporters and camera operators swarmed AmericanAirlines Arena for the most heralded arrival of a sports star in South Florida history. Miami Mayor Manny Diaz presented the All-Star center with a key to the city and a proclamation of Shaq Day, the sort of red-carpet treatment usually accorded to, say, the king of Spain or visitors from the Vatican. "I was telling my wife I felt like the president," O'Neal said, launching into an a cappella version of Hail to the Chief.

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Local artists are joining forces to help out a friend in need. Wes Carroll, celebrated "mouth drummer" and member of S.F.-based a cappella rock quintet The House Jacks, was badly injured recently in a nasty skiing mishap -- a ligament in his leg was completely severed -- and now he's up to his eyeballs in medical bills. Carroll's Jack-mates are joined by singer-songwriters Stacy Kray, Austin Willacy, 'Til Dawn, Lemon Juju, Scott Sylvester and A.M. Read more about Wes Fest here.

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July 22, 2004

Rolling Stone

"Instruments are so over," says Bjork of her new, purely vocal album, Medulla, due out late August/early September. "I think this was probably the most intuitive album I've done," she continues. "I had to use ingredients that I trusted, like my voice, my muscles, my bones. I couldn't really use all the other stuff." Rahzel of the Roots -- known as "the Human Beatbox" -- supplies the percussive bass line for a majority of the songs, and the album also features collaborations with Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq and former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton. The sound is primitive, full of brooding menace on "Where Is the Line" and soaring, breathy romance on "The Pleasure Is All Mine." Following Medulla's release, Bjork will continue working in the studio rather than go on tour. "Every album I've done, the minute that it's done, I feel really lubricated and, like, 'Wow, now I can write an album in five minutes,'" she says. "And I just want to find out if that's just a fantasy or if it's true."

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Seattle Post Intelligencer

Adam Conley flew to Montreal last week, looking forward to a celebration of song and camaraderie. Conley, a singer with the Seattle Men's Chorus, was excited to be attending the International GALA Chorus Festival, a quadrennial convention of more than 6,000 mostly gay and lesbian choral group singers from around the world. On Saturday night, Conley decided to grab dinner and a drink at a downtown gay bar, to relax a bit before the Seattle group's five-song performance set for the next evening. He went to the bar, called Taboo, alone. As he left just after midnight, Conley said he was suddenly attacked by a half-dozen young men hurling anti-gay epithets at him.

"I haven't even begun to process it yet," said Conley by phone from Montreal, where the festival runs through Saturday. "I lose it every once in a while. I had a feeling of self-loathing afterwards that I've never felt before."

Conley, a baritone, said he started singing in choral groups when he attended Whitworth College in Spokane. He's been with the Seattle Men's Chorus for about five years.After the Montreal attack, Conley said he had a decision to make: whether or not to sing in the next evening's performance, held at Montreal's Place des Arts.

Though limping, bruised and bandaged, Conley -- with support from the 260 fellow performers of his group, as well as the members of the Seattle Women's Chorus - decided to sing. The chorus responded by dedicating "Not in Our Town," a song about communities fighting prejudice, to him. "This is a very positive, uplifting experience," said Conley. "It's music. It's art. We're here to combat the kinds of attitudes that allow these kinds of things to happen."

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Indiana-born entertainer Damon Freeman -- who sang with a popular doo-wop group in Branson, Missouri -- died in a weekend car crash in Missouri. The 40-year-old Freeman died early Sunday in a crash on Interstate 44, just west of Springfield, Missouri. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says the former Gary, Indiana resident's car veered into the median and struck a guardrail and bridge pillar. For the past three years, Freeman had been a member of a group known as the World Famous Platters, which performs at the Americana Theatre in Branson. The quartet was one of many offshoots of the popular 1950s doo-wop group The Platters, known for the songs "Only You" and "The Great Pretender. A member of the group's management team was seriously injured in the crash. Freeman's funeral will be held in Gary.

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July 21, 2004

Christian Science Monitor

Most people want to fit in. In a group of friends, in a neighborhood, in a church, in a team at work. The feeling that you're making a valuable contribution to accomplishing a bigger purpose satisfies the heart in a special way. But sometimes it's all too easy to feel left out or unappreciated. I had an experience last month that gave me a new view of fitting in. I attended a five-day music improvisation workshop led by Bobby McFerrin. At one session someone suggested that we sing for a woman who had become ill and had left the workshop early in the week. So at the end of that morning's session, we sang for her. She wasn't able to be there, but we sang with her in mind.

One hundred and fifty-strong, we united in the musical phrase that Bobby gave us. As with many of the exercises in group improvisation that we'd done, the music took on a shape of its own, evolving into different melodies and rhythms. At one point he directed us to sing one note, and some singers began to harmonize on that note. Some beautiful chords emerged. Then one beautiful chord grew louder and louder until I was sure it could be no louder. The sound enveloped us, and I was part of a whole that was bigger than sound, bigger than the group. The unity I felt moved me to tears.

I've loved that idea, and I've felt this oneness from time to time in a unified spirit with others or on a shared spiritual journey with a friend or sometimes simply during an inspired moment. At this particular instant, as I sang as part of this group, I felt that our circle of singers, sending compassion and comfort to the woman in need, was encompassed by a greater circle, drawing us together as one.

After we reached maximum volume, the sound crept down to an almost inaudible tone. Then, utter silence. We all stood motionless. As one moment moved into the next, the silence ended. Tears flowed. People exchanged smiles and hugs. I soon felt the urge to leave - to listen silently to the reverberation of that sound in my mind and to let it settle in my heart.

That sound and that silence have stayed with me, and I continue to ask myself what it all meant. One significant aspect of the experience has been recognizing my part in its beauty. My voice was contributing to that vibrant circle of harmony. And so was each person's. Every voice had its place. It was, for me, the epitome of synergy.

The harmony of that chord has also become for me a microcosm of the harmony of the universe - of diversity in unity, of unity in a shared mission. The various colors of the sound produced something beautifully dissonant at times, but not discordant. This experience has helped me feel more deeply that I truly am unified with others; my brotherhood and sisterhood with people I encounter in various aspects of my life feel more real. The deep bond that exists between us because we are indeed brothers and sisters is becoming more tangible.

This vision of unity helped me when I returned to my life at home and at work. A few days before the workshop started, I had been given some additional responsibilities at work. This news had deeply troubled me for a number of reasons. I traveled to the workshop as planned, but when I came back, more questions flooded in. Working just part time on the new team, how would I fit in?

I remembered the chord. I already did have a more significant place than I had ever realized. I had a place in the chord that is the universe of God's creating. I would be giving in the way that was best for me and that would do the most good. Wherever and however I needed to fit in was already established, because I did indeed already fit in in God's universe. Fitting in was a moot question. Because I am, and each of us is, part of the chord that is the harmony of the universe. I have a place. We each have a place.

Posted by acapnews at 8:19 AM | Comments (0)

Mid-Day Mumbai, India

If you have been treated to the enthusiastic chanting of bhajans every time you travel on a local train, get ready for a more varied fare. From August 15, the Mumbai branch of the Indian Union Muslim League will start qawwali sessions on local trains running along the Central, Western and Harbour lines of the railways. The reason behind this melodious move, says the League, is national integration.

President of the Greater Mumbai Muslim League, Abdul Hameed Sahil, said, “India is a country of saints and mystics. We are starting this programme to propagate the teachings of saints.” Sahil dismisses the suggestion that the qawwalis could create problems with the bhajan mandalis.

“There is no question of controversy. In fact, the programme is meant to promote national integration. But we will see to it that the bhajan singing group and the qawwali group are not in the same compartment. And if it does happen, we will sing songs of national integration,” he adds. Illustrating his argument, Sahil says that the first qawwali to be sung by the group would be one called Khwaja ka Hindustan.

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July 19, 2004

News from Rockapella:-

"Did it, Rockapella" - Elliott Kerman

"After 18 1/2 fantastic years, I have decided to hang up my pitch pipe. My last show will be at BB Kings in New York City on July 31, 2004 (where we will be joined by most of the former Rockapella members). Rockapella has been such an integral part of my life for so long that it’s hard to imagine my future without it. I'll really miss the excitement of our live shows and the connection with the audience, I'll miss the great vocal harmonies and the camaraderie both on and off stage, and I'll miss hanging out with our amazing fans after the shows. I've been extremely conflicted about leaving the group; I feel sad about the prospect of not having Rockapella in my life, but I'm also looking forward to spending more time at home with my family in NYC and beginning new life adventures: working with my wife, Debbie, on her burgeoning art career and putting together the Elliott Kerman Quartet. I've been dreaming about singing jazz for a very long time; jazz tunes and standards are what make my clock tick, and it feels like this is the right time to embrace my dream (I swear this isn't a mid-life crisis). P.S. For those of you who want to stay in touch, my very new website is www.elliottkerman.com

Elliott, we will miss you.

The next new Rockapella is John K. Brown who's first concert with them will be Bartlett, TN on August 28. Learn more about John here.

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Springfield News Sun

Unlike that sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize, Rockapella can't go incognito. They could if they put some effort into it, but as long as they remain in the business of harmony, consider their cover blown. And it doesn't help they still sing the theme; the one that made them a household name a decade ago. So what theme? Here's a roundabout hint: The group soon will visit an Ohio city at 39 degrees latitude, 83 degrees longitude.

Rockapella, playing the Summer Arts Festival at 8 p.m. Saturday has an unmistakable sound to begin with, a pumped-up version of street corner doo-wop. But after five seasons on PBS’ geography game show, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?,” the a cappella quintet has been cornered for life. They'll have to leave this world to get away from that “World.” But they're not going anywhere. Yet. “It's been a while, but people still really want to hear it,” group member Jeff Thacher said of the Emmy-winning game show's insanely catchy theme song. “If it were like any other song in our set, we'd get tired of it. But with that said, it's well-oiled. We can do a pretty polished version. We also do the Folgers song. It's arguably a bigger hit.”

From those coffee commercials to the PBS series, Rockapella has gotten its share of exposure. And deservedly so. After that five-year stint on “Sandiego” — which, in turn, had resulted from an appearance on Spike Lee's 1990 PBS special, “Do It A Cappella” — the group revolutionized an outdated genre, injecting it with a modern sense of pop. And we're not talking a cappella Britney Spears covers.

These guys have great taste, as documented by their appearance at a Frank Zappa tribute concert in the early ’90s. “Led Zeppelin rocked out harder than anyone, and a lot of stuff derived from it,” said Thacher, a New York state native and graduate of the Berklee College of Music. “Rockapella's kind of the same way. Although we're not that old.” Just go to any college campus. You'll find at least one a cappella group that transforms pop songs into rhythmic excursions in harmony. In Rockapella — new bass George Baldi once was in an embryonic version of Boyz II Men — Thacher is the rhythm man. His title? Mouth drummer. Seriously. “It was always something I could do as a kid. I'd make sound effects for my toys. It just goes from there,” he said.

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Every summer in Washington, D.C., choral sing-alongs attract hundreds of music lovers, who come seeking a one-night chance to perform great choral works. NPR's Claudine LoMonaco reports on a sing-along of Verdi's "Requiem." Listen here

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The French have discovered a passion for choral singing thanks to a new film which looks set to take over from "Amelie'' as the latest export success for Gallic nostalgia-chic. An undemanding tale of how music changes the lives of a group of reform school-boys in post-war France, "Les Choristes'' - "The Choir-boys'' in English - has blitzed at the box-office, with 6.7 million ticket sales that outstrip even the latest Harry Potter production. The sound-track, featuring a dozen songs performed in cherubic mass-treble, has topped the album charts with some 500,000 copies sold, while Jean-Baptiste Maunier - the angelic 13-year-old from Lyon who is the film's lead voice - has become an overnight star.

Meanwhile choir-masters across the country have been inundated by applications from boys and girls who say their lives have been changed by the music. "The film has made choral singing fashionable. It has succeeding in winning over young people who had no previous musical culture,'' says Jean-Francois Duchamp, president of the Federation of Petits Chanteurs which comprises more than 100 church and cathedral choirs. Starring one of France's most popular actors Gerard Jugnot as Clement Mathieu, a humble music teacher who uses singing to redeem the lost souls at the Fond de l'Etang school, ``Les Choristes'' is a re-make of a little-known 1945 film called ``La Cage aux Rossignols'' or The Cage for Nightingales.

When Mathieu arrives in 1949, the boys - many of them war-orphans - are running riot under the brutal but ineffective rule of the vile head-master Rachin. Gradually he gains their trust and by showing what they can achieve together in a choir brings a new spirit to their lives. Maunier's character eventually wins a scholarship to a city conservatoire. Various explanations have been adduced for the film's success - a total lack of sex and violence, the sepia-coloured setting in a land of short trousers and simple values, the hopeful message it offers for children in today's more troubled times - all of which should carry ``Les Choristes'' to new popularity abroad.

``Our first soundings are excellent, and we are counting on a new Amelie Poulain,'' says Natalie Villette of Pathe Distribution, which has sold the film to scores of countries. It comes out in Britain in January, and in the US at the end of this year (though presumably under a name other than The Choir-boys which was a violent 1979 picture about the Los Angeles police force). "There is a real magic. It appeals to every generation - children, the 15 to 25s, and older people with memories of the era. And just like with Amelie, you come out feeling good,'' she says. Amelie of Montmartre, which was released in 2001, was about the adventures of a whimsical young woman in a spray-brushed Paris and became the biggest French film export of all time.

But above all it is the singing in "Les Choristes'' that has captured the imagination in France, and though some professionals are sniffy about the commercial nature of Bruno Coulais' score, all are delighted by the publicity given to a pastime which they say has been in steady - but unreported - growth for several years. "Every June I audition around 50 eight year-olds, and normally they give me Freres Jacques or something like that. This year nearly every single one sang me a song from ``Les Choristes''. That is how popular it is,'' says Francois Polgar, who heads the choir of Sainte-Croix de Neuilly outside Paris.

France used to have a tradition of cathedral choir-schools dating from mediaeval times, but the link was brutally cut in the Revolution and it is only in the past-war era that it has been revived. In the last 20 years a nationwide network of non-religious choirs has also been built up with the help of regional funding, with the result that there are now some 25,000 children's and adult ensembles singing a repertoire that includes Jazz, Variety and - increasingly - Gospel. According to Thierry Thibault, artistic director of the A Coeur Joie confederation of choirs, there has been a gradual increase of applications to choirs over several years, in which the sudden rush that followed the release of ``Les Choristes'' will prove to be an unusually strong but temporary blip.

"Personally I do not think the film was a masterpiece,'' says Thibault, who in August is directing the international Choralies 2004 festival at Vaison-La-Romaine. ``But I am delighted that it has brought choral singing out of the restrictive image it had of being purely religious. It was too closely tied to the church, but the film showed a whole other side.'' As for the reasons why in an age dominated by pop music, television and sport so many children should feel the pull of the conductor's baton, Thibault is in no doubt. "Today we live in a civilisation that isolates. Internet, game-boys, television - they create activities that are in essence solitary. But man needs company. And to sing in a choir all you need to bring along is yourself,'' he says.

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“In these days of political, personal and economic disintegration, music is not a luxury, it's a necessity.” - Robert Shaw

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EastDay, Shanghai

Ah, those Ivy League boys. They sing, they dance, they impersonate women - and people around the world flock to see them do it. They are the Harvard Din & Tonics a cappella group, and they make their China debut in Shanghai this Wednesday. The 13-men troupe describes what they do as 'a cappella ... with a twist," and that twist distinguishes them from the traditional Ivy League a cappella groups like the Yale Whiffenpoofs and the Harvard Krokodiloes. Like most a capella groups, the Dins' repertoire is anchored on the American jazz standards of the 1920s through the 1940s. The Din and Tonics, however, also embrace everything from Broadway musicals to pop, spiritual, rock 'n' roll, calypso, swing and folk.

They dance, they flip, they pause, mid-song, for an impromptu bit of theatrics, leaving the audience in stitches. One man plays the beautiful 'girl," and the rest of the troupe pant after 'her." 'Miss Din" plays it to the hilt, twisting wandering wrists and indignantly slapping faces. The Din & Tonics, founded in 1979, is a young upstart in an institution where singing and theater groups boast legacies going back centuries - but perhaps that is part of their charm.

They have taken that charm on the road, where audiences have delighted to their precise musicality, stylistic choreography, and irrepressible sense of humor. 'We've built a reputation across five continents for pleasing audiences of all types," says Pablo Ros, the Dins' world tour manager. Ros adds that the group has an impressive resume of prestigious venues and audiences, performing before the former US President Bill Clinton, United States ambassadors, jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald (who proclaimed herself 'very impressed") and actress Julia Roberts, and appearing on 'Good Morning America," a popular, nationally-televised program in the United States. The troupe's 10-week world tour, which began last month, has taken them to Oslo, London, Brussels, and Rome already, and after Shanghai, they will head to Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney .

In addition to fabulous entertainment and being 'wonderful cultural ambassadors," in the words of Michael Sullivan, US ambassador to Ireland, the Dins are here to do some good. The Dins will also be 'charity ambassadors" for the children of migrant workers in Shanghai, part of Project Integration, a program of the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. The project works with Shanghai public schools willing to admit migrant workers' children and private schools offering a reasonable standard of teaching.

Posted by acapnews at 9:58 PM | Comments (0)

Washington Blade

A wise women once said, “Music makes the people come together.” Granted, that wise woman was Madonna, but the message is no less true. There are few things in this life that are more uniting than music. Ask anyone who has ever felt the love among an excited crowd at a large concert. That unifying principle will be felt in Montreal this weekend, when thousands of gay and lesbian singers from around the world perform as part of a weeklong gay choral festival sponsored by GALA Choruses (the Gay & Lesbian Association of Choruses Inc.).

“One of the things I’ve heard over and over again is if you want to sing, join a chorus, and if you want to change the world, join a queer chorus,” says TC Duong, a tenor from Ties Optional, a six-member ensemble of the Lesbian & Gay Chorus of Washington. “It’s great to hear a repertoire that really reflects our lives.” Ties Optional is one of five local choruses and ensembles that will be traveling to Canada to participate in the 7th International Festival presented by the D.C.-based GALA Choruses from July 17-24. Comedian Lily Tomlin is scheduled to perform during a night of comedy at the festival on Wednesday, July 21.

The festival is scheduled to draw about 5,500 gay and gay-supportive singers to Montreal, representing 167 choruses and ensembles from seven countries, according to Barbara McCullough-Jones, executive director of GALA Choruses. “Certainly they enjoy the music, which is the primary focus,” she says. “But a lot of people get very empowered to go back to their communities and live their lives more openly and more honestly.” More

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July 15, 2004


Poughkeepsie Journal, NY

Most people, except for the congenitally tone deaf, can carry a tune when accompanied by a musical instrument. A cappella singing, however, is another skill entirely. The ability to stay on pitch while vibrating your vocal cords from one note to another without benefit of accompaniment is something most of us are brave enough to try only in the shower.

Toxic Audio, an a cappella singing group that blows the roof off the John Houseman Theatre with its verbal pyrotechnics, is not only brave, but brash and breathtakingly aggressive, presenting a repertoire of songs that runs from the Beatles' ''Paperback Writer'' to Stoller and Leiber's ''Stand By Me'' to Gloria Estefan's ''Turn the Beat Around'' to a jazzed-up version of Johnny Mercer's ''Autumn Leaves,'' all without benefit of instruments to keep them properly affixed to the musical staff. Using only their voices to create sounds which simulate snares, cymbals, maracas, wooden blocks, horns and an orchestra, five talented vocal musicians have created their eponymous show, ''Toxic Audio,'' that is best described as the verbal equivalent of that percussive dance sensation, ''Stomp.''

The first a cappella singers I ever heard were back in 1974 when I went to a concert of the astonishing Swingle Singers, a classy group whose repertoire consisted primarily of Bach and pop songs. A decade later, the British group, the King's Singers, consisting of two bass-baritones, two tenors and two countertenors, took a cappella singing to new levels of precision and have played in sold-out concerts all over the world.

And now there's Toxic Audio. The members opened their show with slides of instruction for the audience: ''Howl like a wolf, make a sound like a champagne cork popping and a horse galloping.'' An admonition follows: ''With your voice only.'' The group's opening song, ''Voices Carry,'' is an eight-minute sparkling display of Toxic Audio's arsenal of vocal acrobatic sounds as well as their close harmonies that rival that of the Everly Brothers and Queen.

A two-level scaffolded set helps the group fill the stage, but the theater is still small enough to allow for audience participation. Jeremy James, Toxic Audio's improv expert, walks through the audience collecting 20 unrelated words which he then incorporates into an ingenious rap song that even P. Diddy would admire. His wife Shalisa, a professional jingle singer, is referred to as the group's Lyric Queen because she can ''sing the exact words to every song ever written faster than a speeding bullet.''

But it's the adorable Paul Sperrazza, Toxic Audio's ''baby,'' that starts you pondering what sort of exercises he must do to develop his vocal talent -- he can spit out rhythms faster than that same speeding bullet. Tossing his black, silky hair out of his eyes, he chews the microphone and blurts out tongue-twisting syllables that, if you close your eyes, sound suspiciously like a drum solo.

Michelle Mailhot-Valines is the group's scat specialist and a qualified successor to the great Ella. The final member is Rene Ruiz, a deep, deep bass who founded Toxic Audio in 1998. Their first appearance was in a storefront at the Orlando International Fringe Festival, where they were spotted by Disney executives. And now here they are performing on New York's prestigious Theatre Row.

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July 14, 2004

Zagat Survey®, the world's leading provider of consumer survey-based leisure content, today released the Summer Edition of its New York City Theater Guide, covering 62 on and off-Broadway productions as reviewed by 15,760 theatergoers. This year an estimated 11.5 million people (a record number) saw a Broadway show according to the League of American Theatres and Producers. Toxic Audio's Loudmouth tied for first place with The Lion King in the Production Values category beating out huge productions such as The Producers and Hairspray. Well Done!

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All Africa.com

Education Minister Naledi Pandor has congratulated the Tirisano Youth Choir for bringing home two silver medals after competing in the 2004 Bremen Choir Olympics in Bremen, Germany. The minister cheered them during their arrival at the Johannesburg International Airport last night.

The choir won the medals in the Mixed Youth Choir and Folklore A Cappella categories. "Over 300 choirs from 75 countries have participated in this year's competition," said spokesperson Molatwane Likhethe. The Tirisano Youth Choir comprises 150 singers from various schools from all the nine provinces. "We congratulate all who are associated with our choir especially our talented young people and the hard working team of officials of the Education Department who have been working closely with the choir," Minister Pandor said.

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July 13, 2004

Cincinnati Post

John Leman, former director of the Cincinnati May Festival chorus, calls conducting at the 1991 "Bridges of Song" Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, "one of the top five musical experiences of my life." Having attended Estonia's famous Song Festival July 3 and 4 in Tallinn, I am a believer, too. There is nothing like it in the world -- as an expression of national unity, as a demonstration of the power of music and as a sheer vocal extravaganza.

During the final years of Soviet occupation -- Estonia re-gained its independence in 1991 -- song festivals attracted up to a half-million people, a third of the entire population, and became the embodiment of her "singing revolution." In November 2003, the United Nations (UNESCO) declared Estonia's Song Festival a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It's hard to conceive an event on such a scale.


• 21,000 voices coming together in one place to sing for tens of thousands of people stretching up a hillside in front of a giant bowl-shaped amphitheatre on the shore of the Baltic Sea. A choir of 19,000, arguably the largest single choir in the world, participated in the July 4 grand finale.

• Acres of native finery -- choristers and listeners in starched cotton caps, stovepipe hats, gaily colored skirts and scarves -- flowers everywhere and oversize images of singers and conductors projected onto a huge video screen.

• A small battalion of conductors (I counted over 40) festooned with oak leaf wreaths and hailed like Olympic athletes. Some, including presiding conductor Eri Klas, were tossed in the air as the country's unofficial national anthem, "Mu isamaa on minun arm" ("My fatherland, you are my love") rose from the entire assembly, bringing the two-day, eight-hour marathon to a close. It's a hymn fraught with emotion, having been sung as a form of protest at song festivals during the Soviet era (1940-91).

Estonia's song festival takes place every fifth year and is accompanied by a two-day dance festival, a parade and the lighting of a ceremonial flame on top of a tower adjoining the amphitheater. In the manner of the Olympic torch, the flame is transported overland from Tartu, Estonia, site of the first Song Festival. President Arnold Ruutel and prime minister Juhan Parts offered remarks. To celebrate Estonia's entry into the European Union in May, more than a million trees were planted in the country before the festival.

The enormous crowd was festive and exceedingly well-mannered, with no hint of rowdiness, enjoying food and drink from the savory concessions on the periphery. There was flag-waving, a sea of blue balloons (Estonia's flag is blue, black and white), dancing and singing along with favorite numbers, especially on the second day, which featured more traditional song festival fare, including folksongs and brass bands -- even Rodgers and Hammerstein (you have to hear "The Lonely Goatherd" yodeled in Estonian).

Estonian choral singing is phenomenal. Even the largest massed choirs sing as one voice, with precise ensemble and the utmost clarity of diction. Leman marveled at it in 1991, when he led an American chorus in a special "peace through song" festival that included guest choirs from Soviet satellite nations, including Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan.

"Their pianissimos are softer than we sing in this country. Their fortes are louder. And they sing difficult literature. It puts this country to shame." Choral singing begins at an early age in Estonia, and there are hundreds if not thousands of choirs in the country of 1.36 million. "You can see why there are so many Estonian musicians," said Järvi, who sang in Estonian choirs as a boy. More

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July 12, 2004

Congratulations to Rigas Jauniesu Koris Kamer of Riga, Latvia who yesterday won the prestigious 2004 European Grand Prix of Choral Singing held this year in Arazzo, Italy.

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Idaho State Journal

Some 350 singers of all ages representing eight nations came together on the stage of the Holt Arena Saturday in what businessman Arlo Luke called "a miracle of international friendship." This on-stage appearance of all the participants was the concluding number of the Gala Concert of the fourth
Idaho International Choral Festival. William "Bill" Wiench, ISU coordinator, estimated there were about 3,000 in the audience, by far the largest crowd to attend this concert since the festival started in 1998. He also said there were 400 people at a concert on the ISU Quad given by Moscow Nights and Golden Girls and the Taipei Philharmonic Youth Choir. The festival is planned every two years.

Mark Lawlor, festival artistic director, led the 12 choirs representing eight foreign countries and the United States in the finale, "Sing the World Together." This song was composed especially for the festival in 2002 by Dr. Randy Earles, chairman of the ISU Music Department, with lyrics by Lisa Horton. Since then, it has been used at each festival. More

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Weekend Edition's Susan Stamberg takes a moment to note the change in dress for the Vienna Boys Choir, from sailor suits to "Star Trek" outfits. Listen

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Boston Globe

When the LoveTones harmonize on old-time spirituals such as ''Steal Away" or ''Wade in the Water," the only sound you hear is harmony itself. The Newton gospel quartet specializes in a cappella performances of songs with origins that can be traced back to slavery. This traditional approach makes the group, based at the Myrtle Baptist Church on Curve Street, distinct in an era when most of their peers are trying to take gospel into a more contemporary realm, with drum machines and hip-hop beats.

'It became apparent that there was something deeper in that music," Cooper said. ''When you sing a cappella, people listen to the words more carefully. We began looking for more spirituals. Gospel was created in the 1930s and consists of faith-based songs written by individuals. Spirituals, on the other hand, were songs that did not have a single author but evolved over time, starting in slave times."

The group sings regularly around the region. They often perform a program called ''Hidden Meanings," reflecting the lyrics of spirituals that slaves sang, yearning for freedom. ''The song 'Deep River' talks about crossing over Jordan," Cooper said. ''Jordan was used by slaves as a metaphor for the Ohio River, the point of freedom where they'd be in a free land."

When they're not working at their full-time jobs, the group members have also appeared on gospel programs with stars such as Shirley Caesar and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, and can also be found offering educational programs in schools and libraries. Instead of assigning each member a vocal part, the LoveTones shift between lead and background parts in the midst of each song. Walter Cooper, for instance, speaks in a deep baritone but often sings in a soaring falsetto. More

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July 9, 2004

The Harmonizer

It’s finally easy—and okay!—to pronounce the Society’s name. The Board of Directors Tuesday authorized use of "Barbershop Harmony Society" as the Society’s official name in all communications. The action makes official use of a name that has been in common use for more than a decade.

"We think this will help people more easily explain and understand who we are and what we do," President Rob Hopkins said in announcing the news. "Legally, we’re still the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. But we found that many people like the shorter name—including our own members, who are more apt to use it in day-to-day business and contacts."

The evolution of "Barbershop Harmony Society" from nickname to primary brand name is the result of extensive consumer market research conducted by the Society. The move is only one facet of a much broader Strategic Marketing Plan received by the Board at its summer meeting. While our name has often evoked a smile, it also has been preventing our art form from being taken seriously in some important circles such as music education, the media and entertainment, and with potential sponsors.

"SPEBSQSA was unpronounceable," he said. "In fact, our public relations department always asked that people avoid trying to say it. We trust everyone will say Barbershop Harmony Society aloud any and everywhere they talk about our hobby."

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In the new Will Ferrell movie "Anchorman" he and his fellow newsmen perform a deftly choreographed a cappella version of Starlight Vocal Band's ode to nooners -- Afternoon Delight.

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British pop a cappella group The Magnets will be the opening act for the upcoming Tom Jones tour of the UK.

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July 7, 2004

A big thrill for us at the Barbershop Convention this past week was when super-hot movie star Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Troy) accepted an invitation and came to the Swingle Singers concert. He, along with costars Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon, are in Louisville shooting the new movie Elizabethtown (directed by Cameron Crowe). When the Swingles were told he was staying in the same hotel as them they arranged to have sent up a CD with a note inviting him to the concert that night. He indeed came and stayed for the whole show including the opening set by Four Voices and Voices of Lee. At the reception afterwards he said that he had never heard such music before and really enjoyed it. As probably one of the hippest of current celebrities it was certainly cool that he came to the show and seem to genuinely enjoy the music.

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James F. Arnold, an original member of The Four Lads singing group, has died of lung cancer at age 72. Arnold died June 15 after spending the last 20 years giving voice lessons out of his Sacramento home. Born in Toronto, the son of a concert pianist, Arnold and three school friends formed a quartet that evolved into The Four Lads. The group began performing at clubs in Toronto in 1950 and signed a recording contract in 1952. Their hits included "Standing on the Corner," "Moments to Remember" and "Istanbul."

Frank Busseri, another member of The Four Lads, said Arnold's tenor voice was the group's key to stardom. "An amazing thing about Jimmy Arnold, he had a very, very powerful voice," said Busseri. "In our record 'Istanbul,' where he sings way high, he would have to stand with his back to the microphone. It wouldn't take his power. It sounded like he was singing two or three octaves higher than he was singing..."

"It was because of his voice that we became as popular as we did. He had a beautiful voice, almost angelic." Arnold retired after 30 years with the group.

Arnold and his second wife, Linda, moved to Sacramento in the 1980s and Arnold began teaching music through the James Arnold School of Voice. He also ran a children's choir for 17 years and a performing arts program for children at a local playhouse, sang with a local quartet and sang the national anthem at Sacramento Kings' games. He and the other original members of The Four Lads were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame last September in Sharon, PA.

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

From Village People's "YMCA" to Marvin Gaye's 1971 anti-Vietnam war anthem "What's Goin' On," Washington National Guard troops were not about to let a rocket attack stop their songfest. About a dozen members of the 81st Brigade Combat Team were rocking at the Saturday Night Karaoke Club when a siren warned them of the second rocket attack of the day on Logistical Support Area Anaconda at Balad, Iraq, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported. The newspaper has a reporter and photographer embedded with the unit.

Led by the brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Oscar B. Hilman, who favors Frank Sinatra tunes, the troops grabbed body armor and helmets and scurried into a nearby concrete bunker. With light provided by green glow sticks, the soldiers then broke into a cappella versions of songs they all know by heart: "Under the Boardwalk," "Lean on Me," "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," "King of the Road" and "What's Goin' On."

"Father, father, we don't need to escalate," they sang. "You know, war is not the answer, 'cause only love can conquer hate." After hearing the all-clear signal, they hustled back to the song machine and tore into Prince's "Purple Rain." Sgt. Junior Smith of Tacoma said he had his wife send him the karaoke machine, and what began as a gathering of four or five friends has evolved into a Saturday night tradition for many others. "It's something for the soldiers to do so they can forget about what's going on here," Smith said, "at least for a while."

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July 6, 2004

Southern California based Gotcha! took top honors as International Quartet Champions at the just concluded Barbershop Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Barbershop traditionalists must be quite happy as their set comprised of perhaps the chestnutty of chestnuts "Down By The Old Mill Stream" and "Wait 'Til The Sun Shine Nellie". As expected Max Q did very well placing second but failed to be one of only two other quartets to win in their first year of competing. The Chorus Competition was won by The Ambassadors of Harmony, from St. Charles, Missouri, directed by Gas House member Jim Henry. Complete results

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South African lawyers are suing U.S. entertainment giant Walt Disney Co for infringement of copyright on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the most popular song to emerge from Africa, the lawyers said on Friday. If Disney loses, South African proceeds from its trademarks -- including Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck -- could be seized by the courts, lawyers representing relatives of the song's composer said.

The lilting song, initially called "Mbube," earned an estimated $15 million in royalties since it was written by Zulu migrant worker Solomon Linda in 1939, and featured in Walt Disney's "Lion King" movies. However, Linda's impoverished family have only received about $15,000, the lawyers said. Disney executives in South Africa were not immediately available for comment.

Linda sold the worldwide copyright for "Mbube" to a local firm, but under British laws in effect at the time, those rights should have reverted to his heirs 25 years after his death in 1962, copyright lawyer Owen Dean said. This means Linda's surviving three daughters and 10 grandchildren were entitled to a share of royalties from the song, which has since been recorded by at least 150 musicians. "We are claiming ten million rand ($1.6 million) in damages from Disney at the moment," Dean told reporters. "The court attached use of Disney trademarks in South Africa to the case last week. We believe our legal position is very sound." The court will issue a summons to Walt Disney in Los Angeles early next week.

If the case is successful, legal action may also be launched against Disney and other companies in the United Kingdom or Australia, where British copyright laws would have applied, Dean added. It would also have widespread implications for other South African musicians, authors and artists who may have sold their rights without being aware of their entitlements. "The family are entitled to royalties. There has also been a misappropriation of South African culture -- the song is thought to be American," Dean said.

Linda's grandson Zathele Madonsela, 16, told reporters the case was very important for his family, who live in poverty in the Johannesburg township of Soweto."Life is difficult, we are really struggling," he said. Executors of the family's estate are also seeking a further 6 million rand damages from three local companies who have benefited from income either from the "Lion King" films or the song. The Mbube song was adapted by U.S. folk singer Pete Seeger, who called it "Wimoweh" as he misheard its Zulu lyrics. U.S. songwriter George David Weiss rewrote the song as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight

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The Grant Park Chorus, which occasionally sounded underpowered during the opening progam of the Grant Park Music Festival last week, moved front and center on the Harris Theater stage Tuesday night. The Grant Park Orchestra had the night off, and the resulting a cappella choral concert offered the kind of full-bodied, delicately nuanced performance more typical of this distinguished chorus' sound in recent years.

Christopher Bell, who became Grant Park's chorus director in 2002, prepared the singers for the concerts, but Carlos Kalmar, the festival's principal conductor, led the program that was repeated Wednesday. The 90-minute concert of short pieces by Bruckner and Brahms and the rarely performed "Totentanz'' for Speakers and Chorus, a 1934 work by German composer Hugo Distler, was a fine blend of celestial purity and more complex, intricately layered music.

Distler, who killed himself at age 34 in 1942, was a tortured figure, caught up in the maelstrom of Nazi Germany. His "Totentanz (Dance of Death)'' is an arresting work, a series of short choruses divided by blunt spoken conversations between Death and a dozen human beings ranging from an arrogant king and nobleman to an innocent newborn and hard-working farmer. Inspired by a fabled medieval painting of Death and his victims, it included a trio of fine actors in the English-language dialogue Tuesday night: Ernest Perry Jr. was Death and Lisa Dodson and David Darlow were his helpless prey. The always excellent organist David Schrader improvised evocative interludes between the work's dozen sections.

The Harris' lighting was too dark for listeners to read the English translations of the German choral texts, a loss in such unfamiliar music as "Totentanz.'' The English dialogue set each scene, and the chorus' sensitive performance, from the lullaby-like solace of the newborn's chorus to the more tumultuous outbursts surrounding the young woman's death, conveyed the emotional mood. But knowing the words would have enhanced the experience for the audience.

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Portland Maine Press Herald

In an age of global culture and awareness, it's fitting that a group of performers from South Africa would come to America to help celebrate this country's independence. Considering the oppression under which South Africa existed for so long, it's also nothing short of remarkable. On a near-perfect Saturday night, the a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo helped L.L. Bean launch its sixth annual summer music series with a spiritual and uplifting open-air performance.

Organizers estimated between 5,000 and 6,000 people attended the free concert, the first of 13 performances in the Bean's series that continues through Labor Day weekend. As the group made its way from the back of the sea of people to the stage, fans began rising and cheering. The applause built in a steady crescendo. By the time Ladysmith finally picked its way through the crowd and to the stage, the audience was in full voice and ready for music.

Using their vocal chords as instruments, the group created a bed of rhythms and melodies while overlaying lyrics that spoke of spiritual, political and environmental sensitivity and awareness. They danced, clapped and created other rhythmic tricks to supplement their voices, but mostly they just sang richly layered songs.

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Washington Post

Like Prince, Manhattan Transfer is offering concert courses in musicology these days. Moving from the Ink Spots to Rufus Wainwright, from Count Basie to Weather Report, from bop-inspired vocalese to street-corner doo-wop and back again, the Grammy-winning vocal quartet compressed more than a half century of pop and jazz sounds into its sold-out performance at the Birchmere on Sunday night.

The group, which will celebrate its 33rd anniversary this fall, still models its four-part harmonies after a swing-era horn section and still celebrates the witty and harmonically challenging vocal innovations of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross with plenty of enthusiasm, charm and precision. In fact, in this rare club setting, Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul seemed even more engaged -- and engaging -- than usual, whether revisiting songs from the group's first recording (including a terrific version of "That Cat Is High") or previewing a couple of Wainwright tunes that will appear on an upcoming album.

Particularly enjoyable was Wainwright's ironic and bittersweet plaint "My Phone Is on Vibrate for You," which seemed tailor-made for the quartet's vocal blend and pop sensibilities. A colorful series of solo interludes created distinct moods, ranging from the purely nostalgic to the blues-powered. But the quartet always sounded bigger and better than the sum of its parts. That was especially true when the group unearthed the Count Basie gem "You Can Depend on Me" with the help of a quartet featuring guitarist Wayne Johnson, and when it celebrated the glory days of girl group harmony. -- Mike Joyce

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Toxic Audio's "vocal pyrotechnics" show reaches 100 performances Off-Broadway at the John Houseman Theater Center, July 3. The new show, presented by Eric Krebs in association with Castle Talent, Inc. and M. Kilburg Reedy and Spark Productions, began performances April 7 and opened its open-ended run April 18.

Using no instruments other than their voices, five vocalists known as Toxic Audio spout "complex sonic textures, rhythmic drumbeats, thumping bass lines and searing guitar-like solos in their performance of contemporary pop songs, timeless classics, jazz-scat and vocally-orchestrated original compositions," according to show materials.

Jeremy James, Shalisa James, René Ruiz, Paul Sperrazza and Michelle Mailhot-Valines — who comprise Toxic Audio — make their Off-Broadway debuts in the show. Ruiz directs the work. The group has performed across the country as well as in Canada, Mexico, Asia and in the Caribbean. Toxic Audio appeared at The International New York Fringe Festival and performed alongside comedian Wayne Brady. The ensemble played a brief showcase production at the American Theater of Actors earlier this season.

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Hudson Shad were the guest artist on NPR's Studio 4A program on July 4. Listen to it here.

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