October 29, 2004
The Buzz crowned Queens of Harmony
Sweet Adeline 'supergroup' The Buzz are this year's Sweet Adeline championship quartet, winning the coveted crown tonight at the annual convention held this year in Indianapolis. This quartet can truly boast of a regal line up with Nancy Fuhrmann, tenor with the 1992 Champion Quartet ‘City Lights’, Debbie Connelly (wife of Joe Connelly - three time gold medalist) who sang lead with ‘Showtime’ the 1994 champs, Karen Breidert, past International President, sang baritone with 1985 International Champions ‘Jubilation’ and Jeannie Froelich has a gold medal for singing bass with ’92 champs ‘City Lights’, as well as chorus gold from the Ramapo Valley Chorus. And they look fabulous as well. Hail to the Queens!
'Cheesy little song' makes national airwaves
Anchorage Daily News:
Mr. Whitekeys has always been Spenard's prince of parody. Now you can call him the king of political pop. Mr. Whitekeys and his Fabulous Spamtones have a certified hit with "The Liar Sleeps Tonight," a silly little satire ditty about President George W. Bush. "The Liar" is spun off of The Tokens' 1961 doo-wop standard "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," with Bush buzzwords strategically placed into the lyrics, like: "Shock and awe/avenge my pa," "Hanging chad/thank you dad" and "No weapons of mass destruction can be found/ Halliburton's certain there is oil in the ground."
Since its April release, "The Liar" has slowly grown into one of the most-requested songs on "The Dr. Demento Show," a nationally syndicated radio program that plays cheeky novelty music from artists like "Weird Al" Yankovic and Barnes & Barnes (they penned the cult classic "Fish Heads"). "The Liar" hit No. 1 on Demento's Funny Five request list Aug. 1 and has hovered around that spot ever since. It has even hit the Funny Five No. 1 four times and has missed charting only a few times since July.
"There's been hundreds, if not thousands, of requests for the song," Dr. Demento said from his office in Lakewood, Calif. "It's going to be in my top five at the end of the year, even if it doesn't get any calls after the election." Whitekeys responds to the song's success in typical Whitekeys' fashion -- he jokes. "We haven't achieved 'Louie Louie' status quite yet," he said. "In spite of all this hype, it's just a cheesy little song, and we're cheesy little guys. We're No. 1 on a radio show that nobody listens to, especially in Alaska."
October 27, 2004
Election Singers Earn Vote of Confidence
The Election Singers came to town Tuesday not to campaign but to celebrate the U.S. presidency. The group, composed of 16 current and former Juilliard students, gave an energetic performance of politically inspired pieces at the Library of Congress.
Conductor Judith Clurman kept the momentum flowing through a set of campaign songs. The performers sang such songs as Gus Edwards's "We Want Teddy Four Years More"; Robert A. Keiser's "Be Good to California, Mr. Wilson"; and John L. McManus's "Mr. Harding, We're All for You." The group's rendition of the Franklin D. Roosevelt campaign song "Happy Days Are Here Again," composed by Milton Ager, was so cheery that the vituperative races of today were momentarily forgotten.
Then came the choral cycle "Mr. President," consisting of 13 sections, each composed by a friend or former student of Clurman's and each setting presidential quotations in a cappella rounds or canons. Among the best: Jake Heggie's "John Adams's Prayer"; Wayne Oquin's "On the Words of James Madison"; and Jason Robert Brown's "The Ballot Is Stronger Than the Bullet."
Clurman took full advantage of the Coolidge Auditorium's acoustics in Broadway tunes by Irving Berlin, Charles Strouse and the Gershwin brothers. The singers rang out in "To Make Us Proud" from Leonard Bernstein's "A White House Cantata" (derived from the musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue") and sang "Take Care of This House," from the same work, with poignancy.
October 25, 2004
'Axis of Evil' Lullabies: A Nod to Peace
Never mind the Bruce Springsteen-led Vote for Change movement, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, punkvoter.com or even the two "Rock Against Bush" albums. The most thought-provoking musical statement made this election year just might be a CD of heartbreakingly beautiful songs for babies.
Due in stores today, "Lullabies From the Axis of Evil" (and surely this has to be the only collection of lullabies with the word "evil" in the title) brings together women from Iraq, Iran and North Korea, has them sing traditional lullabies of their lands, and pairs them with Western women performers who offer translations of the songs. The CD also features songs from other countries and territories that have a prickly history with the United States, including Syria, Cuba, Afghanistan and Palestine.
Erik Hillestad, a veteran Norwegian music producer, conceived the album when he heard President Bush's 2002 State of the Union speech. "What I really wanted to do was try to speak to these people behind this curtain, this enemy line, and learn more about people in these countries," he said. "I chose to use lullabies because they are the most opposite kind of rhetoric to the words of power that Mr. Bush and his colleagues use."
With the help of friends, colleagues and journalists, Hillestad made contacts with singers -- some professional, some amateur -- in the aforementioned countries, and late in 2002 he set out to meet the women and record their songs. For a studio producer used to fancy gizmos, Hillestad traveled light. He took just two microphones and a small DAT recorder to the women's homes and recorded a cappella versions of the lullabies.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the project for Hillestad was finding Western artists, particularly Americans, to add their voices to the songs. Many were asked, he says, but either didn't respond or said through their management that the album was too politically risky in those days leading up to the war in Iraq.
On "My Tulip, My Pearl," Fremerman and Iranian singer Pari Zanganeh -- who alternate verses, as do most of the "partners" on the disc -- are accompanied by the Washington National Cathedral's girls choir. Hillestad says he was intrigued with the idea of using a choir from what he described as the official center of religious life in the United States. Greg Rixon, a spokesman for the Washington Cathedral, shies away from any symbolic inference. "We didn't see it in political terms at all," he said. "This project is rather universal in that the suffering that the whole world endures during war is most poignantly felt by women and children. And we believe it is that sentiment that is reflected in this disc."
Hillestad hopes the sentiments expressed in this song and the others will help humanize the "axis of evil" countries. "When the Western world is writing stories about these countries, they only write about just a small elite or a little group that has seized power," he said. "But most of the people there are just like most of the people on the planet." More
Beat Bush - a cappella
A group of musicians have come together to record "Fear Didn't Make America Great" with an a cappella version sung by SoVoSo. Listen to it here
A Cappella Trivia
"Porgy and Bess" hit the silver screen in 1959 as a major motion picture directed by Otto Preminger and starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge. Neither actor had the singing voice for the role, so musical performances were dubbed by Robert McFerrin -- father of pop vocalist Bobby McFerrin -- and Adele Addison. Other famous entertainers in the film included Sammy Davis Jr. as Sportin' Life, Pearl Bailey as Maria and Diahann Carroll as Clara
October 23, 2004
Collegiate a cappella on Broadway
After last year's surprise hit Welcome Interstate Managers, Fountains of Wayne co-frontman Adam Schlesinger plans to take Broadway next. Along with The Daily Show head writer David Javerbaum, the singer-songwriter is working on an adaptation of the John Waters' 1990 film Cry-Baby. The production, which they hope to debut in 2006, is set in 1954, and Schlesinger is working on new music for what he describes as a "rockabilly musical."
"The show is about the square kids versus the cool kids," Schlesinger says. "The cool kids play the rockabilly, and the square kids don't know what that is and they play really square music." The square kids are the Whistles, a collegiate a cappella vocal group, and -- in addition to the cool rockabilly stuff -- Schlesinger and Javerbaum are guilty of writing their music. "All their songs are painfully uncool," he says. "It's got to be good and bad at the same time. I'm good at the bad part . . . it's the good part that you have to work at." Schlesinger's Broadway work comes on the heels of Fountains receiving a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist (after a decade as a band) and scoring their biggest hit to date with Interstate single "Stacy's Mom."
Fleshing Out "Temptation"
New York Daily News:
Robert Wilson's "The Temptation of St. Anthony" is based on Gustave Flaubert's virtually unreadable novel about a third-century hermit battling against sensuality. What Flaubert needed was Bernice Johnson Reagon. The MacArthur "genius" grant winner and founder of the a cappella choral group Sweet Honey in the Rock has given Wilson's exploration of worldly temptation a score that humanizes its intellectual concerns.
Partly sung, partly danced, partly spoken, "Temptation" is unusually accessible Wilson. Wilson, after all, is often an austere artist, creating visual compositions that change little over long periods of time. Here, in response to Reagon's music, the movement is livelier. The piece begins with the performers proceeding down the aisles of the BAM Opera House, some bearing artfully constructed bird puppets, others singing African chants, as if it were a homage to Julie Taymor. Reagon employs a range of vocal materials - spirituals, gospel, traditional African as well as her own compositions - to dramatize St. Anthony's spiritual torments.
Wilson has choreographed her rousing score beautifully. He also has designed an icy blue background that allows Geoffrey Holder's majestically designed and colored costumes to stand out. Carl Hancock Rux, an actor who has both great strength and vulnerability, is deeply affecting as St. Anthony. Although the music is powerful throughout, an especially moving sequence is one in which Charles Williams recalls growing up with "the carpenter's son."
October 21, 2004
Gritty, blue-collar 'Jersey Boys' is rich, rewarding
North County Times
Take a real-life rags-to-riches story, some of the '60s best pop songs, an excellent script, smart direction and a great cast, and you've got "Jersey Boys," the terrific new musical in its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse. This hugely entertaining docu-musical ---- which tells the surprising true story of the doo-wop vocal group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ---- is a dark, funny, fast-paced and moving blue-collar story about the four New Jersey natives who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to sell more than 100 million records and end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Co-written by New Yorkers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, "Jersey Boys" has a gritty regional authenticity. The subtle, profanity-laced dialogue has a natural flow, and the richly written, warts-and-all characters are developed to a level rarely seen in musical theater. And because the songs flow organically from the band's writing and recording sessions and their electric live performances, the show has a more realistic, almost-cinematic scope.
"Jersey Boys" couldn't have been easy to cast or stage, but director Des McAnuff, the Playhouse's artistic director, has found a quartet of quadruple-threat actors who can act, sing, play their own instruments and even dance on occasion. Sweet-faced David Norona eerily re-creates Valli's famous falsetto vocals, and San Diego native Christian Hoff (whose blond curls may be hidden under brown hair dye but not his trademark smirk) is exceptional as band founder Tommy DeVito, the quintessential Jersey wise guy.
Their story begins in the late 1950s, when the group's name and lineup changed frequently as members drifted in and out of prison for various crimes. DeVito, a guitarist/singer who financed the band with petty crimes, coaxes diminutive singer Frankie Castelluccio (later Valli) to join the mix. But it isn't until the arrival of Gaudio (who by age 16 already had a No. 2 hit) that the band really jells. Gaudio's knack for writing catchy tunes that showcased Valli's stratospheric vocals repeatedly sent them to No. 1 with "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man" and more than a dozen other top 10 hits.
There are plenty of stumbles along the way, though. At the height of the band's fame, DeVito's criminal connections and unpaid debts land the band in trouble with the mob and even in jail. Eventually DeVito is forced out; Massi, isolated by Gaudio and Valli's legendary handshake partnership, quits; and Gaudio retires from the stage to write. Only Valli continues performing until the members reunite 20 years later at their Hall of Fame induction. More
October 19, 2004
A Cultural Jam Session of Timbres and Tongues
New York Times
In the theater of the Rubin Museum, a two-week-old center in Chelsea for art and culture of the Himalayan region, an assortment of New Yorkers growled and groaned at one another for most of Sunday afternoon.Led by Battuvshin Baldantseren, an accomplished throat-singer and cross flute player from Ulan-Ude in the Siberian state of Buryatia, they were the latest acolytes of throat-singing, a vocal technique native to Mongolia and south-central Siberia.
In throat-singing, the notes are colored by overtones, or harmonics. Overtones are naturally present in all singing, but in throat-singing they are manipulated and amplified to make it sound as if a person were singing two or more notes at once. The effect is such that a skilled throat-singer like Mr. Baldantseren can sustain a deep drone, like a contrabassoon, while simultaneously producing a complicated melody high above that could almost be coming from a tiny flute.
Mr. Baldantseren, who has taught throat-singing at Indiana University, knows that most Westerners who try it want step-by-step methods to control the tongue and throat muscles. In Buryatia, Mr. Baldantseren says, children growup listening to throat-singing, and if they are interested they eventually learn by imitation.
Theodore Levin, an ethnomusicologist who teaches at Dartmouth College, considers the different learning approaches consequential. Western students always ask how to do it, he says, but seldom why. "A sort of cult formed in the West of people exploring throat-singing,"he said, "and it was treated as a kind of exotica." Pop groups added untethered throat-singing sequences, the sounds were sampled into remixes for effect, and the Tuvan throat-singing group Huun-Huur-Tu, which tours worldwide, has been accused at home of "selling it down the river,"Mr. Levin said. In fact, throat-singing, which is deeply involved with rituals and spirituality, has only recently become a performed music.
For nomadic peoples of Siberia and Mongolia, sound and music are closely related to the geography of the mountains and the steppes, and to the connection people have with animals and nature. Mr. Levin calls this relationship "sound mimesis,"representation through sound. It is a way in which the singers communicate with the spiritual world by trying to imitate the sounds of wind, water and even cows and horses.
Many herders are throat-singers, calling over the high plains, and Mr. Baldantseren says that a farm is the best place to learn the practice. Only since the end of Soviet-era repression has throat-singing been studied in universities in Siberia and Mongolia. Meanwhile, Western curiosity has resulted in studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in which X-rays and tiny video cameras have been used to gain an understanding of how throat-singing works. As the students in Mr. Baldantseren's Sunday class tried to mimic his astonishing rumblings, the inevitable questions began. "What syllable does it most resemble?"asked a student. "Is it la-la-la? Da-da-da?"Mr. Baldantseren thought for a moment, then said, "It's like ooy-ooy-ooy."
He proceeded to explain that by placing your tongue behind your teeth, you can feel several waves on the roof of your mouth. Put your tongue at the "fourth wave,"he said. Then sing a note. As you move your tongue, you change the pitch of the harmonics. The tongue should be soft while the throat muscles are tight. Somebody asked whether there were exercises to build tongue strength and control. Mr. Baldantseren gamely offered that the best exercise is to sound like a horse galloping: tig-a-LUN, tig-a-LUN, tig-a-LUN, tig-a-LUN. He used his tongue to approximate the rhythm of a galloping steed. A throat-singing lesson in Tuva or Mongolia, Mr. Levin said, might begin with radically different advice, like this: "Try to imagine a beautiful mountain with a coniferous forest on the north slope. Then imagine it gradually descending onto a grassy plain. Now, try to make the sound that represents this."
Mr. Baldantseren's New York students eventually made some fascinating noises. Katrina Dante, a voice-over artist from England, was the star of the class. She had never tried throat-singing before, but by day's end she could hold a drone and let loose a flutelike sound. Amanda Homi, a self-styled world musician who had signed up to expand her knowledge of different vocal traditions, was patiently working on a midrange nasal drone.
On Saturday, Mr. Baldantseren faced a very different set of students: a handful of 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds whose parents had brought them for a family workshop on throat-singing. The children weren't interested in talk of tongues or throats; they wanted to hear Mr. Baldantseren's cow and horse imitations again and again. Alas, their workshop finale sounded more like a group of toddlers making raspberries than anything else, but who could deny that there was value in the exposure? Besides, it was fun.
Germany's best-known living composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, attacked on Monday [18 October] plans to abolish one of the country's professional choirs as the act of "a common criminal". Stockhausen, 76, whose avant-garde music and disregard for European musical tradition puzzle many concert-goers, was angered by plans to close down the SWR vocal ensemble based in the southwestern city of Stuttgart.
SWR, a public broadcaster, employs four orchestras and the choir mainly for occasional radio concerts. SWR superintendent Peter Voss said Monday budget cuts were necessary because of declining revenues from taxes on television sets in German homes. "Those who abolish or scale back choirs are killing my works, because they can only live with the prescribed number of voices," said Stockhausen, whose choral works sometimes require large numbers of singers to stand apart and "confront" one another with sound. "I am alarmed to be living in Germany in this day and age," he said from his home near Cologne. The final-part of Stockhausen's monumental seven-part composition Licht was premiered this month. He began composing it in 1977. Licht would take more than 29 hours to perform in a single session.
Most of Germany's classical scene is subsidized by broadcasters and municipalities as income from concerts and sales of recordings is tiny. Musicians' pay is comparable with that of schoolteachers.
The SWR choir consumes 36 salaries. Some positions are shared by part-timers.
October 18, 2004
The Age (Australia)
With a repertoire that extends from William Byrd to Billy Joel, Leipzig's Ensemble Amarcord, in town for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, is one of the world's leading a cappella groups. Theirs is a unique background: all five members were choristers in the St Thomas Church Boys' Choir in Leipzig, a centuries-old institution where J.S. Bach was cantor from 1723 until his death in 1750.
"I think it was just the joy of singing," says ensemble amarcord baritone Frank Ozimek of their decision to form the group in 1992. "I just wanted to keep singing - anything - after I left St Thomas and it was great to sing in a smaller group rather than a choir. I liked the clarity." "Our background is unique, certainly," says Lattke, "but people say that it's our sound, blending and interpretation that is special. There's a lot of vocal groups in Britain - that's where the best ones come from - and they have another style of singing.
"We have Romantic singing in Germany, whereas they have the choir tradition from the Middle Ages and Renaissance times, and it's developed in a different way. The English sound is clearer, the structure is more divided, whereas people say ours is warmer, more homogenous."
Amarcord has been able to draw on two very different British vocal groups to help shape their own style, which they say is still developing. "The Hilliard Ensemble, for example, are very precise and they got us to really listen to one another and react to musical ideas in the concerts," says Lattke. "From the King Singers we got a lot of sound and blending things, mostly of the pop arrangements, of modern music and presentation on stage."
The ensemble's name comes from Fellini's autobiographical movie Amarcord about his time in his home town of Rimini. "Amarcord means 'I remember' in Fellini's native dialect," says Lattke. "Apart from other associations in the name, like 'chord' and so on, it's a reference to our time together in the St Thomas Boys' Choir, and other influences in our lives," he says.
October 15, 2004
Pope John Paul II has marked his 26th year as head of the Roman Catholic Church by attending a concert given by Russia's Red Army Choir. Unthinkable before the fall of the Soviet Union, the event staged in the Vatican's general audience hall was televised live in Italy and Russia. A Swiss Guard marched across the stage and a Russian military guard goose-stepped in the opposite direction. Cossack dancers capered where religious ceremonies normally take place.
On the stage, bathed in red light, the choir founded more than 70 years ago by soldiers who took part in the Bolshevik revolution sang traditional Russian songs in full dress military uniform. The Pope was wheeled on his portable throne into the central aisle to watch the performance. He seemed delighted and afterwards described Russia - one of the few countries he has never been able to visit because of opposition by the Russian Orthodox Church - as a land especially dear to him.
October 14, 2004
Quad City News
President George W. Bush did not approve this message. At least not the one coming from his newest “supporters,” the Kinsey Sicks — who bill themselves as “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.” The drag queen foursome, which got its start in Sacramento, Calif., 11 years ago, mocks the GOP with its show “I Wanna Be a Republican.” It makes a campaign stop at the RiverCenter Adler Theatre on Sunday night.
The setting is a Republican fund-raiser conducted by “Rachel,” “Winnie,” “Trixie” and “Trampolina.” And crowds, according to Irwin Keller, who plays Winnie, are loving it. We had a little bit of uncertainty of how it would go in the Bible belt. So far, so good on this tour,” Keller said, while waiting for his order of fish and chips at a Jack in the Box in Rock Hill, S.C. “People have been eating it up.” The show skewers politics in general, and Republicans in particular. People are hungry for stuff that is intelligent and progressive and fun, and speaks out on a variety of issues,” he said. The plan was to adjust the show as current events in the campaign warranted, Keller said. However, “the current events have not been changing very quickly in this campaign season, let me tell you,” he said. “There’s definitely room for change and improv.”
The Kinseys are scheduled to perform “I Wanna Be a Republican” through Oct. 29. After that, Keller said, he’s uncertain. “It depends on who wins,” he said. “If Kerry wins, I think the show will be a little too gloaty to do. If Bush wins, we could potentially keep this show going. But it might be too depressing to do that. “I think this show will probably die on election day.”
Even though the show is full of drag kitsch, Keller said it masks talent audiences might not be aware of. “Even if they understand we’re going to be singing, they don’t expect us to be singing as well as we do,” said Keller, who had performed in the Sacramento Opera. “That’s the big compliment we get from people.” Indeed, the quartet won the Drama Desk Award for best lyrics for one of its shows.
Half of the group’s songs are parody and the other half are original music, Keller said. The performance is made for audience interaction and improvisation, he said. One character may start making balloon animals, or Keller — as the redheaded Winnie — might educate the audience about rolling over their 401(k) retirement plans. “Each of the characters have broad brush strokes, but they also have subtleties,” said Keller, 44. “You’re never entirely certain what they’re going to say to each other or how they’ll react.”
In the early days of the group, it took a long time to get each man into makeup, wig and dress for their female alter ego. “We do it kind of in our sleep now. We get into the dressing room and we go into our makeup trance,” he said. “We can be in costume and ready to go in an hour. “We’re not pretty girls, and that makes it easier.”
Keller is a University of Chicago-trained lawyer, and former director of the AIDS legal referral panel of the San Francisco Bay area. He is the author of Chicago’s gay rights ordinance, passed into law in 1989. He is one of two former attorneys in the group. “It’s our deep, dark secret,” he said. Ironically, Keller came from a family of musicians. “When I went to law school, I was the black sheep of the family,” he said. “Now that I’m touring with this show, it’s a hilarious return to what was imagined for me.”
Their bus had just left Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, and the 16 members of UNC's a cappella group, the Loreleis, could hardly contain their excitement. They were going to sing the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium. The 16-member group had just finished a sound check in the empty stadium, where they were scheduled to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Wednesday night's second game of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
"We're just ecstatic," said Jordan Elliott, president of the Loreleis, during a cell phone interview from the bus after leaving the afternoon practice. "A lot of us can't believe it's happening." During the sound check, which lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, the group "ran through the anthem three or four times," she said. "They gave us some hats that are really authentic, hats with logos." Stepping out on the field to practice and hearing themselves sing was overwhelming, Elliott said.
No players were on the field warming up at the time, but the group saw former Yankee star Don Mattingly walking into the stadium as they were leaving, Elliott said. She and the other singers wished they had seen Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. "And A-Rod," someone screamed in the background, referring to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. "I would recognize Derek Jeter and A-Rod," Elliott said with a giggle. Elliott wouldn't say why the Loreleis were chosen to sing at such an important game, except to say there were some family connections that made it happen.
Of course, there is a connection between UNC and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. His daughter, Jennifer Swindal, graduated from UNC in 1981. The Loreleis got word a few weeks ago that they might be chosen to sing, but they didn't get official word until last week, Jordan said. "We were already planning to come up to New York and Boston for our fall break anyway, so it worked out perfectly," she said. After they sing the national anthem, the women got to watch the game from a special box.
October 12, 2004
The A Cappella Summit
The Bobs are co-headline at the upcoming 12th Annual A Cappella Summit along with SoVoSo (Harmony Sweeps National Champs), Gotcha! (Current international Barbershop Quartet Champs), Slammin', Kid Beyond and Minimum Wage. This weekend of classes, workshops, seminars and performances has become very popular and tickets sales are already strong for this year's event. Other participants include Solstice, Clockwork, Funk Divas, Out On A Cleff, Jazzapella, Infusion, Threshold Choir, United Harmony Groups and Vocal Chords with more groups being added soon. The event is the weekend of November 6 & 7 in San Rafael, California which is just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
October 11, 2004
Two weeks ago, a student taking part in Brattleboro Union High School's Swiss exchange program could not travel into the US due to unexplained visa problems. This week, visa problems have postponed a concert by The Boys Choir of Kenya because Choir members could not get the proper documentation to enter the U.S. in time. The group filed their papers months in advance, according to concert organizer Fred Onovwerosuoke, a Ghana-born musician who is leading the North American tour.
The USA PATRIOT Act paid a visit to Brattleboro earlier this month when a 17-year-old Swiss exchange student was not allowed into the country because his name and birth date matched one on a U.S. watch list. State and local officials are still working to get the teen into the country. The Kenyans were not told they were being denied visas due to anti-terrorism moves. But Onovwerosuoke said dealing with the United States embassy has grown increasingly difficult.
"The policies at the U.S. embassy have gotten complicated since Sept. 11," he said on Sunday from his cell phone, while traveling in the choir's empty tour bus somewhere between Wisconsin and Massachusetts. "It is unfair that a group like this suffers." Concerts this past weekend in Chicago and Milwaukee were cancelled.
It was only after a series of late night calls from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to the U.S. Ambassador in Nairobi that the party was able to secure the proper documents. Feingold was the only member of the U.S. Senate to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act in Oct. 2001. "When you apply you wait for a date and you have no control over it. You win sometimes but when you lose it hurts," Onovwerosuoke said.
The choir also had plans to work with a number of schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. Mary Cay Brass, a local musician, helped organize the concerts and workshops. On Sunday she was feverishly making calls and sending e-mails to try and rearrange the schedule.
"The irony is that a woman from Kenya just won the Nobel Peace Prize and here our government is treating 35 teenage boys like terrorists," Brass said. Through it all Onovwerosuoke maintained a positive attitude and laughed many times at the situation as he traveled across America in the empty bus. "You have to keep on singing," he said. "The alternative is not an option. I cannot afford to dwell on something I cannot change."
There have been many cases in recent times of foreign performing artists being refused visas by US Consular officers. It has made presenters leery of booking such groups which is very sad indeed. It is my firm belief that this world needs more cultural exchanges, especially by youth groups, to help them have a better understanding of other peoples. Denying American kids the chance to learn about other cultures due to over zealous bureaucrats or paranoid policy is most unfortunate for all. Is the US becoming xenophobic? - Editor
In the just released movie "Raise Your Voice", Hillary Duff plays a singer who is helped by her college choral teacher (John Corbett). Sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel while recovering from a nasty bout with the flu, Duff says that she embraced the opportunity to take her singing to the next level. "Some of it was very tough for me," she says of the scenes where she was required to hit complicated high notes a cappella. "I can sing, but I don't think I have the greatest voice. I definitely don't have an opera voice. I have a great voice coach who helps me a little bit and has shown me how to do some arias and stuff like that. It was still a little scary, because it's a totally different style than the type of music I play."
Anchorage Daily News
The 11th annual A Cappella Festivella filled the University of Alaska Anchorage's Williamson Auditorium with a mighty roar on Saturday night. If the first half of the evening was sometimes a bit flat and on occasion completely out of harmony, it was mighty loud nonetheless. Batteries Not Included, a local a cappella trio who opened the show, sang a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a standard for them, and their old "Island Earth" was dragged out and dusted off for the evening. They did manage to stay in tune for the most part, but the two-note buzzing soprano was a bit like a mosquito hovering around one's head.
Fermata Nowhere, an award-winning all-male a cappella group from Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., was next and, for the most part, a lot of fun. The "Chili's Babyback Ribs" medley was amusing, and their classical performance of "Ave Maria" was truly lovely. This group won second place at the 2004 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in New York City, and that showed in their innovative, relaxed and playful style of singing. They do well as a large group of singers, but there was a bit too much improvising that made for some sloppy, loose timing. Overall, the audience, especially college-age girls, enjoyed the performance and the group seemed to enjoy being there.
The second part of the evening was a delightful surprise. Tonic Sol-fa, a quintet out of the Midwest, was tonic on my ears. The clear, vibrant harmonies, beautiful voices and tight rhythm made for effortless listening. This is a group you can sit back and enjoy the ride with.
They showed their versatility with a lighthearted version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" done in the voices of the Muppets, and a strong gospel song called "Long Black Train," which was powerful and moving. "Oklahoma Wind," an original composition written by Shaun Johnson, the group's main soloist, was melodious and well crafted. A rocking version of Elvis Presley's "Satisfy Me" had everyone clapping. Nine years of singing together have produced an instinctual execution of seamless musical lines, as well as a great rapport with the audience and a sense of fun. I enjoyed their joking with one another almost as much as listening to those wonderful voices. There is nothing like a live performance, but I would have bought Tonic Sol-fa's CD at the end of the show if there hadn't been such a huge line of people thinking the same thing. Well done, guys.
October 7, 2004
Singing, dancing and otherwise strutting their stuff, members of Stanford’s nine a cappella groups took to tabling in White Plaza, flyering over campus and performing in dorms last week to recruit students to audition for their groups. No, the number nine wasn’t a typo. For over a decade, the correct answer to the Stanford trivia question, “How many a cappella groups call Stanford home?” has been eight. This year, however, a new group joined the ranks. Founded in 2002 and officially declared a Stanford a cappella group by the Office of Student Affairs this past April, the all-male, Hindi music group Raagapella joined the formal a cappella auditions process this fall.
“The a cappella community is excited about having a new group with its own new style,” said Harmonics president senior Myles Morrison. “Adding another group did make auditioning scheduling a bit tighter, but Raagapella was really responsible about not stepping on anyone’s toes.”
On top of the usual workload of auditions, Raagapella was faced with the challenge of creating its own new audition style. Other groups have already forged their identities, complete with specific traditions for the audition process — Counterpoint sings “These are the Days” when it rolls out its new members, the Harmonics have their auditionees stand on a silver star when they try out, and Fleet Street throws a miniature party whenever a potential singer walks into the audition room. More
October 5, 2004
Primitive man did not emerge from the swamp singing "I Should Be So Lucky". That behaviour had to be learned. Scientists are not certain when our ancestors first began to grunt, speak and sing, but it was possibly about 100,000 years ago. "Human speech evolved from manual gestures," says Jenni Oates, head of the school of Human Communication Sciences at La Trobe University in Melbourne. The most popular theory is that primitive speech developed to free the hands to do other tasks - you can imagine a friendly chat over a troglodyte kitchen sink. There was a gradual transition, Oates says, from gestural communication with the hands, arms and face, to the lips, tongue, teeth and larynx.
In the intervening millennia, human phonation - the act of using the vocal cords as a means of expression - became more sophisticated as civilisations developed and spread. Spoken language is our principal means of communication and also the defining characteristic of a culture. But the voice is also our oldest musical instrument. Its tonal qualities enable us to communicate with greater depth of expression than words alone can provide. It is a universal instrument too - there is no evidence of a single human society that doesn't sing.
One of Institute for Living Voice aims is to encourage a kind of cross-fertilisation between vocal techniques from different cultures. The last ILV was held in Amsterdam in June, where the program included simultaneous workshops by two seemingly disparate vocal harmony groups. In one room was the Hilliard Ensemble, a male quartet from the UK that specialises in renaissance motets and madrigals. Just metres away in another room were the three women of the Mahotella Queens, who sing the mbaqanga harmony style of the townships of southern Africa.
"We had people moving from one room into the other room," Moss says. "This is what we at the ILV are really hoping for, this mixing of origin points, to understand how different people sing, and what it is to sing that way." Moss does not want to encourage a kind of watered-down world music, where every vocal technique or folk culture is up for grabs. But nor is ILV a museum, concerned with cataloguing and preserving the world's unique musical forms - a task he would rather leave to ethnomusicologists.
What emerges from projects such as ILV and the work of other voice specialists - such as British theatre voice coach Cicely Berry - is the search for a different kind of authenticity. This is the authenticity that comes from within the individual. It adheres to certain conventions of technique and performance, but aims to rediscover what is unique and not merely reproduce what is known. More
October 4, 2004
New York Times
Those who assume that you cannot appreciate music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance without some background knowledge of its history should have been at the concert by Lionheart at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church on Friday evening. Lionheart, an acclaimed a cappella ensemble of just six men, presented a 60-minute program called "My Fayre Ladye: Images of Women in Medieval England." If you knew nothing about the repertory of the period, it was still possible just to immerse yourself in the calming, mystical, musical pleasure of the voices as they echoed throughout the lovely, inviting and reverberant church, at West End Avenue and 87th Street. It was certainly a restorative way to end a work week.
Not that the well-conceived program, part of the New York Early Music Celebration, didn't also offer intellectual stimulation. The works were mostly drawn from Eton Choirbook, a collection of polyphonic sacred music, and Henry VIII's Book, containing popular songs and songs of courtly love from the era. The selections explored various images women: the regal, the maternal, the beloved, the unfathomable, the hunted, the sorrowful and the triumphant. The sensually charged sacred works, like John Dunstable's "Quam Pulcra Es," are meant, as Richard Porterfield wrote in an insightful program note, to provide a "common ground for divine love and carnal desire."
In a way, it did not require much adjustment when Lionheart switched to shamelessly bawdy songs like "Blow Thy Horne, Hunter," filled with sexual double-entendres. As always the singing of Lionheart was beautifully blended and focused, full but never forced, and supply phrased.
What began as an ad in The Chronicle a quarter-century ago has become one of Duke’s most entertaining, endearing and enduring traditions. At 9 p.m. Saturday night, more than 60 current and former members of the Pitchforks gathered on the stage at Baldwin Auditorium to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Duke’s oldest male a cappella group. The reunion, in planning since the summer, included singing the national anthem at Duke’s football game Saturday and a barbecue on West Campus. The events culminated in Saturday night’s performance, at which Pitchforks, old and new, harmonized through a set as diverse as its members.
The Pitchforks crooned their way through Rhett Atkins’ country hit “That Ain’t My Truck” and even tackled Pearl Jam’s grunge standard “Evenflow,” showcasing its members’ playful personalities and senses of humor. The performance kept several generations of fans highly entertained in Baldwin Saturday night and ended in a standing ovation. “I think especially the alums are excited for the show because they realize how much the group meant to them,” said senior Scott Lemmon, president of the Pitchforks. He noted that one-third of all the group’s members returned for the chance to perform once again in Baldwin.
For Rick Laub, Trinity ’83 and a Pitchforks alumnus, membership with the group continues to remain particularly special. He traveled from Michigan to attend the reunion and believes it’s “the camaraderie through harmony” that keeps the group going and why alumni are so eager to return. Half of the founding group members returned for the reunion, taking the stage Saturday night with the same enthusiasm and humor that inspired the formation of the group in 1979. The alumni arrived Friday and spent the weekend rehearsing and reminiscing about life as a Pitchfork. More
October 1, 2004
Multiple GRAMMY winners The Manhattan Transfer released their latest CD "Vibrate" this week, their first studio recording in three years. The recording opens in familiar territory with "Walkin’ in N.Y.," a track that hits the ear like classic Transfer—bright, ear-catching and balanced to harmonic perfection. “When I first heard this tune, I immediately thought of The Transfer and what Manhattan has meant to us in our career, especially our early days,” says Janis Siegel. “(Composer) Brenda Russell captures this buoyant feeling so completely, a kind of sassy strut down the city streets that makes you feel that nothing can go wrong.”
The sequence continues with “Greek Song” and “Vibrate,” both penned by Rufus Wainwright. “‘Vibrate’ jumped out at me as having deeper pools of emotional resonance and great capacity for musical re-invention,” says Siegel. “I love the juxtaposition of the modern images in the song with the bittersweet, delicate tango arrangement, and it’s orchestrated by two of my most favorite musical architects, Roger Treece and Gil Goldstein.”
“The New JuJu Man (Tutu),” a piece from the latter-day Miles Davis canon (penned by Marcus Miller with lyrics by Jon Hendricks), leads off with Cheryl Bentyne’s high-end vocals bearing an uncanny resemblance to the syncopated blasts of a trumpet. “‘Tutu’ is the culmination of all that (Miles) was: stark, potent, delicate, masterful, and exact in execution,” says Bentyne. “As a vocalese piece, this is by far the most abstract, yet right in the groove, journey we have taken. Miles’ solo was, for me, a study in subtle nuance, lithe expression and piercing reality.”
Further into the album, “First Ascent” opens with a compelling tribal drum riff, which segues into The Transfer’s trademark dead-on vocal harmonies arranged in an exotic modality. The whole package is wrapped in an unusual syncopation that makes for a highly atmospheric piece. “My lyrics are thematically about creative inspiration and the first ascents of certain individuals who stand out in history, like Einstein and Neil Armstrong,” says co-author Alan Paul, who wrote the piece with Billy Hulting and Bob Mair.
The Transfer bring it all back to familiar territory with George and Ira Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” and the closing medley “Come Softly To Me”/“I Met Him on a Sunday.” “Let us never overlook the classic standards,” Bentyne says of the Gershwin tune, a piece that the group has been performing live for nearly two decades. “I think we still embrace the beauty of perfection that this piece has offered us for so many years. What a joy to finally record it.”