March 31, 2005
Charles and Camilla select music
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles have chosen the choral music for their civil marriage and the church blessing thereafter. The St George's Chapel Choir, conducted by Timothy Byram-Wigfield, will be singing works by Walton, Bach, Handel, Elgar, Finzi and Grieg.
Three hymns, which are among the personal favourites of the Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles, will be sung. They are "Immortal Invisible," "Love Divine All Loves Excelling" and "Praise my Soul the King of Heaven." The choir, which was founded in 1348, is made up of 23 boy choristers and 12 Lay Clerks, who sing the alto, tenor and bass parts.
March 29, 2005
Choir revives lost Jewish music
The Russian Revolution not only killed thousands of Jews, it threatened to silence the music of the ones who survived. So when boxes of Eastern European religious music, which the KGB had locked away, were discovered during Glasnost, Alexander "Sasha" Tsaliuk was inspired to bring it back to life. "Gorbachev gave us permission to re-establish the Jewish community in 1989," said Tsaliuk, who was 19 at the time. Now artistic director and conductor of the Moscow Male Jewish Choir, formed that year with the help of Master Cantor Joseph Malovany, Tsaliuk is bringing 20 of his singers to Boca Raton, Aventura and Palm Beach during their second U.S. tour.
The music found in the cellars of the Russian secret police was hand-written sheet music from the Ukraine, Romania, Odessa and Moldavia for choir and cantor, and some just for cantors to sing during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. "[The Russian government] wanted to keep it, but we took quite a few and arranged them, and some of it is sung by the chorus," Malovany said. "It was very emotional," he said of going through the boxes, and made him feel he was linked to the cantors of the past. Later, he was the first Western cantor to perform the music in Moscow and St. Petersburg, he said.
The music the choir rescued from oblivion has been the backbone of the repertoire it has performed in more than 300 concerts, largely a cappella. They also sing familiar Jewish and Israeli folk songs most American Jews grew up singing in synagogue. For instance, the rousing Heveinu Shalom Aleyhem is set to a bossa nova beat, and there are two versions of Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn on their Web site, www.hasidic-cappella.com. "They have a varied repertoire, but what makes them unique is restoring part of Jewish history that has been lost and to perform it in such high quality we get to love it again," said Bill Yellin, of San Diego, one of the choir's volunteer handlers while they're in the United States. "Their quality is so exceptional, we have never heard this music sung so well before."
"The music we are doing was composed during the last 100 years and performed in synagogues all over Europe," Malovany said from New York, where he has been cantor of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan for 31 years. "It's a classical repertoire on a very high level, yet the melodies are so known and beautiful." The Moscow Male Jewish choir is the official choir of the Marina Roscha Synagogue Chabad Lubavitch and the Jewish community center of Moscow and is supported by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.
Duke's Men place first
Yale Daily News:
Pop songs on "American Idol" may be saturating the airwaves, but the Duke's Men have demonstrated that more traditional performers can still hold a place among champions. On Saturday, the Duke's Men won the International Championship of Collegiate a Cappella's New England Regional Finals in a Yale-hosted tournament, qualifying them to compete against five other groups at ICCA's finals next month. The victory brings new hope to troupes that long considered the ICCA closed to Yale's traditional a cappella style, some University a cappella members said.
Roughly 600 guests bought tickets to the event, in which 11 divisional winners from the region, including groups from New York and Fordham universities, competed in two rounds for a place at the finals at Lincoln Center in New York City. The Duke's Men had won first place at their divisional tournament Nov. 13, automatically qualifying them for the final round of Saturday's tournament in Woolsey Hall. Ethan Heard '06, the Duke's Men music director, said the group is excited to compete against other groups from across the country in the fabled halls of Lincoln Center on April 30. "The competitive aspect motivates us," Heard said. "We really turned on. We are so thrilled to be going to Lincoln Center."
Duke's Men Assistant Musical Director Nathan Reiff '07 said the ICCA, with over 130 competitors nationwide, is considered the nation's main collegiate a cappella tournament. The last time the Duke's Men participated in the ICCA tournament was 1996, when they won second place nationally. Since then, Duke's Men member Matthew Thunell '07 said the tournament has been dominated by catchy performances that focus on imitating instruments, in contrast with Yale's more choral style. "The Yale style of a cappella is kind of different from a cappella nationally," he said. "Nationally they tend to do more pop and vocal percussion, and Yale is more old-school."
The Duke's Men decided to try their hand at the ICCA when they found out that the regional tournament would be held at Yale and hosted by the singing group Something Extra. Solo coach Joshua Min '07 said the group barely prepared for the divisional tournament, suspicious that judges would reject their style. The surprise divisional win showed the Duke's Men that their eclectic repertoire, which includes choral songs, pop, show tunes, R&B, and inspirational gospel, actually gave them an advantage, Min said. Based on their experience at the divisionals, the group designed a heavily choreographed, "spiced up" 12-minute performance consisting of spiritual, pop and Motown songs for Saturday night. "We tried to show the judges that we can have just as much fun as the other groups even though we look a little more formal," Heard said.
The Duke's Men also attributed their win to the familiarity of the Woolsey Hall and its audience. Several audience members said the Duke's Men had an unfair advantage -- their all-male chorus and 20-strong performers allowed for richer sound than the smaller, all-female or mixed gender groups from other schools, they said. "I wouldn't want to be the judge," said Kristen Child, a graduate student at the University of Maine who attended to support the University of Maine Steiners. "It's like comparing apples and oranges."
Sara Yood, the New England producer for the ICCA, acknowledged that the variety of groups made judging subjective, but said that there were too few competitors to split the pool. Audience member Michelle Bulger '07 said the Duke's Men won fair and square. "I thought that all the groups were really good but the Duke's Men made them look almost amateur," she said.
The Duke's Men's victory in the tournament may lead other Yale a cappella groups to compete. Sabrina Silver '06, the business manager for Something Extra, said her group's opinion of the tournament has changed. "Now that the Duke's Men won, I think that everyone's feeling a lot better about our chances in future years," she said. "The girls are seriously considering doing it." Mixed Company was the only other Yale group to participate in the ICCA, but was eliminated in earlier rounds.
March 27, 2005
Jail house a cappella
Seattle Times (WA):
Bearing a very special gift, the unassuming men and women entered the chapel yesterday, beyond the big yard, tall fences and barbed wire. The previous night, the world-famous Soweto Gospel Choir entertained an audience of more than 2,000 at The Paramount Theatre. But yesterday, the choir stopped in at the Monroe Correctional Complex, the state's largest prison, for a more intimate performance. Nearly 80 men from the prison's close-custody unit, one level below maximum security, attended the event, the first of its kind in the facility's history.
The singers, clad in black T-shirts and jeans, performed their numbers a cappella. As the first notes reached the chapel's 40-foot ceilings, several inmates widened their eyes, their mouths hanging open with disbelief. After the opening song, the crowd showed its appreciation with what would become one of many standing ovations. The performers exuded passion, their clear, full-bodied voices distinct, yet united. The energy continued to build as dancers kicked and soloists and drummers mesmerized the audience. Choir members swayed, gestured and stomped their feet as they sang in eight of the 11 languages spoken in their native South Africa. At the end of the performance, a few singers wiped at the sweat on their faces.
The show was titled "Voices From Heaven." Since January, the group has given more than 30 performances across the United States. Although they were tired, choir members were eager to sing for this audience, said Lehakwe Tlali, 18, the youngest of the group's 26 performers. "I'm very honored [to be here] ... it's been a long time since we've seen our parents. We have been on the tour for four months," Tlali said. "I feel the people we're performing for now haven't seen their families in a long time, [so] for me it's very touching." The choir was in Germany and Spain before its U.S. tour.
When officials at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor declined the choir's offer to visit, Pat Graney of Keeping the Faith, a project that brings the arts to the facility's inmates, asked if the Monroe prison would be interested. Darin Goff, program activities manager at the Monroe facility, accepted. "You've probably traveled farther than anybody that has come to perform at the reformatory," he said to the choir. Soweto is a township in South Africa, about 10,000 miles away from Monroe.
Entertainment-related events occur about three times a year at the Monroe prison, Goff said, but normally on a much smaller scale, with local musicians or dance groups, for instance. Although the singers have toured Europe, Asia and Australia, this is their first trip to the United States. In addition to producing a Billboard-topping CD, the singers have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, shared a stage with rock stars such as Bono and Annie Lennox, and entertained former South African President Nelson Mandela. They've also raised more than $20,000 for charitable causes, such as helping AIDS orphans. "This is kind of an incredible thing for the men," said Chaplain Linda Haptonstall. "They need this to feel that people haven't forgotten them."
March 24, 2005
Photo - Gleeful lesson
Joseph Shabalala participates in a master class he and his South African vocal group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, conducted Tuesday. During the class, the Notre Dame Glee Club performed Ladysmith Black Mambazo's "Beautiful Rain," the Ghanaian folk song "Kpanlongo" and the American spiritual "Swing Down Chariot." Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed "Beautiful Rain" for the Glee Club and answered questions about how it creates its music and choreography.
Would Bach Approve?
At Easter time, thousands of people gather in churches and concert halls throughout the Netherlands to listen to performances of Bach's St Matthew and St John Passions. It's a tradition going back to the early 1920s. Yet, there is controversy in the air this year, for the Netherlands Bach Society has decided to bring down the number of singers for the two works to a bare minimum, and to make soloists part of the choir. In the oldest scores that still exist of the St John Passion, there's evidence that the soloists were also choir members. The Bach Society's artistic director and conductor, Jos van Veldhoven, tried to recreate that sound in a new recording of the Passion. For him, the main question is not whether there should be a big choir or not, but whether there should be soloists.
"Traditionally there has been a rigid separation between soloists who stand in front of an orchestra and a choir who stand at the back of the orchestra, and they seem to be two worlds," says Mr Van Veldhoven. The challenge was to blend these two worlds. "If you listen well to the recording you can hear eight people singing. They sing very well together and the individual quality of the voices is maintained." He finds the sound less anonymous than in bigger choirs, although critics argue that the choruses lack the dramatic impact of large choirs. So, in the newly released recording of the Bach Society's St John Passion, the choruses are sung almost as vocal quartets by four soloists who are reinforced by four chorus members, called 'in ripieno' singers or 'ripienists'.
Mr Van Veldhoven describes his new sound as transparent, crystal clear and expressive. He is particularly proud of the effect in the St. John Passion's beautiful chorales. "They sound more intimate, yet still very engaging […] Bach is so unique in his ability to catch a word or part of sentence in musical terms using specific harmonies, and if you have a group of performers who can bring this out, you get some of the best performances of JS Bach."
What makes Mr Van Veldhoven's decision so controversial in the Netherlands has to do with Holland's unique choral music tradition. In the true 19th century tradition, Bach Passions are usually performed here with huge orchestras and impressive amateur choirs with more than 100 singers. Jos van Veldhoven: "There is a huge amount of amateur choirs in the Netherlands, and every choir is used to performing its own St Matthew or St John Passion. So, they probably don't really like it when I arrive with my eight singers and no choir." People who've attended performances year after year are used to hearing massive choirs and want to continue hearing that familiar sound
March 23, 2005
Petra takes on The Who
The recent all a cappella recording by Petra Haden of the Who's classic album "The Who Sells Out" has been getting a lot of media attention including a piece on NPR. This attention has caused the record label to completely sell out of the recording and are currently reprinting as quickly as possible. Listen to Petra performing and being interviewed on Weekend Edition.
March 22, 2005
Not Over Till the Little Ladies Sing.
Los Angeles Times (CA):
Children have been cast in operas at least as far back as W.A. Mozart's "Magic Flute.'' But with a few exceptions they sing alongside adults. But what about an opera that casts a whole children's chorus in the main role? That's the idea three children's choir directors presented at the first national American Choral Directors Association convention last month in Los Angeles.
Emily Ellsworth, artistic director of the suburban Chicago Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus; Joan Gregoryk, head of the Children's Chorus of Washington, D.C.; and Roberta Jackson, head of the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir, talked about how they teamed up to commission what they consider a new kind of work: a choral opera for children. "This piece was created out of response to traditional opera for the young, which has some frustrations to it,'' Ellsworth said. "Traditional opera is generally done by professional singers, or it's the kind of opera I like to call `Mr. Rogers Creates Opera,' where the emphasis is on the process, not a finished product. But none of those scores are meant to be enduring or challenging enough to be a real work of art. "What I was looking for was a piece that would engage my singers from beginning to end as the leading role of the opera, not as a side chorus, not as `Oh, there's a chorus too.' ''
The team that got behind the plan consisted of Imant Raminsh, a Canadian composer known for his choral music, and James Tucker, head of the Northern Illinois University Opera Workshop program and author of four previous opera librettos. The pair wrote the 50-minute "The Nightingale,'' which will premiere in Washington, D.C., on May 14, then move to Chicago a week later and then on to Portland in June.
Each choral group will mount its own version, fully staged with orchestra plus a ballet dancer to enact the title role, which is to be sung by the chorus. The opera is based on Hans Christian Andersen's familiar fairy tale. A Chinese emperor fancies a mechanical nightingale over a real one. Years later, when the emperor is dying, the mechanical bird breaks down. The real nightingale returns to charm Death by its song and restore the monarch to life. "This is an incredible parable for our time,'' Raminsh said. "Maybe it's melodramatic, but I feel we have taken an interest in virtual life almost to the exclusion of the natural world. Being an incurable Luddite, I find it is so gratifying that the artificial one winds down at the critical moment and the emperor's life is restored by the real nightingale.''
The opera divides the chorus into three parts. A small group sings the role of the nightingale. A larger group plays courtiers, frogs and cows. The rest of the singers - as many as 50 - serve as the storyteller and a kind of Greek chorus. Two roles are sung by adults: the emperor and Death. Andersen's story has surfaced in other opera versions, most famously one by Igor Stravinsky. "I researched that piece because I didn't want to write something covering ground already covered by another composer, especially a strong one like Stravinsky,'' Tucker said. "But the Stravinsky opera is really a series of scenes. It doesn't tell the whole story in a linear, complete fashion. I felt that we could do as good or better with just telling the story.'' And in telling it, Tucker said, he didn't write down to children. "I just intended to make it good theater, good storytelling, with a clear narrative.''
March 19, 2005
Women's a cappella group finds harmony
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
The intimate acoustic environment of the Noe Valley Ministry seems a benign and appropriate setting for this Saturday's performance by the a cappella group Solstice. Singer Krista Enos assures that the audience will "feel invited into our circle for a little while, and it's a circle that is very sacred to us." "A big part of what works for us onstage is the way we connect with each other," adds Berkeley resident Becca Burrington, the other co-director of the six-woman, 10-year-old ensemble. "We have this basic bond of friendship, and I think that carries across to the audience, too."
Deciding how to dress the group has been a bit of a challenge, though, because their music is so eclectic. "We kind of do have costumes now, black on the bottom and shirts with muted colors," Burrington says. "We went for a style of dress that sort of evokes a worldliness that is sort of non-American but of no specific ethnicity," explains Enos, a Moss Beach resident. "We didn't want to look like any one thing. Of course, we aren't any one thing."
The group gained exposure in the annual a cappella Harmony Sweepstakes, coordinated by entrepreneur John Neal out of San Anselmo. "They're unique, doing material most of the groups are not," Neal says. "I found their stage presence very engaging, from an entertainment perspective. " After Solstice's first Sweepstakes, Neal booked them into his "A Cappella Summit and opted to help distribute their albums through his Web site, www.singers.com. A supply of the self-produced "Full Circle," sent by Solstice to Neal last month, had by the next day been shipped on to waiting Web-based fans. "I look forward to seeing Solstice again live," says Neal, "because undoubtedly they'll be going in new and different directions that I'm not aware of. They're one of the groups which I hope will go on to national success."
A Solstice concert such as this weekend's in San Francisco and next month's at the Trinity Chapel in Berkeley is likely to be a heady mix of geographic genres and languages. The same variety is heard on the group's eponymous debut recording, from 2000, and on "Full Circle," released last year. "It hasn't been that important to pigeonhole ourselves, just to make us marketable," says Enos, "because we just want to sing the music that we love."
Enos shared her love of singing in junior high school in Palo Alto, with Sheryl Kaskowitz, a future Solstice founder. Both girls honed their skills under the direction of educator Kathy Fujikawa, whose "focus was more classical, but she threw in a pop thing every once in a while and some world music," Enos says. After high school, Enos went on to Mills College in Oakland, Kaskowitz to Oberlin College in Ohio. Both started small vocal ensembles, and the Oberlin group, named Nothing But Treble, brought Kaskowitz together with Burrington, a trombone major from New Hampshire curious about extracurricular singing. In 1995, Burrington followed several Oberlin alumnae out to the Bay Area, where Kaskowitz reconnected with Enos, and the three founded Solstice, along with Oberlin grad Joanna Silver.
Solstice took shape as a means for its founders to continue and combine what they'd been singing in college, and they came to realize that their eclectic combination was unique. "We were definitely fans of Sweet Honey in the Rock and of Zap Mama," says Enos in reference to other a cappella groups. "I'd heard of Kitka (an Oakland-based Eastern European ensemble) and thought what they did was interesting, but I didn't want to be limited by only one type of world music." Solstice's repertoire has elements reflective of the above-named acts: soul, gospel, Afro-Cuban and Eastern European. But there's also the 12th century music of Hildegard von Bingen, which Enos had studied at Mills, classical material composed by Bartok and Poulenc, and the Ink Spots' perky "Java Jive.''
Solstice's changing roster has also brought additions to the repertoire. Kaskowitz, who recently left to pursue graduate work in ethnomusicology at Harvard, contributed a traditional Hebrew song. Mari Marjamaa, returning to the group after a year in Hawaii, brought with her Finnish folk material. Aside from linguistic flexibility, Solstice auditions have sought out other special qualities. "We were looking for people with a wide (vocal) range, " says Enos, "because we like to be flexible with what parts we sing, depending on what the piece calls for. And we wanted to have people that we like," Enos adds with a giggle, "because we're so democratically run. ... While we're rehearsing, oftentimes one person will take on the role of decision-maker, but once we start learning the music, everyone pretty much puts in their two cents."
The communal spirit reaches beyond the music. "This time in our lives during which the group has existed, from college graduation through our 20s, has seen a lot of us get into relationships and get married and have children, and we've always all been a part of that," Enos says. "We sing at everyone's wedding, and we were all very involved when the first Solstice baby was born," a son, Jacob, to longtime member Kim Warsaw. Two lullabies were included that year on the group's maiden CD.
Family and professional involvements have compromised ambition to tour and to extend the group's fan base. Burrington teaches trombone and works part time for A&G Music Products in Oakland; Enos sings in a folk duo with her partner, Kim Baker, and serves as a substitute teacher; and other members work as a lawyer, a nutritional consultant, and an office worker. Their residences and workplaces are throughout the Bay Area, and the establishment of a centralized rehearsal space outside members' homes, at Goat Hall in San Francisco's Potrero Hill, is seen by Enos as "a step in the professional direction."
March 17, 2005
O'Jays To Be Enshrined In Hall Of Fame
The O'Jays are riding the "Love Train" all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If it weren't for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The O'Jays might not have ever come to be. "Frankie Lymon comes to town with the Teenagers and just kills the girls, and especially our girlfriends, when were like 14- 15-years-old," O'Jays singer Walter Williams told AP Radio. "So we decided we'd start up a little singing group and it turned into this." Williams said they formed The O'Jays to keep the girls interested in them because even their girlfriends were swooning over Lymon. "Yeah," he said with a laugh. "For the most part, yep, that's pretty much how it started."
The O'Jays were part of a trend of singing groups out of that place and time. "Groups sprang up all over the Ohio area," Williams said. "Out of one of those groups was Ruby and the Romantics, 'Our Day Will Come,' we used to work with them all the time. Fortunately, we both went on to have a decent career."
And Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins gave them a piece of advice The O'Jays took to heart. "Guys, hit records come and go but the main thing you have to concentrate on is to maintain a hit act," Williams remembers Atkins as saying. "Always have a good audience that's faithful and loyal and they'll come to see you." And after 43 years and 42 albums of classic R&B, The O'Jays are still finding success. "Ah, man! I don't what to say, it's overwhelming," he said. "It's been a good career. I mean with the ups and downs, even it's been a good career."
March 16, 2005
Cinema’s cult choir seeks cut of profits
The Sunday Times (UK):
They may not look it, but Georges, a portly butcher with a salt-and-pepper beard, and Gérard, a lanky, intense- looking bank clerk, are at the cutting edge of French fashion. Once a week they join their wives and 30 other people in a basement to indulge a shared passion. After 90 minutes they emerge looking happier than when they went in. Whoever thought choir practice could be so much fun? London has book clubs, Moscow has steam baths. But for the French, fulfilment these days seems to hinge less on cheese and pastry than singing together in choirs and, in the case of Gérard and Georges, hitting as many right notes as they can in time for their next concert. “You’d think choral music had only just been discovered in France,” said Armande Olivier, president of the French Association of Singing Instructors. “Now everybody wants to be in a choir. It has become an important social movement.”
Excitement about choirs is being attributed to the phenomenal success of Les Choristes, a low-budget film that opened in Britain this weekend as The Chorus. Set in the late 1940s, it shows the transformation of a group of juvenile delinquents when they learn to express themselves through song. More than 9m people have been to see the film in France, where it out-grossed Harry Potter, Shrek 2 and Spider-Man. Its DVD and video have sold 2.1m copies — a French record — and the soundtrack has topped the charts. “Every child in my workshop, they all know the songs back to front,” said Christopher Wells, a former Salisbury Cathedral chorister who heads the English Cathedral Choir of Paris.
This success is at the root of an ugly row about money, however. Parents of the children whose singing created one of the biggest French film and musical hits in years are threatening to sue for a cut of the profits. “I don’t see why our children, after working like beasts, should not receive their legitimate share,” said Francis Hartmann, father of Lucile, a member of the children’s choir from Lyons that recorded the soundtrack. “The producer, director and actors have earned large fees,” he added. The children received nothing. What is more their studies were suffering, Hartmann claimed, because of an exhausting burden of celebrity and television appearances, concerts and other activities such as signing CDs in supermarkets for which they were not paid. “Several times this year the school has called me to tell me that Lucile had fallen asleep during class,” said Hartmann.
Sunday mass at the Lyons church where the choir sings has taken on the atmosphere of a pop concert. People arrive two hours early to get seats. The children are mobbed for autographs. Some traditional performances, such as a Christmas concert for children in hospital, had to be cut. “The children don’t have time,” said Hartmann. “The film has destroyed the very soul and essence of our choir.”
He should be happy, at least, that choir practice is flourishing elsewhere. According to Guillaume Deslandres, president of the Institute of Choral Art, the craze for singing unites 300,000 people in about 6,000 choirs.
Even before the film appeared, interest in singing was growing. Air France has long had its own choir. So, too, have the railway workers. But nowadays le tout Paris wants in. Trendy Parisians moving to a new quartier are more likely to inquire about neighbourhood choirs than about the shops, parking or restaurants. Men are abandoning gyms and flocking to choir practice, perhaps because of a growing belief that singing can be just as good for you as a jog in the park. This view is widely echoed in women’s magazines, where articles praising choir practice as a way to keep trim have boosted female participation. “There are a lot of women signing up in choirs,” said Deslandres. “Particularly women whose children have grown up and who are looking for something new to keep them busy.”
Some see this stampede as a symptom of modern society’s malaise and a reaction, perhaps, to the isolation of the internet era. “Choirs fulfil an important social role,” said Olivier. “A lot of people are joining them out of loneliness. Our modern life is so isolating. The important thing is this feeling of doing something in a group.” For many an opportunity to network is as important as the music. “We get a lot of people new in Paris from the provinces,” said Laurent Bellini, director of Mélo’Men, a choir for homosexuals. “They want to make friends quickly. They also want to sing.”
March 12, 2005
Real Group releases new CD
The A Cappella world is abuzz with the good news: the release of "The Middle of Life," The Real Group's much-anticipated new CD. Even better, "Life" is all new, all originals, all studio and all in English! Anders Edenroth writes the music and lyrics to "Prime Time Blues," a funky, saucy romp that features the title phrase and some state-of-the-art vocal percussion and mock horns, his "Words" is a lyrical, rhythmic masterpiece, "Friendship" has Anders singing a mellow, soaring lead, and his "The Grass Grows Greener" is an instant jazz standard with his voice adding a muted, precise tone. Peder Karlsson writes the understated, bluesy "Mister Father," his "Are You Coming To Me" is a salsa-flavored fiesta tune featuring Katarina on lead, "A Quiet Song" features Peder's slow, bluesy voice, and "Gota," featuring Peder and Katarina, has a simple, meandering melody that builds in intensity to symphonic proportions. Margareta Jalkeus writes "Spring Is Coming" and has a nice, soaring solo riff that becomes a dreamy scat sequence, and has a moody, mysterious lead on her "My Hidden World." Katarina Henryson writes "I Tried," shares writing credits with Anders on the ironic, pop-ish "A Perfect Life," and her bluenote alto on her "Given" is sweetly profound. So much talent here - we find ourselves listening to this CD again and again to appreciate just how far the a cappella envelope has been pushed, and comparing the genius and musical focus of the individual composers. Simply put, "The Middle of Life" is a masterpiece, an unexpected gift from Sweden to be unwrapped and savored on many levels! Available now from Primarily A Cappella
Blind Boys founder George Scott passes
George Scott, a founding member of the Blind Boys of Alabama gospel group, died in his sleep Wednesday morning at his home in Durham, NC. He was 75. Scott was the booming baritone of the group, which formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the late 1930s. While Scott retired from touring in 2004, he continued recording with the group and sang lead on several key tracks for the Blind Boys' forthcoming album 'Atom Bomb' (Real World Records).
Born George Lewis Scott in Notasulga, Alabama, on March 18, 1929, George met the other founding members of the Blind Boys, Clarence Fountain and Jimmy Carter, at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1936. They formed a singing group in 1939, for which Scott also played guitar, their only instrumental accompaniment in those early days. The group became a gospel sensation in the 1940s and '50s, and spent more than 40 years working mostly in the traditional gospel circuit.
Just last month they won their fourth consecutive Grammy award in the Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album category for the CD they recorded with Ben Harper, entitled “There Will Be a Light.” Scott sang the lead along with Harper on the opening track to that album, and later performed the song live with Harper and the Blind Boys on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
One of the last people George Scott spoke with before his death was the group's leader, Clarence Fountain. "I spoke to him last night," Fountain said Wednesday, "and he was feeling fine. It just goes to show you never know when you may be talking to someone for the last time, so always be thankful for the people you have in your life. We're grateful to the Lord for letting us have George for as long as we did. He and I grew up together and sang together from little boys to old men. George was a great singer, he could sing any part in a song. We loved him and he was one of the 'Boys.' He lived a life of service and now he's gone on to his reward."
March 11, 2005
Happy Birthday Bobby
Bobby McFerrin is 55 today.
Monumental Compositions and Boyhood Dalliances
New York Times (NY):
For a composer whose music is so accessible, varied and inherently likable, Samuel Barber isn't performed a lot. For a time, his accessibility worked against him: listeners who were interested in the cutting edge of modernism found his lyricism and his rich, Neo-Romantic harmonies suspect. Those prejudices faded long ago, yet Barber's great works - those aside from the "Adagio for Strings," that is, like the high-energy Piano Sonata or the rich-hued Cello Concerto - still don't have a place in the canon.
Harold Rosenbaum and his New York Virtuoso Singers made a case for Barber's music for chamber chorus at Merkin Concert Hall on Tuesday evening. Mr. Rosenbaum took pains to make his presentation comprehensive: childhood works and unpublished scores were included, as well as arrangements of pieces originally composed for other forces, like Barber's transformation of the "Adagio for Strings" into a sumptuous Agnus Dei. (The New Grove lists one work that Mr. Rosenbaum skipped, the unpublished "Peggy Mitchell," as well as two more, "The Lovers" and "Prayers of Kierkegaard," for larger ensembles that fell outside the chamber chorus description.)
Not surprisingly, the youthful works were mainly curiosities, worth hearing only to see where Barber began. "Gypsy Song," from "The Rose Tree," an opera he wrote when he was 10, suggests a fascination with Gilbert and Sullivan, tempered with a hint of Vaughan Williams. A touch of Victorian influence remains in "Christmas Eve," composed when Barber was 14, but by the time he turned 20, in 1930, he was finding his voice. "Let Down the Bars, O Death" (1936) and "God's Grandeur" (1938) have an irresistible intensity, created at least partly by Barber's use of dissonances that appear in surprising places and have equally unpredictable resolutions.
Relatively few of these works are well known. "Anthony O'Daly," the haunting central panel of "Reincarnations" (1937-40), has found a life of its own. So has the exquisite "Sure on This Shining Night" (1938, arranged in 1941), although it is best known as a solo vocal work. And then, of course, there are the slowly climbing lines of the Agnus Dei (1936 in its string version; arranged for chorus in 1967). But some of the lesser-known works - particularly "Twelfth Night" (1968), an emotional Christmas piece, and "A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map" (1940) - are certainly their equal.
The choir was not always at its most polished; there were occasional ragged entrances and some slippery intonation (on the final "pacem" of the Agnus Dei, for example). But most of the time, Mr. Rosenbaum's singers produced the warm, rounded sound that this music invites, and at their best in "Twelfth Night" and "On the Death of Cleopatra" (1966-74) they sang with beauty and passion.
March 10, 2005
America's oldest a cappella group honored
Black World Today (NY):
The Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville, Tennessee were honored here last Friday, March 5, in a reception held in the Art Gallery of the New York State Office Building in Harlem. The Singers carry on the legacy of the original nine-member a cappella ensemble, which was organized in 1866 in the former Union Army barracks that became Fisk University, an institution founded to educate freed slaves.
Since the 1870’s the Jubilee Singers have continued a spring concert touring tradition. Now the oldest continuously performing a cappella group in America, the Fisk Jubilees are best known for having introduced the nation and world to Negro spirituals and slave songs. According to the reception’s program chair this reporter , a Fisk alumnus, “The original Singers were authentic American heroes. They are regarded as the Jackie Robinsons of their era, tearing down racial and social barriers, openly defying Jim Crow laws, and in the process setting an example of Black self-help by raising funds to build the first permanent structure devoted to the higher education of Blacks in America – Jubilee Hall. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are true American icons.”
Congressman Charles B. Rangel, ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, made welcoming remarks to an enthusiastic audience of area educators, students, and community leaders. He noted that, “The Fisk Jubilee Singers showed us, as Black Americans newly out of slavery, what we could become. We had been regarded as chattel property, sold to the highest bidder, our families broken and brutalized by vicious racism. The Singers knew who they were. Their dignity and talent brought them before kings and royalty worldwide. They represented us then, as they do now, singing songs that sustain us as a people.”
Reverend Michel Faulkner of New York’s Central Avenue Baptist Church, used excerpts from a speech originally given at the Apollo Theater by the late Ossie Davis in 2000 to introduce the Singers. Rev. Faulkner presented a Mayoral Proclamation to Jubilee Singers director Paul Kwami, declaring March 5, 2005 Fisk Jubilee Singers Day in New York City. City Councilman Bill Perkins also praised the Singers’ historic and continuing contributions to African American music and heritage.
The Singers rendered several stirring selections that seemed to deeply move the audience. Dr. Walter Turnbull, director of the Harlem Choir Academy, remarked, “This was a marvelous and powerful experience. It is important that our youth know our musical heritage. I hope that the Choir Academy and Fisk University can continue to build on our shared musical heritage.”
It was noted that some members of the ad hoc Tribute Committee were unable to attend, but enthusiastically endorsed the honor because of the role that Fisk University and its Jubilee Singers continue to play in the struggle for human dignity and equal rights. Listed among the committee members are Wynton Marsalis, Don King, Dr. Lorraine Monroe, Valeria Spann, the Honorable Percy E. Sutton, and Sylvia Woods. Pfizer Corporation sponsored the Fisk Jubilee Singers Spring Tour 2005. For more information about Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers, go to www.fisk.edu.
March 9, 2005
Chamber Singers delightfully goofy
The Tribune (OR):
There are some things you expect to be funny and some things you don't. Choral music would generally fall into the latter category, and it's the assumption that chamber singing isn't the most hilarious thing in the world that makes a concert like the South Bend Chamber Singers' "Choral Chortles" so amusing. The goofy juxtaposition of a group of practiced choral singers, standing tall and straight on their risers, singing about dirty diapers and making silly cuckoo clock noises had the audience at Saint Mary's College's O'Laughlin Auditorium chuckling heartily on Sunday night. The audience should have known something was up when the singers took the stage not in their traditional black attire, but in get-ups that included feather boas, sequins, a propeller beanie, a sombrero and lots of colorful accouterments. But that was just the beginning.
The program, wittily introduced by narrator Mark Abram-Copenhaver, kicked off with "Musical Risotto," a work by Jonathon Willcocks that not only lists Italian musical terms, but also demonstrates what they mean; the piece is a musician's in-joke, with tenors popping out the word "pizzicato" one syllable at a time and the entire chorus ramping up a big "crescendo," along with a few melodic allusions thrown in for even more fun. Most of the rest of the program featured works that either played with words and verse -- many of the works were, in fact, based on poems -- or simply fiddled around with sounds. The pieces in the first category were often absurd lists, such as the plethora of terms for avian groupings in John Biggs's "Birds."
Then there was Elizabeth Alexander's ode to household drudgery based on Rossini's famous boast, "Give me a laundry list, and I'll set it to music," and Paul Carey's "Summer Bounty," which builds on a grammatically jumbled May Swenson poem about food ("berries of straw," "cherries of pie," and, my favorite, "puppies of hush"). Arguably the highlight of the program, however, was Stephen Chatman's "Clocks," a piece inspired by the sound of the composer's grandfather clock. In it, the chorus intertwines the varied sounds made by timepieces -- an insistent "ticktock," the playful "boo-bee" of an electronic alarm trilled by the sopranos, deep "bongs" from the basses, and the occasional "cuckoo" -- the whole thing coming together in an energetic, fun cacophony of clock noise.
In addition to all the textual and aural jokes, the program included a fair number of traditionally funny pieces as well. There were arrangements of folk melodies, such as John Rutter's "Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron" and Chatman's version of "The Grand Hotel," a raucously funny chorus of drunken men. There were off-kilter love poems: Theodore Lucas's "Bagels and Biscuits," in which lovers giggle with jam on their faces; Carey's "After the Muffin" about stray crumbs after a shared snack; and "Mashed Potato/Love Poem," again by Carey from a Sidney Hoddes poem, in which the narrator expresses a preference for potatoes over a lover but admits eventually that "I'd choose you next."
No one expects choral singers to have a sense of humor -- there's nothing funny about Handel's "Messiah," after all -- but when presented with a program of unrestrained lightheartedness like "Choral Chortles," even the most straitlaced of audience members would be hard-pressed to hold back a giggle or two.
March 8, 2005
Mormon Tabernacle Choir Dominates Classical Charts
In recent weeks, a full 20% of the 15 titles on the Top Classical Albums chart have been occupied by one act. Those three spots do not belong to some fresh-faced newcomers, but to one of the choral world's most venerable institutions: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Its newest album, "Choose Something Like a Star," released Feb. 15, celebrates the music of American composer Randall Thompson. It debuted at No. 3. Like its chart-topping brethren "America's Choir: Favorite Songs, Hymns, & Anthems" and "Peace Like a River," this latest MTC release comes from the group's own label, also called Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was established two years ago.
"I'm really astounded by this success," says the choir's music director, Craig Jessop. "It says that there's really a market out there for us. People are looking for something that brings peace, comfort and hope."
The 54-year-old Jessop says he feels very close to Thompson's music. "I met him in 1983, while I was director of the U.S. Air Force's Singing Sergeants," the conductor recalls. "Thompson died only a year later. I think of this album as a wonderful tribute to a great composer whose work isn't very well-known." The conductor says his group's enthusiasm and love of music has found root not just in its home base of Utah, but nationwide and on its trips abroad as well. (The group's next tour is in June to the West Coast; its next planned album is a recording of lullabies spanning Brahms to newly composed works.)
At the same time, however, Jessop says that the all-volunteer choir's foundation was built in coming together, week-in and week-out, in rehearsals and performances broadcast from its home base in Salt Lake City. "We're a church choir, first and foremost," he says. "The choral legend Robert Shaw was one of my great teachers," Jessop says. "One of the things that he said that always stuck with me is that you can't import culture. It has to be a real part of the community. You need to live in that community, nurture that community and let it grow."
Take 6 energizes theater's debut
Grammy-winning vocal group Take 6 is the definition of virtuosity. Gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, pop standards and hip-hop-flavored funk are at the crowd-pleasing sextet's command. Singing for nearly two hours Saturday night, the personable, casually attired Take 6 performed the first public concert at the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts. An audience happy to take Take 6 up on invitations to clap and sing along filled the intimate, 325-seat venue.
Using sophisticated vocal arrangements, ear-tingling harmonies and percussion produced by clapping, snapping fingers and stomping feet, the amazingly in sync Take 6 performed many selections a cappella. As the evening progressed, group members added piano and acoustic guitar to the mix. No drum set was on stage, but Take 6 displayed so much rhythm and spirit that no drummer was needed.
Taking the stage shortly after 8 p.m., the group impressed immediately with its opulent harmonies. A soulful rendition on the traditional "Wade in the Water" took Take 6 back to the group's ultimate roots, the spiritual. Sung with complexity of the kind found in instrumental jazz, "Water" included scat singing and voice-executed bass and percussion. A segment called "The Take 6 Jazz Vibe" introduced the guys and their uncanny ability to mimic jazz instruments. Alvin Chea played air bass as he sang his impression of upright acoustic bass. Tenor vocalist Claude V. McKnight III, pretending to work the slide on an imaginary trombone, sounded remarkably like that brass instrument. Joey Kibble did a great impression of muted trumpet. David Thomas was less convincing at electric guitar.
Shifting to rhythm and blues, Take 6 paid tribute to Ray Charles with "My Friend." Singing harmonies rich enough to be sonic Technicolor, the group captured the late singer-pianist's innovative blend of gospel and R&B. A theatrical, choreographed performance of "Fly Away" -- preceded by words of inspiration from Cedric Dent that wouldn't have been out of place at Sunday service -- lifted the mood in the Manship Theatre higher still. "All of the songs that we sing," McKnight said, "we truly believe put a little more pep in our step." Staying up-tempo, "Grandma's Hands" pushed the concert into gospel excitement. Doo-wop, however, didn't make Saturday's set list. In a city where the roots of rock 'n' roll are personal soundtracks for multiple generations, that was a disappointment.
Of course, gospel, jazz and pop standards aren't usually the stuff of hit records these days. Maybe with that in mind, Mark Kibble shouted lead for a modern R&B-style number. Accompanied by a slapping, probably pre-recorded rhythm track, this repetitious song lacked the cleverness usually associated with Take 6. The backing track, too, was overly loud in the small theater. And the group in general sounded as if it had been turned up a few notches too high, not a good idea for what's known in the music business as a "live" room. Fortunately, the group got back to its roots with an encore of the inspirational "Mary." Except for a few noisy missteps, Take 6 made opening night at the Manship Theatre a stirring debut.
VocalEssence sings Bach with plenty of drama
Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN):
It has to be a very special occasion for VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle to cede the podium. So it was Saturday night at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, when renowned German conductor Helmuth Rilling led the 32-voice Ensemble Singers. Rilling is most known for his interpretations of J.S. Bach, and his program included two of Bach's sacred works as well as works by two German Romantics who were inspired by him.
Felix Mendelssohn was a disciple of Bach, initiating a revival of interest in the composer with his rediscovery of the "St. Matthew Passion." His choral works, like the Two Psalms from Op. 78, frequently paid homage. The Singers performed these uncharacteristically dark settings with a strong sense of dramatic effect.
Johannes Brahms was another passionate follower of Bach, as his Two Motets, Op. 74, ably demonstrated. Brahms managed to masterfully fuse a Baroque sensibility with a late-Romantic musical idiom. "O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf," a rousing series of choral variations, was sung with robust intensity and pristine clarity.
The four pieces were performed a cappella, showing off the Ensemble Singers to their best advantage, highlighting their exemplary technique and their admirable attempt at German diction. This small group produced a luxuriant sound, especially in the resonant acoustics of the Basilica.
The second half focused on the works of Bach himself. First up was the cantata for solo soprano, "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!" BWV 51. Soprano Marlis Petersen handled Bach's ornate ornamentation with high style. But she was less successful at maintaining a smooth legato line in the more plaintive sections, not to mention sounding underpowered in the cavernous space. Her performance style ultimately left the impression that this was a coloratura showpiece rather than a work that had anything to do with the church. The strings of the pickup chamber orchestra that accompanied had some serious intonation problems. But for the most part, the ensemble played with clean articulation.
It was good to have the Ensemble Singers back for the motet "Jesu, meine Freude," BWV 227. They performed the music with tonal purity and technical mastery, while still conveying the profound faith that Bach wrote into every measure. It was here that Rilling's vast experience as a Bach interpreter (he has recorded the complete works on 172 CDs) was most evident and inspiring.
March 5, 2005
All-voice Who tribute goes miles and miles
Los Angeles Times (CA):
It's not exactly that Petra Haden isn't taking this thing seriously. It's just that it was really a private project taken on as an exercise, and she had no intention of playing it for anyone except friends, primarily Mike Watt, the Los Angeles musician who challenged her to try it in the first place. Anyway, who in the world would want a start-to-finish, home-recorded re-creation of the Who's classic 1967 album "The Who Sell Out," done entirely a cappella, with Haden's multitracked singing emulating every instrumental and vocal line of the original? Especially when her results weren't exactly state of the art. That's why Haden, one of jazz musician Charlie Haden's triplet daughters and a longtime presence on L.A.'s pop and experimental music scene, can't quite get her head around the way this thing is taking on a life of its own.
"I played it for Watt over the phone," she says. "He said, 'Great, now put it out.' And I thought, 'Are you serious?' ... It's really lo-fi. I was reading the lyrics and you could hear the paper crinkling, you could hear tape noise. I recorded some of the tracks wrong and my voice wasn't all there, like I recorded it underwater." But after a little Pro Tools cleanup and a touch of reverb, the CD of "Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out" was released last week by the independent label Bar/None, and now she has a new set of concerns. "I'm kind of nervous about what these die-hard Who fans are going to think," she says, fretting her way through lunch at a deli near her sister Tanya's MacArthur Park-area home. "Like, they're going to want to kill me."
Not the Who fan who matters most. "I heard the songs as if for the first time, and I was really pleased to hear how beautiful they are," says the Who's Pete Townshend. "In many cases Petra has released nuances that might be lost to the casual listener to the Who's album. For example, the vocal harmonies on 'I Can See for Miles' are carefully analyzed, and you hear all the parts.... "She's so smart, because she listened first to what was on the original record before she started her own thesis with it. That is such a gift for one musician to give another — to really listen."
"The Who Sell Out" is Townshend's favorite Who album, an opinion shared by many fans of the English band. Simultaneously a celebration and a spoof of the era's pop radio experience and the youth culture it embodied, it stitched together a set of varied songs with original jingles for Radio London and comical commercials for such products as Odorono deodorant. Musically, the album brought out a lot of the Who's Beach Boys side, as well as touches of music hall and even some jazz vocals. There were seeds of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" in the project, and though the album wasn't a commercial hit, the taut, explosive "I Can See for Miles" became the Who's only U.S. Top 10 single.
Watt's challenge struck Haden as "off the wall," but to Townshend the undertaking made perfect sense. "The original Who album was a crazy concept, and Petra's action is equally nuts," says the musician, responding by e-mail to questions on the project. "Take a load of talent and chance it on an art-school exercise in installation recording. I really feel she has done something entirely new here.... I love this CD and Petra puts me in an Odorono sweat."
Haden, 33, who had never listened to the album before she started her remodeling, says that "when I first heard it, it sounded kind of like Gilbert & Sullivan. The commercials, that wasn't rock. That was just like playtime." Teaching herself to use Watt's eight-track recorder as she went along, Haden echoed the process she'd used on her 1996 album, "Imaginaryland," an a cappella work that originated with Steve Reich-like stacking of vocals.
Over the years, she has ranged freely from such experimentation to the somewhat more conventional pop turf of That Dog, a band that included her sister Rachel, and released three albums on Geffen's DGC label in the mid-'90s. But for all those credits, "The Who Sell Out" looks like the project to nudge her out of the wings and closer to center stage.
"We're getting incredible press response," says Glenn Morrow, owner of Hoboken, N.J.-based Bar/None. "Some records you don't get any reaction, but I'm feeling the love out there, the kind of kinetic buzz — you know, people calling up going, 'Why isn't this at Vintage Vinyl? I need it immediately.' "
And now even the reluctant artiste is getting into the spirit. Haden is assembling a female choir to perform the album live at least a couple of times. "So far it's six people, but I want nine or 10. We practiced 'I Can See for Miles' about a week ago. It turned out so good that I almost cried...."I still have my insecurities about the record," she says. "Every day I still think of something I could have done better. But I did it, now it's here, and I'm just going for the ride."
Singin' away again in Margaritaville
Yale Daily News:
The best moment of Shades' latest tour had all the elements of a typical vacation. Recalling the trip, member David Carpman '06 described the idyllic tropical scene: a beach, a sunset and a nice hotel. Except Shades members weren't relaxing after a day in the surf; they were rehearsing. For most students, the words "spring break" conjure up images of sunshine, bikinis, palm trees and mai tais on white sand beaches. But unlike many of their fellow students, most a capella singers don't see spring break as a time for vacation, but as a time to hit the road with their group, bringing the repertoire they've honed at Yale to performance venues around the country and the world.
Although the trips are primarily designed to help the members gain professional experience, some groups manage to replicate more traditional spring break experiences, even if they have a decidedly a capella twist. Spizzwinks business manager Matt McCauley '06 said his favorite tour memory includes playing to a packed house in Bangkok. A traditional a capella scene -- until they brought some of the audience back to the group's five-star hotel rooms. During Out of the Blue's 2004 winter trip to Jamaica, the group stayed for free at all-inclusive resorts, spending their days snorkeling, sunbathing, and, of course, singing, member Zack O'Malley Greenburg '07, a staff reporter for the News, said. But one of these concerts was on a "Booze Cruise" to Margaritaville.
Though not all singers shared such racy tour anecdotes, they all said they value tours for both their professional and social aspects. "The concerts are important because we are technically professionals," Out of the Blue pitch Rebecca Blum '07 said. "But I think people really like tour because of the socializing."
Mike Davis '07, who will soon be touring the Southeast with the Baker's Dozen, agreed with Blum. "I'm happy to give up my spring break because our tours are fantastic," he said. "Certainly performing is a huge part of it, but it's also about performing while getting to have all these amazing experiences." Davis said the Baker's Dozen performs for groups of all kinds, even sororities. "Amazing experiences," indeed.
Other singers also said it is really the unique life experiences and the strong bonds tours create within the group that make the trips such great opportunities. "It can be kind of daunting after going through rush to realize that you're going to be giving up basically every winter and spring break for the next four years," Carpman said. The tours, however, are definitely worth it. "Personally," he said, "I know that I wouldn't be doing anything nearly as exciting as international travel with my friends, so I love it."
Not all groups, however, will be off to exotic locations this break. Most groups have to alternate more extravagant tours with tours focused more strongly on making money. Last winter, Out of the Blue had a great time in Jamaica. This year, the group will perform 10 concerts in seven days in the slightly less exciting location of Westchester, N.Y., where the group will try to minimize expenses by staying at members' houses, Blum said.
Other groups are headed to more glamorous locations this break, requiring substantial planning. The Spizzwinks(?)'s upcoming tour to California, Paraguay and Argentina has taken eight months to plan and will cost over $20,000, McCauley said. The group hopes to break even from the tour's proceeds, but McCauley said it might not quite make up all its costs. Once on their tour, the Spizzwinks(?) will sing to a crowd of 2,000 people during a concert at the University of La Plata in Buenos Aires, mirroring a show the Yale Glee Club performed at the same location in 1942. In Paraguay, the group will be staying with host families in order to maximize their cultural experience. Carpman said when Shades went to Japan last spring, planning the tour was a major responsibility for tour manager Peter Hasegawa '06, who is currently taking a year off in Tokyo. Hasegawa is continuing to take an active role in tour-planning for Shades' return to Japan this spring break.
Finding housing and performance venues for the group is the most difficult part of the planning. But once the group is in Tokyo, the work will continue, with the group performing concerts on about half the days of its two-week trip. Their off-days will allow for more touristy activities, but only after they rehearse for two or three hours. It's not everyone's spring break, but it's spring break a cappella style.
Bella Voce calls it quits
Chicago Tribune (IL):
At a time when many arts organizations are struggling to survive, the excellent Chicago vocal ensemble Bella Voce has decided to disband at the end of the season and call off its search for a new artistic director. Anne Heider, who has held that position for most of the choir's 22-year history, announced her retirement from the group last year. "All classical organizations, including the well-established institutions, are being affected by dwindling audiences caused by economic hardships and/or competition from other media for entertainment time and dollars," said general manager Tamara Schupman in a statement Thursday. "Bella Voce came to the painful realization that it didn't have the resources to effectively counteract these pressures."
One of the choir's original members when it was founded in 1982 under the name His Majestie's Clerkes, Heider was known for her pristine, historically informed readings of repertory ranging from medieval chant to American contemporary works. She commissioned numerous pieces for the a cappella chorus, including one by Midwest composer Janika Vandervelde to be premiered at Bella Voce's final concerts April 22 and 30 and May 1.
Last year, Bella Voce won the Alice Parker ASCAP Chorus America Award for its adventurous programming, notably the 2002 Midwest premiere of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara's "Vigilia." Over the years, Bella Voce brought such distinguished guest conductors as Sir David Willcocks, Paul Hillier, Simon Preston and Alice Parker to Chicago and appeared as a guest ensemble in concert series from Stratford-upon-Avon to St. Louis.
March 4, 2005
Manhattan Transfer unplugged
Vail Daily (CO)
Well-respected by jazz aficionados around the globe, the voices of the quartet, Cheryl Bentyne, Tim Hauser, Alan Paul and Janis Siegel, harmonize at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek Thursday. "We have such a large repertoire of music that we try to balance it. People actually want to hear stuff they know, and then they have a tolerance for the other stuff," Paul said, in a rare moment where he was actually at home in Los Angeles. "There's no question that it's really selective. I mean, we're not Britney Spears. We're not the latest pop group. It takes a certain sophistication of ear to be exposed to us in the first place, and we really try to stay current. We're not a group that's known for only stuff we did back then."
The singers wide range of vocal styles from real jazzy harmonies to doo-wop to blues, parallels their array of fans, young and old. "Demographically, it's really pretty wide because we have fans that have been with us since the beginning and we also have fans that have picked up on us at different times of our career," Paul said.
This time around, fans get a musical treat. In an attempt to address the more modest locales and create an intimate environment, The Manhattan Transfer is going unplugged, something they've never done before. "It's a much acoustical show," Paul said. "The focus will be more on the voices. It'll be interesting to see the response. We wanted to play some smaller venues that we haven't been able to play in because of carrying everyone on the road." The singers will be accompanied by piano, chello and percussion, Paul said, allowing an audible space for the voices that isn't usually there. The group writes out all of its songs, but they open up many of them for improvisation.
"We do have the chemistry," Paul said. "Sometimes we shut our eyes and just listen. Each of us brings our own vocal talents to the group. Individually it wouldn't sound like The Manhattan Transfer. I identify really in the ability to intuitively harmonize with each other. Harmonizing is not something that you can always teach someone." The quartet's success depends on its willingness to listen to one another on and off stage, a skill that has kept them going since its inception in 1972.
"It's really like a family," Paul said. "We disagree sometimes, we get into arguments sometimes. But we really strive to acknowledge the things that we like about each other and ignore the other things - that allows us to be creative." When performing, their voices blend to become one luxurious sound, which they worked to perfect for six months before they even stepped on a stage. "Many of the big bands, like Count Basie, I mean they breath together. They work together in such synchronicity" Paul said. He recalls a benefit for Ella Fitzgerald at the Lincoln Center where they performed with a big band of all the A players who had their own solo careers. When the band got together, they didn't sound so good. "They didn't blend together. They couldn't conceptualize themselves playing together," Paul said. "It just takes time, and we put in the time."
The group also encourages one another to be individuals, bringing them ultimately closer. Paul recently released a solo album, as did Siegel and Bentyne, and Hauser has one in the works. "We do solo projects, we have individual lives. It keeps us fresh that way," Paul said. "It's very hard to be in a group, that's why so many bands break up. We're like a microcosm of life. I give credit to all of us to have matured to a place where we're able to deal with those things."
Paul, who began his career as a child actor performing on his own, eventually making his way to Broadway, never imagined dedicating his career to a group. "I really believe that we all come to this planet with something specific to do, and sometimes it's not what we think it's going to be," Paul said. "It never donned on me that this is where I was going to end up. I think life takes us where we need to go. If we could all accept that, we would all be much happier."
The Manhattan Transfer doesn't expect to stop harmonizing anytime soon. "We always promised ourselves when the creativity stopped and we weren't doing anything new, we would call it quits," Paul said. "We've been so, so fortunate. It's such a grace. I never take it for granted.
March 2, 2005
Chanticleer's expert technique ties together diverse selections
The Oregonian (OR):
As warmly appreciative as Portland audiences tend to be, there's no lovefest quite like a local appearance by Chanticleer. The sold-out audience at Kaul Auditorium, where the 12-voice male choral ensemble performed Sunday afternoon, offered rapt attention and rapturous applause, as they always do when Chanticleer's in town -- and for good reason. The program was full of delights, the sound was spectacular and the singing was nearly flawless.
Over more than a quarter century and many changes in personnel, Chanticleer has maintained an extraordinarily polished tone, as evidenced by Sunday's concert. The singers were remarkably focused and unified; a plainsong setting of the "Ave Maria" provided an excellent demonstration of their rock-solid ensemble, and their balance and clarity were consistently fine throughout. Even in the densest chords, their tuning was sweet, sometimes thrillingly so.
The theme of the program was "Women, Saintly and Otherwise" -- all the works were about or by women -- but it was really Chanticleer's sterling technique that provided a unifying factor for wildly diverse selections spanning seven centuries. Emotionally, the music was as wide-ranging as could be, from the almost unbearable grief of Claudio Monteverdi's "Sestina," complete with keening sopranos in the penultimate verse, to the comedy of a setting of "The Ballad of Frankie and Johnny." But what might have seemed like a hodgepodge was brought together by lively pacing and sheer sonic beauty. The relative obscurity of the pieces also helped, lending a continual sense of discovery, and physically varying the arrangement of the singers added a subtle theatricality.
Captivating details were abundant, such as the seamless drone of John Tavener's "Song for Athene" and the bell-like chords of Jeeyoung Kim's "Mong-Gum-Po Taryung." And the same attention to detail prevailed regardless of the age of the music: in the earliest works, Chanticleer avoided the pious purity of many early music specialists, bringing Josquin Desprez' "Gaude virgo, mater Christi" and Thomas Weelkes' "As Vesta Was" alive with rhythmic spring and shapely dynamic contours.
March 1, 2005
Harmony singing helps build bridges in Mid-East
Jerusalem Post (Israel):
If one were to bake a virtual peace cake, one of the ingredients would undoubtedly be harmony. It is harmony that characterizes a melodic new venture whose pioneers hope will become an annual event. It was the result of a chance meeting between Naomi Faran, founder, conductor and musical director of the Moran Choir and Mike Naftali, director of Topaz, the Association for the Advancement and Empowerment of Children and Youth, who was complaining about the failed attempt to get a women-cycling-for-peace project to Israel. Faran, who has been a guest conductor around the globe and who has appeared with the Moran Choir at festivals and choral competitions in Europe, North America and South East Asia, suggested that singing for peace might be more successful. Thus was born the concept of Women Singing for Peace, jointly sponsored by the European Union and Topaz.
The initial week-long experiment, which concluded on Saturday, brought in representatives from the Quatoir feminin de Paris, France; the Orfeon Chamber Choir, Turkey, the Akademski Pevski Zbor Tone Tomasac, Slovenia, the Kay'an Arabic Choir comprising Israeli Arabs, most of whom are students at the University of Haifa, and the Israeli-based Moran Choir.
Each choir sent four high-quality singers, who brought five songs in their own language for the others to learn, in addition to large repertoires that enabled each quartet to present its own concert.
"There was instant harmony," said Faran. "It was yet another proof that you don't have to talk much; singing does it all."
In addition to singing workshops, the group held discussions, toured the Galilee, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ra'anana, met with some of Israel's outstanding women, and performed in different parts of the country, including the Tabcha church in Nazareth and the Knesset in Jerusalem. "It's been very dynamic," Faran enthused.
Rana Hajo, a breathtakingly beautiful law graduate from the University of Haifa who specializes in classical Arabic music as well as Mediterranean music, said she'd found great pleasure in learning the music of other cultures, meeting other open-minded people, and learning where they were coming from. Asked whether there had been any curiosity about where she fitted into the scheme of things as a member of the Israeli-Arab community, Hajo replied: "They just look on me as Israeli."
Laura Holm from Paris has been in similar group situations, but not outside France. This time, she found it very interesting to meet people from different cultures and countries, "because we can learn so much about each other." There was no fear in coming to Israel, she said. "We were told that it could be dangerous. But it can also be dangerous walking out your front door," noted Holm who thought that Hajo could do well in France, where there is a large Muslim community, aside from which "a lot of Europeans like Arabic music.