May 31, 2005
Sorry there were no postings this past week but the family and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to treat ourselves to a vacation in the redwoods of Northern California. What a truly spectacular part of the country and we had ourselves a wonderful time but now we are back and I will be catching up with the latest a cappella news. I will resume posting later today.
May 26, 2005
Sorry there has been no postings this week but my family and I decided on the spur of the moment to treat ourselves to a week's vacation in the redwoods of northern California. We are having ourselves a marvelous time in this very special part of the country and will be back in the office, refreshed and recharged after Memorial Day weekend when we will be posting again as usual. Meanwhile back to the cabin in the woods!!
May 21, 2005
Photo - Let it out
Bobby McFerrin in concert last night in Stanford, California.
Harmony is what keeps them going
Janis Siegel needs to help her son with his spelling homework. And cook dinner. And talk to a journalist from across the country. No wonder Siegel - one quarter of the Grammy-winning vocal jazz group the Manhattan Transfer - doesn't sound like she's kidding all that much when she says she looks forward to spending the rest of the year on tour. "Well actually, in a way, it's almost easier to be out for a longer time because you've made whatever arrangements you have to make with your family," she said, speaking by phone from her home in New York City. "For us, it's almost a vacation being out there; you have some time alone finally."
Siegel and her fellow Transferees - Tim Hauser, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne - certainly will cover a lot of ground. They'll finish up a West Coast swing Thursday at Eugene's McDonald Theatre. Then they'll do a couple gigs in Texas and one in Indiana before heading to Europe at the end of June. The tour will take them to Australia, back to the states and to Europe again before wrapping up with a Christmas show at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
All this touring is in support of Manhattan Transfer's latest album, 2004's "Vibrate." It's the first album for the group in a few years, and is in many ways a throwback to the old days, Siegel said. Rather than deciding to center on one theme, she said, the band opted to explore a few different styles and voices. "Finally, we decided on everyone contributing a couple songs that we are really pas- sionate about," she said. "Each of us each had a couple pet projects and we all worked together to make each one of our visions manifest." It's an eclectic recording along the lines of earlier albums "Manhattan Transfer," "Coming Out" and "Pastiche." Not many albums sport a song by Ira Gershwin ("Embraceable You") and two by Rufus Wainwright ("Vibrate" and "Greek Song"). "And coexisting peacefully, I might add," Siegel said.
It's the ability and desire to mix things up that helps keep Manhattan Transfer going. The group has been together for more than 30 years with only one personnel change, when Bentyne replaced Laurel Massee more than 25 years ago. On the Eugene stop, the group will put on an "unplugged show," with the four voices backed by an acoustic trio. Nights like these keep the band fresh, Siegel said. "We can do a whole show with just a piano, or we can perform with a symphony or a big band or a rock 'n' roll style band," she said. "It keeps it interesting to do these different repertoires and different venues."
The group isn't sure what the next project will be - "We're going to have plenty of time on the road this summer to think about it," Siegel joked - but the foursome has crossed one big item off the band's to-do list. They recently recorded an a cappella album - a Christmas album for the Japanese market - that will be released in the United States and Europe later this year. "That was really fun," Siegel said. "Very challenging, though. It's a whole other kind of arranging and singing."
When not performing with Manhattan Transfer, all of the players keep busy with solo careers, producing other artists or both. But what keeps bringing them back? "There's that little thing we call harmony," Siegel said. "As much as I personally love doing my own thing, ... there is nothing like the sound of your voice blended in harmony with other people. "You really can't approximate that. It's pretty great."
May 19, 2005
Lettermen still in style
Weymouth News (MA):
The one thing that Tony Butala, founding member of The Lettermen would have changed in the more than 45-year history of the popular vocal group is a surprising one. "We chose the wrong name," explained Butala from his home in the California wine country last week. "In the late 1950s, when you started a vocal group and wanted to stand out from the crowd, all you had to do was use a novel name that would give your group its own unique look and image."
At a time when most pop singing groups had school-related names like "The Four Freshmen" and "The Four Preps," Butala's trio was given the moniker "The Lettermen," and the appropriate letter sweaters to wear in concert. Before long the name had become dated. The Lettermen already had a few hits, however, and Columbia Records was reluctant to tamper with success by changing the group's name as was Butala's wish. The sweaters were moth-balled, but the name remained as the group recorded a long list of hits including "The Way You Look Tonight," "When I Fall In Love," "Goin' Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Hurt So Bad" which earned them a legion of still-loyal fans.
"We have changed over the years, but our tradition of vocal harmony and positive love ballads continues," says Butala. "And our own rule is to never dress below the level of our audience. Our stage wardrobe is comprised of denim jeans for outdoor festivals and fairs, casual clothes for colleges and tuxedoes for hotels with even glitzier garb for casino showrooms. And we even still pull out the sweaters for a medley of our earliest hits."
The contents may vary, but the suitcases are always packed as The Lettermen - now Butala, Donovan Tea and Darren Dowler - average some 100 concert dates each year and are booked through 2007. They also still regularly release new albums.We're recording our 75th album, 'The Lettermen on Broadway.' We found a whole new demographic a few years back with 'The Lettermen at the Movies.' People of all ages love Broadway music just as they love the music of the movies. These albums have done very well for us."
As lead singer on all but two of the group's biggest hits - and founder of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame - Butala, 64, knows something about doing well and enduring in an often fickle business. "I've been performing professionally since I was seven," explains the Pennsylvania native and father of four. "I'm more charged up now than ever before, because I don't need the money. I do it now because no other job comes with such instant gratification. You can make a lot of money in other fields, but you won't get a standing ovation or get asked for an autograph."
And these outfits are an improvement! I can't even imagine what "level" of audience they are dressing for in this photo...
Minimum Wage will be appearing on Nickelodeon’s live show, U-Pick Live! (5pm-7pm EST). Folk trio Zulal have been nominated for an Armenian Music Award for Best New Artist. Toxic Audio are certainly carving out a nice name for themselves in the New York theater scene with upcoming performances at Birdland (May 30) and the "Avenue Q Swings!" event at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Monday, June 27th with headliners such as Billy Porter, Billy Stritch, Jason Robert Brown, Marc Shaiman and Sherie René Scott
May 18, 2005
Bo knows a cappella
You've got to hand it to Bo Bice. In fact, you probably will be handing him the title of American Idol next week, unless he blows it next Tuesday. He (or some shrewd advisor) had a smart idea: sing one of his three songs Tuesday night a cappella. It's not as if Idol audiences are unfamiliar with the concept, thanks to the endless audition shows, William Hung specials and so forth, but singing unaccompanied qualifies as a gutsy move, especially this late in the game. (Although considering some of the inadvertent sabotage perpetrated by the band arrangements on certain performers earlier this season, we may see more contestants adopt Bo's gambit.)
Anyway, he pulled it off, even though an estimated 12 people probably recognized his song, an obscure ballad by British rock band Badlands from 1991 called In a Dream. (It may have helped that no one had a familiar version to judge Bo's performance against.) It certainly overshadowed the two songs he didn't choose. This show's theme was the same as last year's at this time: Each contestant sang one song chosen by guest judge Clive Davis (who will produce the winner's album and probably release the runner-up's, as has been the case in the first three seasons), one picked by one of the judges and one of his or her own choosing.
May 17, 2005
Vocal sprite shares joy of his art
Seattle Times (WA):
Bobby McFerrin didn't bring a band along to his one-night stand at the Moore Theatre. He didn't have to: The entire audience supplied ancillary vocals for this inimitable Pied Piper of Pipes, as did a local teen chorus invited to share the stage with him. Though few in the packed Moore crowd could even dream of matching the great musical versatility, range and powers of mimicry McFerrin wields, this unique entertainer always makes sure his audiences share in the sheer joy and spirit of improvisation that stokes his singing.
Off the symphony hall circuit (which he toured often in the 1990s as a serious student and practitioner of orchestral conducting), the grinning McFerrin loped onto the Moore stage garbed in jeans and a floppy T-shirt, tied his long braids into a topknot, and launched right into song. Some tunes he performed during his single, elongated set were recognizable standards ("Blackbird," "Over the Rainbow") long in McFerrin's repertoire, but always reshaped by the moment. Other numbers riffed on original blues, jazz or Brazilian themes, or African-sounding vocal excursions.
With customary fluidity, McFerrin sang full, inventive arrangements. It was sometimes hard to believe it all came out of a single mouth. He seamlessly wedded melody to bass and percussion settings, his voice diving and soaring from basso to mezzo with stops in-between. Many tunes became ensemble efforts, however. The youth choral group on hand took his cues to supply repeated, underlying phrases he would embellish with improvised melodic lines. At one juncture, he singled out a gifted young woman to duet with him on a vibrant impromptu rendition of the Jill Scott tune "Golden" that rocked the joint.
But McFerrin also wanted everyone to join in with him, and he's a hard guy to refuse. For one big-band-style tune, he instantly turned the audience into a swinging, two-part horn section. Later he worked the crowd with wireless microphone, picking out patrons (ranging in age from about 7 to 70) to commune with him in vocalese.
Last time McFerrin played Seattle, he performed his first concert ever with the sublime tap dancer Savion Glover. On this visit, he took the riskier step of inviting up on stage any patron who felt moved to concoct a modern dance performance to his vocals. Four brave souls obliged, bless them, despite the prospect of abject humiliation. And the result was a charming suite of kinetic duos, guided by a beloved musical shaman — one so acutely sensitive to the creative potential of all people, that he nurtures it at every opportunity.
May 13, 2005
The blogging has been rather light of late as we were first very busy with the Harmony Sweepstakes and have then needed a few days or more to recover..
I do, however, expect to back in full swing very soon. - Editor
May 12, 2005
BBC series on a cappella
BBC Radio 2's popular "Sold On Song" program is broadcasting a six part series on a cappella called "Living In Harmony". Written and presented by Russell Davies the series began this Tuesday. Each program can be heard for up to seven days after the air date in streaming audio on the BBC's web site (link below).
BBC Radio 2
Over the next six weeks as we travel on this twenty-first-century musical version of the Grand Tour, we will meet every kind of vocal group: boy and girl bands; highly-skilled close-harmony outfits; jazz groups; barbershop groups; gospel choirs; church choirs; Welsh male voice choirs; doo-wop groups; session singers and backing vocalists.
Along the way we will meet a variety of famous groups including Manhattan Transfer, Take Six, New York Voices, The Four Freshmen, The Hi-Lo’s, The Bobs, The Big Apple Chorus, The Los Angeles Master Chorale and The Swingle Singers (to name but some), all of whom welcome us and enthuse about their all-consuming favourite pastime. And we don't just observe these groups, we train with them, participate in their music-making, and learn a little about the mystery of singing from each one.
From sacred and commercial, amateurs and professional and from the simplest rural chants to the most sophisticated pieces of art music, every form of vocal collaboration can help us find our voices. This all-encompassing format will also allow us to delve into the history of vocal groups, and to meet modern-day practitioners of ancient forms of ensemble singing. In this journey of discovery, we’ll get the music lesson of a lifetime, a masterclass in the crafts of breathing, phrasing and blending - and the equally demanding art of living and working together.
May 9, 2005
Harmony Sweeps National Finals results
Pacific Northwest regional champs Groove For Thought took top honors this weekend by being crowned National Champions at the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival National Finals. With only a few points separating the groups it was one of the closest competitions in years and once again the sell out crowd was treated to some top notch a cappella singing. As producers of the show we try hard every year to truly find the most exciting groups from around the country and to have the event be a showcase, not only for them, but for a cappella music in general. I think we can confidently say we have accomplished that once again this year.
Thanks to all the participating groups in our many events, to the regional producers for all their hard work and a special thanks to the audiences who year after year come out and support our shows. Here are the complete results and a report from the concert.
2nd Place - Face (Rocky Mountain)
3rd Place - Fiveplay (Chicago)
Audience Favorite - Face
Best Original Song - "Walk the Straighter Road" Kevin Kunz - Groove For Thought
Best Orginal Arrangement - "Paper Moon" Greg Murai - Moodswing
SAN FRANCISCO - For the 21st year in a row, top a cappella groups and a couple of thousand hungry a cappella fans met up for the Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals Saturday, May 7th.
In front of a packed, capacity crowd at Marin Veteran's Auditorium, 2004 champs Chapter 6 opened the show with a song and introduced the first of the night's competitor groups - New York's Traces, also the first female African-American group at the Sweeps Finals.
Traces' multi-genre-crossing set started with Take 6 ("Mary") and moved on to Singers Unlimited ("Lullaby'), Sting ("English Girl in New York"), The Real Group ("Flight of the Foo-Birds") and Stevie Wonder ("All I Do"). It ended on an introduction-to-each-member's-abilities medley, which included snippets of "Got To Be Real" and "Bad."
Boston's Firedrill! was next. Comprised of numerous award-winning college a cappella and Hyannis Sound alumni, this was a group with many hours of experience entertaining and competing, a cappella-style - even though they won the Boston regionals on one of their very first public performances. Their set included "Chain of Fools," "Can't Stop Thinking about You" and a humorous take on "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."
The third competitor of the evening was Fiveplay, from Chicago, one of the a few groups in the show to have won their regional Sweeps on their very first gig. Fiveplay opened with a re-working of the Blenders' "Get Ready," called the "Fiveplay Theme Song." Their next song was the first original of the evening, "I Never Knew," written by former Blind Man's Bluff member (now Fiveplay member) David Wilner. The strangely-timed "Holy Night" was next, and they closed with Stevie Wonder's "I Wish/Superstition." Fiveplay ended the night with a 3rd place finish, on only their second public gig.
Last before intermission was Face (Denver). They began their set a cover of the THX sound familiar to movie-goers, a move which immediately won the crowd. Their first full-length song was "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats, followed by the instrumental "Pink Panther Theme" and ending with Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe." It was clear based on the applause that this group would be taking home at least one award - Audience Favorite. The judges also liked the group, placing them 2nd.
After intermission, locals Moodswing came out. With two of their members coming from former National runners-up +4db, this was a group with experience on the Harmony Sweepstakes stage, as evidenced by the fact that they, too, had won their regionals on their first public performance. Their Jazz set included "St. Thomas," "Paper Moon," "I'll be Seeing You" and "Moanin'." In the end, they won The David Lichtman Award for Best Original Arrangement for "Paper Moon."
Seattle's Groove for Thought comes from the same region that brought forth previous National champs The Coats and m-pact - and in 2005, the title is going back to the Pacific Northwest. Opening with a cover of "Joy to the World" that was at times reminiscent of Take 6, their second song was the Best Original winner "Walk the Straighter Road." They ended with the third Stevie Wonder cover of the night, "I Wish."
While a number of groups in the show included members who had competed before in other groups, LA's Undivided was the only entire group returning, having appeared on-stage in Marin for their the first time in 2003. They began their set with an original ("What's Going On"). Their second song, "La Murga De Panama (The Fiesta of Panama)" was performed in the Cumbia style, a musical genre not frequently heard in a cappella competitions in the U.S. "More Love To Thee," featured a "dysfunctional" quartet that changed off vocal parts. They ended the set with an arrangement of "Amazing Grace" that spanned multiple genres.
The Mid-Atlantic region's Cartoon Johnny, one of only two mixed groups in the Sweeps finals, advanced to the Finals on their third year of competition. They were the last group to compete before the judges left to deliberate. Their set consisted of three contemporary songs - "Rock Your Body," "Crazy Love" and the last Stevie Wonder cover of the evening, "Signed, Sealed Delivered."
After a quick set from outgoing champs Chapter 6, which featured their signature "Wizard of Oz," the awards were announced, Face came out to do the Audience Favorite encore, and all the groups gathered to sing the show closed with the traditional "Goodnight, Sweetheart."
Former CASA Vice President and former producer of the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards Jessika Diamond is a staff writer for Primarily A Cappella.
May 5, 2005
Barbershoppers sing in praise of harmony
Washington Times (DC):
It's 7:30 on a Tuesday night at Fairfax High School, and the strains of the B-52s' "Love Shack" are drifting down the hall from the cafeteria. But this is no '80s revival or the whim of some offbeat aerobics instructor. The women strutting their stuff in the lunchroom are the Vienna Falls Chorus. They're barbershop singers, and they're loosening up. Barbershop singers? You mean the same folks who wear the straw hats and the arm garters? Well, not exactly. Barbershop singing today is not quite what your father — or your mother — may remember. "It's starting to be cool again," says Mike Kelly, who sings bass with the Bowie-based barbershop "This is not your father's barbershop." So get ready for a wall of sound that can raise the hair on the back of your neck. Be prepared for some well-choreographed moves that can turn a housewife into a hoofer in just a few steps.
If you're lucky enough to be a barbershopper, male or female, you can expect a community of supporters for whom age really doesn't matter. Nor does what you do for a living. You don't even have to read music. All you have to do is reach for the ring. That's the ring tone, that elusive chord that, if rightly struck by all members of the four-part harmony group, produces a harmonic overtone that seems to hang in the air somewhere above the singers' heads. "It has a special effect on both the listener and the singer," says Bill Colosimo, music director of the District's Singing Capital Chorus, which boasts about 50 members. "It's not something you can get in another kind of ensemble."
The distinctive sound of barbershop is dependent upon close four-part harmony, with the melody taken up by the second vocal line. The tenor sings above the lead voice, while the baritone and the bass work their magic below it. Magic there is, too, in the Fairfax High cafeteria as the assortment of homemakers, lawyers, government workers and teachers begins singing with a precision, verve, and joie de vivre that professional singers very often lack. "It's such a great group of women," says Alessandra Daigneault, a lawyer from McLean who joined the Vienna Falls Chorus just two years ago. "They come from all walks of life, but they manage to produce this incredible blended sound."
The Vienna Falls Chorus, with some 80 members, is just one of the many chapters of Sweet Adelines International, the barbershop organization for women, that abound in the Washington area. Of course, the men sing too. They have their own chapters under the auspices of the Barbershop Harmony Society, with more than 33,000 singers in the United States and Canada. "It's the largest singing society in the world," says Gage Averill of barbershop singing in general. Mr. Averill, professor of history and culture and dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, is the author of "Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony." Even so, he says of barbershop, "There's a lot of mythology about where it all came from."
According to Mr. Averill, the form is a synthesis of close-harmony practices of German singing groups who began touring the United States in the decades before the Civil War and black styles that would be popularized and bowdlerized in minstrel shows and vaudeville. By the 1880s and 1890s, many black singing groups began to "play" with the close-harmony sound, bending notes and adding a bit of wiggle room to strict time signatures. The result was a new sound, which often could be heard in barbershops in black communities. Black barbers frequently owned and operated their own shops, which opened early and stayed open late, playing host to members of the community who needed a place to sit, relax, discuss politics and, on occasion, sing.
By the late '20s and early '30s, Mr. Averill says, white groups had firmly embraced barbershop-style singing as a way to revisit a real and imagined past. "People were getting nostalgic for the music they heard when they were kids," Mr. Averill says, "but they thought they were singing an American white style." Meanwhile, black people had turned to other forms of a cappella singing, including gospel quartets, doo-wop, and rhythm and blues. "We've kind of re-imagined it as a sort of collective history," Mr. Averill says. "It feeds into our own sense of what the 1890s were like."
So when the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) was founded at the height of the Depression in 1938 by O.C. Cash of Tulsa, Okla., a tax attorney for an oil company, barbershop singing was seen as one way to forestall an uncertain future. The long title, with its forbidding and unpronounceable abbreviation, took a swipe at FDR's "alphabet agencies," which were proliferating at the time. "In this age of dictators and government control of everything, about the only privilege guaranteed by the Bill of Rights not in some way supervised and directed is the art of Barber Shop Quartet singing," Mr. Cash wrote in an April 1938 letter notifying friends of a "songfest" to be held in the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club. Mr. Cash signed himself "Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman," as if to restate his contempt for the country's burgeoning bureaucracy. Today, the organization is more briefly known as the Barbershop Harmony Society, although the nettlesome abbreviation SPEBSQSA is still used. Sweet Adelines, the women's organization named for one of barbershop's signature songs, got off the ground in 1945, after the women saw how much fun the men were having, according to their promotional information.
The men's and the women's organizations still sing the chestnuts. After all, you couldn't really have a barbershop sound without "Sweet Adeline." But new arrangements and new repertoire have updated things. "We're not stuck with just the songs that were sung in 1910," says Carl Costanzo, a bass with the Arlingtones chorus in Arlington. "There's a variety of songs out there." Mr. Costanzo started singing with the Arlington group in the days of the Parkington shopping center, an open-air mall that was located where Ballston Common is now. Back in 1970, the mall had a barbershop — and it was there that the chorus members met. Mr. Costanzo was actually plunked into a barber chair for his audition. "It's a true story," he says. "I'm one of the few barbershop singers who actually sang in a barbershop."
Most barbershoppers engage in some form of competition at the district or regional level; some, like the all-male Alexandria Harmonizers, are experts, turning out professional-level performances year after year. Back at Fairfax High School, however, competition seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Camaraderie is the order of the day; women greet each other as if they are long-lost pals, and the few toddlers in tow seem to become community property for the duration of the rehearsal. "Everybody loves holding babies," says Maggie Kause, who joined the Vienna Falls Chorus in 1968, making her its senior member. "And we all take the time to get to know one another." Mrs. Kause sings bass, which in a women's group is simply the lowest harmonizing line. She got her start singing barbershop back home in Bemidji, Minn., thanks to her brother, who sang with a men's group. When she returned there while her husband was serving in Vietnam, her brother and sister-in-law urged her to start a women's group. She did and even served as director for a while before the family moved to Virginia and she found Vienna Falls. The group won its first medal shortly after she joined."It's just a thrill to sing in front of people," she says. "And the arrangements today are better than ever."
The distinctive sound of barbershop singing gets its stamp from "close harmony," wherein the four different voices — tenor, lead or melody, baritone, and bass — explore together to produce just the right combination of notes. Barbershoppers call this "woodshedding" (from the idea of being "taken to the woodshed" to put things right) and they're likely to stay long after the conventional rehearsal ends in order to keep working the notes. "The voices seem to get stronger," says Edward Regnier, a baritone with the Singing Capital Chorus, who admits to staying well past 11 on some rehearsal nights. "If you've really got it locked, it sounds like there's someone up there in the ceiling." The chords that barbershoppers sing are grounded upon a "circle of fifths," which produces the distinctive overtone. "The listener is not aware that he is hearing more than four sounds at once," Mr. Colosimo says. "But there are actually five, six, seven, or even eight notes that are heard but not physically produced by the voice."
The bond between barbershoppers can be as tight as the chords they sing. Many area groups feature mother-daughter or father-son combinations. Women and men who might never have met normally become lifelong friends. In fact, while prospective members need to be able to sing a bit, and do have to audition, barbershoppers are just as focused on the individual as they are on shaping the sound. "We are more likely to take the man as he is," Mr. Colosimo says. "We're a fraternal organization as much as a musical one. We want the man more than we want the voice." Even choruses in competition seem less concerned with beating the opponent than they do about bettering their own performances. Competitions are a great opportunity to meet other barbershoppers and practice a few "tags" — the last four to eight bars of a song, ornamented with a fillip, embellishment, special harmony or a change in the meter.
A typical chorus might have 25 or so songs in its repertoire, with a few cycled in or out every year. But most chorus members know hundreds of tags and spend a lot of time simply vocalizing their way through the last sentence or two. For some, it's that freedom to play around with meter and pitch — to sing a little bit before or after the beat or stretch out a note past its value, all characteristic of the art's foundations in black America — that makes barbershopping irresistible. "I love the way we can bend the rules of time," says Demetri "Dee" Paris, who began singing with the Singing Capital Chorus back in 1958. "Every time we do a tag, I think, 'We owe this to black people.'"
Barbershop has become one of the few truly intergenerational recreational pursuits. The activity has even been responsible for more than a few marriages. Sally Kelly, who sings with the Harbor City Music Company in Towson, Md., met her husband, Mike, because their mothers sang in the same Sweet Adelines chapter in Valley Forge, Pa. Both families moved to the D.C. area. Then the women's group needed a man for a skit, and the rest is the stuff of barbershop lore. "I always say I met my wife in my underwear," says Mr. Kelly, who wore a breakaway suit for his performance. "But I guess we can really thank our mothers."
Today, their children — Mark, 13, and Katie, who just turned 11 — are "barbershop brats," youngsters so schooled in barbershop performance that they can fall into harmony or pick out the ring even faster than some adults. And of course, children, husbands and wives make up a large portion of the cheering section when it comes time for a competition. "It's become a way of life for us," Mrs. Kelly says. "Our kids think that people just sing all the time." But there are others who know just how special barbershop can be, musically and otherwise. "It's palpable," says Mr. Colosimo, who credits his fellow barbershoppers with helping him through some tough times in his own life. "There's a quality that makes people immediately fall in love with it."
May 2, 2005
Persuasions do U2
Weehawken Reporter (NJ):
Over the years, they have recorded several a capella albums, featuring the music of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and even Frank Zappa. They first broke onto the Billboard charts in 1970 with the album, "Street Corner Symphony," which was recorded in Jersey City.
"It's still what we all do for a living, and what we've done for 43 years," said Hayes, who said the group performs anywhere between 100 and 200 concerts every year. "Singing a capella is a great thing. Many years ago, I wondered why a capella was so hard to catch on, beyond what was being sung on street corners just to amuse yourself. I guess it's because we're bucking the music industry, singing and recording without guitars, saxophones and drums. I wonder if Mick Jagger or Elton John could do that."
Hayes said that the Persuasions just went to the recording studio to finish their latest CD - "The Persuasions Sing U2." Yes, the Irish rock band. "Chester Records came up to us and said that our tribute CDs sell, like the Beatles and Grateful Dead," Hayes said. "They told us that they wanted us to do U2. I said, 'Great, what's U2?' I never ever heard of them or what they did. But once I heard their songs, I knew who they were." The Persuasions then had to do extensive rehearsing before they recorded the CD of U2 hits, like "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "When Love Comes to Town," "Peace on Earth," and "Mysterious Ways."
"We did 11 songs and it was a lot of fun," Hayes said. "It was really tough, because all five of us sang into one microphone. That's the sound they were looking for. They said that it was done strategically and if you even move a hair, they know. We had to rehearse every morning to get it right. It was the only time that we had studio time. Everyone was dedicated to it. During rain and snow, we were there every day. It was very gratifying when we finished and they said, 'It's a wrap.' It sounds great and I can't wait to see it in the stores." Hayes said that the U2 recording has a certain flair. "We put the Persuasions twist on it," he laughed.
Dear Abbys win ICAA
Daily Free Press (MA):
A cappella groups competing against The Dear Abbeys had to face the music at New York City's Lincoln Center this weekend as the Boston University musical group snagged first place at the ICAA National Championship. "It was pretty much like we were in awe singing at Lincoln Center," Dear Abbeys Music Director Andrew Schwartz said. "The regional finals were in March, so we had a lot of time to prepare mentally. Still when we got on stage we were overwhelmed with a feeling of exhilaration singing in front of 12,000 people."
Schwartz, a College of Engineering senior, said The Dear Abbeys performed to a sold-out crowd and competed against six additional groups, which he called the best in the nation. Schwartz said the group also won a $1,000 cash prize, which they put toward recording professional music tracks.
College of General Studies freshman Paul Akl said after the group's performance, members struggled to contain their excitement. "It was a feeling that I can't describe," he said. "Just to think that you're the best group in the nation is a wonderful feeling. [Member] Nick Cortese jumped so high in the hallway that he bumped his head on the ceiling and started bleeding." School of Management sophomore Eddie McManus said he hopes The Dear Abbeys national win will jumpstart a career off-campus in the near future. "We hope to establish a name for ourselves outside school," he said. "I'd like to see more gigs and hopefully push for some gigs on talk shows. At this point, once we've achieved this recognition it will be much easier to get better gigs."
May 1, 2005
Bare Naked Voices
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
With four lead vocalists whose collective range hits higher than Earth, Wind & Fire and lower than Johnny Cash, you might expect one of the singers in Bay Area a cappella group Moodswing to give "American Idol" a shot. "I dunno," says Dave Duran, Moodswing's baritone. "We don't have any Whitney Houston type of singers in the group. But we've got one guy who can sing exactly like a harmonica, even though he has no idea how to play one. That might impress Simon."
Moodswing and other members of this still somewhat unknown musical scene will be heard loud and clear on Saturday, when the national finals -- called the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival -- take place at the 2,000-seat Marin Veteran's Auditorium in San Rafael. What began more than 20 years ago as a casual sing-along at a San Rafael pub has blossomed into one of the country's biggest showcase/competitions for vocal harmonies, attracting some of the world's most sophisticated singers. Far from the cliched images of doo- wop singers on street corners, barbershop quartets in striped suits, scrubbed- and-sweatered glee clubs or angelic children's choirs -- a cappella has evolved in recent years into a vibrant and eclectic musical form welcoming virtually any style. According to the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America the number of collegiate a cappella groups in the United States has tripled since 1980, and the number of professional groups has quadrupled since 1990. Audiences, radio play and record sales have grown as well.
The online company Primarily A Cappella specializes in recordings by voice-only artists. Famous a cappella soloists and groups include the Bay Area's own Bobby McFerrin, SoVoSo, Chanticleer and Conspiracy of Beards, an all-male Leonard Cohen tribute, as well as such nationally known acts as the Persuasions, Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Swingle Singers, Rockapella, the Nylons, the Bobs (appearing with Clockwork on May 28 at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage) and House Jacks.
"I can sing the electric guitar, percussion and most parts of the piano," says Sunshine Becker, one of the five lead singers in SoVoSo, which has been at the forefront of the Bay Area's a cappella music scene since the early 1990s. "Oh, and a little bit of flute, too." "Not everybody knows how to react when they're hearing all these amazing sounds coming from people onstage who have no instruments but their own bodies, " says Becker, whose group (short for Soul to the Voice to the Song) spun off from McFerrin's Voicestra and was the 1997 Harmony Sweepstakes champion. "Here's the trick. It's like when you're in a jazz club. If you like a musician's solo, don't be afraid to stand up, dance or clap. It's OK to let them know you like what you hear."
Unlike rock stars, with their breakdowns and breakups thanks to booze, drug binges and exploding egos, a cappella vocalists don't make it to the Harmony Sweepstakes finals without some serious commitment and discipline. "You have to have all your cylinders clicking to keep your breath going for that long," says John David Musick, bass vocalist for last year's Harmony Sweepstakes winners, Chapter 6, who will host Saturday's competition. "No alcohol. No caffeine. No eating two hours before the show, and plenty of sleep starting two nights before the performance."
While backstage at a Chapter 6 concert might not be the most exciting place to find your fix, front and center is where everyone gets their kicks. The seven-member Chicago group's repertoire includes the Queen classic "Bohemian Rhapsody," a six-minute condensation of "The Wizard of Oz," a little bit of '70s funk and a reinterpretation of swing. "We're not rock stars, but we're not a barbershop quartet either," Musick says. "It's hard to explain. We like to experiment with an ensemble of sounds. We'll have one guy doing a high-hat drum part while another guy does some beatboxing and somebody else has a trumpet sound or piano tone. There's something genuinely special about hearing the only God-given instrument -- the voice -- without any drums or strings getting in the way."
What can be frustrating for a cappella vocalists is that they often find themselves singing and preaching to the choir. Reaching new audiences can be difficult. "This kind of music doesn't do very well in noisy bars. It requires people who are interested and are paying attention," says Eric Freeman, alto and tenor in Clockwork, last year's San Francisco regional champions. "I started out singing a cappella with some friends at high school in Palo Alto. We'd play a couple doo-wop songs, and people would laugh and like it a little. But after three or four songs, they'd get kind of bored and say, 'Yeah ... that's... great ... guys.'"
Freeman, a 35-year-old mechanical engineer from Oakland, found a way to get the attention of potential a cappella fans that works like clockwork. "We do a rendition of Radiohead's 'Creep,' " he says. "It's such a gut-wrenching song that always gets people's attention. A song like that emphasizes the emotional impact of what a cappella is all about. Usually, by the end of it everybody's jaws drop -- and not just because it's hard to sing."