June 30, 2005
Barbershop singers converge on Utah
Salt Lake City Weekly (UT):
With what has to be one of the gangliest acronyms ever, the SPEBSQSA—that’s the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America—is hitting Salt Lake City with all its good ol’ fashioned charm. And mind you, they are hellbent on ringing a major chord with the masses. For the fourth time since its inception, the Barbershop Harmony Society is holding its international convention and quartet and chorus competitions right here in Utah. Hosted by its Salt Lake City chapter, The Beehive Statesmen, the six-day affair will welcome hundreds of mild-mannered men ages 16 to 90, who can barely keep their voices contained from all the sheer squeaky-clean excitement.
To understand the greater world of barbershop quartet singing, you must first know that the typical modern barbershopper doesn’t resemble any painting by Norman Rockwell—as everyone you talk to who is involved in the hobby will continually remind you. So then what does a typical barbershopper look like? According to local Chapter President Devon Nish, a typical member “is a man who enjoys music that has probably sung in a church choir or college chorus.” The SPEBSQSA Website mentions that their rank and file are “men of all ages, from all walks of life, who love to sing... [And are] fans and friends who thrill to the sound of harmony...” And Gary Forsberg—vice president for public relations and marketing for the Beehive Statesmen and Saltaires Show Chorus—notes, “Typical barbershoppers are men of good character, of all ages, who like to sing.”
That, though nominally helpful, admittedly does nothing to dispel the myth of four old men sitting around a barbershop harmonizing just for the good American fun of it—or in Nish’s words, “A bunch of drunk guys sitting and singing around a barbershop pole or something. “All anybody really has to do is come and listen,” adds Nish. “It will change the way you think about barbershop, four-part harmony and a cappella.”
When exploring the depths of the modern barbershop world, you also get the sense that straw hats and striped button ups are no longer par for the course. Some quartets go the humorous route of dressing like barnyard animals and hamming it up all the way to first place; others go styling in three-piece suits, immaculate tuxedos or cowboy boots with bolo ties. But, Forsberg is quick to remind with an emphasis on SPEBSQSA’s “P” for “Preservation,” barbershop has its technical side, too. “Barbershop harmony is built around a ‘lead’ singing the melody; the tenor, most often harmonizing above the lead; the bass, singing the low harmony foundation; and the baritone, taking the notes to complete a four-part chord,” Forsberg says by way of definition. “That’s what makes barbershop, without getting too technical. Many songs of the 1890s and early 1900s, from whence the boaters and stripes came, were ideal for that setup, and the image has persisted. We do have as part of our mission, the preservation of the style.”
Although the convention welcomes both participants and the public to enjoy this deeply rooted American pastime, it’s also a noteworthy competition. With about 50 competing quartets and a couple of dozen competing choruses, you can expect the gloves to come off in the heat of four-part vocal battle. “Competition is very intense, and that is what keeps the society moving forward in musical quality and execution,” notes Forsberg. “Of our 800-plus chapters, each goes through divisional and district competitions to qualify to be one of the international competition quartets, or choruses.”
But, remembering the nurturing and civic responsibility of barbershoppers everywhere, Nish notes that although the Saltaires typically do pretty well in competition, and Utah has had a No. 1 quartet in the past, the Beehive Statesmen are very proud of a special award they garner nearly every year. “Our chorus always wins the award for the most activities,” Nish says. “It’s kind of a special award. We participate and are well-rounded in just about everything. We do youth developments and socials and meeting and performances and so forth.” “Part of our mission statement is to keep music education in the schools and community,” adds Forsberg, noting that Skyline High School has a men’s and women’s barbershop group in its musical curriculum. “We sponsor collegiate quartets for district and international competition, invite high school groups to participate with us and support their musical productions.”
To quickly dispel any ideas that barbershopping might be gaining rare popularity with today’s tech-savvy youth, about 75 percent of the Saltaires are over the age of 50. Perhaps that maturity alone can explain the lack of cool/uncool positioning that troubles most of today’s insecure musicians. No, SPEBSQSA didn’t need to go for something shorter and more hip in an acronym like ABS (American Barbershop Society). They knew right off the bat that to be strong in voice, picture perfect in pitch and gleamingly clean in style allows one the ability to unabashedly harmonize promotional sayings like “Keep the Whole World Singing!” without losing the Americana.
June 29, 2005
Ed Watson Hired As new Barbershop Society CEO.
Ed Watson, a career Navy Captain with thirty-three years’ experience as a Barbershopper, has accepted the position of Executive Director/ Chief Executive Officer of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
“Ed brings us an impressive background in managing staff and Navy Reserve volunteers, logistics, and an operations budget,” said Society President Rob Hopkins. “Ed has exceptional problem-solving skills and a proven ability to enroll diverse people as effective members of teams. Throughout his distinguished Navy career, he has demonstrated particular strengths as an effective communicator, project manager, and mobilizer. We’re fortunate that our national executive search process has brought us such a fine leader and Barbershopper.”
An F-14 aviator with carrier experience, Watson rose through the command ranks to serve as Executive Officer of the Navy Air Reserve/Santa Clara, Chief of Staff of the Navy Air Reserve Force, New Orleans, and Commanding Officer of Navy Air Reserve Norfolk. In 2002, his command was selected in an annual competition as the single best Navy Air Reserve in the country. He recently served as Operational Support Officer for the Navy Air Force US Atlantic Fleet, coordinating all Reserve support of the aviation community of the Atlantic Fleet for the Commander, supervising 16 Reserve units, three major staffs and 13 augment units for nuclear aircraft carriers.
“I’ve always been committed to thoroughly understanding the mission before me,” said Watson. “Strategically, you must know where you want to go. Tactically, when a 60,000 pound airplane is approaching a steel carrier deck at 130 miles per hour, you better make the right decision every time.”
“That’s how I will approach new challenges as the CEO. Powered by the enthusiastic esprit de corps of our tremendous volunteer organization and staff, and guided by our Board of Directors, I want to take the Barbershop Harmony Society to new heights of membership, synergism with like organizations, performance excellence, and unrivalled fun.”
Up beat and enthusiastic, Watson is an avid Barbershopper of long experience. He has moved twenty times in the past thirty years but never interrupted his Society membership. His quartet credits include Gold Rush, On Location, Spare Parts and The Quackenbush Quartet. As a chorus singer, he has appeared on the international stage with the San Diego Sun Harbor Chorus with whom he served as music VP and wrote numerous shows and contest packages. He has carried those same roles with his current chapter, the Norfolk Commodore Chorus. Active in community theater, he has played Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, and directed productions of Godspell and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.
Watson is retiring from a successful military career with his wife, Cathy, by his side. Two of his five children, Gillian and Amanda, are grown and living in North Carolina; two, Catharine and Randall, will be in college, and his youngest daughter, Corrinne, will be a junior in high school. His two greatest loves, work and barbershop, now will be the same thing.
Appropriately, Watson is expected to commence his work on the Fourth of July. Interim CEO Roger Lewis will remain in place to coordinate the Salt Lake City convention and ensure a smooth turnover of responsibilities. Both men will be in Salt Lake City to meet the membership and sing tags, and then will return to Kenosha to continue the transition. Watson will move his family to Kenosha this summer, assuming the CEO role on July 20.
June 28, 2005
How Sweet The Sounds
Washington Post (DC):
Washington's acclaimed a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock receives well-deserved kudos Wednesday when PBS's "American Masters" presents the premiere of "Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice." Director Stanley Nelson's documentary, built around the group's 30th anniversary celebration at the Warner Theater in November 2003, is heavy on performance but also traces the group's astonishing journey from its origins in a local voice workshop to its current status as globe-trotting celebrants of African American culture and history.
"We sing to offer a look at the world from a black woman's voice," founder Bernice Johnson Reagon tells Nelson. "The world needs to know what it looks like to us, and that's why we exist."
In the film, longtime member Nitanju Bolade Casel describes Sweet Honey's sound as "traditional African song, gospel, blues, jazz, hip hop and everything in between; a cappella style with a political ring." It's a life-affirming ethos built on a repertoire that addresses racial, gender and political oppressions, past and present, while also celebrating the redemptive power of love, family, friendship and community.
As Nelson's film shows, Sweet Honey's artistry is cathartic, from the brilliant colors of the singers' flowing robes and beautiful tonalities of their voices -- a swirl of ever-shifting leads and intertwining harmonies -- to the spirit-raising, transformational nature of the music. Sweet Honey makes music that matters, and it's telling that one of the group's most powerful voices belongs to Shirley Childress Saxton, a signer for the hearing-impaired whose eloquent expression transcends sound.
As creator and executive producer of "American Masters," Susan Lacy has been responsible for 130 documentary biographies of musicians, writers, composers, artists and architects, as well as theater, film, dance and media innovators. "American Masters," which celebrates its 20th anniversary on PBS next year and which recently moved to a weekly schedule, "is about influence, about a body of work, about people who have either had a substantial impact on our culture or on their discipline.' Lacy said. "Things didn't look the same or sound the same or feel the same after this particular person had done what they did."
While Lacy had heard of Sweet Honey, she had never actually listened to or seen them. "I'm a big fan of Stanley Nelson's, and when I heard he was making a film about the group, I called him up. I was blown away with what I saw." The ensemble evolved out of a 1973 women's vocal workshop that Reagon had started by teaching participants "Sweet Honey in the Rock," an old spiritual about a land so rich that honey would flow from the stones when they were cracked. From the start, the voices swelled with a meld of power, grace, passion and purpose that would become Sweet Honey's trademark. Naming the group was easy.
"From the beginning, the phrase -- with sweetness and strength in it -- resonated in a deeply personal way with me," Reagon wrote in "We Who Believe in Freedom: Sweet Honey in the Rock Still on the Journey," a history of the group published in 1993. "As African Americans and as women, we have had to have the standing power of the rocks and the mountains. . . . Inside the strength, partnering the sturdiness, we are -- as honey is sweet -- sweet. If our world is warm, honey flows, and so do we; if it is cold, honey gets stiff and stays put, and so do we."
Songs of the black church and the civil rights movement have always been central to Sweet Honey's repertoire, reflecting Reagon's history as a member of the Freedom Singers, a group put together by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to elevate public awareness about racial injustice in the Deep South. The daughter of a Baptist minister in Albany, Ga., Reagon was part of the "Albany Movement" that took the unaccompanied congregational songs and harmonies of the black church to the front lines of mass meetings, marches, boycotts and jail cells.
In the 1960s, the Freedom Singers performed in concert halls, churches, clubs, living rooms and schools around the country, galvanizing support and raising funds for SNCC's grass-roots organizing activities in the South. The film includes a clip of the singers performing "We Shall Not Be Moved" at the August 1963 March on Washington, moments before Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
It didn't take long for Sweet Honey's bracing blend of conscious music and social activism to find an audience, though the film points out that their first radio play in 1975 came not from a deejay but a newsman, Kojo Nnamdi. Now there are more than 20 CDs, videos and books capturing songs and performances that have always taken Sweet Honey audiences not out of the world, but more deeply into it.
After Sweet Honey approached Nelson about documenting the group's anniversary concerts, he persuaded them to expand the film's scope. Besides concert footage and scenes from their community singing workshops, Nelson interviewed the group's current members -- who include Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Aisha Kahlil and Carol Maillard. Thirty-three women have been members over the years.
What no one knew was that during filming, Reagon would announce she was going to retire from Sweet Honey after the concerts. Her retirement, and the auditions to find a replacement singer -- which turned out to be two singers, Louise Robinson and Arnae -- provided unexpected emotional drama.
"I knew that Bernice was the anchor, the founding member and the essential component of the group," said Nelson, who like Reagon has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. "It was one of those things where, as a filmmaker, you get this strange feeling because you know this is great for the film, though it may not be great for the subjects of the film. Well, where's Sweet Honey going to go as they're going through this trial and tribulation? Half of me was really saddened by it, but half of me was, 'Oh boy, now we've got the third act for this film.' "
Reagon must have known that Sweet Honey would continue its mission after her retirement. After all, in one of the group's key testimonials, "Ella's Song," they insistently sing, "We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes."
Nelson's films have documented various aspects of African American history. "The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords" in 1999 explored historic black-owned newspapers, while "A Place of Our Own" in 2004 looked at his childhood summers spent at Oak Bluffs, the predominantly black resort community on Martha's Vineyard. "The Murder of Emmett Till," which examined the case of the black teenager kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 reportedly because he whistled at a white woman, debuted on PBS's "American Experience" and earned Nelson an Emmy in 2003. The documentary also was cited by the Justice Department when it recently announced investigators would exhume Till's body to prosecute suspected accomplices in Till's death.
"I've tended to use a lot of music in all the films that I've done, and I've always wanted to do a film about music -- and this was a chance," said the New York-based Nelson. "A lot of my films have to do with social action, and that's what Sweet Honey represents. I've been a fan for years, and to work with their music and them on a history film with a social action component, all those things married together was a real treat." What Nelson hopes people take away from his film is "first and foremost, just the beauty of the music. But Sweet Honey's music also carries a powerful message, something that we've gotten away from in music today."
Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs choral classics
Their sound is nearly as large as their reputation. People who have heard of no other choir have heard of this one. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir made only its fifth Seattle appearance in its history Thursday night, and everyone who witnessed it will remember it. The program began with their signature "Alleluia Fanfare," a tidal wave of voices and instruments, with the added celebratory texture of interspersed hand bells. It was grand, major-key music, just what you'd expect from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — which belied the wealth of musical surprises that awaited in the program.
The choir is a marvel of organization, with perfect showmanship, quick segues and unity of visual presentation. It has created a concert that really works as theater. It moves, in every sense of that word: swift and efficient pacing, emotionally moving performances. It was evident by the second song that one of the big reasons this group remains so musically impressive is the arranging genius of associate music director Mack Wilberg, who was responsible for most of the music on the program. He has a flair for exploiting the trademark huge sound of the choir and at the same time, creating brilliant jewels of orchestration that knocked us all sideways. His touch was to be felt through the entire program, and it is heartening that the choir acknowledges his gifts so openly, bringing him out from the wings for a bow at the end.
The choir and orchestra demonstrated great range, particularly in the first half of the program, from the a cappella beauty of Rachmaninoff's "All Night Vigil," which left the audience breathless, through a Sephardic wedding song, a Welsh lullaby and a dynamic, conga-driven Nigerian carol.
The second half of the program was uniformly American, though it was still plenty diverse. Wilberg's arrangement of "Shenandoah" may well be his most subtle and impressive on the program. The vocal part of the arrangement is lovely, but the instrumental parts provide a poetic counterpoint to the voices and inspire visual images in the mind. In a song about a river, the string parts sound the way a flowing river looks. The result is a miraculous tone painting, and the Orchestra at Temple Square must be commended for bringing out all the subtleties. That such a large group can sound so musically tight is one of the great wonders of the musical world. Those of us who grew up on this choir's recordings can attest that hearing it perform live is an irreplaceable experience that ought to be sought out, at least once in a lifetime.
Ralph Stanley recovers from surgery
Bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley is recovering after triple bypass surgery. His publicist says today's operation "went as planned and everything seems to be going well." Doctors recommended the surgery after the 78-year-old singer went for a regular checkup last week. Stanley became a cast member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2000. He won a Grammy for his a cappella performance of "Oh, Death" on the popular "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. Stanley and his brother, Carter, formed one of the premier groups of early bluegrass music, the Stanley Brothers. The Virginia brothers were also known for their band -- the Clinch Mountain Boys -- during the 1950s and '60s.
Chorus Takes the Honors
The success or failure of the Missa Solemnis rests largely on the quality of the choral singing, so it was indeed a coup to have the London Philharmonic Choir bring its experience and musicianship to bear in this extraordinary work. Supplemented with members of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus, this combined choir was the star of the show.
Throughout Beethoven's difficult score the choir was assured in its delivery, demonstrating remarkable unanimity and an impressive range of tonal colour. Particularly noteworthy were the fugal passages and the energetic declamation in the work's extrovert sections, such as the finale to the Gloria. The singing was equally successful in more reflective moments, such as the et incarnatus est, where the hushed, barely audible lead-in from the tenors was one of the evening's highlights. The sopranos also deserve special mention for their finesse and unwavering control in the very high tessitura.
In comparison to the excellence of the choral singing, the quartet of soloists was disappointing. The singing was inconsistent, lacking rhythmic assurance and tonal balance. In particular, soprano Rebecca Nash struggled at times with her difficult part and was often drowned out in the ensemble. Only Elizabeth Campbell shone with a musically and stylistically satisfying performance.
Matthias Bamert presided over events with an air of cool authority. He showed a clear grasp of the music's architecture, navigating through the work without drawing undue attention to its sectionalised form. It was only in the sublime Benedictus that I found Bamert's tempo too hurried and unsettled.
June 24, 2005
Choral music gets a Taiwanese twist
Taipei Times (Taiwan):
The plum rains have come and gone and June's warmth has coaxed the last stubborn buds into full bloom. This weekend the Formosa Singers (福爾摩沙合唱團) will sing nature's praises with their concert Flower Songs (花之歌).
The Formosa Singers, a mixed choir of about 40 members, was remodeled from the Taipei Philharmonic Madrigal Choir in 1995 by conductor Julian Su (蘇慶俊) and is dedicated to "expressing in song the essence of Taiwan." This includes performing a variety of Hokkien, Hakka and Aboriginal folk songs as well as the work of prominent Taiwanese composers such as Hsiao Tyzen (蕭泰然) and Cheng Chih-ren (鄭智仁).
Su, one of Taiwan's top choral conductors, has over 20 years of conducting experience under his belt. After graduating from the Cultural University in 1981 with a major in cello performance, Su's interest soon shifted to choral music. During the years from 1984 to 1991 he took turns conducting the Tamkang Chorus, Hwakang Chorus, the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus, and a group of his own, the Taipei Philharmonic Madrigal Choir (1985).
In 1992 Su traveled to New Jersey to attend Westminster Choir College at Rider University. There he studied with famous choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt. During his final recital for his master's degree, Su conducted a choir singing Taiwanese folk songs that he arranged. For Su, bringing the songs of Taiwan to the stage is not just about work or interest, it's about identity. He sees it as his duty to prevent the songs beloved by his generation from disappearing.
"In the past, this music was suppressed," Su said. "Perhaps in the future it could disappear." Under Martial Law, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) suppressed native Taiwanese culture and language and non-Mandarin folk songs were banned from the airwaves.
Su said that if the Formosa Singers were not promoting Taiwanese folk songs now, "it will be much more difficult to do in the future. We are the right generation to connect the past to the future." Not everyone recognizes the importance of singing the old songs, Su said. "Many people think this work is stupid because they do not identify with it." The most fulfilling moments for Su are when the music changes those people's minds.
In recent years Formosa Singers has toured in Japan and has made two trips to the US, where a large portion of their audience was Taiwanese immigrants. The reaction among second-generation Taiwanese-Americans who attended the concerts was especially rewarding, Su said. "They originally didn't identify with the songs because the arrangements they had heard were old and weren't done very well. They didn't realize the songs could sound so good, until they heard the Formosa Singers," Su said. What made the difference was the creative and skillful arranging of the tunes by Su and by the group's accompanist Tsai Yu-shan (蔡昱姍).
The folk origins of Formosa Singers' music don't immediately pop out to the ear. The old familiar tunes have become pollished choral pieces with rich four-part harmonies and diverse melodies. Much of the group's repertoire, if it were translated into Latin, would sound much like music you would hear at a European-style Easter concert. On a closer listening, the folk elements can be identified, woven subtly into the harmonies. The most delightful thing about listening to Formosa Singers is the seamless blend of distinctly Chinese melodies with the traditional sound of a Western-style choir.
The group has been honored a number of times with nominations for Golden Melody Awards. Their album Stars Over the Sky (天頂的星), based on the works of Cheng, won the award for Best Lyrics and for Best Performance by a Group at the 2002 Awards. Last year, Hsiao's cantata The Prodigal Son (浪子), premiered by Formosa Singers, won the Golden Melody Award for Best Composer. This year, the group's latest album, A Walk Through Our Collective Memories (走過集體的記憶) was nominated for Best Performance.
Su's interest extends beyond the songs of Taiwan to include folk songs from around the world as well as well as some fresh, modern composers. This weekend's lineup will begin with three Latin pieces by Eastern European composers Damijan Mocnik, Vytautas Miskinis and Gyorgy Orban. Next is the inspiration for the concert's theme, Three Flower Songs, by US composer Eric Whitacre. Su chose Whitacre because he was impressed by the composer's ability to create a modern yet pleasing sound.
"The choral scene in America has recently become closed off and has been dominated by Northern European composers," Su said, "but Whitacre is creating music that is popular all over the world." Whitacre is famous for his emotionally intense and electrifying choral compositions. He composed the a cappella set Three Flower Songs during his formative years at the University of Nevada and dedicated it to his teacher David Weller, who introduced Whitacre to choral music.
Most of the other songs on the lineup were chosen for dealing with the theme of flowers, so as to complement the Whitacre set. Some notable inclusions include two Japanese folk songs arranged by choral conductor Ko Matsushita, who flew to Taiwan to guest conduct the Formosa Singers for a concert in May of last year, as well as several Hokkien and Hakka folk songs arranged by Tsai. In August, the Formosa Singers will be taking a selection from this weekend's concert to compete in the Takarazuka International Chamber Chorus Contest in Japan.
American Masters: Raise Your Voices.
Hollywood Reporter (CA):
When documentarian Stanley Nelson started his project about the inspirational singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, he didn't know that midway through it, their principal singer would decide to retire. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a founding member in 1973 of the quintet -- which took its name from a parable of a land so rich that when you cracked a rock sweet honey flowed -- told the others that she was leaving and that if they didn't wish to continue, she would fold the group. Of course, the others are going to keep on keeping on, as one of their song lyrics goes.
Anyway, Nelson turned on a dime and built the 90-minute telefilm around the last song in the group's last concert with Reagon, "The Old Ship of Zion." After that, "we weren't coming back onstage again, it would be our last time," one member says.
Listening to Reagon's powerful, unerring voice atop the others, you felt that Sweet Honey would have a hard rock to crack without her. When she hit a note, it stayed hit, and imagining this bunch without her was like thinking of Duke Ellington without Harry Carney. "Hers is a voice that will ring throughout the centuries," someone said, one of the many hyperbolic but plausible comments with which the sprawling film is studded.
As the recital of Sweet Honey's repertoire unfolded, from "Joan Little," their first hit about a woman who murdered her jailer when he made advances, to "The Ballad of Harry Moore," a classic about a Florida NAACP leader who lost his life and those of his family to a Christmas Eve bomber, the women showed a nice grasp of harmony and a great deal of skill in keeping things moving, the colorful timbres of the diverse voices blending uncannily and feeding the ear with sweet honey.
"You better learn these songs," admonishes Reagon, "you never know when you might be in a demonstration." Still, a relatively apolitical number, "Fulani Chant," provided the most fun of this last night. The beautiful Aisha Kahlil, in a dashing yellow gown, did a hands dance and chanted wordlessly (posing a problem for sign-language provider Shirley Childress Saxton) as the other members repeated their individual claves throughout like recorded bird calls.
Luster of “Constant Star”
Broadway World (NY):
Civil rights leader, journalist, suffragette, political candidate, wife and mother Ida B. Wells was such a powerful force against tyranny and injustice at the turn of the century that it took five women to portray her in Tazewell Thompson’s thrilling “Constant Star” presented by the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. At times as a quintet, at times individually, all five actresses brought impassioned interpretations to the inspirational writings and speeches of one of America’s most outspoken and effective activists against segregation and lynching.
Enhancing the power of Thompson’s smoothly constructed narrative were 20 stirring Negro Spirituals sung a cappella in five-part harmony by the cast. With the intensity of a spirited gospel choir, the women’s rich, expressive, and penetrating voices filled the theater with chords of pain, hope, anger, celebration, determination, and triumph. The audience couldn’t help but join in with accompanying applause.
Merrimack Rep’s production of “Constant Star” also boasted pitch-perfect sound design, evocative lighting, a flexible yet inviting multi-period industrialized set, and elegant, decades-spanning costumes that lent a timeless texture to Wells’ career. “Constant Star” shone with a brightness magnified five-fold. It was a luminous production of a fascinating life.
June 22, 2005
An Idea as Fresh as Mom's Tupperware
Newsweek - June 20 issue
What do indie musicians and Tupperware have in common? More than you might think. Desperate to sell CDs without a major label's backing, many independent groups are taking a cue from the container giant by encouraging fans to hold "listening parties," which function a lot like Mom's Tupperware parties, only louder and, presumably, hipper.
The business model should sound familiar: fans gather their friends before an album's release (usually in a dorm or a coffee shop), play an advance copy of the album and encourage their guests to preorder the CD. Managers supply the host with promotional materials as well as order forms or directions on how to preorder from the band's Web site. The hosts not only get an advance look at the album, but for their trouble, "we swag them out," says David Derring, a manager for the Graham Colton Band (as heard on the WB's "Everwood"!). "We give them free CDs, T shirts, free tickets to concerts, that kind of thing. The kids love it."
The bands love it, too. Pre-orders count toward first-week album sales, which lead to bigger numbers and higher chart positions. Even after the release, the parties are used to bring new fans into the fold. "The best promotion a band can ever get is for a fan to talk about them," says Matt Phillips, manager of the San Diego-based band Slightly Stoopid, which is using the parties to promote its fifth album, "Closer to the Sun." "If a hard-core fan will spread the word to their community of friends, that's better than radio or MTV or anything."
Karie Belling, a stay-at-home mom of two and part-time entrepreneur, recently hosted a party in Sartell, Minn., for Tonic Sol-fa, a popular Minneapolis-based a cappella group. "After each song, we'd shut the music off and we'd talk about how everyone felt about the songs," says Belling. "A lot of my friends didn't know the group and they loved it." Thirty of her friends showed up; 15 preordered "Boston to Beijing," which will be released this week. She's just one success story: 120 people in 30 states have signed up to host Sol-fa parties. (The top 50 sellers get a free Bose sound system; the top-selling host gets a live performance from the group.) "My mom did Tupperware parties," says Tonic Sol-fa frontman Shaun Johnson. "She won a lot of prizes, so I know the power of it."
You don't win a new sound system but the excellent new Tonic Sol-fa title is available and on special at Primarily A Cappella
June 21, 2005
Manhattan Transfer lends playful note
Indianapolis Star (IN):
The Manhattan Transfer presented jazz as Americana when headlining Friday night's opening session of this year's Indy Jazz Fest. Consistently playful and showy, the long-running vocal quartet traveled most of the country during its rendition of "Route 66" Friday night. The arrangement featured a quasi-Doppler effect -- beginning with a walking bass line and four whispers in the distance, gaining volume and organ riffs in the middle and then rolling down the road with more whispers and walking bass.
Soprano Janis Siegel, alto Cheryl Bentyne, tenor Alan Paul and bass Tim Hauser brought Kansas City's Count Basie to Indianapolis in the form of "You Can Depend On Me." Hauser shared helpful knowledge with the festival crowd, explaining that he and Siegel were singing lyrics tailored to trumpet and saxophone solos originally played by Shad Collins and Lester Young on "Depend."
Siegel's version of Ella Fitzgerald's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" added to the all-American feel, but the concert's highlight may have arrived with a tribute to South African religious leader and activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Bentyne showcased her startling ability to replicate a trumpet when scatting "The New JuJu Man (Tutu)," originally a mid-'80s collaboration between Miles Davis and Marcus Miller.
The Manhattan Transfer's backing trio of keyboard player, bass player and drummer showed flexibility by delivering "JuJu" as an electric post-funk march. Mostly, the musicians were called upon to capture the acoustic vibe of an earlier era. "Stomp of King Porter," for instance, aimed near the source by remembering one of New Orleans' jazz pioneers, Jelly Roll Morton.
Seattle Pro Musica gets NEA grant
The Seattle Pro Musica has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer. Together with three other choral ensembles, the Pro Musica has commissioned a new a cappella choral work from composer Steven Stucky, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in music. The three other ensembles are the Kansas City Chorale (Kansas City, Mo.), the Phoenix Bach Choir (Phoenix) and the Grinnell Singers (Grinnell, Iowa).
June 17, 2005
Boy soprano Mikhael Rawls
Fort Worth Star Telegram(TX):
(This article was published June 11 prior to the TCME negative decision)
Mikhael Rawls swayed slightly as he sang Schubert's aria in his living room, his eyes darting around as if surveying an audience. His 17-year-old voice climbed and climbed, to soprano-like heights. "Not a usual male voice," Rawls conceded. "But it's the most comfortable and natural sound I produce."
The L.D. Bell High School senior's uncommon voice has garnered him attention and awards. But he may not be able to display it fully in one of the largest and most important high school choral competitions in the state. Rawls has petitioned the Texas Music Educators Association, which organizes the annual all-state band and choir competitions, to change a rule mandating that boys audition only for "male" parts -- basses and tenors.
There is no place for Rawls' voice, sometimes called a countertenor, in the competition -- one he said is frequently visited by college recruiters and talent scouts. "My goal is that anyone can sing any part that their voice is, whoever does it best," said Rawls, whose speaking voice sounds typically male. "Isn't that what the competition is for?"
Mike Ware, immediate past president of the association's board, said that he and other board members have received Rawls' petition. If most board members agree, Rawls' request could reverse a policy that the board instituted two years ago, Ware said, for the safety of the students. "We have had girls that auditioned for tenor parts," said Ware, a Georgetown choral instructor. "We did extensive research, and that can be vocally damaging."
Ware, an instructor for 30 years, said he has never come across a singer like Rawls, whose voice spans four octaves. Rawls is not being barred from the competition, Ware said. He can audition for male parts, just like every other male singer. More than 23,000 teachers, students and parents attended the 2005 all-state convention in February, Ware said. About 15,000 students auditioned for 504 positions in the all-state choir.
The board will review the petition during its annual meeting in Austin, scheduled Sunday through Thursday. "We will spend a lot of time on this, as we will on all the audition policies," Ware said. "We're not going to put any student in a position to damage his voice."
That's unlikely to happen to Rawls, said J. David Brock, associate professor of voice at Texas Christian University and Rawls' vocal coach for three years. "My first impression three years ago was that it was a very beautiful voice," Brock said of his student. "We tried working both as a soprano and as a baritone. His most beautiful voice, and the one that was the most consistent, is his soprano."
The male countertenor was a popular vocal range in baroque opera arias and used by composers such as George Frideric Handel. Countertenor parts were often performed by men who had been castrated to preserve a higher singing voice because women were not allowed to perform.
A recent resurgence of countertenor roles has been led by American opera star David Daniels. Rawls, who has decided to train and develop his rare talent, is normally met with support. He sang with the Texas Boys Choir international touring group for four years during junior high, and is the only male in L.D. Bell's a cappella girls' choir.
Although he has a pleasant baritone voice, too, Rawls chooses to sing soprano in the high school's co-ed and girls' choirs. He has won vocal performance awards from the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Texas University Interscholastic League.
Besides participating in music, Rawls works at a Quiznos sandwich shop in Bedford, is an Eagle Scout and takes Advanced Placement classes. After high school, Rawls hopes to study music, perhaps at the New England Conservatory in Boston. His goal is to perform baroque opera in Europe. He may eventually teach music history. "I've been singing all my life. Everything music is just coming out of me," said Rawls, who began playing piano in second grade and plays French horn in the school band. The music educators' policy has been bothering him, he said.
"If I don't do something about it, there could be other singers that are oppressed vocally." Rawls' mother, Michelle Rawls, said she is proud of her son for taking a stand. She sat on her living room sofa, smiling slightly as she listened to him practice. "I love these concerts," she said softly. "I'm lucky. I get to hear him every day. He's my Handel hero."
June 16, 2005
Male denied chance to audition as soprano
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX):
The Texas Music Educators Association has denied a request by Bedford teen-ager Mikhael Rawls to audition for a state competition as a soprano. Rawls, 17, sings in a counter-tenor voice, which is comparable to the higher female singing voice. But the TMEA, which conducts the annual All-State choral and instrumental competitions, has ruled that only women will be allowed to sing women's parts, and only men will sing men's parts. "I'm very strongly disappointed in the music education system in Texas," Rawls said after receiving the TMEA decision Thursday. Rawls said he will not audition for the All-State choir.
June 15, 2005
Denver Post (CO):
The 17th Avenue Allstars celebrate 17 years of harmony on Friday (June 17). Seven former members of the Allstars will join the five current members onstage at the 1770 Sherman St. Event Complex. Alumni include Jake Schroeder (Opie Gone Bad), former Miss Colorado La Tanya Hall and "Star Search" finalist Robert Johnson.
I remember listening to the 17th Avenue Allstars when they sang at Acappella's, which ruled on 17th and Humboldt in the late '80s. John Hersh ran the joint with Philly cheesesteaks and singing groups - and I'm still recovering. Hersh is living the good life, running an inn with his wife, Joni, in Eleuthera, the Bahamas. Check him out at bahamahouseinn.com. Tickets are $17.
Singing can make you gay!
Or so says the editor of the Buffalo Jewish Review who refused an advertisement from the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus. In a letter to the editor, Assemblymember Sam Hoyt responded to the publication's refusal by saying:-
"I am proud of my record of being vehemently against all forms of prejudice, and I deplore anti-Semitism and all other forms of prejudice equally. I would have expected a policy of acceptance and a greater demonstration of tolerance from the Buffalo Jewish Review, instead of exclusion and discrimination.
"Your explanation for this decision was astonishing to me. The idea that an advertisement for a choral concert 'might influence young people to experiment' with homosexuality is preposterous and demonstrates a clear lack of understanding and compassion for those men and women for whom homosexuality is as much their identity as being Jewish is to you and not simply a fad to try and discard like the latest trend in fashions.
"Your statement that 'they can't produce children' is equally amazing. I'm sure that the many lesbians who have given birth would be surprised to learn this. You further raise concerns about how this will impact the 'perpetuation of the Jewish people.' Are the children of a Jewish lesbian not Jewish?
Well said assemblyman Hoyt!
June 13, 2005
Chanticleer offers fitting homage to Hildegard
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
Dedicated to the church by her family as a tithe, she founded a monastery, fashioned a secret language, wrote tracts on medicine and cookery, corresponded with emperors and popes, and composed some of the most progressive and enduring music of her age. An extraordinary woman calls for extraordinary measures. That was the impulse behind Chanticleer's "Hildegard: A Measure of Joy," a theatricalized musical tribute to the 12th century abbess and mystic, Hildegard von Bingen. The great male vocal ensemble performed the new 85- minute piece six times, concluding the run over the weekend at churches in San Francisco and Sacramento. It was a stretch for the company, at once enlivening and problematic.
Instead of standing and delivering in concert fashion, the 12 Chanticleer singers portrayed contentious cardinals, speaking lines and roaming about the sanctuary with candles and handbells. The fictional premise of Donna DiNovelli's book was simple. The cardinals have convened to discuss canonization of Hildegard as a saint. Her virtues as a creator and healer must be weighed against a putative lack of humility, her theological defiance of Rome on a disinterment matter and other issues. A ballot is taken in the end.
In theatrical terms, "Hildegard" proved to be something of an awkward enterprise in a performance at San Francisco's Calvary Presbyterian Church. DiNovelli's book delivered so much detail about the subject's life and deeds that the cardinals, who had presumably studied her record for 40 days, were largely expositional devices. The Chanticleer performers tried gamely, and often too earnestly, to enliven their stiffly fashioned roles; they also played village penitents and even Hildegard herself at one point. Line deliveries ran to heavily italicized declamations, weightily solemn, ironic or sarcastic.
But the true "Measure of Joy" here was musical, and that's where the splendors rightly came across. Four gorgeously absorbing pieces by Hildegard were fit into a musical mosaic that ran from plainsong to Giovanni Palestrina to contemporary works by Régis Campo and Steven Stucky commissioned for this world premiere. Francesca Zambello's fluid and spatially sensitive direction subtly enlarged and dramatically amplified the evening's majestic and probing polyphony. The singers moved as if by musical imperative, gathering, separating, distantly defying one another and drawn into harmonic accord.
Dressed in simple but handsome red robes that suggested their august positions without being too ponderously literal (designed by Anita Yavich), the Chanticleer cardinals assembled first in plainsong. A 13th century "Hec Dies," with its busily elaborate decorations, suggested the whirling complexity of the canonization debate to come. Right away, the men staked out their positions on Hildegard: "Did her touch not heal the sick?" "She skipped down the hallway." One of them sensibly suggested they "start with her songs." At that they launched into her "O frondens virga," a hymn to growing things.
Although her work is amply recorded, the marvels of Hildegard's music -- the twining melodic lines, rhythmic urgency, the loving evocation of the natural world and an uncanny modernity at terms -- blooms fully only when heard live. The Chanticleer ensemble, under Joseph Jennings' musical direction, rendered it all with radiant precision. Hildegard's celebration of evergreen trees ("O noblissima viriditas") was especially lovely, as the singers gathered around several open scores and seemed to learn the piece as they sang it, layering in freshly astonished new voices.
The evening's peak musical inspiration came in the scene that celebrated Hildegard's symbolic marriage to Christ. Here, Palestrina's ravishing "Veni sponsa Christi" flowed into a 20th century "Epithalame" by Jean Yves Daniel- Lesur. Hildegard's spirit rose out of time, spanning the centuries in this seamless elevation. As the vote on her sainthood approached, the musical plan left her own work behind for good. That was a dramatic and musical miscalculation. The evening concluded with the two commissioned pieces, along with another contemporary selection, by John Tavener. Stucky's final "Song of Humility" made a fervent but tiresomely redundant case for the cult of Hildegard. The last notes ought to have been hers. What better way to measure the power and glory of Hildegard than in her own musical voice?
June 11, 2005
A Taste of Sweet Honey
Washington Blade (DC):
When Bernice Johnson Reagon broached the subject of Iraq, Saddam Hussein and President Bush during a Sweet Honey in the Rock concert in Lawrence, Kan., several years ago, some audience members walked out. They came, one man said after the performance/political pep talk, to be entertained — not challenged.
But for Reagon, who retired in 2004 from the a cappella ensemble she founded in 1973, based on a vocal workshop group at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Co., there is no other way. Singing about freedom and struggle, equal rights and social justice has been a non-negotiable part of the group’s mission for 32 years.
In "Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice," an 84-minute documentary scheduled to premiere in metropolitan Washington on Wednesday, June 15, at Silverdocs, the AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival in Silver Spring, Md., viewers witness Reagon and other Sweet Honey members performing, raising children, as well as working through the group’s creative process behind the scenes. "We sing," one of the women says, "to offer a look at the world from a black woman’s voice."
As far back as1975, Sweet Honey has been spreading its message in this manner. That year, Reagon, a member of the SNCC Freedom Singers during the ’60s, wrote the song "Joan Little" after a black woman in North Carolina killed a white jailer who had sexually assaulted her. Little eventually was acquitted. Among the songs performed in the film are "Joan Little," "I Remember/I Believe," "Women Gather," "Denko," "Fulani Chant," and "Wanting Memories."
In a written statement for the American Masters’ documentary, which also is scheduled to air June 29 on PBS stations nationwide, Reagon tells the film’s director, Stanley Nelson, how Sweet Honey was one of the first black groups in the nation to sing songs about AIDS and discuss homosexuality and AIDS at every concert, "not just the ones with a lot of gay people, who were really being hit by the crisis."
Reagon’s daughter is lesbian musician Toshi Reagon, who also performs in the documentary, in particular at her mother’s final appearance before a D.C. audience, when she retired in February 2004. "We’d go into a black church and I would talk about using condoms and the danger of having sex without talking," Bernice Reagon told Nelson. "It was rough going in black audiences because many in our community were homophobic and uncomfortable about AIDS and that, unfortunately, included the black church. "Sweet Honey has a long experience of going into different communities with issues that made some in our audiences uncomfortable," she says. "It was and continues to be very important work."
Reagon is described as the glue that kept the ensemble together. There have been more than 20 different members in Sweet Honey since its inception. After she stepped down, the remaining members decided to keep performing and hired two singers to replace her: Louise Robinson and Arnaé. The ensemble’s other members are: Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard and Shirley Childress Saxton, who joined Sweet Honey in 1980 as an American Sign Language interpreter and continues her work in this role.
June 9, 2005
Sea Chanty Festival
Liverpool Echo (UK):
Liverpool, home of the sea shanty according to many historians - is also becoming home to the number one Mersey Sea Shanty Festival. This year's festival is the ninth and will be running from tomorrow until Sunday. Festival director Jack Coutts - who has planned this year's event with fellow performer Bernie Davis - says the event is now considered to be one of Europe's best.
"The one organised in Breton compares well but the Bretons know how to enjoy themselves," he says. As it happens, the Bretons are sending their own group Les Pirates to the Liverpool festival. The group has appeared at the Liverpool festival before but with a different line-up, not surprisingly as they consist of ten to 12-year-olds. "The singers change from year to year but they dress up like sailors unlike the rest of us grown-ups," says Coutts.. "That's something you do when you are young."
Dressed up or not, this year's festival features singing groups from across Europe. Whether they are genuine shanty singers remains a moot point. Coutts suggest that shanties were born in Liverpool, from sailors on ocean-going ships. Today's shanty singers comes from different backgrounds including fishing people. And the sounds can be very different.Italy's La Moresca Antica, for example, has a leader who for many years was into heavy metal rock but later discovered Renaissance classical musical. Now he has become intrigued by the song of the fishermen.
Making their first appearance in Liverpool will be an Estonian group Vaikeste Lootspillide, the first East European group to feature in the festival. On Friday the Estonian singers will be at Birkenhead Pacific Road Arts Centre at 7.30pm. The big event is over the weekend at the Albert Dock where for two days there will be singers everywhere.
June 8, 2005
After my recent posting on the passing of Thurl Ravenscroft, founding member of The Mellomen, I was contacted by somebody who is working on a documentary for Disney about the making of "Lady and the Tramp", which featured the Mellomen. He is wondering if there are any surviving members of the Mellomen. Does anybody know?
June 7, 2005
A King's Singers review
Eastern Daily Press (UK):
Once again the King's Singers lived up to their reputation so a large audience at St Peter Mancroft was able to sit back and thoroughly enjoy an imaginative and varied programme of unaccompanied vocal music that spanned ages and styles with apparently effortless skill. First, as if to establish their credentials, the six smartly dressed singers reminded us of their origins as members of one of the country's finest college choirs with Elizabethan sacred music.
The longing and lamentation in Thomas Tallis's fine settings of Jeremiah made all the more impact by comparison with William Byrd's Triumphalism. The texts were in Latin, but flexibility in interpretation brought out the different moods. Attitudes change for three secular songs from the Spanish Renaissance. Dancing and prancing naturally soon gave way to soft serenading. Then some lily-livered sailors gave voice to every emotion as their ship sank. They managed to scramble to safety, salvaging nothing but an out-of-tune guitar. Just a few expressive gestures added to the fun, but, as always, the emphasis was on vocal expertise. Patterson's Time Piece brought the Bible story of creation up to modern times.
Humming and strange harmonies captured the music of the spheres, and everything was lovely in the Garden of Eden until Adam got a wrist-watch. Not a word or sound was lost in the witty text. In more traditional vein, Stanford's Beati Quorum was performed with loving attention to nuance, and every ounce of Victorian sentimentality was wrung out of Sullivan's Long Day Closes. All that was lacking from this splendid concert was genuinely modern music; a single example would have been better than another lollipop.
This is from my English hometown newspaper (The EDP) in Norwich, Norfolk. I am familiar with the venue which is a beautiful medieval church, updated with modern sound equipment, and is perfect for early a cappella music both in ambiance and authenticity - The editor
'Little Noises' puts poet's work to music
She has "always been a words and music person," but until her two-disc "Little Noises" project came about, Marcia Pelletiere admits she "never thought they would come together." The poet/singer/songwriter is a founding member of award-winning a cappella group the Accidentals. Pelletiere's album, out now on her own Saf'lini Music label, features 26 of her poems set to music and performed by such esteemed East Coast acts as Suzzy and Terre Roche, Vernon Reid, Joy Askew, Richard Barone, Catherine Russell and the Accidentals themselves.
"I'd written songs for other groups but gave it up when I started writing poetry 15 years ago," says Pelletiere, whose work has since appeared in journals and anthologies including the Southern Poetry Review and Painted Bride Quarterly. "Many people write songs with incredibly profound lyrics, but I could never get what I wanted to say in that form."
Vocally trained in classical choral music, Pelletiere figured her poetry might best be paired with such a classical composer as Randall Thompson, whose setting of Robert Frost's "Choose Something Like a Star" was her introduction to poetry-through-song. "But I couldn't figure out how to put pop and classical and serious literary influences into one pot," she says. But six years of collaborating with many of the "Little Noises" participants on Barone's "Downtown Messiah" productions and Hal Willner's multi-artist album tributes to Thelonious Monk and Walt Disney pointed the way for Pelletiere. "Downtown Messiah" soloist AnnMarie Milazzo -- who co-wrote and performed the "Little Noises" title track -- read Pelletiere's unpublished poetry manuscript and wanted to write music for her words.
"I've often thought of Charles Whiteside, who sang bass in the Accidentals and died of AIDS, whom we never recorded," Pelletiere says. "And here were all these extraordinary musicians who should be put together to preserve what happens in the music scene. So I went to Margaret Dorn -- goddess of the universe -- because I knew if she was involved it would happen."
Dorn is the choir director/soloist for "Downtown Messiah" and a member of the Accidentals. She has sung with the likes of Bette Midler and Willie Nelson; her songwriting credits include tunes for Karen Carpenter and Melba Moore. Dorn produced "Little Noises" and composed and performed its track "Man Mine." "She took a poem about throwing dishes at someone I was living with and turned it into a love song!" Pelletiere marvels. "Everyone had the freedom to do it their own way," Dorn says. "And we got a huge variety of wonderful submissions -- which is what we wanted."
Askew, who has accompanied Joe Jackson and Rodney Crowell and whose most recent album, "Echo," teamed her with electronic jazz musician Takuya Nakamura, was roused by Pelletiere's poem "Lake Calhoun." "It was so incredibly inspiring that I wrote (the music) almost straight off," Askew says. "It was so visual."
On The Rocks sings in the dark
At 11:59 p.m. Saturday, campus' men's a cappella singing group On The Rocks will present its annual midnight show on the lawn just north of the School of Music building. On The Rocks In The Dark, in its fifth year, was developed "to give something back to our fans at the end of the year," says founding member Peter Hollens.
Hollens said the concert also serves as a way to say goodbye to graduating members of the group -- three this year -- and to welcome new members. The group will perform its entire repertoire, and Hollens said the music will probably continue past 2 a.m. Sunday. The concert is free, and attendees are advised to bring blankets and come early because of limited space on the lawn.
June 4, 2005
Singers croak in allergy season.
For a town where so many people earn their living with a clear voice and a keen ear, Nashville sure is a lousy place for singers. It sits in a moist, green bowl where pollens and pollutants get trapped in the air and give allergy sufferers fits. Spring and fall are the worst - so bad that some artists have to delay their recording sessions.
"They can't get the tone," said Dr. Gaelyn Garrett, medical director of the Vanderbilt Voice Center. "I've had a couple of singers recently who have just postponed their studio work for a few weeks." The clinic, part of Vanderbilt University, treats everyone from local choir members to superstars like Willie Nelson. The biggest problem for most is nasal drainage.
"It affects the resonance and the feedback they get when they're singing," Garrett said. "A lot of the professional singers will wear monitors. They rely on the feedback of their voice to help them find the notes and help with loudness. When they're congested in the nasal passages, it makes it very difficult."
Nashville lies in a gently rolling basin surrounded by the western and eastern Highland Rim. Like much of the Southeast, it typically ranks among the worst in the country for allergies and air pollution. The area has a long growing season and abundant rainfall and is particularly bad for ragweed and pollen. "We have tons of trees and a lot of other kinds of pollen, so the pollen count is very high here," said Dr. John Overholt, an allergist in Franklin, near Nashville.
A leading recording center, Nashville is home to thousands of professional musicians, singers, producers and engineers. Overholt estimates about 50 of his patients are singers, and they all complain of the same things: hoarseness, poor tone and limited vocal range.
June 2, 2005
Photo - A cappella beauties
Korean girl group TSZS releases an a cappella version of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love''.
Aussie quartet greets audiences
The Korea Herald
If you want relax and be entertained at the same time, there aren't many options. But things may be pleasantly different if you get a ticket for a concert that will serve those two purposes. That's what The Idea of North, Australia's No. 1 contemporary a cappella group, is geared up to perform at Naru Arts Center in Gwangjin-gu, near Konkuk University at 8 p.m. today.
The quartet is made up of Trish Delaney-Brown (soprano), Naomi Crellin (alto), Nick Begbie (tenor) and Andrew Piper (bass), all of whom are jazz graduates of Canberra and Adelaide conservatories. Today's performance will feature some of the best pieces including the scores of "Evidence," their latest CD, which was released early this year in Korea, and other jazz numbers.
Although Korean fans are not familiar with the group (this is their first-ever visit to Seoul), their refined musical tastes have a solid following in Australia, Europe, America and Asia. Four weeks before the Seoul performance, the quartet toured the United States, including a performance at Lincoln Center in New York City, and their schedules are literally packed with overseas tour programs.
In an interview with The Korea Herald, Delaney-Brown said the group first started in 1993 when the four original members were just friends, playing together and fiddling with roller blades. "We were just singing together for fun, but in 1997, there was a chance to record our first album, and we held a concert to raise money for our CD. And actually, there was an audience for our music," she said.
The positive reaction led the members to think seriously about their future career and in 1998 decided to work as a full-time quartet. Crellin joined the team in January 2002 in a move that other members call an "injection of vigor," and the four performers have since been continuing a "wonderful journey of music and friendship." Although some sacrifices should be made on a personal level due to the tight overseas tour schedules, the members said what they are doing is certainly "the best job in the world."
Notable is that all the members contribute not only musically but also business-wise. According to Begbie, the group's official leader, their repertoire for concerts has been arranged democratically, with members' opinions accommodated. At the same time, each member also shares business-related tasks, including paperwork.
But sometimes a performance in a different culture poses challenges. For instance, when the quartet staged a show in Taiwan, the audience remained quite silent throughout the show, making the members scratch their heads. "They were very polite, and we really did not now whether they were into it. And only at the end of the show, it was like a pop concert, people calling for encore. It's not what we are used to," Crellin said.
Perhaps, Korean audiences might show a similar reaction, but the quartet is pinning hopes on their lively performances that will include some comedy on the stage. Begbie noted that their underlying vibe is jazz, which will be reflected at Naru Arts Center, but for audiences, they will play some situational comedy during the show. When asked which songs on today's list shouldn't be missed, all the members gave out a quick answer a la a cappella mode: "All of them."
Singers' parents sue movie producer
Parents of the child singers in the hit French movie "Les Chorists" are suing for financial compensation. The suit filed in Paris says producer Galatee Films should pay for the performances of the children from Lyon that contributed to the movie's success. Some 8.5 million viewers flocked to French theaters last year to see the critically acclaimed "Les Choristes."
The children didn't appear in the movie, but their singing was prominently featured. Galatee reportedly paid 21,000 euros (nearly $26,000) to the chorus group, along with 1 percent of royalties from sales of the movie's CD. But the parents of the two children argued the agreement was made without their endorsement.They're asking for the children who sang to receive 8 percent to 10 percent of the 100 million euros (roughly $123 million) in profits made from movie and CD sales.
June 1, 2005
Mellomen member and voice of Tony the Tiger dies
Thurl Ravenscroft, founding member of the vocal group The Mellomen, died Sunday, May 22 at the age of 91. The singer and voice actor died of prostrate cancer, Diane Challis Davy, director of Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters, tells the AP. Although Ravenscroft provided numerous voices for films and the Disneyland theme park, his pitch for Frosted Flakes cereal made "They're grrrrreeeat!" a catchphrase indelibly tied to the affable tiger. "I'm the only man in the world that has made a career with one word: Grrrrreeeat!" says Ravenscroft in a 1996 interview. "When Kellogg's brought up the idea of the tiger, they sent me a caricature of Tony to see if I could create something for them. After messing around for some time I came up with the 'Grrrrreeeat!' roar, and that's how it's been since then."
Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft was born February 6, 1914 in Norfolk, Nebraska and later moved to California to study interior design, but then left art school after becoming a studio singer. During the '30s, he worked regularly in radio, singing backup for Bing Crosby on "The Kraft Music Hall" show. He joined a quartet called the Sportsmen, but left to enter military service during World War II. Upon his return, he and former Sportsmen member Max Smith formed the Mellomen, a versatile singing group that performed backup vocals and in radio, TV and film. They worked with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.
Ravenscroft sang and did voiceover work in films such as "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Glenn Miller Story," "Lady and the Tramp," "South Pacific," "Sleeping Beauty," "Mary Poppins" and "The Jungle Book." It was his commercial work with the Mellomen for Kellogg's cereals that landed him the plum role of Tony the Tiger in 1952.
His rumbling voice can also be heard singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" for the Dr.Seuss/Chuck Jones television special of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." "That was my chance to prove I could really sing," said Ravenscroft. He went on to collaborate on other Dr. Seuss projects such as "Horton Hears a Who," "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Lorax."
For decades, he narrated the Pageant of the Masters at the Laguna Beach Arts Festival and can still be heard today in several Disneyland theme park attractions: singing "Grim Grinning Ghosts" in the Haunted Mansion, as Fritz the parrot in the Tiki Room, as Buff the buffalo in the Country Bear Jamboree, as the first mate on the Mark Twain riverboat and one of the bass voices in the chorus of "It's a Small World." "Disneyland wouldn't have been, and wouldn't be, the same without him," says former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist. "His voice was one of the things that made it all come alive." Ravenscroft is survived by his children Nancy and Ron and four.
G4 ready to tour
This Is London (UK)
Riding high after their success on television's the X Factor, runners-up G4 are getting ready for their first nationwide tour that begins in Croydon, next Tuesday, at Fairfield. It's a production that they have put their heart and soul into, says G4's Mike Christie. Mike, 24, who went to school in Reigate and was a choir boy at St Mary's Church, is still pinching himself to wake up from this fantastic dream. "We have been listening to the experts but have designed the set we wanted, and it is looking excellent," he says enthusiastically. "It really doesn't seem real when we look at all the tour arrangements, dates and merchandise, and it's all about us.
"For the show we have been on a health regime and diet. It's a lot of common sense, you know fruit and veggies, that stuff. We have a personal trainer too to work out three times a week. It's tough but great. We need to build up stamina for the tour. I felt I had more energy after just two weeks," he says. I ask about the format of the show, wondering just what can make four a cappella singers fill at least an hour of entertainment without getting a tad boring.
"That's just it," says Mike, "We can do so much more than just sing. Our degree course was music and drama. We can play instruments too and for variation the show is a mix of solos, duets and a load of variety. We want the show to really flow and not become boring. We've also been working with a choreographer."
Mike is also delighted that G4 has sparked a rise in boys joining choirs and wanting singing lessons. "That's a bonus to know we are inspiring other people and to know that we have opened the door to interesting people to all sorts of music."
His parents, Adrian and Jill, are very proud of their boy naturally, but still have to get their heads around all the media interest. Mike says they still find it strange to see him on the television at some red carpet event G4 have been invited to. Mike met fellow G4 members Matt Stiff, Jon Ansell and Ben Thapa while studying for his singing degree. All four members of the group are graduates of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, hence the name the number of guys and Guildhall.
Their debut album shot to the top of the charts on March 6 and sold more than 200,000 in its first week on sale. Mike informs me that their second album is being planned and should be set for release before the end of the year.
A Cappella Cage Match
Metro Santa Cruz (CA):
Scheduling can be a real hassle, and unfortunately, you never know what else is going to go down the night you book a gig. Most Fridays there's at least one concert whose crowd gets cut in half by another gig across town. It's an inevitable part of this damned Julian calendar we all keep adhering to. Anyway, once again scheduling raised its ugly head on May 20. Local singing group Mayim booked the Kuumbwa for a night of singing, while a few yards away, SoVoSo took the stage at the Attic and trotted out their tunes.
SoVoSo makes you wish that you went to a church with a better choir. While most choirs barely manage to eek out "A Joyous Song Unto the Lord," SoVoSo soars (whatever church choir the members of SoVoSo sang with must have been a wonder to hear) and is unafraid of mentioning Jesus' name, even in this bastion of goddess-inspired secularity. Opening up the set with PSALM 23 (the one with the shepherd and the valley) was a gutsy move. Not exactly a hand-clapper.
One of the most beautiful SoVoSo moments was when the group invited a dancer to perform with them. Instead of taking the stage, the dancer climbed a rope and performed amazing feats of grace while suspended above the audience's heads. For five minutes, the singers were all but ignored as this small and lithe woman made gravity her bitch.
Mayim, though in the same genre as SoVoSo, sounds completely different (it was interesting to bounce from one show to the other to compare the two ). Whereas SoVoSo is a mixed choir drawing from mostly R&B and gospel sources, Mayim is all female and doesn't seem to specialize in a single genre.The three women in Mayim take the "world is their oyster" approach to putting together a setlist. Songs from Hungary were mixed in with Native American chants and tunes from the Indigo Girls