July 29, 2005

Doo-bah meets hip-hop

Daily Telegraph (UK):

Mention of the Swingle Singers evokes black-and-white memories of a cappella settings of JS Bach, refurbished with jazzy rhythms and nonsensical syllables like "doo" and "bah". It was a long time ago, but didn't Paris have something to do with it, with the singers kitted out in couture outfits from Balmain and Yves Saint Laurent? It's all true, although that original early '60s incarnation of the group is only a fraction of the story. The Swingle Singers are still in robust health, touring regularly across several continents, but they've grown accustomed to untangling garbled accounts of their own history.

"I'm constantly firing off emails to people who think we died in 1973, offering them tickets to our next gig," says Jes Sadler, the group's master of ceremonies and its very own human beatbox. "We get people coming up to us and accusing us of not being the Swingle Singers. I've spent seven years in the group, and this version is probably incarnation number four."

The current octet comprises two tenors, a couple of basses, a pair of altos and two sopranos. They're mostly British, the group having pulled up its Parisian roots in the mid-'70s when founding father Ward Swingle moved the operation to London, the exceptions being German bass Tobias Hug and Israeli alto Kineret Erez. While settings of Bach remain their signature sound, the repertoire now embraces movie themes, popular standards and classical pieces. Sadler claims that the Swingles have 150 pieces drummed into their memory banks, allowing them to tailor their performance to the occasion. Their average age is under 30, younger than many a road-weary rock band. "Yeah," says Sadler languidly. "We could probably out-drink them as well."

On the day we meet, the group are in St Albans, where, as part of the town's international organ festival, they're wheeling out a bespoke programme "where we contrast Swingles arrangements with the cathedral organ". There's plenty of Bach, alongside some Vivaldi and Albinoni's Adagio. Bach's organ fugue in E minor has been refitted with a light, skipping beat, hustled along by Sadler's sputtering hi-hat noises. Several audience members are convinced they're using backing tapes, but Sadler announces that every sound is made by the human voice.

"Either Toby or I do quite a bit of beatboxing now," he explains. "It's a new take on the idea of combining a classical approach with a more modern attitude. We use hip-hop rather than jazz. It's nice, it's fun." And it apparently meets with the approval of Ward Swingle, who's now in his late seventies but continues to take a close interest in the group that carries his name. Indeed, he invented the genre of "Swingle Singing", which the group frequently teach in day-long classes. "We'll demonstrate to other ensembles how we use a microphone, how we do scat, how we arrange an instrumental piece for voices," Sadler explains.

Swingle's book, Swingle Singing, traces the story back to the author's studies in Paris with concert pianist Walter Gieseking in the late '50s. The Alabama-born Swingle earned some spare cash as a session singer and sang with Blossom Dearie's group, the Blue Stars, before forming the Double Six, who sang arrangements of pieces by Quincy Jones, Gerry Mulligan and a youthful Michel Legrand. Legrand moved to Hollywood to write movie soundtracks, but his sister Christiane, another veteran of the two previous groups, became the stand-out voice in Swingle's new project, the Swingle Singers.

Their experiments with selections from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier earnt them a recording contract with Philips, for whom they recorded a string of bestselling albums. However, the thorny question of whether it was Ward Swingle or Jacques Loussier who first put the bop in baroque has never been resolved. "Jacques and Ward have had a small issue about this over the decades," chuckles Sadler. "They're getting on a bit, so they need to sort it out pretty soon."

The Swingle influence insinuates itself into the unlikeliest places. Paul Weller says the Swingles influenced his Style Council project, composer Luciano Berio called them "an integral part of the history of music of the last 30 years", and Jarvis Cocker recruited them to sing on his theme for the revived TV series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). Earlier this year, Jem's hit single They sampled the Swingles' recording of Bach's Prelude in F minor.

"When the Swingle Singers started they invented something new, and it's something we still carry with us now," says Sadler. "I think that's probably what has sustained the group."

Posted by acapnews at 9:36 PM

July 26, 2005

Singers involved in lip-synching to be punished

Xinhua (China):

China will severely punish any firm or singer involved in lip-synching, according to the newly revised Administrative Regulations Governing Commercial Art Performances. The regulations stipulate that any firms or individuals who deceive audiences by creating conditions for singers to lip-synch will be exposed.

The business licenses of performances organizing companies and art troupes will be revoked if their wrong-doing is laid bare twice within two years. The business licenses of singers whose lip-synching is laid bare for the second time within two years will be withdrawn as well. "To make a lot of money, some companies always make an overstatement about the performances in order to cheat audiences into the theaters, but the audiences feel they are fooled after seeing the performances," the regulations say.

To guard against such illegal practices, the new regulations explicitly state that no names of commercial performances are allowed to be proceeded with such words as "China", "Chinese", "national" or "international". All advertisements for commercial performances must be authentic, lawful and free of any misguiding and cheating, the regulations say.

You know maybe this isn't such a bad idea...

Posted by acapnews at 10:01 PM

July 25, 2005

An interview with Realtime

Bellingham Herald (WA):

Fresh from an interview with CBC Radio that had him crooning "Come Fly With Me," Lynden resident Tim Broersma grouses good-naturedly about having to stretch the vocal chords so early in the day. Especially since he's a tenor. "I have to sing really high in the morning and it's not fun," says the 25-year-old Broersma, who works at Lynden Floor Design.

But the attention, which includes four radio interviews so far, seems fun - ever since Broersma and other members of Realtime, an a cappella quartet, won the international barbershop harmony competition in Salt Lake City earlier this month. Going into the three-day competition, Realtime was ranked second among quartets, "so we knew we had a good chance of winning or being close to winning," Broersma says. Still, it was a "little overwhelming" to hear their names announced, he adds. "A lot of men strive their whole lives and never get it," Broersma says.

"We're definitely on cloud nine," says Realtime member Tom Metzger, 34, who sings bass and lives in Vancouver, B.C. Other group members are John Newell (lead), an Australian who now lives in Canada and Mark Metzger (baritone), brother to Tom. The Metzgers and Broersma had fathers who sang barbershop, so they grew up surrounded by four-part harmonies. "I've known nothing but barbershop growing up, so it's second nature to me," Broersma says.

Barbershop singing had become associated with four old guys in striped suits and straw hats singing, well, boring tunes. That's not the case these days, if Realtime members and other barbershop enthusiasts have their way. "One of the things we're trying to do is shatter some old stereotypes about barbershop and let (people) know what the barbershop scene is like in the 21st century," says Metzger, who's a software executive for Make Technologies. The striped suits of old? Forget about it.

For the international competition, Realtime members made like the Rat Pack and decked themselves out in sharp suits, singing tunes like "Come Fly With Me," made famous by Mr. Cool himself, Frank Sinatra. They also sang "Birth of the Blues " "Yesterday I Heard the Rain" and "Keep Your Sunny Side Up." They dove into jazz with "Cry Me a River" and a traditional barbershop standby, "Heart of My Heart," that was rearranged. All to give barbershop a more contemporary, more hip flavor. "We try to maintain a good spectrum of songs," Broersma says. As for the old guy thing, that's not entirely true anymore. "All of the top quartets are basically young guys," Metzger says.

What's next for the group? Members will continue singing in competitions - their next one is an acappella matchup - and for events to which they've been hired. Still, they want to keep their singing a hobby, partly because they want to devote their energy to their young families, and partly because they want to keep it fun. "The more fun we're having," Boersma says, "the better we're probably going to do."

Posted by acapnews at 10:12 PM

Sweet sheet music

Milwaukee Jounal Sentinal (WI):

77th and Blue Mound may not be the music industry's equivalent of Hollywood and Vine - but it should be. On that Milwaukee corner sits Hal Leonard Corp., a globe-spanning behemoth of the music publishing industry that is one of the least-known yet most successful private companies in the state. Penny by patient penny, idea by fertile idea, it has been built into the No. 1 firm in the specialized world of music publishing by Keith Mardak, a self-educated Milwaukee entrepreneur. The Hal Leonard logo adorns millions of pages of sheet music containing everything from Mozart to McCartney, Debussy to Disney, the results of thousands of licensing deals negotiated by Mardak and his staff over the past decades.

Most anybody who has sung in school would of certainly sung a Hal Leonard published arrangement as they are the "600 pound gorilla" of sheet music publishing. This lenghty and interesting article continues here.

Posted by acapnews at 9:31 PM

July 23, 2005

A cappella webcast

Watch a cappella in your pjs! 2004 Bay Area Harmony Sweepstakes champions Clockwork will be having a record release party for "Tesseract", their new all a cappella jazz recording on Primarily A Cappella Records, this coming Sunday and you're invited! You can both watch and listen for free as the event is to be webcast live on the internet.

Clockwork will be singing many of the tracks from this fabulous new release and are to be joined by acclaimed Bay Area women's a cappella ensemble Solstice.

Sunday July 24

6:45 Clockwork welcomes everyone, sing 3 tunes
7:30 Solstice sings 15 minutes
8:30 Clockwork 45 minute set

Pacific Standard Time

Go to:- IMusicast and then click the "live stage" link.

Posted by acapnews at 12:18 AM

July 22, 2005

Band wails, but players empty-handed

Boston Globe (MA):

At first, some people think Edward Chung is a liar. And they don't trust the other five dubious characters that make up the band, Duwende, either. You see, when this group from New York whips up a crowd with their exuberant funk-pop tunes, guitars wail, bass strings thump, and drums snap through soulful beats, but all six musicians perform empty-handed. Aside from their microphones, it's just them up there and empty air.

Their explanation? It's all vocal, from each perfectly metallic symbol crash to every uncannily electronic-sounding guitar riff. Time and again, though, they have to prove this is no Milli Vanilli-style stunt. ''We get a lot of people asking what kind of tracks we're singing to or what drum machine we're using, and it takes a bit of time to convince them that there was nothing; that every sound they heard was done at the moment with just the six of us and our microphones. Nothing more. Nothing less," says Chung, whose lungs and lips serve as the group's drum kit. ''We often have to do demos off-mike to prove it," he says. ''I've even done demonstrations for little kids looking right into my mouth, and afterward they look up at me innocently, but in all seriousness, and ask if I'm a robot."

Duwende, which appears in Natick Saturday, is part of the new wave in a cappella that has wandered right out of the barbershop and into the dance club. The group rocks and raps through bar and concert hall gigs along the East Coast, including clubs like Manhattan's CBGB's. Their fan base in Japan is growing as well. ''The youthful movement in a cappella is all geared toward pop rock," says Chung, explaining that since the early 1990s, when the full-band sound took hold, ''there's been an explosion in the number of collegiate a cappella groups that focus exclusively on pop music."

Most contemporary a cappella ensembles, however, stick to existing popular tunes. ''We don't fit into that category," Chung says. ''We're known for our original songwriting, and in a cappella it's a bit of a rarity to live and die on the strength of your writing." In fact, Duwende is a band foremost and an a cappella show second. Most of the members are trained musicians, and all are songwriters. Their bubbly funk and hip-hop-fueled tunes draw fans more for their refreshing, expansive sound than their novelty. In 2002, Billboard Magazine named the group one of the top six unsigned acts in the Northeast.

Posted by acapnews at 12:04 AM

July 20, 2005

National Youth Choir of Scotland

The Scotsman:

In this concert to celebrate the culmination of a week-long residential summer course, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and its training choir delivered an eclectic and imaginative mix of music from all corners of the globe.

One of the common threads running through the repertoire was how the various composers blended sacred music texts together with their own folk or classical/contemporary styles to such stunning effect. Rachmaninov wrote few choral works, but the excerpts from his All Night Vigil for unaccompanied voices are steeped in the music of the Russian Orthodox church, yet grounded by the earthy influence of the rich folk tradition. Kodaly imposes his distinctive Hungarian style on the traditional mass in Missa Brevis. The choir gave a moving performance of this complex work which takes the sopranos to the top of their range.

A personal choice of the artistic director and conductor, Christopher Bell, the five works from 24 Hymns for Mixed Choirs by the Finnish composer Urmas Sisask beautifully captured the rich and diverse influences of the Baltic region. Sisask was also an astronomer and these exquisite pieces are formed around five notes which represent the spheres of the planets. The Let us Pray hymn, with just quiet humming and vocal sounds, was beautifully sung and pushed the dynamic range of the choir to whispers.

NYCoS's professional and dynamic performance created a hard act to follow for the training choir. However, under the expert baton of director Susan Hollingworth, the young singers not only matched the older choir in terms of quality, but very nearly stole the show with a rousing set of songs. Bocanegra's Hanacpachap cussicuinin, Xicochi xicochi conetzintle by Fernandes and Garcia de Zespedes' Convidando esta la noche gave the choir plenty of opportunity to whoop, clap and shriek in these lively Latin American dance inspired pieces.

The mood was more subdued for the finale, Chichester Psalms. This work, set to Hebrew texts, is also a complex mix of different influences which the choirs captured with joy.

Posted by acapnews at 9:32 PM

July 19, 2005

Interesting quote

"The lives of bands tend to be very front-loaded," veteran rock critic Dave Marsh said. "There are very few bands that after five or 10 years are worth very much. Singing groups mature. Bands usually burn themselves out one way or another. They've used up their ideas, their material."

I came across this quote and have certainly noticed that most every long-time a cappella group out there (and there are many with over a decade of performing together) remain fresh and indeed continue to develop and mature. I can honestly say that, in my opinon, there are no tired, repetitive or bored veteran a cappella acts performing today. Must be the harmony.. - Editor

Posted by acapnews at 9:28 PM

Ensemble Gombert

The Age (Australia):

At Xavier Chapel on Saturday, the latest program from the Ensemble Gombert rotated around a cappella choral music written for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He was well treated by composers, both those in his employ and those commissioned from outside: conductor John O'Donnell led his excellent ensemble through motets by Crecquillon, Morales, Clemens non Papa, Lassus and the group's namesake. After the stringent harmonic clashes of the older masters, in particular Gombert, the concluding Heroum sobales by Lassus fell on the ear with unexpected sweetness.

For the evening's second part, the musicians sang a solid Mass by Gombert, Sur tous regretz, which was performed at the emperor's coronation. The work exemplifies the composer's individual combination of orthodox vocal movement with striking harmonic clashes at cadential points and an unexpected treatment of the text, in particular phrases that seem over-extended or end abruptly. The singers presented an illuminating and masterful account of this Mass, the altos and basses muted in volume, but giving the choral fabric a subtle yet formidable underpinning.

Posted by acapnews at 9:23 PM

July 18, 2005

Critical Ear: The skilled breath of passion

Santa Fe New Mexican (NM):

Of all the performing arts, choral music is probably the one most taken for granted. We tend to accept that we can't all move like a ballet dancer, play bassoon like an orchestra pro, take on identities like a great actor, or even sing like an opera star. But making vaguely musical noises in a group? Everybody has a voice, so surely anybody can do that.

Well, not quite. Not when it comes to the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. The professional ensemble, which opened its 23rd summer season last week, is to the average church, college, or community choir what a winning Olympic relay team is to some kids trotting around the block: out of sight. The 20 members of the group, and music director Linda Mack, are masters of their craft — people who make their living with their voices and their musical skills, and for whom work is a pleasure, not just a necessity.

This year's cadre, which includes 18 veterans and just two first-time singers, brings together university professors; high school music teachers; operatic, concert, and jazz soloists; teachers of conducting and music theory; and a former member of the Air Force's vocal ensemble, the Singing Sergeants. Among them, they have experience in literally hundreds of choral groups; eight of the singers have master's degrees in music or are getting them, and five have doctorates in music. And by the end of the season on Aug. 19, they and Mack will have put in more than 2,500 collective hours of rehearsal, refined into five repertoires. Performances began three weeks ago with a preseason tour of historic churches in northern New Mexico, in a repertoire titled Una Celebración de Música Hispánica. Another repertoire, Great Cathedral Music, opened this past week and is in regular performance.

"It's going really well," Mack said of the season. "I'm amazed — we've had huge audiences at the church locations, and the people in the churches are delighted we've come to perform for them. The other night, they clapped between every movement of the Misa Criolla [by Ariel Ramírez] — and with great enthusiasm. "One gentleman said to me afterward, 'I've never heard a liturgical Mass sung when people clapped after the Gloria!' It's really been fun for the singers to explore the history of the churches."

As its name suggests, Great Cathedral Music deals with sacred music, most of it written for grand spaces. The Breath of Passion includes some religious music, too, but also a hefty dose of secular pieces. "The history of choral music, of course, is rooted in the church, so proportionally there is a slightly larger amount of sacred music on this concert than secular — but of different kinds," Mack said of The Breath of Passion. "There are some quiet, reverent things, and there is some shout-to-the-rooftops music. Then, mostly on the second half, we extend to love of life, of relationships, of country; folk music."

The concert begins with medieval chants, including a setting from the Convent of Las Huelgas in Burgos, Spain, and a 12th-century Gregorian chant. A mix of modern and Renaissance works follows, including Leo Nestor's Jesu dulcis memoria, Cristóbal de Morales' Manus tuae, Domine, Thomas Tallis' I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, and Henry Purcell's Lord, How Long Wilt Thou Be Angry?

Additional programming encompasses works by Darius Milhaud, Tchaikovsky, Nancy Telfer, Daniel Gawthrop, Jean Berger, and Eric Whitacre. Pieces by two Santa Fe composers are slated — Mary Lynn Place Badarak's The Avowal and "Erase una niña" from the late Lanham Deal's Miniaturas de Sor Juana. György Ligeti's "Night" and "Morning," two vivid pieces of choral tone painting, were first performed by the chorale during its 1983 premiere season.

One of Mack's favorite choices for this concert is a set of two folk songs from Paul Ben-Haim's Six Sephardic Folksongs. "I looked up some old programs, and the chorale did a couple of those way back in the '80s," she said. "I wanted to do a set of folk pieces, and I definitely wanted to do something from the Sephardic Jewish tradition. I found these pieces and fell in love with all six of them. I picked two that really reflect the pain and sorrow of the national disembodiment, if you will, of the Sephardic people."

Asked how it was to work with this year's singers, Mack said: "They're wonderful. They're just great. They're experienced veterans. They know how to do this. They're working extremely well together. It's uplifting for me — their work ethic is so inspiring."

Posted by acapnews at 9:38 PM

Cantabile offers magical musical tour

Daytona Beach News-Journal (FL):

How appropriate it was that Cantabile, a British male vocal quartet, performed the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" during their Friday night concert at SMT Downtown. And how appropriate it was that the venue, which is home to Seaside Music Theater, was bedecked with a giant clown face and other carnival scenery -- all part of SMT's current production of "Cats."

The four Londoners, whose show was the first of the 16-day Florida International Festival, provided a magical tour through five centuries of music, from 16th-century madrigals to Beethoven to Beatles and goofy, slapstick takes on Elvis and -- you guessed it -- a choking-on-a-fur-ball version of "Memory" from "Cats." Yes, Cantabile (pronounced Can-TAH-bih-lay) was quite skillful at the "serious" side of a cappella singing as they performed 16th-century works such as Pierre Passereau's "Il Est Bel et Bon."

But the foursome were more captivating when they performed 20th-century hits and when they broke the rules and mimicked various instruments like giddy school boys disrupting class. The lads played it straight during a trip through the Beatles, moving from the silly "Yellow Submarine" to the morose "Eleanor Rigby." And they gave a simmering jazzy treatment to Gershwin's "Summertime."

On the fun (and irreverent) side, a clever "history of music" medley found the quartet pimp-slapping everything from Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" and Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" to the theme from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" . . . or was that "Space Oddity," given that member Mark Fleming ridiculously mimicked the thundering tympani from "2001"?

"Orpheus in the Underground" was a lighthearted tour through London's subway system, quite fun but disquieting by its very presence. The song mentioned the King's Cross station recently struck by terrorists. The group made no mention of the tragedy -- perhaps that's the famous British "stiff upper lip" in action. In any event, Cantabile was fun and often engaging music in action.

Posted by acapnews at 9:19 PM

July 15, 2005

Choir Scores with a cappella treat

Westminster Times (UK):

There are those who often bemoan the future of the English choral tradition - and admittedly I have begun more and more to share such pessimism. Of course, it is not only a dearth of young amateur singers coming forward to fill the mature ranks of the choral societies but the parlous state of vocal music in education.

As for audiences, a cappella performances seem to lack universal attraction and only the most popular choral works seem to lure bodies on to seats. But those who avoided Saturday night's concert by the HCS missed a treat.

Firstly, the programme, half English and French, offered a diversity of repertoire to satisfy most tastes. Secondly, it allowed the choir, at about three-quarters strength, to show its full plumage. The programme opened with Vaughan Williams's motet O Clap Your Hands, illustrating the character and beauty of the composer's choral writing. The Frank Bridge's 1916 setting of a text by Thomas à Kempis shows the composer's work metamorphosing into a musical language of challenging harmonies.

The first half closed with Ronald Corp's A New Song, a cantata in tribute to singers everywhere. The work ranges in mood from the triumphal, the reflective and, of course, joyful. This, the work's third London outing, revealed again the choir's quality. The performance by tenor Mark Wilde was particularly praiseworthy. The second half was devoted to Fauré's Requiem, which is perhaps more familiar in its final and full orchestral versions. Corp opted for a gentle course that was refreshingly direct and restrained and the more effective and moving for it.

Baritone Samuel Evans gave a performance of dignity and strength, but was perhaps emotionally overshadowed by the decision, and not unusually, to give the soprano part to a treble. Nine-year-old Harry Barford, who is blessed with a voice of absolute clarity, sang like an angel. But, it was the choir which really scored, excelling in the Sanctus and, best of all, with the sopranos' singing of the hauntingly beautiful In Paradisum.

Posted by acapnews at 10:22 PM

July 13, 2005

Get the pets, Barbershop guys are gone

Salt Lake City Tribune (UT):

It's safe to come out now. They're gone. The International Convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society is over. Untie your dogs. It was pretty scary for a while. Reports poured into the newspaper of hefty white guys breaking into bizarre harmonies on street corners, in restaurant waiting lines and even on TRAX.

Let me hasten to add that I can't sing a note. Nor can I put together two sequential notes on a musical instrument. My musical interest extends solely to what I enjoy hearing. Barbershop isn't it. In fact, barbershop is really close to rap on my list of music that, with a bit more research, might prove useful clearing nasty sewer clogs. At the very least I expect it to be included on the soundtrack for the Great Apocalypse.

If God really wants the wicked to suffer, I can't imagine a worse fate than perishing from boils and piles to the nonstop tune of four guys singing, "I Only Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart." Then again, it's probably not fair to put barbershop in the same category as rap. Fewer people get shot at barbershop conventions. And quartets in straw boaters and striped vests rarely harmonize about "doing yo' mama."

Truthfully, I don't hate barbershop nearly as much as I just don't get it. Yes, it's an American art form. I know it's steeped in history and culture. And it's sung entirely without banjos or monkeys. I'm still not getting it. I was probably taught how NOT to appreciate barbershop. When I was growing up, one of the neighbors sang in a quartet. Nothing wrong with that, mind you. But he practiced at home. By himself. Mr. Hobbs sang while he mowed the yard, worked on his car, and just sat on the porch. Cats became mentally ill. Birds flew around rather than over his house.

So, what I got was an appreciation for barbershop from one-quarter of the quartet. I have no idea which part Mr. Hobbs sang, but it was definitely the most irritating of the four. If he's still alive somewhere, Mr. Hobbs probably has no idea how many times he came close to getting shot in the neck with a Daisy air rifle.

So, I grew up having unaccompanied vocals setting my teeth on edge. I've tried to see the magic in it. It isn't there. I suspect an inner-ear problem, namely that I can hear it at all. The magic is there for lots of other people, enough to put together a national convention. On Saturday, they held the finals in the LDS Conference Center. My editor tried to send me, but the fact that I'm not in jail right now proves that I didn't go. I couldn't be responsible for my actions if I had to listen to one quartet after another shoot it out over "A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother."

The barbershop guys (is there such a thing as a beauty shop quartet?) are gone now. They packed up their har-moanings and left for parts unknown. Time now to collect your missing pets from the animal shelter. Me, I can go back to focusing my attention on the worst sort of musical criminal, radio disc jockeys who talk over the music.
Tribune columnist Robert Kirby welcomes mail at 90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or e-mail rkirby@sltrib.com

Posted by acapnews at 12:27 AM

July 12, 2005

Texas hits a low note

LA Times (CA): - Editorial

Here it is, the new definition of gender, coming to you oh-so-straight from Texas: Real boys don't sing soprano.

Boys cannot audition for soprano or alto roles in that state's All-State Choir. Girls cannot audition for tenor or bass. No matter where their talents lie.

As a result, 17-year-old Mikhael Rawls, who already has won awards for his countertenor — the male parallel to soprano — can't try out in the part where he excels. That rule was made by the Texas Music Educators Assn. You would think music teachers would know that countertenors such as Mikhael are a widely respected part of classical music and tradition.

But then, Texas educators can be a touchy lot on gender issues. In its eagerness to keep middle-schoolers from thinking gay marriage might be OK, that state's Board of Education required textbooks to define marriage as the "lifelong union between a husband and wife." Apparently, the close to 50% of Texas marriages that end in divorce don't count.

It's true that a shameful aspect haunts the history of high-pitched male singers — not on the part of the singers, though. In 17th- and 18th-century Italy, when women were not permitted on stage, the soprano voice would be provided by a castrato, a male castrated in boyhood so his voice would not deepen. The movie "Farinelli" was based on the life of one of the most famous of these.

Farinelli — his real name was Carlo Broschi — died in 1782. Time for Texas music teachers to get over it.

The organization says the rules prevent youngsters from damaging their voices by singing out of their appropriate ranges. They are right that kids should sing in their natural voices. For some girls, that's tenor, and for some boys, alto; for a few boys like Mikhael, it includes the high notes. He has been singing soprano parts as the only boy in his high school's a cappella choir. Boys will indeed be boys — soprano or bass.

We hope Mikhael goes on to success as a countertenor — and honors his open-minded high school by helping other young singers.

His family has been contacted by lawyers eager to file a discrimination suit. Here's the stranger part of the tale: His mother has declined, saying she doesn't think lawsuits are the right way to handle every disagreement.

To which we can say only: Bravo

Posted by acapnews at 9:54 PM

July 11, 2005

Results of Barbershop Society contest

Realtime are 2005 International Barbershop Quartet champions.

With roots in three countries, Canada, the United States and Australia, Realtime is a group with an international flair that performs all around the world. Home base is Vancouver, British Columbia, although one member lives across the border in Lynden, Washington. They are the 1st champions ever from Western Canada and one of the youngest groups to win this prestigious event. Members are Tim Broersma, John Newell and brothers Mark and Tom Metzger. Max Q came in 2nd, Metropolis 3rd, Riptide 4th and O.C. Times took 5th place.

The Masters of Harmony, under the direction of Mark Hale, is the 2005 International Chorus Champion. Based in Santa Fe Springs, California, the 100 voice chorus, incepted in 1985, has won six international championships and numerous other recognitions to their credit. The Masters of Harmony was inducted into the Barbershop Hall of Fame in Sharon, Pennsylvania in September 2002. Canada's Northern Lights took 2nd, New Tradition 3rd, Alexandria Harmonizers 4th and Minnesota's Great Northern Union was 5th.

This was a great year for Canadian groups and helps add a more international flavour to an event that has been dominated in the past by American groups.

Posted by acapnews at 10:16 PM

July 3, 2005

Out of Office

I will be away all week in Salt Lake City exhibiting at the Barbershop Society's International Contest. I will resume blogging on my return.

Posted by acapnews at 12:01 AM

July 2, 2005

'Obie' Benson, of Four Tops, Dies at 69

Detroit Times (MI):

He was the Four Top who would just not stop smiling, the life of the party, bubbling over with energy and fun. Renaldo "Obie" Benson sang bass for the Tops, for some half a century. And although friends had known for weeks that he was ailing, it was still a shock when Benson, a founding member of the Four Tops, died at 10 a.m. Friday at Harper Hospital in Detroit. He was 69.

"He had a very good heart. He always helped anyone who asked him.," said ex-wife Valaida, to whom he remained close. "And he was not a deadbeat dad. After the divorce he was still a wonderful father and loved his children very much. We were still friends through it all." "We lost another champion," said Pat Lewis of the Andantes, the vocal group that sang backup on most Four Tops songs.

As recently as April, fans could see Benson's dazzling smile on "Late Night with David Letterman" and onstage, touching audiences with his humor as he kept the bottom of the Tops' vocal mix going. Benson died of lung cancer discovered after he'd had a leg amputated several weeks ago, according to publicist Matt Lee. It's the most recent blow to what had been Motown's longest-running, intact group; Lawrence Payton died in 1997, and Levi Stubbs has been off the road, ailing, for several years.

Benson grew up in Detroit's north end, a hotbed of Detroit music. In 1953, he and friends Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir and Payton formed the Four Aims. They renamed themselves the Four Tops in 1956 to distinguish themselves from the Ames Brothers. The group toured with the Billy Eckstine Revue and played Las Vegas, as well as numerous stands at the black resort Idlewild on Michigan's west coast. After trying for years, Motown founder Berry Gordy finally was able to sign the Tops to his Detroit record label in 1964.

After that year's smash "Baby, I Need Your Loving," the Tops hit No. 1 in 1965 with "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and then in 1966 with "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." In 1967, they had two Top 10 hits: "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and "Bernadette."

Lewis first sang backup with the Tops on "Standing in the Shadows of Love." "He was a wonderful, wonderful guy, great sense of humor," the singer said Friday. "He will be missed. He was a good old clown onstage, just a bubbly personality. But it's God's will. He knows what's best, and Obie is no longer suffering. We still hold him in our hearts."

Through his publicist, Fakir said, "Obie loved his life and enjoyed every moment, and put a smile on everyone's face, including mine." Benson is survived by his daughters Eboni and Tobi, two granddaughters Zion and Mya, and his ex-wife Valaida. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Posted by acapnews at 12:05 AM

July 1, 2005

Will the real Coasters please stand up?

Summit Daily News (CO):

Cornell Gunter's death in 1990 didn't put an end to The Cornell Gunter Coasters. After all, there were still shows to play and money to be made. Not that he would be the only former member of 50s hitmakers The Coasters to trade on the band's famous name and its doo-wop hits.

Several incarnations of The Coasters tour the United States at any given time, singing "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown" and the rest of the group's oldies radio standards. Carl Gardner, owner of the trademark "The Coasters," is the only surviving member of The Coasters and continues to front the band.

Distinguishing between the different acts hasn't been without confusion. Town of Frisco officials scrambled this week to correct promotional material for The Cornell Gunter Coasters' performance at the Frisco Bay Marina. After Mike O'Brien, the show's promoter, informed the city this week that the group was not The Coasters, rather one of its offshoots, posters were altered with stickers and advertisements were changed to include the name Cornell Gunter. New posters were later printed with the picture of the Cornell Gunter lineup, not the original The Coasters, as was on the first posters.

This pattern isn't specific to The Coasters, and has infected several well known hitmakers of the '50s. The Platters and the Drifters are two other groups that have spawned numerous groups performing under a variation of the names.

Discrepancy over the use of the name The Coasters has been cause for numerous lawsuits, including one in which Gardner and his wife/manager Veta took Dick Clark Productions to court in 2000. The suit was later settled out of court. One might also argue that The Coasters died with its record sales in the 60s. "The group The Coasters doesn't exist anymore," O'Brien said. "They're all revues. It's like 'The Wizard of Oz.' Someone's playing the role of Dorothy, but it's not Judy Garland."

Veta Gardner has spent weeks in court arguing that point. She said the different bands trading on the name are robbing her husband of his dues. And by performing at a low cost the bands are prohibiting the real group The Coasters from landing gigs. "They're taking jobs from the real people," Gardner said from her home in Florida. "My husband should have been able to retire years ago. We can't even get work: These people are playing for cheap." Bringing The Cornell Gunter Coasters to Frisco is setting the city back $8,500.

Despite the presence of an original member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted group, O'Brien says the band is more than just a glorified cover band. "This will be The Cornell Gunter Coasters," he said. "A cover band would be somebody who used a name other than The Coasters, say 'A Tribute to The Coasters.'" Seth Blackmer, Frisco's special events coordinator, knew there would be no original members of The Coasters in the group, but wasn't put off.

"It's still The Coasters," Blackmer said. "It's just a different Coasters."

To this day there are groups still getting into nasty situations with former members arguing over the use of the name including an acrimonious one I am aware of right now. Every new group should spend the 10 minutes to write up a very concise but simple agreement between the founding members on who owns the name and what will be done when members leave - which is not always on the best of terms. A little bit of energy upfront can save tons of hassle later. - Editor

Posted by acapnews at 12:27 AM