August 31, 2005
Sweet Adelines convention cancelled
From the Sweet Adelines web site:
We closely monitored the situation in New Orleans and the surrounding areas in relation to Hurricane Katrina. In consultation with Conferon and various New Orleans officials, we have made a decision to not hold the convention in New Orleans. Our goal, if possible, is to hold the convention in an alternative location over the same dates, October 4-8, 2005. As soon as we are able to obtain additional information, we will notify the membership via the Web site and e-mails. Our biggest concern right now is for the safety of our members and other residents in the area. Our thoughts and heartfelt concern are extended to them.
August 29, 2005
A Moscow Choir Fills In for Mozart's Ignorance of Russia
New York Times:
For next summer's Mostly Mozart Festival maybe Louis Langrée, the music director, should simply dispense with the idea of giving the programs a thematic link. This season's theme, "Traveling With Mozart," was marginally interesting if somewhat gimmicky. What mattered more is that besides again proving himself a dynamic conductor, Mr. Langrée demonstrated a knack for putting together interesting programs, theme or no theme. Actually, the most intriguing programs were those with the least connection to the "Traveling With Mozart" focus, including the concerts that concluded the festival so successfully on Friday and Saturday nights.
Exploring the connection between Mozart and Russia is a dubious proposition, because there was none. Not only did Mozart never visit the place, he knew next to nothing about it. But his music was embraced there, thanks in part to the Ukrainian composer Dmitri Bortniansky, a Mozart contemporary who was steeped in Italian music, studied opera in Italy and introduced works like Mozart's Requiem to the imperial court in St. Petersburg.
It was a musically rewarding idea to pair a performance of Bortniansky's inventive and urgent a cappella Te Deum with Mozart's Mass in C minor. To sing the Russian Orthodox work the festival had utterly authoritative interpreters in the Patriarchate Choir of Moscow, an all-male ensemble of 12, conducted by Anatoly Grindenko. And as long as this renowned Russian choir was on hand, why not have them do what they do best? So they preceded the Bortniansky work with a half-hour of Russian sacred music mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries.
There is nothing quite like the sound of a Russian choir singing early Russian sacred music. The pure and ethereal sounds of traditional choruses singing Josquin or Palestrina have little in common with the earthy, guttural, bass-heavy Russian Patriarchate Choir. Even the tenors have a beefy quality to their sound. Judicious blending and careful balances are not the point.
The music is elemental and less concerned with polyphonic intricacies than Renaissance and Baroque European styles. It was startling to hear modal harmonies moving in unabashed parallel motion, smashing Western protocols of voice-leading along the way. A fixture of this repertory involves long, eerie sustained notes in the lower voices, like organ pedal tones, over which the upper voices dispatch ornate, skittish yet curiously plaintive melodic lines. Hearing this effect you realize that Russian music has as many connections to the traditions of south-central Asia as to those of Europe.
After some 40 minutes of severe Russian a cappella sacred music Mozart's richly scored Mass in C minor sounded as voluptuous as Ravel. Yet with the Russian sacred music still in mind, the somber overall mood of Mozart's mass came through powerfully. It was touching to see the members of the Patriarchate Choir standing among the choristers of the Concert Chorale of New York for this performance. They certainly added heft to bass and tenor sections. Mr. Langrée had a solid quartet of vocal soloists with the rosy-voiced soprano Sandrine Piau, the vibrant and agile mezzo-soprano Tove Dahlberg in an auspicious New York debut, the sweet-voiced tenor Gregory Turay and the hardy bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi.
Mr. Langrée led a performance at once vigorous and sensitive. Mozart left this work nearly as incomplete as his Requiem. Mr. Langrée used an effective 1989 performing edition by Franz Beyer that reconciles all the restorations of the experts.
Wow! What a beautififully written review.
August 26, 2005
Piety vital to Russian choir's sound
Newark Star Ledger (NJ):
Russian male choirs are bass heavy and dark-sounding in tone -- or so the stereotype goes. Conductor Anatoly Grindenko, who brings his Russian Patriarchate Choir to Lincoln Center for its U.S. debut performances this weekend, would beg to differ. "It is a false idea about the Russian vocal school," Grindenko wrote in an online interview before leaving Moscow to travel to New York. "It may have been formed under the influence of Russian immigrants who were bending backward to please Western audiences. The Russian folk song suffered especially (from this perception); it was suddenly tied in with a tavern, vodka and a bublik (a traditional Russian version of a bagel), with an added pseudo-Gypsy touch."
Audiences should expect no such atmosphere from this weekend's performances of the choir, which gave a program of mixed Russian liturgical and folk music as its U.S. debut performance last evening and will perform the famous Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrisostom Friday night in the first of two closing performances of the Mostly Mozart Festival.
"The truth is that professional Russian choir singing is, in its essence, church singing," says Grindenko, who studied Gregorian chant while studying cello at Moscow Conservatory. Struck by the similar roots of early Russian chant, Grindenko formed in 1983 the Patriarchate Choir, an active ecclesiastical choir that uses 12 male singers (ages 27 to 50) and regularly tours Europe. "Religious service is the reason for and heart of this art. That is why, if the majority of singers in the choir do not share the religious spirit, it significantly affects the sound. Despite a flawless delivery, it would only be an imitation of church singing."
With such high spiritual standards, Grindenko's group -- two first tenors, two second tenors, one tenor who can sing either, three baritones and four basses -- specializes in unearthing old Russian liturgical masterworks and using historical singing techniques to "show audiences the beauty of Old Russian singing."
Russian choirs traditionally sing a cappella; to accommodate its Mostly Mozart hosts, the Patriarchate choir will also join an American group, the professional Concert Chorale of New York led by James Bagwell, to sing Mozart's Mass in C minor both Friday and Saturday nights. How will the choirs blend? Grindenko points out that Mozart and Bach, while not on his choristers' daily diet, are necessary components of his singers' vocal training. Bagwell, who will be responsible for getting the two choirs in sync in just two rehearsals, is not worried.
"I think it's just going to be a matter of matching vowel sounds," Bagwell says. "I've heard their recordings, and theirs is not a heavy sound. After all, music-making is a hybrid exercise; there is no such thing, really, as authenticity. You try to capture the spirit of the piece." Bagwell's observations will undoubtedly please Grindenko, who says his choir's lighter, more fluid and transparent blend of low and high male voices is more historically accurate. Most of all, though, the Russian conductor is hoping for a Mozart performance that is both cleanly sung and profound -- making it uniquely Russian. "Traditional Russian art -- whether professional or folk -- is essentially very intimate and heartfelt," Grindenko says.
August 25, 2005
They call it Acappellastock
If you ask people almost anywhere to name a choir, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will likely be the first on their list. Utah is world-renowned for that vocal tradition. Jeff Petersen, the baritone voice of the Weber/Davis county-based vocal group T Minus 5, grew up benefiting from that climate, first seriously studying vocals at Bear River High School.
"There are so many enthusiasts for chorale music, for a cappella, here," said Petersen. "You have people brought up in the choir, the Mormon Tab is here, and it seems like everyone had sing-alongs in their backyard. Yet, we don't have a venue or event that really celebrates this music. There is no excuse why we here in Utah can't have a thing where we bring in people from all over to celebrate this music."
Petersen and his partners in T Minus 5 (tenor Karsten Longhurst, tenor Jared Allen, vocal percussionist Shawn Satterthwaite and bassist Jason "Fish" Salmond) are bound and determined to make an a cappella festival that will draw performers and audiences from far and wide. Saturday, they host the second of what they hope to make an annual festival, dubbed Acappellastock. The show, at the Ogden Amphitheater, features four vocal groups, all sans instruments.
"That's right -- it is all done by the human voice," Petersen said. "We have a good mix of styles this year. We have Reprise, a nationally recognized barbershop group from Utah. They were the 2001 collegiate national barbershop champions while they were at BYU. The Cadillacs, also from Utah, are right on top of the doo-wop world. "And the one we're really excited about is the one we're bringing in from Seattle, Groove For Thought. They are the current National Harmony Sweepstakes Champions, with a style that is jazz-based."
T Minus 5 started out in 2000 at Weber State University. "A couple of us were in Weber State under the direction of Evelyn Harris. We decided to break off and do some contemporary a cappella." Of the original group, only Petersen and Salmond remain. "After a year and a half, we got Karsten and Jared and have been together ever since. Shawn has a master's degree in conducting and vocal jazz, and Karsten will graduate with a music degree." Longhurst and Allen are still attending Weber State University. The balance of the band are alumni. "The reason we call ourselves T Minus 5 is that it represents a countdown to something big which is about to happen -- 'T minus 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 -- we have blastoff.' We like the imagery it represents ... We want to do it like the big boys, like Rockapella does it .... With a lot of hard work, we could do that."
August 24, 2005
End for non-singing singers of Turkmenistan
Daily Telegraph (UK):
In recent years many things have irked Turkmenbashi the Great, as Turkmenistan's erratic president-for-life Sap-armurat Niyazov is officially known. Opera and ballet have been outlawed as "unnecessary" while gold fillings and long hair are similarly prohibited.
Though relieved that the sun no longer glints off the teeth of the singers who perform in his honour, the president was reportedly furious to find that they were not singing at all, but merely mouthing the words. This week he took action, banning the playing of recorded music in all public places in an effort to stamp out the scourge. "One can see these talentless old singers lip-synching to songs," he said at a cabinet meeting aired on state television. He then banned lip-synching and recorded music at public events, in restaurants and at private parties.
Mr Niyazov's latest whim comes days after he issued a proclamation forbidding female news presenters and reporters from wearing make-up and dying their hair. In power for 13 years, Mr Niyazov has turned his country into one of the most autocratic in the world, creating a powerful personality cult and forbidding all opposition. Even those closest to him live in fear. In the past month he has sacked a third of his cabinet. Last week he docked three month's pay off his education minister, blaming him for falling standards in schools.
Calls from human rights groups for the isolation of Turkmenistan have only been heeded half-heartedly, critics say, because it holds the world's fifth-largest oil reserves. On Monday, Mr Niyazov met Gen John Abizaid, the chief of US Central Command, but the US embassy in the capital Ashgabat did not divulge whether they talked about music.
August 23, 2005
Sounds of sacred harp
San Antonio Express (TX):
Emmie Morris, sitting behind a folding table on the Community Center stage, read from an index card into the public address system microphone. "Esther Huckaby from Fort Worth," Morris said, as two women beside her wrote feverishly. "No. 270." Huckaby, 69, made her way to the area created by four facing sections of chairs. Two of the sections consisted of men. One section was all female. A fourth was mixed. Like Huckaby, all of them clutched their own copies of the same rectangular, blue, bound hymnal.
At the 141st East Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention earlier this month, folks from around the country came to do their part in keeping alive an obscure and distinctive form of a cappella gospel music that dates back 200 years and which, until recently, was rarely heard outside rural Southern churches. But here in Henderson, Hollywood hasn't changed Sacred Harp, a musical genre that's handed down like a family heirloom or discovered like a treasure by outsiders.
"My great-grandfather," Huckaby told the crowd, "was chairman of this convention in 1909. He was not a very important man. But I suspect that being chairman of this convention was very important to him." She nodded at the front row of men sitting in front of her. One began singing syllables. Others joined in quickly. Within seconds, the group was singing No. 270, the traditional hymn "Confidence" in the distinctive style of Sacred Harp — four part harmony, using only the four syllables "fa," "sol," "la" and "mi."
Sacred Harp songs are white, traditional spirituals that merge the disciplined style of rudimentary musical instruction with the fervor of Old Time religion. Most of the songs are performed in a minor key, and though usually short, the arrangements are complex. Last year, Sacred Harp music went global when it was performed on the stage of the Academy Awards. "It has a nostalgic, haunting quality about it," said Bill Giesenschlag of Snook, a retired Blinn College history professor. "In a cultural sense, this is the last outpost of the Old South."
"It's not a religion," said John Etheridge of Baker, Fla., a major figure in the last revision of the official hymnal. "It doesn't favor any particular denomination. But when you're singing, it's a religious experience." The song Huckaby led was over in two minutes. As she returned to her seat, Morris was announcing the next singer and song. Within 10 seconds, the group was belting out the next song, "Gospel Trumpet," led by Katie Mosley, 20, of Lockhart. And so it went. By the end of the convention's two days, just over 150 songs had been performed in a no-nonsense ritual of fellowship and family.
Sacred Harp also is known as "shape note" singing because it relies on the shapes attached to the sheet music. The style was created at the end of the 18th century in New England to help teach students who couldn't read music. It soon spread to the South and to East Texas. There are two types of shape-note singing. Seven-note is practiced in some churches, but four-note singing is the most common. In four-note Sacred Harp, "fa" is denoted by a triangle, "sol" is a circle, "la" is a square and "mi" is a diamond. Most songs begin with the choir "singing the notes," followed by lyrics. The seating is specialized, too, with tenors sitting across from altos and baritones sitting across from sopranos. This is called "the hollow square."
Sacred Harp songs come from one of two books. In Texas, most singers use the "The B.F. White Sacred Harp (Revised Cooper Edition)." The book is crammed with hundreds of songs bearing names such as "Lord, Show Pity," "Zion's Ship" and "If Christ Be In My Arms."
At a Sacred Harp event, singers sign up in advance to lead songs. They are then introduced, as Huckaby and Mosley were, and quickly take their place in the center of the hollow square. Most singers hold the book in one hand and conduct with the other. In the crowd, singers will also wave their arms or hands in time, to help them stay in sync with the group. Before nearly every song, several singers will repeat the hymn number to ensure that everyone will be, literally, on the right page. A baritone or two on the front row usually sounds out a starting note as the song begins. And after each song, there is inevitably a voice from the crowd, typically an older man, that says, "That was a good song!" or offers up a "You did good!" to the leader.
The sense of family runs strong through the convention, and several generations of singing families will attend. Don Ross, an appellate judge from Texarkana and a former convention chairman, met his wife, Diane, when they were teens at the 99th convention, held in Panola. Their sons grew up in the tradition, began leading songs as toddlers and continue to do so as adults.
A new wrinkle, however, has been the increasing popularity in larger cities and other counties. There are now regularly scheduled singings in 30 states and in at least a dozen countries. In Texas, weekly practices and monthly singings are held in Houston, Dallas and Austin. The large city singings are gathering converts — younger, without rural roots — to the music.
That's how Kevin Lee, 21, first heard about Sacred Harp. He tagged along when a friend attended an Austin singing to earn extra credit for a college class. "When I heard it," Lee said, "I fell in love with it. It's such powerful music. I love the lyrics. I love how the singers all work together." James Mason, 23, also from Austin and a fan of early American music, first heard it on a CD collection of old songs. He now attends weekly practices and monthly singings in Austin. "It's so raw and wild," he said. "When you're singing, everyone is right there. It's raucous. It's intense. It's so emotive. It really resonates with me."
August 22, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
I remember the day I gave up my dream of becoming a famous singer. It was in sixth-grade glee club, and we were auditioning for parts in the holiday recital. I had to sing an a cappella soprano solo and I was so nervous that I could barely breathe, let alone sing (or bother to mention to the director that I was actually an alto). Needless to say, when the moment came to hit the high note, I squeaked out something that sounded like a bird that been hit with a BB gun. I was kindly but swiftly relegated to the back row, buried with a bunch of choral wannabes whose part consisted of 50 measures of rest, followed by the brief, but glorious shout-out of "Jingle Bells!"
Life is rife with dream-crushing experiences like this -- the drama teacher who patted you on the shoulder and mumbled that you "had other talents, " the art instructor who joked that maybe you should "keep your day job." A teasing sibling who asked if you knew how to sing "Far, Far Away." And before you knew it, you were toiling away in a windowless cubicle, a bubbling cauldron of repressed creative energy with nowhere to let it out except for the occasional drunken karaoke night with the office gang.
Pep talk from the coach
"Not accepting that you have to make lots of mistakes is the biggest obstacle to creativity," says Eric Maisel, a noted San Francisco creativity coach and psychotherapist, who's authored myriad books on the creative process, including the recently published "Coaching the Artist Within" and "Fearless Creating."
"You tell yourself, 'I'm an idiot, this is no good,' rather than honoring the process, so that you never see things to completion," Maisel says. "Anxiety is the other thing. Studies show that choosing provokes anxiety, and everything you do as a creative person is choosing. So unless you can embrace anxiety, you won't do it."
Maisel, who counsels singers, dancers, painters and poets in how to lead and maintain a creative life, also offers these tips to struggling artists and those of us who hope to infuse our workaday world with creativity:
-- Recognize that there's never a perfect time to start being creative, that you're always creating in the middle of things.
-- Affirm that what you're doing matters.
-- Create a life mission statement that includes your creative pursuit and a simple plan for implementing it, such as "I will sing every day."
-- Create first thing each day, not after a long day at work. "Getting up two hours earlier is a profound lifestyle change, and a big step in committing to your creative life," he says.
Beyond that, look around you. San Francisco abounds with creative outlets -- from workshops to help you push your writer's block over a cliff, to classes for people who always dreamed of joining the circus -- all designed to coax your inner artist out of hiding. Maybe permanently.
Remember, it ain't over till the fat lady squeaks.
August 19, 2005
High note for Mail after voices plea
Evening Mail (UK):
More than 500 Birmingham singers have come forward to help form Brum's biggest ever choir, after a desperate appeal in the Evening Mail.The incredible response came after the organisers of the Big Voice decided they wanted to create a huge procession through the city centre. They are aiming to bring together one of the biggest choirs ever to collect in Birmingham as past of the city's Artfest extravaganza.
Organisers of the Big Voice choral event were desperate to find 1000 budding singers to join a candlelit procession as the centrepiece of Birmingham's Artfest celebrations. After an Evening Mail appeal, 500 eager Brummies signed up to the event. Now organisers are looking for the final 500. The procession will culminate with the sound of the 1,000 voices in Centenary Square.
Organiser Sharon Foster said: "We have been delighted with the response so far. In the week since we launched the appeal, we have already had over 500 volunteers come forward from all walks of the Midland's cultural life." The Big Voice is funded by Birmingham City Council's Urban Fusion cultural programme. Artsfest runs from September 9-11.
Highly contrasted vocal music dominated the early and late-night Proms on Wednesday. The chronology went backwards, from Berg's steamy Lulu Suite via Mahler to 12th-century a cappella via Arvo Pärt. The late-night Prom was a guide, homage and progress report on the Estonian composer Pärt, who turns 70 next month. In a programme of Prom premieres, the crack Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under its chief conductor Paul Hillier did the honours. Pärt's progress can almost be summed up as a move from black and white to colour. Pärt's "An den Wassern zu Babel" (1976) for choir and organ (Christopher Bowers-Broadbent) is mesmeric, repetitious and bleakly coloured. The more recent "Nunc dimittis" (2001) keeps the grail, but "Salve regina" (2002) is technicolour and sugary, austerity virtually abandoned.
August 17, 2005
Toxic Audio does Vegas
With more than 200 Off-Broadway performances presented to enthusiastic audiences of all ages, Toxic Audio has made its mark on the New York theatre scene and now will present "Toxic Audio- Live At The Luxor" for a Special Limited Engagement in the Atrium Showroom at Luxor Las Vegas. This new show will continue the Toxic Audio tradition of "exploring the boundaries of the human voice" and will open August 19 and run at 8 p.m. through November 16.
Created by Jeremy James, Shalisa James, Michelle Mailhot-Valines, Rene Ruiz, Paul Sperrazza, and John Valines III, Toxic Audio features the varied talents of very unique vocalists who amazingly use no instruments other than the human voice to create complex sonic textures, rhythmic drumbeats, thumping bass lines and searing guitar-like solos. In an eclectic mix of contemporary songs, comedy classics, jazz-scat and vocally orchestrated original compositions, their mouths mimic drums, guitars and horns and even turn a cough and a sneeze into an groovy backbeat.
Their 2004 NY Off-Broadway show "Toxic Audio in Loudmouth" won the Drama Desk Award for "Outstanding Unique Theatrical Experience". It was rated the No. 1 audience recommended show in the Wall Street Journal Zagat Theatre Survey. The New York Times called it "Sure-fire fun!" Tickets are $41.79 and can be purchased by calling the Luxor box office at (702) 262-4900.
Schedule is as follows:-
August 19 - September 1: 8 p.m. Except Mondays
September 3 - 5: 8 p.m.
September 16 - 28: 8 p.m.
October 1 & 2: 8 p.m.
October 5 - 12: 8 p.m.
October 19 - November 16: 8 p.m. Except Thursdays
Great gig Toxins!! I'm seriously thinking of taking a trip to Las Vegas soon myself. So many great shows there these days.
August 16, 2005
Be happy, go on vacation.
For years he's been telling people, "Don't worry, be happy." Now Bobby McFerrin has decided it's time to take his own advice. "I've got one week left, and then I'm done for a year," a weary McFerrin told The Associated Press during a weekend visit to UCLA, where he was accepting an award from the Henry Mancini Institute for his contributions to music.
"I haven't had a sabbatical, I haven't taken a year off from touring in 15 years at least," said McFerrin, whose bright and bouncy ditty, Don't Worry, Be Happy, seemed to put his name on everybody's lips in 1988 when it won Grammys for song of the year and record of the year.
"Music can be very exciting and very challenging and very tiresome and very wearisome, said McFerrin, dressed in jeans, sandals and black T-shirt, his dark, dreadlocked hair beginning to gray. Ostensibly McFerrin is leaving the road to write and record a new album. But he indicated during a break from rehearsing with the Mancini orchestra that work will likely be far down on his list of priorities.
"I want to take dance lessons. I want to learn Spanish. I want to find new restaurants. I want to hang out with my 13-year-old daughter. I want to hang out with my dog," he said, reciting his to-do list. Then he added with a laugh: "I want to sit in my porch swing and sleep in my own bed. What a concept, huh?"
Known for carrying around an entire jazz and classical music orchestra in his four-octave voice, McFerrin said he was particularly touched to be honored by the Mancini institute, whose namesake's music he grew up listening to. "Remember Hatari?" he asked excitedly, recalling one of many films Mancini scored. In this case it was a film released in 1962, when McFerrin was 12. "Remember The Elephant Walk?" McFerrin asked before breaking into a perfect vocal copy of the film's bouncy jazz instrumental.
August 12, 2005
The Magnets - Magnetude
The Scotsman (Scotland):
A boy band to outwit all other boy bands, The Magnets are dazzling. Following the path of The Flying Pickets and Cuba's Vocal Sampling, this six-man a cappella group doesn't just stick to inventive harmony singing. Defining themselves wittily as a V'n'B (vocals and beats) group, two of them are vocal percussionists layering in backing instruments. Colin provides the very cool bass, while Andy uses lips and throat to create the sound of beatbox, scratching and ultimately a full drumkit with high hat and cymbals.
The joy of this show is the way the singing is inserted into a tongue-in-cheek pastiche documentary with cinematic overtones. In pre-recorded epic voice-overs, actors Jacqueline Pearce and Ian McKellen describe The Magnets' sharp-suited existence from the time of Biblical oracles. We learn how, as "chosen ones", they abandoned aspiring careers to become Magnets - one gave up being a Tom Cruise look-alike pilot (cue Take My Breath Away); another eschewed double-glazing sales to become a vocal percussionist.
Not that any song given the Magnet treatment is sung straight. More re-creations than covers, each piece is as brilliantly choreographed vocally as it is physically. The storyline allows them to dip freely into eclectic grooves, from classics like Rocking the Boat (from Guys and Dolls) to Michael Jackson's Billy Jean.
Their sense of timing is breathtaking, their musical arrangements subversive. The sound engineer who facilitates the split-second vocal effects deserves an award. Both Toby Davies' script and Laurie Samson's production include an abundance of ironic and witty pop culture references. A breathtaking, sexy and postmodern show.
The above show is part of the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival which also presents another a cappella group, Out Of The Blue.
The great thing about a cappella groups is that they're so portable. So, when the enterprising Out of the Blue's show was delayed, they serenaded the queue on Chambers Street with A-ha's Take On Me.
Inside, things were brought up to date, opening with Robbie Williams's Let Me Entertain You – and they will. A dozen well-scrubbed and suited Oxford University students, they reproduce hit songs including Blur's Country House and the Friends theme with hand-clapping, massed air-guitar parts, Beach Boys-esque harmonies, beat boxes and some slick, funny moves.
If their voices had the same impact and quality individually as they do collectively, they could really make a stir. But, as things stand, they're good value and getting an enthusiastic audience reaction.
Umfolsi Lacked African Energy
Hexham Courant (UK):
Writing arts reviews for the Courant is not always as easy as it looks. The easy ones are those where you record a joint delight with the audience. It’s not difficult either to enthuse alone. It becomes really hard, however, to describe an event which the greatest part of an audience clearly loves but which, for you, is profoundly disappointing. It happened for me last week with the visit to the Queen’s Hall in Hexham of Black Umfolosi, the Zimbabwean song and dance group.
So let me first record that the two-hour show was well received by an enthusiastic audience that, despite high ticket prices, filled most of the seats in the Queen’s Hall. At the end of the evening sustained applause, whistles and demands for encores, together with a standing ovation in some rows, testified to a general feeling of delight.
Black Umfolosi are based in Bulawayo and a group of 18 performers has toured the world with displays of harmonic a cappella singing and dancing. They not only perform but provide workshops in dance, voice, theatre, design and issues affecting society. In any survey of multi-culturalism in the arts they clearly tick all the boxes. Black Umfolosi have earned great praise over the years. “Sheer energy radiates from this world-famous group...a capella singing...rich and fascinating, bursting with life yet under perfect control.”
The Rough Guide to Zimbabwe encapsulates their appeal: “their songs in close, rich harmony, address...love, family spirit – as well as contemporary problems...intricate rhythms...clicking, clapping and shouting, which combine to produce a natural funky and ragged aura.” Their website and publicity shows performers in traditional African costumes. But we saw and heard little of this authentic cultural tradition. Nothing funky or ragged burst onto the stage of the Queen’s Hall.
Instead we were entertained by five amiable young and middle-aged men dressed in colour coordinated nightshirts, black tracksuit trousers and white trainers, who crooned into an arc of microphones and came forward for short bursts of shimmies and the odd high kick. They were astonishingly well drilled, and therein lies the root of my disappointment. What we got was undoubtedly well done but it was regimented and over-repetitive.
What I heard was great but what I saw was homogenised, low calorie, sugar-free stuff. And did I detect in the performers themselves, nearing the end of a long tour, a sense of tiredness, even of self parody? Their extended chats to the audience suggested so. Some moving gospel songs were followed by tongue-in-cheek requests to throw flowers, credit cards or car keys on stage. They were clearly going through the motions.
But in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion slept that night. What a pity it didn’t wake and roar more effectively. I wish the group well as they return home. I’m pleased that so many people enjoyed themselves. But I am sad that what was a pleasant evening didn’t explode into a more real expression of African energy.
August 11, 2005
Healing Score At Nagasaki Anniversary
Associated Press :
The score of a symphony composed by Robert Kyr, University of Oregon professor of music composition and theory, was presented Aug. 10 at ceremonies in Nagasaki, Japan marking the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb in the city. The work, "Ah Nagasaki: Ashes into Light," is Kyr's 10th symphony and was commissioned by the Nagasaki Peace Museum. The text was written by the composer and renowned Japanese writer, Kazuaki Tanahashi.
The world premiere of a five-minute a cappella portion of the work, "Living Peace," was performed at the ceremony by a chorus of Japanese and American singers. The symphony is a deeply personal work inspired by the aftermath of the bombing and suffering of the survivors. Kyr and Tanahashi visited Nagasaki in November 2004 to talk with survivors and "absorb the soundscape and sights at ground zero" said Kyr. "The fountain at Peace Park and a 500-year old camphor tree that survived the bombing represent symbols of new life to me," Kyr said. "They are an important part of the world that I want to express through this symphony."
The first of the symphony's three movements is titled "Light into Ashes," and evokes Aug. 9, 1945, the actual day of the bombing. The piece features two choruses that are physically separated on stage for most of the work. The second movement, "Lament," features various forms of Japanese chanting and taiko drumming. "Taiko" (literally meaning "large, fat drum") refers to both the drum itself and a powerful, spellbinding style of rhythmic drumming.
The final movement is "Ashes into Light," the reverse of the first movement, which emphasizes healing and peace-making. The work is unique in the world of symphonic music due to its interweaving of English and Japanese text in counterpoint with each other along with a blending of Western and Japanese styles. "Every aspect of the work is intercultural," Kyr said.
In about two years the full symphony will receive its premiere by a variety of Japanese and American ensembles that will give performances in both Japan and the United States, Kyr said. Since Kyr joined the Oregon faculty in 1990, he has earned numerous international awards, grants and composer-in-residence appointments at universities and festivals worldwide.
Prestigious ensembles routinely record his music, such as Revalia, a men's chamber choir from Estonia that premiered his "Veni Creator Spiritus" at the Tallinn International Choral Festival in April 2005. Currently, Kyr is completing a commission for Chanticleer, the Grammy Award-winning group. The work is titled "Eternity's Sunrise," and is a setting for several texts by mystical poet William Blake.
August 10, 2005
Composers find glory in youthful voices
If Francisco Nuñez gets his way, composers will no longer be inclined to allow children's choral music to languish while they focus on writing instrumental repertoire. Starting today his group, the Young People's Chorus of New York City, presents "Transient Glory," a five-day choral symposium and chamber music festival which aims to advance the art of children's choirs and encourage composers to write for them.
The symposium, at New York University's Steinhardt School, is an extension of the chorus' Transient Glory concert series, which presents works commissioned from prominent composers such as Michael Torke, Bright Sheng, Milton Babbitt and Ned Rorem. During symposium master classes, young conductors from around the country will have a rare opportunity to work directly with these composers. Nuñez will be on hand to help facilitate communication between conductor, composer and chorus, and the works will then be performed at evening concerts. Nuñez hopes the conductors will be inspired to take the works back to their own choirs, and "the boundaries will be broken down and hopefully children's choral music will start to move forward."
Nuñez, born to Dominican parents and reared in Washington Heights, describes himself as "a very poor kid." But his world began to open up when he started to meet kids from different backgrounds, and was "able to see what else is out there." He founded the Young People's Chorus in 1988 after graduating from college to create a place where a diverse group of kids, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, could excel musically. "I wanted kids from the Bronx to meet kids who have doormen," he says.
The YPC is the resident choir at WNYC/93.9 FM. It is unusual for a radio station to have a resident chorus, but producers at WNYC were impressed by their level of performance, says Elena Park, the station's executive producer for music and culture. "They were doing such interesting repertoire. Francisco somehow manages to convince major composers to write for youth chorus ... and it's a vital, breathing collaboration."
Nuñez stresses that the music is not simplified for the children, ages 11 to 18. "Children know honesty. They know if it's a piece someone wanted to make a buck out of or whether it comes from the heart. "When you write kids' literature ... only the voicing is different as they are singing treble, but spiritually and musically everything is right there."
Michael Torke, whose "Song of Ezekiel," a YPC commission, will be performed tomorrow by the group's Women's Chorus, made up of women ages 18 to 26, says that the vocal timbre of youth choirs is particularly appealing to him. "There is nothing like the sound of a group of teenage girls singing with energy and earnestness. What an outlet for the exuberance of the adolescent girl!" Nuñez says the young singers enjoy learning contemporary works. "When we do Mozart they find it beautiful, but they aren't as interested any more. They love the newness of this music ... so this is a very exciting challenge for them."
August 9, 2005
Rediscovered Vivaldi Choral Music Played
A choral work recently reattributed to Italian baroque master Antonio Vivaldi after centuries of being wrongly ascribed to one of his contemporaries received its first modern performance Tuesday. The manuscript was found in the Saxon State Library in Dresden, Germany, by Janice Stockigt, a musicologist at Melbourne University, who was in her final week of a five-year research project into sacred music played in the German royal court.
A snippet of the 35-minute piece, an 11-movement Dixit Dominis for choir and soloists, was played by an ensemble at the Melbourne University on Tuesday for the first time since its rediscovery as a work by Vivaldi, who is best known as the composer of "The Four Seasons." The piece had been attributed to Baldassarre Galuppi, one of Vivaldi's younger Venetian contemporaries. As Stockigt examined the music, she noticed distinctive patterns that led her to believe it had been wrongly catalogued.
"Essentially, the new work displays all the peculiarities of Vivaldi's general style, peculiarities that are very familiar to musicians, musicologists and music lovers," Stockigt said in a statement.
She took the manuscript to a leading Vivaldi expert, Professor Michael Talbot of the University of Liverpool, who agreed that it had been composed by Vivaldi, according to a statement released by Melbourne University. "It's the sort of thing that any researcher dreams about," Stockigt said. "It's just wonderful music. There's not a weak moment from the beginning to the end."
An Italian priest, Iseppo Baldan, was responsible for attributing the piece to Galuppi instead of Vivaldi, who died in 1741, Stockigt said. Baldan, who ran a music transcription house during the 1750s, had found himself unable to meet a commission for a piece of music by Galuppi from a Saxon court, and had solved his problem by taking Vivaldi's work and reattributing it to Galuppi, she said. Baldan had access to Vivaldi's music because the composer's nephews worked at the transcription house, she said.
The new work is not alone in having been inaccurately attributed to Galuppi. Stockigt's tip-off to Talbot has lead to the unearthing of two smaller works, also by Vivaldi, Melbourne University said. Plans were under way for the rest of Vivaldi's choral psalm to be performed next year in Dresden as part of the city's 800th anniversary celebrations, it said.
August 8, 2005
Still singing lead after 67 years!
Ira Tucker joined the band when he was 13. That was 67 years ago. Now at age 80, Tucker is going strong as front man for the Dixie Hummingbirds, a gospel group that is an American institution and served as inspiration for such artists as Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and Bob Dylan. With Tucker still singing lead vocals, the Hummingbirds perform twice today at the Festival of Cultural Exchange in Portland.
"The group is 77 years old, and I've been with them for 67 of those years," Tucker said by phone from his home in Philadelphia. He attributes the band's longevity to its desire to stay on the right side of the law. Back in the days before the Civil Rights movement in America, a black gospel band traveling the backroads of America often found itself on the wrong side of the law - not necessarily because of any illegal activity, but because that's the way it was in parts of America.
"If you weren't working, they put you in jail," Tucker said. "So we stayed busy, all the time. It was tough, but we had the courage enough to keep it going. It's been a long journey, but it always seems to keep getting better. When I started with the Hummingbirds, for the black man there was nothing in America. But we kept on keeping on, to the point that it became worth staying out there, worth singing."
In time, the band became an icon of gospel music, with influence in the larger musical world. They moved from South Carolina to Philadelphia in the 1940s, where wider performance opportunities and a kinder political climate enabled them to expand their influence. They played New York City's first integrated club, the Cafe Society, in 1942. In the 1950s, they began singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. In 1966, they got a standing ovation at the Newport Folk Festival, and in 1973 they backed Paul Simon on his hit "Loves Me Like Rock." A year later, they won a Grammy Award.
The Hummingbirds borrow from all genres of music, including blues, Cajun, R&B and soul. Their most recent CD, "Diamond Jubilation," marked their 75th anniversary. Among the musicians who backed the Hummingbirds on the disc were two members of The Band, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson. George Recile and Tony Garnier, who play in Dylan's touring band, also helped out, along with longtime Dylan collaborator Larry Campbell, who produced the CD and wrote several tracks. Also contributing was Mac Rebbenack, better known as Dr. John.
James B. Davis began the group in the 1920s, when he was 12 years old. Davis, who lives in Philadelphia, retired in 1984. Davis named the group after encountering hummingbirds on a walk, Tucker said. "James was en route to a candy store and saw three or four of those hummingbirds flying forward and backward, up and down. It amazed him, so he changed the name to the Dixie Hummingbirds," Tucker said. The group earned its distinction for anticipating musical trends.
Their a cappella harmonies in the 1940s influenced the doo-wop sound in the 1950s. In the '50s, the Hummingbirds added electric guitar to their sound, which helped pave the way for soul music in the 1960s. In the meantime, Tucker became known for his active performance style. He preferred singing with physical energy, bounding around the stage. In that regard, he served as a model for Clyde McPhatter, James Brown and Jackie Wilson. McMaken said people who attend the performances should prepare for a rich and unique cultural experience. "Their music goes beyond the naming of God. It's about family and acceptance and about celebration, and that's exactly what this festival is all about."
Ira must be the longest serving member of any singing group. If you know of another please let me know.
August 4, 2005
Acoustic vocal laboratory in the works
A computer program designed to help choir singers improve harmonies is the latest innovation bringing science and music together. With a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Laurier Fagnan is set to establish Canada’s first vocal acoustics laboratory next year at the Faculté Saint-Jean. Fagnan, an assistant professor and choir conductor, will employ the laboratory for a variety of applications, including vocal pedagogy and linguistic research.
Singers, both choir and solo performers, will have the opportunity to utilize the laboratory to improve their singing in real time, allowing them to map their voices as they sing. “Acoustical analysis equipment will enable someone to sing into a microphone and see many of the properties of their voice displayed before them on a screen,” Fagnan explained.
They will be able to see how well they are singing in tune as they sing a phrase or as they sing different vowels; if they always go flat on one vowel, they’ll be able to see that and rectify it.” The laboratory will also enhance the way singers are trained, Fagnan explained. “It will be very interesting. We will be able to train singers by employing their ears and also their eyes,” Fagnan said.
Fagnan’s laboratory, which should be up and running within nine months, will open doors to a host of potential research opportunities, especially in the field of linguistics. As the only francophone postsecondary institution west of Winnipeg, Fagnan said that the Faculté Saint-Jean is a centre for French-speakers in Western Canada. “We have many Anglophones who come to the Faculté Saint Jean to study French, and one of our aims is to give them the best education in French that we possibly can. That includes—when they leave here, when they speak—having a beautiful French accent. “This lab will enable us to do some research into the question, ‘What is a beautiful French accent? What are its vocal components? What are its linguistic components?’” he explained.
The laboratory may also be used to develop special programs helpful to the speaking voices of schoolteachers. “Teachers often lose their voices in a school setting. When they’re speaking in front of a classroom for eight hours of the day there is a lot of vocal abuse, so we’ll be looking at ways in which we can develop a program that will be helpful to the speaking voice,” said Fagnan.
In addition to helping teachers, Fagnan, a scholar in bel canto—a method of operatic singing prevalent in 18th and 19th century Italy— hopes to further his research of adapting the bel canto method of vocal instruction for choral training. Using sophisticated equipment and software developed at the Paris-based Institute for Research in Musical Acoustics (IRCAM), Fagnan will marry the field of music, science, and technology to improve the sound quality of choral singers. “There will be equipment to analyze the efficient vibration of the vocal cords,” Fagnan said.
Such advanced equipment includes a plethysmograph, a set of electrodes placed around a person’s ribs that measures the use of air while they’re singing. “It will measure how the body and the voice work together and how breath control and vocal production can be looked at as a whole,” Fagnan explained. Fagnan hopes that his laboratory will create and facilitate more research projects and collaborations between postsecondary and research institutions. “This will really draw people to the Faculté Saint-Jean for collaborative research and make the Faculté a real place of excellence in vocal research,” Fagnan said.
Coco’s Lunch offers feast for the ears
If you hunger for something a little out of the ordinary to satisfy your musical tastes, Coco's Lunch may just provide enough delicious musical traditions to sate any aural gourmet. The all-female Australian quintet brings its stunning mix of jazz, gospel and world music to Millennium Place on Friday, Aug. 5, for a smorgasbord of all-original songs performed mostly a cappella.
The five women of Coco's Lunch are all musical scholars with extensive educations and experiences in multiple styles and forms of music. Lisa Young completed her masters in music, specializing in advanced Konnokol ---– an Indian vocal percussion of the Karnatic tradition in which the voice imitates the sound of the mridangam drum.
"The group first started about 11 years ago and the current lineup has been together for about nine years," said Young. "Two of us used to play in a jazz ensemble together. "We both really wanted to be in a group that was for women's voices and we both came from an improvisational background," she said. "We met the other members of the group along the way."
Sue Johnson lectured in the improvisation department of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) for 11 years and is known Australia-wide for her work as a
pianist/composer. Nicola Eveleigh is known as an outstanding flautist and studied both classical and improvisational music in an honours program at VCA. Gabrielle MacGregor is also an honours graduate of the VCA and has had her unique compositions featured in several Australian short films. Jacqueline Grawler is also an honours student, but from the University of Melbourne, where she received scholarships to study in Japan and Italy.
In fact, the members of Coco's Lu nch speak, or have studied five languages between them — Portuguese, English, German, Italian and Japanese. They've also studied musical styles from Africa, India, Bulgaria and Brazil. Those diverse experiences and styles converge in Coco's Lunch to create a unique musical flavour that is part Zap Mama, part Sweet Honey in the Rock, but completely original, angelic and richly-textured. "(A cappella music) is the type of genre that lets you utilize all five voices," said Young. "If you had a chordal instrument as well, some of those notes would already be covered. It's a demanding art, as well."
On the group's latest album, A Whole New Way of Getting Dressed, you can hear all those different facets of experience and study, as the quintet weaves a thoroughly mesmerizing spell of jazz and world music-influenced harmonies, accentuated by some flute and percussion. Notable on the CD is the track "Thulele Mama Ya" whose title is Zulu for "Don't Cry Mama," but is made up of a language that sounds African- inspired and is actually not a language at all.
"A lot of songs have come to Australia from Africa with those sorts of sentiments and I wanted to write a song that was inspired by that but was really our own," said Young. "I initially wrote it as a simple chant but it evolved from there."
Of course, Young admitted there wasn't always harmony in a group where improvisation and made-up languages are the order of the day. "We often have a big debate about how you write something down, phonetically," she said with a laugh. But you won't need a lyric sheet to understand the heart-felt lyrics and rhythmic vocalizations of what has already been called "a national treasure" by media back Down Under
August 3, 2005
Composer competition for students
Chanticleer, the men's vocal ensemble, will hold its third biennial Student Composer Competition to encourage current composition students to create works for high school-level choirs. Submissions must be postmarked between Oct. 1 and Jan. 31. The winning composition will be announced on May 1 and will be performed at the Chanticleer Youth Choral Festival the following fall. For information, contact Nancy Roberts at (415) 252-8589, Ext. 306, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Paradise Singers celebrate 20 years
Daily News (Republic of Botswana):
Over a thousand gospel lovers braved the windy and chilly weather to see and hear the warm, fuzzy and spiritual healing tunes of the Paradise Singers in Serowe. Paradise Singers, a Seventh Day Adventist based group comprising 26 members singing acapella, celebrated their 20th anniversary in style over the weekend and among dignitaries present were the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Pelonomi Venson, and Lands and Housing Minister Ramadeluka Seretse.
The group is well known for its adherence to its mission of spreading the gospel in song and a passion of serving the community, including participating in community projects such as raising funds for Masiela Trust Fund in Maun and Palapye in 1999, songs of hope for parliamentarians in 2003 and for Tshotlego Morama last year.Our resolve had always been to do something for the orphans in this country, and we will continue to execute our mission even in the next 10-20 years, said Clifford Matsoga, a public relations officer for the church, in an interview with BOPA.
Just from their singing that brings the sinner closer to his or her Saviour, and the touchy messages relayed, undoubtedly Paradise Singers is richly endowed with an assortment of skills among members. It is this assortment of traits that has made the group stay together for the past 20 years, Matsoga said. Most of their songs are in Setswana, making it easier for most Batswana to appreciate Gods amazing grace and love through music. They have so far produced four audios, three CDs and a video. Paradise Singers are well known for such touchy gospel music pieces as Khalefari, Jeso o etla, and One o le teng. They have also shared the stage with other gospel groups in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Czechoslovakia.
August 1, 2005
Group's songs help teach math and science
Annapolis Capital (MD):
Their work is truly out of this world, both musically and physically. They are The Chromatics, a unique a capella group whose members happen to be some of the greatest scientific and tech minds around. Karen and Alan Smale of Crofton are just two of this six-member vocal ensemble who have been performing for appreciative audiences both here and across the country since the early 1990s. "We have a more contemporary pop style," explained Mr. Smale. "We are nothing like a barbershop or madrigal style group." The group has an impressive repertoire, singing everything from the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" to the B-52's "Love Shack" and even patriotic pieces like "America the Beautiful."
But they are perhaps most well-known for their efforts in making the complexities of astronomy and physics more understandable and just plain entertaining for science students, their teachers and many appreciative fans. Their "Astrocapella" project began one day when Mr. Smale and fellow "Chromie" Padi Boyd, both astrophysicists for NASA, were discussing recent grant recipients of NASA's Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy program, or IDEA. "We knew of the research that proves a connection between music and memory," Mr. Smale said. "We also knew there is still a perception among some students that math and science are subjects to be feared and avoided."
Building on the concept of the old "Schoolhouse Rock" program - in which millions of kids learned grammar, mathematical, and historical facts through entertaining musical interludes on Saturday morning TV - the Chromatics developed "Astrocapella." It's a classroom-ready collection of upbeat pop songs, lesson plans and background information on subjects like the sun, the moon, X-rays and gamma rays, nuclear fusion, black holes and quasars for middle and high school classrooms.
With IDEA funding, group members went to work, writing their own songs and developing then field-testing their products with teachers across the country. The materials, released in 1998, are now in widespread use and the group uses the musical numbers often in performances for scientific and educational conventions, as well as their regular gigs at local festivals and concerts. Their efforts have been featured on CNN, PBS and National Public Radio. Catchy melodies and clever lyrics abound in songs such as "A Little Bit of Rock" (about meteors) and the "HST Bop" (about the Hubble Space Telescope) and have made fans out of scientists as well.
Astronaut John Grunsfeld even took a copy of their "AstroCappella" CD with him during his flight on the space shuttle Discovery in December of 1999.
Perhaps their success is related to the close-knit camaraderie of the six performers. Though none has a voice that has been classically trained, that is the reason their group is so vocally tight, according to Mr. Smale. "It wouldn't work if we had a voice that really stuck out," he said. The group has since released a second "Astrocapella 2.0" with songs about the planets for even younger students, and continues to perform at various local and national events and give educational workshops. And though they love what they do, they aren't quitting their day jobs. "Ideally we would love to be nationally famous," said Mr. Smale. "But we all have good jobs, some with kids, so that is not too feasible. Right now we just like to travel and perform, getting great responses from our audiences."