January 30, 2006

Vocal group wins $250,000 in settlement from Pepsi


A judge has ordered PepsiCo Inc. and its advertising company to pay US$250,000 to the 1950's singing group The Flamingos for using their recording, I Only Have Eyes For You in a commercial without permission. A federal judge in Chicago on Friday upheld an arbitrator's decision in favour of the two surviving members of The Flamingos, Terry Johnson and Tommy Hunt, and the estates of the deceased members.

A collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists requires an advertiser to get permission and pay fees to the music publishers, the record labels and the artists themselves. "In our case, they didn't even ask," San Francisco entertainment lawyer Steven Ames Brown said Monday.

It's not the first time Pepsi has neglected to pay a recording artist for a song, Brown said. He claims Pepsi has failed to pay black performers for their songs in advertising campaigns featuring supermodel Cindy Crawford. "Pepsi routinely pays the Caucasian performers who appear on camera, but refuses to pay the African-American singers whose voices are used in the soundtrack unless they sue," Brown said.

A spokesman for Pepsi said the failure to pay The Flamingos directly was an oversight and that Pepsi didn't realize the song was subject to the collective bargaining agreement. "That's completely inaccurate," said Dave DeCecco of Purchase, N.Y.-based Pepsi. "We have a long history and strong track record of supporting diversity in our advertising."

Pepsi used the band's best known 1959 hit in a television commercial that ran countrywide for about six months in 1997, Brown said. Brown said he successfully sued Pepsi on behalf of Doris Troy, whose 1963 hit, Just One Look was used in another popular Crawford commercial, which also featured two young boys. Troy died in 2003. Brown sued on behalf of The Flamingos in 2003. Hunt sang the lead vocal in I Only Have Eyes For You, which reached No. 11 on Billboard's Top 40 in 1959 and remained on the charts for 11 weeks, according to the suit.

Yeah - a rare win for the artist against the giant corporation! Hope the lawyer didn't get most of it...

Posted by acapnews at 9:42 PM

January 28, 2006

Meddies take Korean holiday

Bowdoin Orient (ME):

The Bowdoin Meddiebempsters are accustomed to performing for quiet, attentive audiences, but how about a group of Buddhist monks? They are used to singing in cafés and restaurants, but how about one of the swankiest night clubs in Seoul, South Korea? They are no strangers to sharing the stage with other talented singers, but how about a famed Korean diva? They are familiar with playing alumni functions, but how about the first ever convocation of Bowdoin Korean alumni?

Suffice it to say, the Meddies' two-week journey to South Korea over winter break set some new highs for the 69-year-old a capella group. Using funds that they had raised by singing paid gigs in addition to a generous contribution from Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), 11 of the group's 13 members, two of whom call South Korea home, traveled to the other side of the globe, where they spent 14 days performing in churches, hospitals, restaurants, and even subway stations. Among their hosts during this time was a Bowdoin alumnus and former mayor of Seoul Cho Soon '60, and the parents of current Meddies Josh Chung '06 and Yong-Soo Chung '09 (no relation).

Josh Chung's uncle, a producer at Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), a South Korean television network, arranged for the Meddies to perform in front of a live studio audience on "Music Wave," a popular program that members of the group described as the Korean equivalent to the British Broadcast Company's (BBC) "Top of the Pops" or the former American Broadcast Company (ABC) show "American Bandstand." This allowed the Meddies to rub elbows with Korean music royalty, as eminent singer Lee Eun Mi and rising pop group Gavy NJ were also guests on the show that evening.

But the Meddies' experiences with pop icons were not limited to the local variety. Chung's uncle was also able to score them tickets to the Backstreet Boys, who happened to be in town. Their performance on "Music Wave" was not the group's only television appearance. They also performed on the Christian Global Network (CGN), an international Christian television network, when singing at an Onnuri Church in Seoul.

"We sang songs where the lyrics matched [those of hymns sung in the church]," said Chung, "'The Life Song,' 'Living on a Prayer'..."

But perhaps the most spiritual moments of the trip occurred not at the church but at the Buddhist Seoknam Monastery in the Southeastern part of the country. During what began as a simple tour of the monastery, the Meddies by chance ran into the head monk, who then invited them into the monastery for tea. "It was one of the most intense experiences of my life," said sophomore Will Hales. "It was just us, sitting in a semicircle around this table as the great monk of the monastery prepared tea for us."

After some debate over whether offering to sing would be appropriate, the group performed several songs for some of the monks who were not reflecting privately at the time. They even received a request for an encore. Before the Meddies left the monastery, the head monk gave them each $10 in the ancient tradition of the Chinese New Year in a solemn ceremony that many of the members agreed was the emotional peak of the trip. "We will not be spending that money," said Josh Chung.

Chung's father, a member of the Board of Directors at Yonsei University Medical Center in Seoul, invited the Meddiebempsters to perform for patients at the University's Severance Hospital.

"We started singing at the 19th floor, and sang songs [on each end of each floor] all the way down to the fourth floor," said Josh Chung. "I left my voice somewhere around the 10th floor," Hales admitted. The group estimated that they sang each song approximately 40 times. Although their voices were shot after this exercise, and they worried about losing them permanently with gigs still on the schedule, the Meddies still summoned the pipes to sing for and interact with patients in the children's section of the hospital's cardiology wing, an experience that moved some members to tears.

Not all of the performances were staged. In bars and restaurants, the Meddies were often able to earn free food and drinks by regaling employees and patrons with songs from their repertoire.

"They didn't recognize all the music, but they always knew 'Fly Me to the Moon,'" said Kevin Wilcox '06. "They would sometime respond to other familiar melodies." "A lot of it had to do with the energy we put out," said Bernardo Guzman '08. Hales added, "They also liked watching people who were all wearing the same thing."

Though the two-week odyssey was unlike anything these Meddiebempsters have done before, they agreed that the overarching theme of the trip was the same as anything the group does together. "At the end, what it comes down to is that we're a group of guys who enjoy singing together, and enjoy performing well for people," said Tauwan Patterson '06. "It's not about where we are, it's about being together, and performing the best we can, wherever we are."

Posted by acapnews at 12:13 AM

January 26, 2006

Tallis Scholars premiere Tavener's Tribute to Cavafy

The Independent (UK):

A sense of tidying up loose ends infused the belated premiere of Sir John Tavener's Tribute to Cavafy. Commissioned by Symphony Hall, Birmingham, it is a seven-movement setting of the words of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. Completed in 1999, it belongs to Tavener's earlier, stark "Greek Orthodox" phase.

Vanessa Redgrave brought a bewitching presence to the role of narrator, as in the central movement, "Voices", which required her to read out two long lists of names: first, Cavafy's literary descendants and then Christ's genealogy.

In between, the choir and semi-chorus delivered radiant verse settings, gradually increasing in intensity to ecstatic effect. Sarah Connolly wreathed a beautiful solo line of euphoric, swiftly repeated notes. "Voices" concluded magically with a gradual stripping away of the choral lines to leave the basses intoning "God", an inspired gesture.

On either side of this movement, spoken settings of "The God Abandons Anthony" and "Ithaka" relied mainly on the emotional resources of the narrator for resonance rather than any memorable musical effects.

Flanking them were two artless movements. For "In the Month of Athyr" Redgrave played the part of Cavafy trying to decipher words on a tomb while the chorus chanted the words. In "Prayer", for soloist and chorus, a mother prays for the return of her sailor son, not knowing that he has drowned.

The outer layers of the piece were identical. A folk-like choral setting of "Days of 1903" in Greek framed the work in a wistfulness entirely appropriate to words describing a lost love.

In truth, none of the movements approached the same level of invention as "Voices", the heart of the work. Disappointingly, Tavener rarely exploited the fabled contrapuntal talents of the Tallis Scholars, who seemed far more in their element in the premiere of a new scholarly edition of 16th-century Flemish composer Nicholas Gombert's Missa Tempore paschali.

Intricately interwoven parts frequently produced teeming textures, especially in the second half of the Credo, whose split-second switches of harmony created tremendous tension and emotional ambiguity.

Posted by acapnews at 12:02 AM

January 25, 2006

Boys Choir Of Harlem Faces Possible Eviction

NY1 TV (NY):

The Boys Choir of Harlem is anxiously waiting for a decision from the Department of Education Tuesday on whether it will extend the choir's partnership. Former Mayor David Dinkins, who has temporarily taken charge of the choir, met with city officials Tuesday to discuss the future of the Boys Choir. Dinkins presented a plan to reform the choir which included the introduction of an Acting Executive Director, pledges for private donations, expansion of the board, restoration of choral instruction, counseling and tutoring.

The DOE ordered the Boys Choir to leave its rent-free home by the end of the month, saying it hadn't lived up to an agreement to find a new chief executive to replace Walter Turnbull. The Boys Choir has been at Madison Avenue and 127th Street since 1993 "We had a long and, I think, fruitful and productive meeting,” said former Mayor David Dinkins, sounding optimistic about the chances of the Boys Choir of Harlem staying put.

Since 1993 the choir's been housed in the Choir Academy, a public school run by the Department of Education. But the DOE has ordered the choir out by the end of the month, saying it no longer provides music instructors as it promised to do, and is deeply in debt, even though it receives an estimated half a million dollars a year in free rent and free services. And there's more. The DOE says the choir's leadership has failed to clean house after a counselor was convicted of sexually abusing a choir member. CEO Walter Turnbull was accused of knowing about the problem and ignoring it. He was supposed to have stepped down, but the DOE says he's still in charge.

Tuesday’s meeting wasn't open to the public, but afterward board members explained a three-phase plan they devised to reform the choir, including hiring an Acting Executive Director, expanding the board. In addition, “We are focusing on restoring artistic instruction and tutoring and counseling," according to Boys Choir Vice Chairman Skip Wyatt.

Dinkins asked education officials for more time to straighten things out - to the end of the school year - and said supporters are lining up to help the choir deal with its debt, estimated at more than $3 million. "We have in hand pledges, commitments, exceeding $1 million, and more forthcoming, but that will only be so if it appears that the city is willing to continue this partnership," said Dinkins.

But Dennis Walcott, the deputy mayor who oversees education, said he isn't yet convinced. "We have requested additional information including a detailed budget, which was promised today, and are still awaiting receipt of this information,” Walcott said in a statement. “Without this critical component, we have not been able to fully evaluate their presentation." Which means the choir is not off the hook, yet.

Posted by acapnews at 12:02 AM

Ladysmith on Leno

Ladysmith Black Mambazo were on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Monday's show singing a medley of some of their more well known songs. They were joined by Sarah McLachlan who sang along with them although, frankly, I'm not quite sure who thought that it would be a good idea... She also sings on their latest release "Long Walk To Feedom".

Posted by acapnews at 12:01 AM

January 24, 2006

Go Fish is angling for small fry

Pioneer Press (MN):

Two-year-old Mason Statema is jumping around inside the studio as the music plays, unaware he's speaking for toddlers across the country. "We now have a built-in focus group for what we're doing," says Mason's father, Jamie Statema, founder of the St. Paul-based vocal group Go Fish. "I'll bring him up to the studio, and if he's bopping around to the song, we know it's probably going to work."

Everything has been working for Go Fish since a 2003 side project of kids' songs ("Splash") — intended as a fun distraction — catapulted the vocal trio to national prominence. The past two years have seen Go Fish release two more kids' albums (2004's "Superstar" and 2006's "Snooze"), tour the country to rave reviews, sign a national distribution deal with Warner-owned Word Entertainment and release their first DVD, "Showtime," this month. A kid-friendly radio show is also in the works, along with another DVD.

"It's been really exciting and amazing," Statema says. "The response to 'Splash' was so overwhelming that we just started focusing all our energies on making great music for kids that won't drive their parents bonkers. That's our line, and it really resonates with parents." Fresh off a winter tour that took them from Anaheim, Calif., to Orlando, Fla., Go Fish returns home this weekend for shows Friday, Saturday and next Sunday at Northwestern College in Roseville.

The a cappella group, which Statema founded in his hometown of Roseville in 1993, spent its first decade making a name for itself as a contemporary Christian music act. The group's sweet-as-sugar harmonies, doo-wop style, Christian message and catchy percussion — Statema is also a drummer — resonated with audiences, especially families.

In December 2001, Go Fish drew more than 14,000 fans to Xcel Energy Center for a Christmas concert. That same year, their album "Infectious" sold more than 100,000 units. "It always felt like we had some measure of success and people liked what we did," Statema said of Go Fish, which also includes vocalists Jason Folkmann and Andy Selness. "But we felt like the shoe fit perfectly when we focused in on kids."

That came about after "Splash" unexpectedly became a huge hit. "It used to be that we never sold any records until people saw us in concert first," Statema said. "But with 'Splash' and then 'Superstar,' the music sold on its own. And the concerts we did for those albums were sold out within hours. It was overwhelming."

Performances at national children's pastors conventions and mothers of preschoolers conferences heightened Go Fish's profile among youth leadership and parents, and the band's humorous, entertaining style has drawn comparisons to popular children's acts like the Wiggles. "I would say you could apply the concept of the Wiggles to us, except that musically we don't dumb down our music for kids whatsoever," Statema says. "And I think that's why parents enjoy the music as much as kids do. Musically, we put a lot of work into what we do. I think if we were doing simple songs without any depth, we'd be frustrated as artists. But we take a lot of pride in what we do."

Since "Splash" was released in 2003, it and "Superstar" have sold more than 150,000 units and are continuing to sell well now that Word Entertainment is placing the albums in Christian and mainstream bookstores around the country, Statema says. "A lot of doors have really started opening up for us," he said. "We're really excited about the DVD, too."

"Showtime" is a Monkees-type production that mixes music videos with comedy bits and skits highlighting the differing personalities of Statema, Selness and Folkmann. Christian radio stations have also approached the group about putting together a half-hour radio show aimed toward younger listeners. Children's pastors and Sunday school teachers have started using Go Fish's songs in lesson plans, Statema says. Through it all, the group has been able to maintain its main mission — spreading a Christian message. "Our name comes from the Bible passage about being fishers of men, and we're still doing that," Statema says. "Now we're just going after the little fishes."

Posted by acapnews at 12:38 AM

January 23, 2006

Hilliard singers excel in a narrow, rarified realm

The Oregonian (OR):

The all-male Hilliard Ensemble has a choral sound that is immediately identifiable: austere, concentrated, planed to a flat finish. The sound is not for everyone, especially for those who prefer a richer, glossier resonance. And, to some extent, reaction to the Hilliard depends on one's response to its individual voices. But collectively, whether in music from 1100 or 2001, the four, and sometimes five or six, voices of the Hilliard Ensemble sound very much themselves. Friends of Chamber Music brought the English group to Reed College on Sunday for a concert that was both superb and remarkable.

Formed in 1974, the internationally acclaimed Hilliard stands out for its minimalist approach to medieval and contemporary music. The singers' range of expression is narrow. Dynamics remain limited and vocal lines bloom and grow subtlely. As a result, the music sounds pure and clear, marked by a sense of line, astonishing intonation and knowledge of harmonic tension that keeps slow-moving music alive. But there's some debate whether the Hilliard's plain sound is always appropriate.

On the one hand, some specialists argue, the group's plain approach makes sense because we have this idea that people living in the Middle Ages were so "other" as to be almost a different species. Their church music reflected an exalted spiritual plane nearly beyond human utterance. This can be challenging for modern audiences because we're still much influenced by 19th-century ideas of emotional expression. I feel, therefore I am.

Others in the debate point out that folks in olden times were people, too, who enjoyed showing off their voices and expressing their deepest emotions. Whatever the argument, the Hilliard's stark sound extends even to its stage deportment. The singers stared expressionless at their music scores, rarely looking at each other or the audience. If they had suddenly broken into barbershop music, jazz or possibly "Danny Boy," we would have fallen out of our chairs.

The group unified Sunday's concert by threading Nicolas Gombert's Renaissance Mass, "Missa Media Vita," throughout the program. Elongated lines ascended in shallow steps to exquisite cadences. The Hilliard has an uncanny ability to hold a final chord in perfect balance until a magical moment of release. The singers also have an uncanny ability to move between ancient and contemporary styles. Ken Ueno's "Shiroi Ishi" ("White Stone"), written in 2001, gently pulsed with sibilants and "sshing" sounds, like white noise.

Two works stood out for me, Perotin's "Viderunt omnes" ("All the ends") and Josquin Desprez's "Tu solus" ("You alone"). Perotin (born around 1160) was an influential French composer who expanded plainsong from two parts to three and four, adding rhythmic complexity. The best way to describe Perotin's "Viderunt omnes" is medieval hip-hop, marked by simple, descending lines and a bass drone. The piece went on and on, but it was a toe-tapper.

Josquin's "Tu solus" offered gorgeous, long-held phrases capped by hushed cadences. The sound grew even more intense as countertenor David James soared above the others, clarifying the intricate harmonic web. In an encore, they let it rip in a traditional Armenian folk song, unleashing vibrato and their wonderful bass singer, Robert Macdonald. We didn't need "Danny Boy" after all.

Posted by acapnews at 9:37 PM

The Renaissance, in rich five-part polyphony

Los Angeles Times (CA):

Although it's commissioned works from contemporary composers and had a 1994 crossover hit collaborating with a Norwegian saxophonist, the early music Hilliard Ensemble stuck to Renaissance music Saturday at the Getty Center.

The male a cappella group brought its persuasive mix of purity and grittiness to a diverse program of religious and secular music that ranged from solo opportunities — countertenor David James ("In a garden so green") and baritone Gordon Jones ("My love she mourneth") — to rich five-part polyphony. Tenors Rogers Covey-Crump and Steven Harrold and bass-baritone Robert MacDonald completed the ensemble.

The favored religious composer was the little-known Nicolas Gombert (circa 1495-circa 1560), a late student of the luminary Josquin des Prez and a musician who, midcareer, as the program notes put it, was "sentenced to the galleys for gross indecency with a choirboy." Even there, however, he managed to compose. The ensemble expertly sang his "Missa Media Vita," intercutting its movements with his "Quam pulchra es" and "Salve Regina."

Gombert's close-layered, imitative polyphony creates effects like those successive starbursts in fireworks displays. But his sensuous, florid designs were no match in impact for the sincerity and humility of Josquin's "Tu solus qui facis mirabilia" (You alone, who perform wonders).

The secular songs tended to focus on love lost and betrayed, with William Cornysh's "Ah Robin" sung tenderly by Covey-Crump, Harrold and Jones. There was one especially provocative selection. Imagine an age with a popular song (the anonymous "Passacalli della vita") whose refrain is "Bisogna morire" (You must die) — whether, as the Hilliard wistfully ran down the list, you're young, old, healthy, infirm, singing, dancing, eating or drinking. Try getting that recorded today.

Posted by acapnews at 9:32 PM

January 21, 2006

Why states are cracking down on Great Pretenders

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial (PA):

How’s this for a bum note? Impostor doo-wop performers have been going around the country using the names of famous groups and fooling music fans into thinking that they are the real deal. Oh-oh yes, they’re the great pretenders.

But those musicians whose need is such they pretend too much will be left grieving all alone if the Pennsylvania Legislature has its way. With the support of fans of doo-wop, the grandly named Truth in Music Advertising Act (Senate Bill 929) has already passed the chamber and received the unanimous support of a House committee.

As the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert Robbins, a Republican from Mercer, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this is serious business involving identity theft for artists and consumer fraud on the public.

SB 929 would prevent artists from claiming to be a certain group (in any musical genre – not just doo-wop) unless they own the trademark name or at least one member was part of the original group and has the right to carry on. Exceptions are provided for advertised tributes or salutes or performances expressly authorized by the original group.

The proposed legislation would permit the attorney general or a district attorney to obtain an injunction to stop phony groups from doing their thing. Bogus groups could also end up being liable for civil penalties of $5,000 to $15,000 in addition to costs and restitution. That ought to stop them laughin’ and being gay like a clown.

North Dakota and South Carolina have similar laws, but supporters of SB 929 think those don’t do enough to correct the problem. The bill’s backers are campaigning nationwide and hope to make this measure the model for other states. As one of them told the Post-Gazette: “Pennsylvania is a key state to start in. It’s always been a real strong oldies state” – which, when you think about it, is a double-edged compliment.

A bill to protect the interests of gray-haired rock ’n’ rollers may not be the state’s highest priority, but who can be against truth in music or anything else?

If the Platters (who recorded “The Great Pretender”) are onstage, fans shouldn’t have to worry that they are dancing to a deceptive beat. And maybe nothing can stop the Duke of Earl, but his dukedom can only be helped by a bill that says the golden oldies can’t be tarnished.

Posted by acapnews at 12:15 AM

Collegiate contest

The International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, an educational organization dedicated to providing opportunities for scholastic a cappella, is currently in its tenth season with a performance today with the Patriot Division of The Barbershop Harmony in the New England quarterfinal at Merrimack College. A collaboration of the ICCA and the BHS, all proceeds from this event will be donated to its Harmony Explosion Camp in order to further the interests of student vocal music.

Posted by acapnews at 12:03 AM

January 20, 2006

Singing back the years

San Jose Mercury News (CA):

They are engineers, financial advisers and retirees who came together simply for a shared love of singing and fellowship. And in typical Bay Area fashion, became something much more. In many ways, the Zhi Yin Chorus is like any number of amateur vocal groups with a collective passion for music. But this 60-member group, which happens to be made up predominantly of performers of Chinese descent, draws from a cross-cultural repertoire -- everything from syrupy Broadway show tunes to Chinese folk songs about fighting Japanese invaders in World War II.

Zhi Yin, which means "best friend'' in Chinese, was founded by conductor and music director Bainian Tan in Danville in 1997. Aspiring singers -- many with little more experience than membership in youth singing groups in their native Taiwan and China -- signed up mostly to expand their knowledge of choral music. It was OK then, and it's OK now, says Tan. "I still think it's a service for the people. They play, they learn music and singing technique. They have fun.''

They also inspire crowds in ways even they could not have anticipated. At a June 2005 concert before 2,500 rapt audience members at the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose, Zhi Yin performed such Chinese folk songs as "The Yellow River Cantata.'' The concert, which commemorated the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, included music that celebrated the defense of the Yellow River. "And the audience was just so moved because they hadn't heard any Chinese cultural songs for so long,'' says soprano Sarah Huang, 52, a financial adviser from Danville. "Especially the older Chinese people. They were in tears. The music speaks out.''

Participating in Zhi Yin also has also inspired its singers, says Madeleine Lee, a Zhi Yin soprano and CEO of an electronics firm in Sunnyvale. The chorus, she says, reminds the older members of seasoned musical favorites while exposing their children and grandchildren to a legacy obscured by time and assimilation. "That's the only way I get exposure to the Chinese music,'' Lee says. "My kids speak English, so we don't have any connection otherwise.''

Zhi Yin performs a quirky mix of songs that also includes selections from "Cats'' and the Andrew Lloyd Webber songbook as well as a Chinese version of "Blue Danube.'' Tan selects Chinese anthems and folks songs that hail from various corners of his homeland, making him something of a musicological tour guide. He tries to give the chorus an elaborate explanation about the history of the song, the region it comes from and the Chinese dialect in which it was written.

Tan, a tenor and former member of the Shanghai Philharmonic, has often enlisted students he has taught in private. As the group has grown, coalesced and added everyone from college students to scientists from Lawrence Livermore Lab, Tan has never lost sight of the musical zeal of the performers and its audience. "I'm not surprised,'' Tan says. "These people need music. And life with music is wonderful.''

Posted by acapnews at 12:26 AM

January 18, 2006

A Cappella on Conan O'Brien

The Soweto Gospel Choir performed an exciting, vibrant a cappella piece on the Conan O'Brien Show tonight and received tumultous applause from the audience. After the huse success of it's first US tour the choir is about to begin a second US tour with 50 dates in 60 days, all in major venues. They also released this week their second CD which is available from Primarily A Cappella .

Listen to Swing Down

Posted by acapnews at 12:34 AM

January 17, 2006

Chorus groups out of tune in names battle

Salt Lake Tribune (UT):

The Utah Chamber Artists are known for making dignified music, but these days the group is letting lawyers do the performing. The Salt Lake singing group has sued the Utah Choral Artists, accusing the group of trademark infringement. Both groups perform classical choral works, and their similar names and roles are confusing potential donors and ticket-buyers, the lawsuit says.

The Chamber group pleaded with the Choral group for more than a year to change its name, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. But after months of requests - and no response from the other side - the group said it was forced to sue. "This is not what we want to do," said John Neilsen, a board member with the Utah Chamber Artists. "This is a product of total frustration in getting them to sit down and discuss this." Neilsen said the group "made every reasonable attempt" to discuss its concerns with Brady Allred, artistic director of Utah Choral Artists. "But those concerns were either completely ignored or not taken seriously."

Allred could not be reached for comment, but a representative from Utah Choral Artists said she is confident the dispute can be resolved without going to court. "We intend to resolve as quickly as possible any misunderstanding that has occurred," said Christine Clark, acting general manager of Utah Choral Artists. "Our intention is to cooperate fully so that this will be cleared up." However, she would not say Thursday whether the group would give up the name, and on Wednesday said they would continue with the current moniker.

Neilsen said there have been "innumerable" instances in which the groups were confused. Venues have mixed them up; a radio announcer gave away free tickets to a concert, but misidentified which group was performing; a master recording of a concert was delivered to Utah Chamber mislabeled as the work of theother group; and the confusion hampers fund raising and "creates the likelihood that a donor may mistakenly donate funds to the wrong group," according to the lawsuit. The dispute comes after nearly two decades of amiable coexistence. The Utah Chamber Artists has performed classical works around the Salt Lake Valley for more than 15 years. The Utah Choral Artists has performed for some 25 years, first as the Jay Welch Chorale, then the Legacy Chorale, and finally, in 2004, as the Utah Choral Artists.

Ardean Watts, professor emeritus of music at the University of Utah, said he wasn't confused by the names, but pointed out that he has been aligned with the Chamber Artists for years. But Grant Clayton, a Salt Lake attorney who handles trademark issues but is not affiliated with either group or the lawsuit, said he thought the case was a strong one. "I can't keep them straight," he said in referring to the court filing.

Clark is confident the case will go no further. "I think [Utah Chamber Artists] are a wonderful group," she said. "We're very committed to continuing on with our mission and supporting the other group in doing the same." However the case is resolved, Watts said he was saddened by the events. "It hurts me that such things would be settled in a suit of some kind because music doesn't need that," he said

Posted by acapnews at 12:07 AM

Choir burgled during concert

Chicago Daily (IL):

While Millikin University's chamber chorale was performing Wednesday at St. Jude Church in New Lenox, thieves stole many of the members' belongings. Cash, credit cards, cell phones and even a laptop computer were taken, the Rev. Michael Slattery said.

"It was a sad ending to a wonderful concert," he said. "We've never had anything like this happen on our parish campus before. It was a shock for us." It's also "the first time anyone can remember this happening" to Milliken students, according to Bryan Marshall, spokesman for the university in Decatur.

He said Milliken's various music groups travel extensively across the country and internationally to perform. "We were very pleased that they were able to include us in their itinerary," Slattery said. "People from all over were here. It was a nice community event." The concert included a performance by the Lincoln-Way Central High School choral group.About 40 Milliken students sing in the choir, but not all were theft victims, Marshall said.

Slattery said that after the thefts were discovered, the church, audience members and host families gave the Milliken students money for food and a planned trip to Mall of America near Minneapolis.

"People did what they could. We're trying to find out if anything else can be done," he said.

Slattery said the students were traveling by bus and brought all their gear with them into the church, where they changed clothes for their performance. The rooms where their gear was stored was not locked because the performers were going in and out during intermission, he said.

No one discovered the thefts until the concert had ended, he said. "This is just devastating," one host parent said. "It's a real embarrassment for the community." New Lenox Police Cmdr. Dennis Klier said police would not release the report on the thefts, pending an investigation.

Posted by acapnews at 12:04 AM

January 16, 2006

Take 6 to blends its vocals


Calling Take 6 an a capella group is a about as accurate as labeling Bob Dylan a folksinger. While technically accurate, both statements fail to acknowledge the breadth and range that these artists bring to their craft. Sure, Take 6 made its name as an a capella sextet, having formed at a Christian college in Alabama. But, over the course of nearly a dozen albums, the group has covered musical ground including jazz, soul, R&B and rock, while also incorporating instrumentation into its recordings.

But the group, which performs Monday at Hill Auditorium in a concert presented by the University Musical Society, has never lost the unique vocal blend that is its trademark. According to David Thomas, one of the group's original singers, Take 6's vocal stylings emerged during informal sessions originating in the dormitory bathrooms at Oakwood College, when the members were freshmen.

Those natural - but raw - harmonies were then hammered into shape during marathon weekend rehearsals, where, Thomas said, the group's signature sound was forged. "We were all in school, and that happened in the weekends, so from Friday to Sunday we rehearsed about 30 hours,'' Thomas said. "We rehearsed ad nauseum - it was sickening!

"We did that so much until our blend and our harmony became second nature.'' It also led, in short order, to a contract with Warner Bros. - a move almost unheard of for an unknown group, let alone one that sang a capella gospel tunes. However, the group's debut, "Doo Be Doo Wop Bop,'' found an audience well beyond the boundaries of Christian music and gave Take 6 a foothold in the secular market.

And thank goodness for that. The group's challenging, complex arrangements are nothing short of amazing and have graced Grammy-winning collaborations with the likes of Al Jarreau and Quincy Jones. The current group - which, in addition to Thomas, includes founder Claude Mcknight, brothers Joey and Mark Kibbel, Cedric Dent and Alvin Chea - continues to build on the vocal foundation the members built during those marathon rehearsals a quarter century ago. After all this time, he said, each member finds his part by instinct.

"One of the benefits of all the extra rehearsals that we did at the beginning is that now we've been doing this for so many years we can focus,'' he said. "We needn't go into the studio, we remember how we did it, and that helps us to minimize the time that we need before every show.'' Even though the group has branched out to include instrumentation on its albums - most recently on 2002's "Beautiful World,'' and the upcoming "Feels Good,'' Thomas said the group has never lost sight of the Christian values that informed its members from the start.

As such, he said, the group finds as much spiritual meaning in tunes ranging from the Doobie Brother's "Taking it to the Streets'' to Steely Dan's "I.G.Y'' as it does in more traditional gospel numbers as "People Get Ready.'' "We want to do nothing but songs that had been big and enduring hits, but that also had messages of hope and encouragement, whether spiritual or with that message clearly implied,'' he said.

Posted by acapnews at 9:49 PM

January 13, 2006

Choir conductor wins $200,000 award

St. Olaf College choir conductor and music professor Anton Armstrong has won the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. The $200,000 prize is awarded by Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where Armstrong will teach during 2007. The St. Olaf music department will receive $25,000 as part of Armstrong's award.

In a statement, Armstrong said he was "overwhelmed" by the award. Armstrong is a 1978 St. Olaf graduate and has a master's degree in choral music from the University of Illinois and a doctorate in choral conducting from Michigan State University. Since he returned to St. Olaf in 1990 from a faculty position at Calvin College, the St. Olaf Choir has traveled the world on concert tours and recorded 11 CDs.

Baylor said the Cherry Award is the single largest award made to individuals for great teaching. It was established with an endowment from Robert Foster Cherry, a Baylor Law School graduate.

Posted by acapnews at 12:03 AM

January 11, 2006

Master of a cappella shares talent with Memorial students

Elkhart Truth (IN):

Those who associate a cappella music only with sacred chants and selections from the Renaissance should listen to Deke Sharon. At 38, the San Francisco native seems more like one of the students with whom he worked Tuesday at Memorial High School than an award-winning singer/arranger/conductor. Actually, Sharon is one of the most respected innovators in an area that is drawing increasing attention in the music world -- contemporary a cappella. His quintet, The House Jacks, has released its own quintet of CDs and the group performs in Europe, where a cappella has a strong following, and in Asia. Its schedule gives new meaning to the term "frequent flyer."

Sharon's enthusiasm for all things a cappella -- including voices as instruments -- and their effect on young people is contagious. Memorial choir director Claudia Phipps caught that bug when she met Sharon last summer at the Show Choir Camp of America in Ohio. "I wanted to reach new students and educators," the lanky musician explained. Phipps obviously believed her Gold Rush jazz choir, which includes several a cappella pieces in its repertoire, was ready for the reach.

Sharon and vocal music go back a long way. He began singing in church at age 5 and with the San Francisco Boys Choir at 7. He was touring at age 9. The magic of unaccompanied harmony, however, struck him "like a shaft of light" during summer camp at Lake Tahoe. "Someone started to harmonize in thirds on a popular song," he recalled. "I thought ... how do they do that?" He continued to pursue music and a role as one fourth of the wrangling quartet in "The Music Man" and hearing a group from Massachusetts' Tufts University sealed the deal.

He started his own quartet in high school, then headed east to attend -- simultaneously -- Tufts and Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, earning degrees from both. "I got a liberal arts and a conservatory education at the same time," Sharon grinned. "It's good to multi-task." Most people listen to music from the last 30 years, he said, noting that contemporary a cappella brings the music of their lives to this form.

Surprisingly, singing contemporary a cappella may be a gateway to music for kids who may not have sung before, Sharon and Phipps agreed. "Get kids involved in music through the music they are familiar with," Sharon said. "It opens all kids of musical doors." While Sharon travels, his wife, an executive with The Gap whom he met when she was singing with another a cappella college group, is home with their daughter, age 2, and son, 51/2. In the summer, dad takes over.

He admitted freely that he initially recruited The House Jacks from other college groups. It began with seven and is now down to five, a number he found better to work with as they progressed to complex harmonies. If the name is a bit puzzling, it was voted on by original members from a list of thousands, according to Sharon. A house jack, it seems, is a portable device used to raise an object for moving short distances or, as applied to the singers, raise the roof.

Former president of the Contemporary a Cappella Society of America, Sharon arranges hundreds of songs for groups around the world as well for as his own, is the founder of Disney's American Vybe and Groove 66 and has been called "the voice of a cappella music." Not bad for a young man who is most happy that "I am close to going full time in music."

Posted by acapnews at 12:27 AM

Put a stop to doo-wop imposters

Pittsburgh Post Gazette (PA):

Musical groups shouldn't call themselves The Platters unless they include some of the original tableware. That's the premise of a group of doo-woppers campaigning nationwide to stop imposter bands from passing themselves off to concert-goers as the real deal. The group is starting its crusade in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers are poised to authorize fines and injunctions to prevent performances by imposter bands that advertise false, deceptive or misleading affiliations with a recording group. "There's a two-fold problem. One is the identity theft of the artist and the second is consumer fraud, misleading the public. Those are serious issues," said Nate Silcox, legislative director for Sen. Robert Robbins, R-Mercer, sponsor of the bill.

The truth-in-music legislation, which already was passed in the state Senate, yesterday received unanimous approval from the state House Committee on Tourism and Recreational Development. It now heads to the House floor. North Dakota and South Carolina have similar laws already, but those don't protect trademark holders enough or provide high enough fines for violators, said Jon Bauman, who is better known as Bowzer, the former leader of the rock 'n' roll group Sha Na Na. Mr. Bauman is a member of the Truth in Music Committee of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, Mercer County.

Pennsylvania's legislation could become a model for the rest of the country, say Mr. Bauman and other musicians behind the legislation. They intend to press for similar legislation in at least 10 other states. "Pennsylvania is a key state to start in. It's always been a real strong oldies state," said Joe Terry, a founding member of Danny and the Juniors, which originated in Philadelphia in 1956. "Pennsylvania cares about nostalgia music and that's a good reason to start this there and kick it off there."

The legislation would prevent groups from using trademarks they don't own -- unless at least one member of the group was a member of the original recording group and is legally entitled to the name. The legislation also allows for tribute bands if concert advertising does not mislead. The legislation would allow Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett to stop performances and to impose fines of $5,000 to $15,000.

Bill Pinkney, the only surviving member of The Drifters, said the fines should be even higher. "People are going around calling themselves The Drifters, The Platters and The Coasters when it's not the truth. It's not fair to the ones who paved the road, the ones who laid the foundation and made it possible for these young up-and-coming groups," Mr. Pinkney said from his home in South Carolina. At 80, he is still performing. He heads to Connecticut this weekend for a doo-wop show Sunday at Mohegan Sun casino.

Another group, billing itself as Beary Hobb's Drifters, is slated to perform the same night across the country at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. They aren't The Drifters, Mr. Pinkney assures. "I don't think that's fair. It's not fair to the artists and it's not fair to the public. The public is being misled," he said. That's one reason Vita Gardner, wife of Coasters original Carl Gardner, is eager to see the Pennsylvania bill pass. "The name 'The Coasters' is a legacy that belongs to the people who created the music," Mrs. Gardner said. "I would like to secure the legacy of my husband. He has given 50 years of hardship and it wasn't easy."

The Coasters were making music before the civil rights movement took hold and when racism was rampant. "They could work in the fancy hotels, but they couldn't sleep in the hotels. They couldn't go in restaurants to eat, so the bus driver would buy crackers and cheese for them to eat on the bus or the managers, who were white, would go get them hamburgers," Mrs. Gardner said. "Why should they have to fight for their trademarks now?" she asked. "Why should people be making money off their talents after all that?"

The sentiment is that when people pay good money to hear "Yakety Yak," Carl Gardner ought to be the one yakking. Instead, imposter Coasters take the stage -- probably 10 times a night in different parts of the country -- said Bob Crosby, president of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. "They stand on stage and say things like, 'When we recorded these songs,' and 'When we won our Grammys.' They completely fool the public into thinking they're the real groups and then the real guys can't get any work because the fakes are so well promoted," Mr. Crosby said. What's worse, said Mr. Bauman, is that imposters are basking in applause meant to recognize aging musicians' longevity, song-writing and legacies.

Posted by acapnews at 12:12 AM

January 10, 2006

Hinshaw built its reputation on sheet music


Hinshaw Music built its foundation by publishing copyrighted sheet music by many of the country's up-and-coming composers, but the future of the business lies in nailing licensing deals. Which is why Roberta Van Ness, president of the company, is constantly straining to hear if any of her pieces are unlawfully being used on television or in movies. "Because you never know," she says.

Such illegal usage has occurred a couple of times in cases that were settled out of court. A document software company was using clips from a piece by English composer John Rutter. The company said it didn't know that Hinshaw held the copyright on all of Rutter's compositions. "They thought it was in the pubic domain," says Van Ness. Which is why Hinshaw employs a licensing attorney part-time to keep abreast of violations. "There's a misunderstanding that a lot of people have. The piece of paper is not an asset. The music is," Van Ness says. With each CD sold or music clip broadcast, Hinshaw gets a share of the revenue.

Even so, only about 30 percent of Hinshaw's $2 million in annual revenue comes from licensing deals. The other 70 percent of the business is dependent on sheet music sales to choirs and professional conductors around the country, and the prices have changed very little in the past 15 years. Each sheet sells for between $1.50 and $2.75, barely enough to cover the paper and printing costs. "The margins are pretty small, and we have to stay competitive," Van Ness admits. She and her staff aim to stay that way by luring the top talent in their niche market.

Hinshaw Music has built a catalog of more than 2,500 sacred choral music titles since the company was organized in 1975. And it adds about 40 to 50 new titles each year. Most of the pieces are sold through a network of about 200 dealers and music stores around the country. Hinshaw's top seller is still Rutter's "For The Beauty Of The Earth," which has sold more than 1.5 million copies since it was first published in 1979. Another of Hinshaw's well-known composers is Mack Wilberg, an associate conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has performed and recorded many of the pieces published by Hinshaw.

Van Ness on average attends about 200 concerts a year scoping out talent. Many of her company's catalog additions come from composers pitching their pieces to her. Others come from talent she finds through the concerts she attends or through recommendations from others.

"We are looking for something that has an unforgettable melody line ... if it catches you from the beginning," she says. "You just know when a piece is good. It's like reading a really good book. It catches your interest." Hinshaw will contract with individual composers for royalty percentages in exchange for the copyright on a piece of music, which it markets to those in the music industry through its dealership network.

Hinshaw also sells a subscription service to members who receive music clips from its latest catalog on CD, or subscribers can listen to clips through Hinshaw's Web site. "This is the way people are buying music now," she says. "The market is going more toward the Internet. Younger choral directors are not as interested in taking time to go to workshops." It used to be that Hinshaw would host or participate in more than 50 workshops a year to let choir directors hear the music or read it themselves. Now the schedule of workshops is fewer than 30 a year.

Competition in the music publishing industry has increased over the past 25 years. Van Ness says that when company founders Don Hinshaw and Cliff Poole moved the company from New York City in 1981, there were maybe 10 to 15 other choral music publishers in the country. Now there are between 30 and 50. "Most of us are in this business because we love it and have a passion for it," she says.

Posted by acapnews at 12:38 AM

January 6, 2006

Chapter 6 becoming national sensation

Crawfordsville Journal Review (IN)

From its humble beginnings as an a cappella group at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., to this week’s performances with the National Symphony at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Chapter 6’s ascent has been steady and blessed. Luke Menard, a Crawfordsville native and 1/6 of the singing group, is enjoying the ride.

Chapter 6 started as a college course at Millikin before its members decided to take it professional in 2001 after the school dropped them from the curriculum. Since then the singing group has released four albums, toured the country over many times and won numerous awards for its performances. Chapter 6’s first DVD, recorded live in Branson, Mo. a year ago, was released in December.

Known primarily as an a cappella collective (meaning without musical accompaniment), the sextet has in recent years branched out into performing with symphonies. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra wrote a show with Chapter 6 in mind after they played together a couple of years ago. Called “The Golden Age of Black & White,” Chapter 6 performs it today through Saturday with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Backed by an 85-piece orchestra and accompanied by two Broadway singers, Chapter 6 sings two hours worth of songs from the ’50s while wearing such appropriate garb as tuxedos and letter sweaters. So far the group has staged “The Golden Age of Black & White” in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, as well as Ottawa and Toronto in Canada with each city’s orchestra. “Music from the ’50s is just awesome,” Menard said by phone from Orlando, where he was taking a breather before the Kennedy Center shows. “I didn’t know a lot of it before the show, but it’s a blast singing it.”

If that’s not enough, Chapter 6 now appears to be entering the lucrative jingle business. The crew recently sold its first jingle in Canada, where it’ll be televised and heard nationally. Meanwhile ideas for a new CD are being debated. Menard said they’re considering an all-jazz album with both originals and covers, or an all-hymns collection rearranged for a cappella style. Heavy touring for the first part of the year delays the release of a new album until fall at the earliest.

There’s been at least one bump in the road for Menard. Finding an opening in the schedule, he and his wife decided to take in a quick vacation to Cancun before he was to fly to Toronto for a string of shows. Unfortunately Hurricane Wilma struck at the same time and stranded them for an extra week. The Menards were herded into a convention center with 1,500 other people, where they stayed for two and a half days while the storm stalled over them. Menard could only manage an e-mail alerting his mates to the impending calamity. Luckily everyone was just glad he was safe when he finally met up with them again.

Otherwise if there’s any consequence to Chapter 6’s success, it’s the typical toll living life out of a suitcase takes on the human psyche. “We’ve been on the road so much, I know some of the guys are really getting down, really starting to think hey, maybe I don’t want to be on the road forever,” Menard said. “Myself and another guy, we’re both married, and it’s been a challenge for us to be away from our families for such long periods of time. And seeing the same guys 24 hours a day for months at a time, it gets a little tiring.”

The boost they get from spectators and fans is the incentive that keeps them going. “The audiences have just been awesome,” Menard said. “We’ve had a lot of support, get a lot of e-mails from people saying how much they enjoyed our concerts and giving us encouragement. That’s the thing that really keeps you going, is seeing the audiences and seeing their reactions.”

We have been big fans of Chapter 6 since they won the Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals in 2004 and are pleased to report we have just signed them to our record label and will be distributing their recordings nationally. Click here for more information about their performances this week at the Kennedy Center.

Posted by acapnews at 12:10 AM

January 5, 2006

Choir Members Take Their Name to Heart

Los Angeles Times (CA)

The New Directions Choir is a testament to the power of song. The group's 10 members are all formerly homeless war veterans who have reclaimed lives that were subservient to drugs, alcohol, crime and the despair of Los Angeles' roughest streets. With arresting harmonies, a repertoire of old-school soul and gospel, and a winning stage presence, the singers are making a name for themselves musically and proving there can be new beginnings for people given up as lost causes.

The first incarnation of the a cappella group formed seven years ago at New Directions, a private, nonprofit residential substance abuse treatment program for homeless veterans at the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles. Members are chosen through auditions. Some have limited musical backgrounds, many are still in recovery programs, and others have mended their lives and take time from work and families to share their love of music and message of hope. "It's a very therapeutic thing for us," said George Hill, 47, music director and the founding member of the group. "A lot of people find themselves going back to addiction, but the majority of our choir members remain clean. We go places where people are down, like we were. We wind up helping them, and they also help us."

Sharon Frochen, the choir's manager and first female member, said the performances offer a bittersweet perspective on her years of homelessness. "You sometimes get to go back as a performer to some place like Union Station, where you were once homeless and that had you in bondage," she said. Frochen, 31, joined New Directions three years ago after becoming hooked on methamphetamine. She said she had come out of the Air Force and established a successful real estate appraisal firm but began using speed to keep up with the pace of work. She fell hard, she said, eventually robbing her grandmother of a valuable Native American memorabilia collection. She was given the choice of a five-year prison term or treatment.

The choir members are now like family, said Frochen, who was hired as a grant writer for New Directions and books engagements for the choir. The winter holidays mark the start of the choir's busiest period, with 30 to 60 performances anticipated in 2006, marking New Year's, Black History Month, Christmas, Kwanzaa and other celebrations. The group frequently performs at community events and benefits, such as an upcoming fundraising dinner sponsored by the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness.

The choir has performed at the Democratic National Convention, for former Gov. Gray Davis and for Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al Gore. Now, it is trying to move to a new level of professionalism with plans for a recording. "We want it to be a platform for anyone in the future with talent and have it so that it's a well-oiled machine," said Hill, a former Marine who fell into addiction, did prison time and was homeless for 12 years in the MacArthur Park area and on downtown's skid row.

Hill said he vividly remembers his turning point. He was sitting on the corner of 5th and Spring streets when a man pushing a shopping cart walked by, rags on his feet and so dirty that his features were barely recognizable. He walked up to Hill, pulled a dollar from his pocket and said, "Here man, I feel sorry for you." "I thought to myself: 'You feel sorry for me?' I knew then it was time to go," said Hill, who has since married, lives in Eagle Rock and attends Cal State Los Angeles while working as a computer technician.

Recently, the choir huddled outside the auditorium at St. Anne's, a social agency for pregnant and parenting teens on Occidental Boulevard west of downtown, where a mental health group was holding its holiday party. Hill and other members went over some arrangements and were told they would have only two microphones instead of the four they had expected.

When the choir was introduced, there was polite applause and much chattering, as revelers continued to enjoy their dinners. But at the start of the choir's gospel-tinged theme song, "We Are Made as One," written by Hill, the crowd began to pay attention. When singers launched into the old soul classic "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," the crowd of several hundred swayed and clapped to the beat. "They're great and I enjoy the harmony," said Theodora Johnson Blueford, who was attending the event. "And it's good to see people who have been down, up and making it in life and starting to contribute to the community."

Several people in the audience were especially taken with the bass singing of Carleton Griffin, 54, a Navy veteran who said he gained his deep, rich timbre while shouting commands next to the guns of a guided missile destroyer. Griffin served three tours of duty in Vietnam and was homeless for 25 years, mostly in South-Central Los Angeles. Since joining New Directions in 2000, he has become a case manager, is working on a degree in human resources and was reunited with a daughter he hadn't seen in 18 years. "It's a good group of individuals," Griffin said, "and they've helped me to stay focused on the things I needed to stay focused on."

Posted by acapnews at 12:10 AM

Prisoners sing for redemption

Kansas City Kansan (KS):

The world premiere of an innovative musical piece, performed by prison inmates, will combine modern rap with classical Gregorian chants. The "Rap of Redemption" will be performed at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Kansas City, Kan and is part of "How Can I Keep from Singing,". The powerful rap message of the "Rap of Redemption," deals with a prison inmate's pain and regret for the damage caused to others. The performance comes from the heart of the entertainers, who are themselves, inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility's East Unit - the minimum-security unit where the performing inmates are housed.

The lyrics of the "Rap of Redemption" were created by a maximum-security inmate, Essex Sims, at Lansing Correctional Facility, with the arrangements done by the East Hill Singer's conductor, Elvera Voth. The idea of mixing the chants of the third century with modern rap was Voth's. "I wish I'd never hurt you, hurt you," Sim's lyrical refrain proclaims. The Gregorian chants are the "Kyrie" and the "Angus Dei." The text of the "Kyrie" means "Lord have mercy," and the text of the "Agnus Dei" says "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us."

"We sing in order to give the men a valuable experience," she said. "We sing in English, Italian, Russian, traditional folk tunes, classical choral works and rap. It is all about education towards the larger world that most of these men have not had a chance to be part of." The East Hill Singers group is a program of Arts in Prison, Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by Voth, a Kansas native who is known nationwide and is in frequent demand as a guest conductor and workshop presenter. She is the subject of an Emmy winning documentary film recently produced by Sunflower Journeys of public television station, KTWU in Topeka.

The East Hill Singers will celebrate their 10th anniversary and will present four concerts outside the prison walls during 2006. A few of the inmates have had experience in singing but most have not. Rehearsals have been ongoing for months, and Voth has worked with them to improve their singing talents, teaching them to perform complex choral pieces and to improve their showmanship skills. Voth has kept track with some inmates who have gone on to successful lives after imprisonment, using the confidence they have acquired from this experience.

"It is a wonderful tool to help inmates," Voth said. "It benefits them while they are inside and when they get out. A lot have never worked as part of a community before. They learn that everything they do affects the whole community. If they miss rehearsals, the whole chorus will be impacted. They also learn that the instant gratification that they expect in life often has to be worked for long and hard. This is true of a lot of the people who are incarcerated. They don't realize that, to do well at anything can take a long time. It takes three to fourth months to learn one concert. It's a life lesson, and don't we all need it?"

Creating harmony with someone who sings well is better than only creating harmony with someone whose skin is the same color, Voth said. "That is a real revelation," she said. "Most of all, they learn that in order to like other people, they have to like themselves. Self-esteem is very low among that population. They learn to like themselves by singing in a concert and seeing the joy on the faces of their audience. After one concert, one inmate said he had no idea what it felt like to have a standing ovation. This is especially meaningful when you have been told all your life that you are worth absolutely nothing. With music, we are trying to make better neighbors of these folks, some of whom will eventually get out."

The group has given about 25 concerts outside the wall and has never had any problems with the inmates, who travel with security officers. "Come early because in the past, it gets full fast," said Sister Therese Bangert, one of the coordinators working with the sponsoring churches. "It is a real treat. This is the third time we have sponsored this. It is a gift to receive the beauty of the music that they bring."

Posted by acapnews at 12:01 AM

January 4, 2006

Harmony Sweeps 2006 season begins

The New Year brings another season for the acclaimed Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival and as usual we seek vocal groups who would like to participate in our events. Our regional shows offer groups the opportunity to perform in front of enthusiastic audiences along with celebrity judges who decide upon a regional champion. These winners are provided airfare and hotel rooms for two nights in the San Francisco Bay Area and the chance to perform at the prestigious National Finals.

Groups of any style are very welcome with the only criteria being the groups must have between 3 to 7 members and sing unaccompanied by musical instruments. Always fun the Harmony Sweeps is a great opportunity to find new fans, meet other groups and to perform in a respected venue.

Interested groups are encouraged to submit their applications soon as submission deadlines are approaching.


Boston - March 25
Chicago - March 25
Los Angeles - April 1
Mid-Atlantic (DC) - April 8
New York - February 25
Pacific NW (Olympia) - March 18
Rocky Mountain (Denver) - March 18
San Francisco - February 25

National Finals – May 6

For contacts, rules and further information please visit our web site

Posted by acapnews at 12:49 AM

January 3, 2006

Choral directors told not to share bedroom

Two University of St. Thomas music professors have bowed out of a trip with students to Australia after the school said they could go only if they arranged separate rooms. Ellen Kennedy, 57, and Leigh Lawton, 61, live together as an unmarried heterosexual couple. The have taken previous trips with the university choir but this time, the school said they had to book separate. The couple decided not to go, saying that pretending to sleep apart would be deceitful. The students and other faculty members left for Australia on Friday.

The issue comes months after St. Thomas, a Roman Catholic university, told a lesbian choral director she couldn't officially bring her partner on a choir trip to France. The two stories have spawned campus debate over Catholic doctrine, and about how far the university intends to go to enforce Catholic values.

"If sin and vice become disqualifying factors for university employees, then students might have to start teaching themselves," theology professor David Landry wrote in a recent faculty newsletter.

University officials acknowledge the travel policy is ambiguous. For example, it's unclear whether the policy applies to professional conferences, or just in instances when students are part of the trip. There's been talk on campus that Archbishop Harry Flynn of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese and chairman of the St. Thomas board, played a role. University officials say that's not true. "The bottom line is it's not appropriate, we don't feel as a Catholic university, for unmarried partners, homosexual or heterosexual, to travel together" officially with students, said Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations.

Earlier this year, Ann Schrooten, a temporary music instructor and interim director of the Liturgical Choir, planned to have her female partner and their son go on the choir's trip to France. After a couple of students raised concerns, the university told Schrooten it was inappropriate for an unmarried partner, gay or straight, to travel with the choir. The university was willing to help Schrooten pay for her partner's travel as long as the arrangements were separate from the school program. She chose not to go on the trip.

The story has played out in the campus newspaper, The Aquin. Some students applauded the university's defense of Catholic values, others accused the university of bias. A university employment committee rejected Schrooten's claim that she was discriminated against because she is a lesbian. Kennedy said she and Lawton are longtime professors who have lived together for 12 years. They have gone on previous trips with students.

Posted by acapnews at 9:35 PM