April 29, 2006
NBC seek Singing Groups
NBC AND TOMMY MOTTOLA ARE LOOKING FOR AMERICA'S NEXT TOP INTERNET BAND
Winner Of "StarTomorrow" To Secure Record Deal With Casablanca Label
BURBANK, Calif. -- April 26, 2006 -- NBC's new, exclusively online music competition, "StarTomorrow," is conducting a nationwide search for the first Internet superstar band or singing group.
All outgoing and charismatic solo artists, bands, singing groups or duo's in America who are at least 18 years of age are encouraged to submit auditions to "StarTomorrow" producers. The top 100 submissions will be invited to audition in-person.
When the winning group or artist emerges, its members will secure a record deal with the Casablanca label (a division of the Universal Music Group) who will also offer career guidance.
"StarTomorrow" is expected to debut this July on NBC.com with a nationwide search that will ultimately narrow the field down to 100 of America's best groups and bands that have been screened for entry into the competition. Approximately twenty band auditions will be released each week for the first half of the sixteen week series. Viewers will then evaluate them and will have a week to vote on which groups and bands will move on to the next round. The finalists will then compete in the second half of the series. The format will include covers of pop, rock and country favorites and original material, but as the series goes deeper into the competition, the focus will shift more to original songs.
The series will be produced by The Mottola Company, 25/7 Productions and 3 Ball Productions. Dave Broome (NBC's "The Biggest Loser," "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope"), JD Roth ("The Biggest Loser," "For Love or Money"), Todd Nelson ("The Biggest Loser," "For Love or Money") John Foy ("The Biggest Loser," "For Love or Money"), Tommy Mottola and Jeb Brien (The Mottola Co.) are the executive producers.
Forgoing a dedicated home studio, "StarTomorrow" will take its act on the road to reach out to performers on four regional locations across the country (sites will be announced later).
Audition videos, DVDs and other applications can now be sent to StarTomorrow, 10061 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake, California, 91602 or by logging on to NBC.com for further details.
April 27, 2006
m-pact signs with Primarily A Cappella, releases new CD
We are so pleased and proud to announce that m-pact, one of the most exciting and talented a cappella groups performing today, has signed with our very own Primarily A Cappella Records. Winners of BillBoard's prestigious "Best Unsigned Band" contest, Los Angeles-based vocal group m-pact was also crowned Best Vocal Group at the 2005 LA Music Awards and have been one of our favorite groups on the planet from the first time we saw them on the stage of the Harmony Sweeps Finals, easily taking Audience Favorite and the National Championship.
Originally based in the Pacific Northwest the entire group relocated last year to LA in search of more group and individual opportunities in music. They also have added a sixth singer, Jeff Smith, who was previously with Kansas based ensemble "measure x measure". The group continues to keep very busy including four trips to Europe last year, with a concert in Switzerland with Boyz II Men, a vocal jazz festival with The Real Group, Take 6 and New York Voices and a tour of Latvia and Estonia where they appeared on national TV. They had their 8th and 9th trip to Italy where they have built a large following and there are plans for a tour of Asia later in the year to Japan, Taiwan and China. Other good news personally for the group is the marriage of Rudy this past March and the upcoming marriage of Jake in June.
The new self-titled release is the first to be distributed nationally and comes after the group has sold in excess of 50,000 units of their earlier titles by themselves. It is their first studio CD in over 5 years. The tagline on "m-pact," "experience the voice," refers to the pure, sumptuous tenor/soprano of Britt Quentin, whose creative arrangements, production and even engineering are evident on all 14 tracks. Especially fine are his arrangements that reinvent classics such as Cole Porter's "Night and Day," Rogers & Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," "Over the Rainbow," Lerner & Lowe's "Almost Like Being In Love," "Bluesette," the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Loving," and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life." The opening cut is "You Need to Know," a sassy, walking-jazz original by Britt, who also shines on lead. He also wrote (or co-wrote) and sings lead on the mellow finger-snapper "I Found A Love In You" and vocal percussion gem "I Thought You Cared For Me." Trist, Marco, Jake, Rudy and Jeff add their own incredible vocal talents to a smooth, sophisticated recording that surprises and touches on many levels.
The recording’s official release date is May 16 when it will be available nation-wide but we are making it available right now (and at our usual low sale price). We won’t over-hype it here (our reviewer went nuts!) but suffice to say we believed enough in these wonderful singers to “put our money where our mouth is” and are very glad indeed we did. It is also very satisfying for Primarily A Cappella to be able to contribute and assist in creating such great a cappella recordings that may not otherwise be released. Our recently released Vox One title is selling very well and we have other exciting projects in the pipeline as we continue our support and encouragement of a cappella artists.
April 24, 2006
A cappella on new Neil Young CD
Rock legend Neil Young is to release a new album next week called "Living with War", a 10-song collection that takes President Bush to task and sharply criticizes the war in Iraq. The album concludes with a deeply emotional a cappella version of "America the Beautiful," with Young backed by a 100-member choir. Young has been performing recently with the Fisk Jubilee Singers (including a weeklong stint on the Conan O'Brian Show) so it will be interesting to see if they are part of this 100 voice choir. As a long time Neil Young fan I really look forward to the album and with Bruce Springsteen about to come out with an album of Pete Seger songs and the track "Wartime Prayers" on the new Paul Simon release it's real good to know that corporate (especially Clear Channel) radio can not stop the great tradition of the protest song, which were some of the first songs I ever learnt as a kid. A cappella Woody Guthrie anybody?
April 22, 2006
Barbershop singers a cut above
Sydnie Hixson, 11, is the youngest member of the Georgia Connection barbershop chorus under the direction of Luke Lindsay. The group has won in the Southeast district for 10 years straight.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA):
The barbershop singers of the Georgia Connection have racked up 10 years of vocal victories. And there isn't a straw hat, striped vest or waxed mustache among them. "The men invented it," said tenor Amy Johnson, of the barbershop style. "The women perfected it."
For the uninitiated, the Lilburn-based Georgia Connection is an a capella chorus of 24 women who compete against other barbershop singers and claim to have beaten their competitors for first place in the Southeastern region for a decade. They did it again this month in Jacksonville, Fla., nudging out Atlanta Harmony Celebration from Norcross, which came in second among the five competing groups, one from Savannah and two others from Florida. Atlanta Harmony won the most-improved award.
So far the top title among all six regions has always eluded Georgia Connection. They're looking to add some strong voices so they can beat back the other six regions in the United States and Canada and take home international bragging rights at the competition this November in Jacksonville. The group invites potential members to try out Monday at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Lilburn. "It's a true American art form," said Cathy Hix, who sings lead and bass, of barbershop harmony.
The female version of the barbershop quartet and chorus has been around since 1945 when the larger Sweet Adelines International was founded in Oklahoma. Harmony Inc., which comprises the Norcross and Lilburn groups, began in 1959. It follows in the tradition of the barbershop style, considered an American art that sprang from ear-harmonizers of the early 1900s. But the women's lyrics are as likely to be from the saucy "Hey, Daddy," a kind of barbershop version of "Material Girl," as the sappy "Shine on Harvest Moon." "There is no such thing as a barbershop song," chorus director Luke Lindsay said. "There are just songs that are set to the barbershop style."
The women explain that they don't have to hit the depths of their male counterparts when they sing the barbershop parts of bass, baritone, lead and tenor. They have one regional and one international competition a year and they fill out the months by singing at engagements. But, like most barbershop choruses and quartets, it's the amateur status that is the draw. The singers, who range in age from an 11-year-old to 70-something, become friends, and their weekly Monday practice becomes a social get-together of its own to perfect the century-old, harmonizing tradition. "We want to become better singers," said Jill Wade, a baritone and spokeswoman for the chorus.
To do so, they get their pitch, hum with vibrating lips, and make 20 voices sound like 40 through harmonic coordination. On one night they break into "Hey, Daddy," a tune that should make the average husband or father shiver, and an audience applaud.
"I want a diamond ring, bracelet, everything. ... make it two carats. ...
"... I want a brand new car, champagne, caviar. ... Honey are you listening? ...
"I want more money, honey. ..."
Even if the males in their lives wouldn't qualify as sugar daddies, the ladies know they can still treasure Monday nights.
April 21, 2006
Sweet Honey moves more into the rockin'
Ann Arbor News (MI):
Forging a new path is never easy, but it can be especially challenging for a singing group that's 30-some years into its musical journey. Aisha Kahlil, of the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, is effusive as she discusses the "new directions'' the group has pursued in the past two years, after Sweet Honey expanded following the retirement of group founder and leader Bernice Johnson Reagon in 2004.
"A lot of what we're doing since Bernice retired is so different,'' said Kahlil, who joins her spiritual sisters in Sweet Honey on Saturday for a performance at Hill Auditorium, presented by the University Musical Society. "I wouldn't say we set out to 'replace' Bernice, but after she left, we set out to restructure the group a bit. We now have six voices instead of five, and they're very different voices.
"The new members (Louise Robinson and Arnae) are different women, with different writing and singing styles, and the songs they brought are very different than a lot of what we had been doing before,'' said Kahlil during a recent phone interview. "The energy is more balanced now, in terms of communicating with the audience. In the past, Bernice was more of the lead spokesperson on stage, but now we're all doing a lot more of that. "I think it's much more relaxed now, and people seem to be loving the energy of the new group - we're doing more R&B, more hip-hop. I know I'm enjoying it.''
Not that R&B and hip-hop are totally new elements for Sweet Honey - they began using those styles in small doses several years ago, adding to their mix of traditional gospel hymns, African chants, blues, Negro spirituals, reggae, old-time lullabies, jazzy vocal improvisation and African percussion instruments. "But overall, I think we have a more contemporary sound now,'' said Kahlil. "And we're also incorporating more on-stage movement and choreography.''
The more contemporary vocal styles are also finding their way into the group's current recording sessions for its next CD, which will be its first release with the new members. "We're in the studio now, and we just have so much material, it's been sort of a challenge deciding what to include in the final track listing'' said Kahlil. "I think people will be surprised at the overall sound and the way the songs are coming through. Our sound engineer agreed that it sounds much more contemporary.''
Whether a more modern sound will go over with longtime fans who were most drawn to the group's command of traditional styles like gospel, African, blues, jazz and reggae remains to be seen. "But I think our music has always evolved,'' stressed Kahlil. "Over the years, we've added more of the R&B and African music, and a lot more improvisation, both separately and in the context of the songs. I think our sound was always eclectic, it's just that, lately, it's become much more so. The music is constantly evolving and transforming itself.''
Last year, Sweet Honey released "Raise Your Voice,'' a live recording of its 2003 tour - Reagon's "farewell tour.'' Those shows were also commemorated in a documentary of the same name, which debuted last June as part of the PBS "American Masters'' series. Telecasts of that documentary led to a significant spike in the group's public profile. "We definitely got more exposure from that,'' said Kahlil. "We could see that in the increases in our record sales and the number of people who visited our Web site.''
One unique aspect of the Sweet Honey experience is the group's political and social commentary, both in their songs and in their on-stage remarks. Because Sweet Honey consists of strong black women, the group was heartily embraced by the women's movement during the '70s and '80s. "Back then, the audiences for our shows were mostly women,'' recalled Kahlil. "But our audience has evolved since then, just like our music has evolved. "Our audiences are no longer predominantly women.''
Although Sweet Honey is sometimes perceived as a "gospel group,'' Kahlil points out that the group's message is more inclusive and expansive than that tag would imply. "Ours isn't the basic Christian message,'' said Kahlil. "We don't proselytize. The women in the group don't claim to be Christian, or any other specific religion. We advocate a spirituality that embraces all religions.''
April 20, 2006
Choral group's comedy done to the nines
The Seattle Times
There's lots to spoof when you're a nine-man vocal-comedy ensemble. Santa's reindeer. The Supreme Court. A baseball team. "There are a lot of groups of nine, and I'm sure there are some we haven't yet thought of," said Eric Lane Barnes, the mastermind behind Captain Smartypants.
Known as the Pants for short, the Seattle Men's Chorus ensemble will return to Snohomish County for shows Friday at Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church and Saturday at the Everett Theatre. The group, which sings music as varied as swing and Motown, plans to perform songs from previous recordings and some new material. "UnderCover," the Pants' latest recording, features well-known cover songs such as Petula Clark's "Downtown" and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." Also Friday and Saturday, look for previews of the Pants' June show, "Trousers of Terror," their spoof of the horror-film genre. "We do a cannibalistic approach to Barbra Streisand's 'People,' " Barnes said. "We do Jan and Marcia Brady as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jan?,' and 'Thank God It's Friday the 13th.' "
With baritones, bass-baritones and tenors in the group, "sometimes we're a unit of nine guys, but about half the time the guys are performing as individuals," Barnes said. "What I like is throwing new thoughts at Smartypants. As of yet, we haven't found anything we can't do."
Tom Carlisle, who joined the Pants last year, had been a member of Seattle Men's Chorus on and off since 1982. To be accepted into one of the largest choral groups of its kind in the U.S. "was a huge milestone," he said. "The chorus became my surrogate family, and that's true with a lot of guys that join," Carlisle said. "It not only provides a musical outlet, it provides a spiritual, emotional and social outlet."
Founded in 1979, the 250-member group is considered one of the largest gay men's choruses in the world. With the 150-member Seattle Women's Chorus, it's also the largest choral organization in the state. "Our mission is to entertain, enlighten, unify and heal our audience and members, using the power of words and music to recognize the value of gay and straight people and their relationships," goes the stated credo.
In searching out tolerance and diversity, the men's chorus has become known for its American Sign Language version of "Silent Night" and the recent "Not in Our Town." The latter song tells the true story of a newspaper in Billings, Mont., that printed paper menorahs for townspeople to put in their windows after anti-Semitic attacks rocked the city in 1993.
Carlisle made his stage debut at age 10 in Benjamin Britten's opera "The Little Sweep" in 1968 at Seattle Center. He spent 20 years as a choir director in Seattle, Los Angeles and Key West, Fla., and in the 1980s joined the Emerald City Volunteers. That group became the prototype for Captain Smartypants, which was formed in 2000. "I do get stage fright, but I come alive on the stage," Carlisle said. "Captain Smartypants has been a great avenue to get back. I got burned out as a choir director, so now it's great to be directed and to perform again."
Barnes spent 15 years in Chicago working in musical theater, directing and writing shows, and with ensembles for the Windy City Gay Chorus. Dennis Coleman, the artistic director of the Seattle Men's Chorus, hired him to run Captain Smartypants in January 2000. In addition to his ensemble duties, Barnes is the assistant artistic director for Flying House Productions, the umbrella organization for the Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus.
After a few tries at a name, Barnes fixed on Captain Smartypants, based on the childhood taunt, which has inevitably provoked laughs. "We do some serious things, but we're primarily about the comedy and the theater," Barnes said. "My style is to get the audience on your side with comedy. We don't do anything serious in the show until we've got the audience laughing for a long time."
April 19, 2006
An Appreciation of The Pointer Sisters
Philadelphia Enquirer (PA):
When June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters died last week from cancer at age 52, many news organizations mistakenly ran a picture of her older sister Ruth with their obituaries. That final indignity simply reaffirmed the lack of appreciation the singing sisters from California have dealt with throughout their long and versatile career. Nowadays, they are viewed as another oldies act, their more popular songs - "Jump (For My Love)" "I'm So Excited" - more recognizable as commercial jingles than the top-10 hits they were.
But true Pointer fans remember when the trio was a quartet; how the sisters emerged on the scene in 1973 like a "Cloudburst" - one of many jazz standards they sang at breakneck speed; how they pushed fashion forward by dressing in the vintage past; how they could funk it up better than LaBelle, scat like Ella, and croon country so authentically that folks at the Grand Ole Opry didn't even realize they were black until they actually performed their 1974 Grammy-winning hit, "Fairytale" (which, by the way, Elvis later recorded).
True fans understand that the Pointer Sisters were the single most influential girl vocal group to cross the post-Motown divide between restrained R&B and free-flowing pop. Their gospel-tinged voices - straight out of the West Oakland Church of God, where they grew up as preachers' kids - were malleable enough to defy category. Their versatility paved the way for many, from Sister Sledge to Destiny's Child.
True fans could tell the difference between June and Ruth. It was June, not Ruth, who dropped out of high school to form Pointers-A-Pair with sister Bonnie. Anita and Ruth joined later. Their debut album, The Pointer Sisters - the cover featuring a photo of the quartet rocking funkily hip 1940s' garb - was a rich, jazz-inflected gumbo of complex harmonies and R&B grooves. (One of the songs from that album, "Jada," written by Anita, inspired this reporter to name her daughter after same.)
Ruth, the oldest, provided the group's gut-bucket alto harmonies. And while Anita's voice was more pop, and Bonnie - who left the group in 1977 to pursue a solo career - was more rock, June, the fun-loving, practical-joking, generous-to-a-fault baby sister, was the belter. It was June who sang lead on "Jump," and "He's So Shy," the flirty 1980 pop anthem that put the Pointers back on the charts, positioning them for the pair of Grammys they would win in 1984 for "Jump" and "Automatic."
If the Pointer Sisters' albums were refreshingly eclectic, their live performances were spectacular. They were the first pop act to perform at the esteemed San Francisco Opera House, and those who attended that 1974 concert are probably still talking about it. From their showmanship - they wore such outfits as padded-shouldered 1940s' suits to Carmen Miranda-like rumba skirts - to their mercurial vocal prowess, the Pointers set the standard for harmonies in a way that would make the Andrews Sisters, the Manhattan Transfer and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross bow down in reverence.
June, however, could not shake the drug demons that haunted her after she was raped as a teen, became pregnant, and had an abortion, her brother Fritz told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. She struggled with her cocaine addiction throughout the group's heyday in the '70s and resurgence in the '80s. By the 1990s, after releasing a pair of solo albums to little fanfare, June stopped touring, replaced by Ruth's daughter Issa, whose father is Dennis Edwards of the Temptations. In 2004, June was charged with felony cocaine possession.
The Pointer Sisters were on tour when June suffered a stroke in Los Angeles in February. They rushed to their sister's bedside, where they found that cancer had also been diagnosed. The passing of June Pointer silences a voice that blended perfectly with her sisters' but was distinguishable on its own - a voice that true fans would never mistake for another.
Many of us old-time Bay Area vocal harmony fans have always fondly remembered the early Pointer Sisters and in the early days of the Harmony Sweeps they were the one group that all local vocal harmony groups and fans looked up to.
April 18, 2006
The Bobs provide rhapsodic fun at the Opera House
Napa Valley Register (CA)
Not exactly what you'd expect to find in an opera house, The Bobs do, however, use the voice to get their message across. Combining vocal mastery with irreverent humor, this quartet of Bay Area musicians is, without doubt, at the top of the list of a cappella ensembles performing and recording in America today.
If there is a single group that really helped jump start the a cappella movement -- as well as give new perception to the genre -- it's the Bobs. Using self-deprecating humor -- and with tongues planted firmly in cheeks -- the Bobs have been packing venues for more than two decades with programs that feature clever cover songs and a wealth of outrageous originals.
An eclectic a cappella quartet launched in Berkeley 25 years ago, the Bobs have delighted a loyal group of fans (and earned many new ones) with their witty fare, which includes audacious covers of such classics as Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and Cream's "White Room." Having performed only once previously in wine country -- as part of the madcap Monday night concert series booked by Richard Miami at Domaine Chandon -- the Bobs returned to the Napa Valley last Saturday night in support of their latest recording, "Rhapsody in Bob."
While the a cappella hipsters did launch a rhapsodic episode at the Napa Valley Opera House with a George Gershwin classic, it was the quartet's menu of rock 'n' roll classics -- such as the Coasters' "Searchin'" and Sam "the Sham" & the Pharaohs' "Little Red Riding Hood" -- and deliciously clever originals -- the bumpersticker-inspired "Kill Your Television" and a new singalong favorite, "There's a Nose Ring in My Soup" -- that prompted the loudest cheers at the nearly sold-out Napa Valley Opera House.
While two of its founding members remain -- resounding basso profundo Richard (Bob) Greene and puckish Matthew (Bob) Stull -- the ensemble benefits these days from the talents of Amy (Bob) Engelhardt, a Berklee School of Music grad who's held down the femme-Bob slot since 1998. The group's newest -- and tallest -- member, Dan (Bob) Schumacher, was recuperating Saturday from a bug that laid him low. A fine replacement was another long drink of water, Eric Bradley, on loan from the O.K. Chorale.
Performance highlights included a brilliant original from the ensemble's early days, "Through The Wall," a cogent take on urban living; Greene's rousing bass voice on a gospel-tinged song, "Pounded on a Rock," about love and laundry; and a madrigal setting of the Doors' "Light My Fire."
The evening's featured work was Gershwin's celebrated "Rhapsody in Blue." Featured guest for this reading was pianist Bob Malone. The Bobs performed all the orchestral parts as well as sight gags, like having Engelhardt serve as page turner for the pianist. If you can imagine Jerry Lee Lewis banging out this Gershwin classic, then that's the impression one came away with. The Bobs did quite well as instrumentalists, particularly in the work's final passages. This was, as the Bobs remind us, "fun with music."
The Bobs are truly in a league of their own. Getting reacquainted with this exceptional vocal ensemble made for a most enjoyable evening.
April 17, 2006
Take 6 on CBS News
Take 6 was interviewed and performed on CBS New "Second Cup Cafe" segment today. Watch the segment here
April 15, 2006
Dispatch from Toby "Swingle" Hug
A normal Sunday night in a traditional pub in Central London. Were you to look through the stained glass windows, nothing would strike you as unusual; a merry bunch of people from all ages having a good time and enjoying their ale - until suddenly sixteen of them crowd in one corner and there is an eerie silence. An older gentleman hums quietly a note - and the group breaks into a rendition of Country Dances, a breathtaking a cappella medley of American folksongs! We are actually witnessing a gathering of one of the world's most distinguished a cappella groups - the Swingle Singers! And the elderly gentleman is none less but Ward Swingle himself, founder of the group and five-time Grammy Award Winner!
The reason behind the gathering? The release of a "new" Swingles album. Actually there is nothing new about it, it was recorded at the legendary Village Gate nightclub on a US tour in fall 1982 and was intended for release - but then the masters went missing. Now, almost 25 years later, the masters have been located, successfully transferred to CD and finally released. The launch party for "Live in New York 82" included all the singers from that period, the current group members and other ex-Singers who were involved in the process of the album release. Kym Amps, second soprano in 1982 came all the way from Spain and Ward Swingle, now in his late 70's travelled together with his wife Francoise from his home near Paris to celebrate this occasion. And what a celebration it was! Many singers hadn't met before and finally could put faces to names, now-tenor Richard Eteson and Ward held speeches and it was to be a happy and long night!
To mark this launch, the Swingle Singers have put together a web site where you can read the full story and listen to some of the tracks from what was the group's first ever live, and first ever a cappella album. This was in 1982 when none had heard of Vocal Percussion or Vocal Bass Lines (Simon Grant providing both at the same time) - this is cuttting edge a cappella of it's time!
April 13, 2006
Champions of harmony
South Lyon Herald (MI):
Elmo Thumm has got the kind of fans that drive hundreds of miles just to hear them sing. When the South Lyon-based a cappella group of five men competed in Chicago several weeks ago, one local family followed them all the way out. "A capella music has some of the most devoted, crazy fans," said Thummster Greg Vaden.
And with Elmo Thumm, fans get the innovative, interesting sound that they have come to expect out of contemporary a capella. The group actually won the entire competition, making them the Midwest champions of the "Harmony Sweepstakes." They've been finalists in the past, but have never beaten out every ensemble in five neighboring states. Next they'll travel to California for the national competition. Will fans come along? Maybe.
But a little closer to home, Elmo Thumm will perform their award winning tunes at 9 p.m. April 22 at the South Lyon Theater. They'll showcase Monkees hit "Last Train to Clarksville" that just won an award for best arrangement. And they'll be singing a lot of other crowd favorites from the 70s and 80s, plus some contemporary songs. There will be new arrangements of songs by Huey Lewis and Shooting Star plus oldies like "Lion Sleeps Tonight." "We try to do a real mix to appeal to a broad audience," said Vaden. "We take songs people already enjoy and recreate them with our voices." And the results are pretty spectacular. The songs are filled with energy and blend subtle harmonies with catchy rhythms. There's no musical instruments - just hand held percussion.
The Thumms have actually invented a new percussion instrument called the "Thummstick." It's like a small drum on a long stick that taps on the floor for a sound kind of like a drum set with snare, cymbal and bass drum. They're the only group with a Thummstick so some people actually recognize the group by the drum. But going without guitars and keyboards doesn't subtract from the sound. Without all the "distraction" of instruments what's left is a wholly pure sound. If all instruments are made to mimic the beauty of the human voice, the sound of Elmo Thumm is what other bands are striving for. "It eliminates some of the clutter," explained Vaden. "Some people listening to bands can't understand the words. It's easier for us to tell a story and get our message across to the audience because those other sounds don't get in the way."
The group has been singing together for eight years. Lead singers Ed Pendleton and Jason Miller are both from South Lyon. Paul Ellinger lives in Canton. Milford residents Adam Westmoreland and Vaden compose most of the arrangements. Many folks have seen these guys perform at festivals and concerts with a variety of groups since the 1980s. They've sung in nationally renowned ensembles like the Gold Company and Four Neat Guys.
The men sing together only part-time. They spend most of their time supporting their families with jobs like at-home dad, teacher, real estate broker and insurance salesman. But they are drawn together by a love for music and a passion for singing. Even through the ups and downs of life, Elmo Thumm sticks together - for the friendship - but mostly for the music. "We love to sing and harmonize together," Vaden said. "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Together, we're good."
April 11, 2006
22nd Annual Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals line up
After yet another sold up show this past weekend in Washington DC the regional Harmony Sweepstakes have now wrapped up.
The 2006 regional winners who are to be flown to San Francisco to compete in the National Finals are:-
Bay Area - Clockwork
Chicago - ElmoTHUMM
Denver - Curious Gage
Los Angeles - Hi-Fidelity
Mid-Atlantic - Regency
New York - 'Round Midnight
Pacific NW - Tongue Tied A Cappella
Hosting will be 2005 National Champions Groove For Thought.
Well it looks like an another fabulous line up and promises to be a truly exceptional evening of top notch a cappella singing. Tickets are selling well so for great seats orders your tickets soon.
HARMONY SWEEPSTAKES A CAPPELLA FESTIVAL NATIONAL FINALS
Saturday, May 6, 8pm
Marin Veteran's Auditorium
San Rafael, California
Tickets available from Marin Center Box Office 415-499-6800 or online
For more info please visit our web site
April 10, 2006
Choir honors Mozart sans his music
Kansas City Star (KS):
The boy Mozart was an intellectual and musical sponge who soaked up everything he heard, especially at his home church in Salzburg, Austria, and in his travels as a wunderkind. But just what was he soaking up during those formative years? The Tallis Scholars, a 10-voice British unaccompanied vocal ensemble conducted by Peter Phillips, decided to mark Mozart’s 250th birthday not with another all-Mozart concert but with a program that looked at the composer’s sources.
“Mozart’s Roots: A Cappella Music in Germany” on Friday at Redemptorist Church was one of the most memorable concerts of the Friends of Chamber Music’s season. When it came to marrying words and music, composers of the Renaissance and Baroque reigned, and Germans like Praetorius and Schuetz were as gifted at it as their Italian and French counterparts, if perhaps less extravagant about it. This is a more subtle art than just singing high for “He ascended into heaven.” These are tiny variations of tone and texture that require rapt attention.
In Praetorius’ “Videns Dominus,” the words “Jesus wept” were sung with suave sadness, while “Lazarus, come forth!” was a series of steady, emphatic chords. In the second of two Praetorius Magnificats, the word “dispersit” (scattered) was a gentle series of zigzags. And in his “O Bone Jesu,” the idea that the self cannot reach God alone was a series of little duets, as if the self was being accompanied on its journey. The two Magnificats highlighted the program’s first half. The Tallis’ sonority throughout these two shimmering Magnificats was at once sinewy and creamy smooth.
Founded in 1973, this group is made up of a variety of vocal types, and in drier acoustics they can sound exposed. The larger-than-life resonance of massive Redemptorist Church was ideal for them, and despite the signature soprano-heavy sound, they were as luminous here as I’ve heard them.
The second half began with three breathtaking works by Schuetz. “Die Mit Traenen Saeen” juxtaposed tragic dissonances with Baroque vigor. “Blessed are the dead ... They rest from their labors,” was sung to restful music pierced through with almost tragic sadness. The double-choir “German Magnificat” was like its own universe, with antiphonal echoes, delicate cries and aggressive repetitions. It made such a vivid impression that the finale, Bach’s “Komm, Jesu, Komm,” sounded oddly muddy and subdued.
April 8, 2006
Glee Club grad makes a career of his whistling
Daily Pennsylvanian (PA):
Steve Herbst whistles while he works -- it's his job. Herbst is a professional whistler, and he's also an alumnus of Penn's Glee Club. He performed for the club Monday night, speaking to members of the singing group about following his true calling -- which, in his case, meant giving up his law and business careers and whistling his way through life.
Herbst began whistling at the age of 7 and brought his talent everywhere he went, including Penn. "People used to come in and stick their heads in the doorway and say, 'What was that? What were you just whistling?'" he said. Penn was a place for Herbst to fine-tune his whistling skills. "My best friend and I used to go into Houston Hall, and when no one else was around we would close the door, he would play the piano, and we would just jam together. That was how I developed and evolved my style -- blues improvisational whistling."
But whistling was not Herbst's immediate calling. After graduating from Penn, he attended law school and went on to practice business in the advertising industry for 30 years. His real love, whistling, was only a hobby. But in 1995, Herbst decided it was time for a change and began whistling on a professional level. He has spent the last 11 years competing in international whistling competitions, performing as a soloist and even with a full-blown orchestra.
His most memorable show, he said, was at the Kennedy Center in Washington. "I figured that, at this stage in my life, it was time to try to do something that I really loved and that people find special and usual and make a living out of it." While Herbst did not attain whistling fame until much later, he said that his years at Penn had a powerful impact on his future. "My years at Penn influenced everything about where I am now. Having an Ivy League education was obviously an advantage; people were more interested in hiring me because I was a Penn grad," he said.
Glee Club members found Herbst's style to be musically refreshing at his performance Monday night. "Musically it was interesting because it's something you don't hear every day, and I like the way he applied whistling to various types of music," Engineering freshman Kyle Andrews said.
Other members compared the whistling to a musical instrument. "Musically it's impressive how much he sounds like a flute or a theremin. It was very impressive. Clearly, he puts a lot of energy in to whistling," College junior Ben Winter said. Herbst will also be featured later this year in a documentary called "Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling. "
He has won numerous competitions, including the International Grand Champion Prize at the International Whistlers Competition in 2002, and International Whistling Entertainer of the Year in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
April 7, 2006
Nine men sing faultlessly
Danbury News Times (CT):
It all started in Minnesota at St. Olaf's College, nationally known for the quality of its choral groups. From the seed of four St. Olaf men ten years ago has arisen a national group of nine singers with the name Cantus (pronounced CON-tuse); five tenors, two baritones and two basses. What they proved last Friday night at Trinity Pawling's Gardiner Theater was that they would be hard to top in the world of male choruses. I have never heard a finer blend of voices.
Their program began with the religious plainsong of 12 centuries ago and ended with an encore of Billy Joel's "Lullaby, Goodnight My Angel." In between, the tuxedoed singers showed an incredible variety of tonal quality and dynamic control. When they sang "Four Peasant Songs" by Igor Stravinsky, their sound had the veracity of a true Russian male chorus. For the "Ave Maria" of the 20th century composer Franz Biebl, the antiphonal effect of six voices against three gave a soft beauty and resonance of centuries past to the well-known Latin words.
It was a program meant to bring an international flavor to the audience. Songs were in English, Latin, Finnish, Russian, Estonian, and Norwegian. Knowing the Scandanavian base of so many Minnesotans, it was no surprise to find emphasis on songs from that region in the Cantus program. The men sang mainly in a semi-circular arrangement, often with bodies gently swaying, but never overdoing movement. And they didn't only sing. Beginning the second half of the program, they emerged from the wings carrying brightly colored tuned tubes, sat down on chairs and proceeded to strike their thighs rhythmically in a piece entitled "Flight," stated by one of the singers as a piece "for boomwhacker ensemble."
Two works remain strongest in memory. The first was "Songs of the Ancient Sea" by the contemporary Estonian composer Veljo Tormis (1930- ), who adapted his homeland's folk melodies into a vocal tapestry of the sounds of the sea. Often with a tenor solo, the seven songs melded one into the other, sometimes with the eerie sounds of ocean winds, the calls of the fishermen, or the sounds of seagulls. The capacity of the nine men to evoke fortissimos of crashing waves or balanced pianissimos of a calm ocean resulted in enthusiastic applause by one of the largest audiences to attend a Pawling concert in years.
The second work that I recall with special choral pleasure, but ultimately with sadness, was a program substitution: "Private First Class Jesse Givens," a work by Lee Hoiby (1926- ) commissioned by Cantus and premiered earlier this month in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The current Middle East war comes crashingly to mind in this work based on a letter by Givens to his wife, discovered after he had died in 2003, pinned in a tank that had tumbled into a ditch in Iraq. He had arrived only three weeks before, but in that time had the presence of mind to write a letter to his pregnant wife Melissa should he not return.
The ever-present clear verbal articulation by the Cantus singers floated the words above the simple melodies of Hoiby. In his letter, Givens verbalized the love he had for Melissa, for his stepson, nicknamed "Toad," and his as yet unborn child, which he had already nicknamed "Bean." He ended his letter urging his wife to "Do me a favor, after you tuck Toad and Bean in, give them hugs and kisses for me. Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile."
Overall, it was a memorable concert.
Want to take a year away and sing for a living? Cantus is hiring for the 2006-2007 concert season, beginning Aug. 1, 2006, and ending July 31, 2007. Cantus singer contracts are all one year contracts with an annual review and renewal process. More info here.
Big-band Voices prove too much for the audience
Fort Worth Star Telegram (TX):
The New York Voices came out swinging Thursday night at Bass Performance Hall in a concert that turned the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra into a string-heavy big band.
The vocal quartet, which is every bit as similar to the Manhattan Transfer as its name suggests, scatted and jived its way through a set of bouncy tunes from the likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman that tested the audience tolerance for this almost-forgotten musical style.
Singers Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian offer harmonies that are as tight as a torch singer's dress.
And Meader's orchestrations actually give conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and his players something interesting to do in this Pops Series concert, even though the overall sound is dominated by the piano-bass-drums jazz trio the Voices brought along.
The group is certainly good at what it does, but the question is whether you are up for an entire evening of relentlessly cheerful, and often cloying, World War II-era treatments of tunes like Sing, Sing, Sing and Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens.
Apparently not everyone was at Thursday's performance. The Voices apparently mistook the audience's hasty retreat for a standing ovation and proceeded to do an encore of In a Mellow Tone to a hall that was more than half emptied.
April 6, 2006
Eric Whitacre joins Tech in concert
Virginia Tech Collegiate Times (VA):
When the word “composer” is brought up in conversation, names like “Mozart” or “Bach” are typically quick at hand. If someone in the group is especially interested, there’s a small chance “Handel” or “Mendelssohn” might make an appearance. It’s important to remember the classics, but it’s also foolish to ignore the great talents that create exceptional music today. This week, Virginia Tech welcomes one of the most talented contemporary composers in the world, Eric Whitacre.
Though he began formal training at age 18, Eric Whitacre has led an astounding career in music. After a life-changing experience in college choir, Whitacre was accepted to attend the prestigious Julliard School, where he acquired his Master of Music degree. He has since composed an impressive portfolio of choral and band music and has traveled the world as a lecturer and conductor to inspire musicians everywhere.
“I didn’t choose music. It chose me. I stumbled upon making a living just doing what I loved to do,” Whitacre said. Whitacre said that getting to visit different schools and tutoring young musicians was “the best part” of his career. The students of the University Chamber Singers and the University Symphonic Wind Ensemble were happy to host Whitacre for a three-day stay at Virginia Tech, culminating in a concert showcasing a few of his most beloved compositions this evening.
“Exploring Eric’s music with our students has been a profound joy. As a composer, his musical voice is direct, poignant and indelible,” said Patrick Casey, associate professor of music and director of the University Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Each ensemble has worked hard in preparation for Whitacre’s stay, though students believe their hard work will be worth it.
“After first being exposed to Eric Whitacre's work through performing ‘October’ in high school, I have looked forward to performing more of his compositions. For him to be in residency with us, and for us to play a variety of his works is truly an exciting time and a wonderful opportunity” said Megan McCollough, senior civil engineering major and University Symphonic Wind Ensemble member. During his time here, Whitacre worked with Tech musicians in a series of rehearsals and master classes. He will also serve as a guest conductor for tonight’s concert.
“I feel very lucky to experience working with such an amazing composer, and conductor, here at Virginia Tech — it’s almost like having Michael Jordan come help out with the basketball team,” said Emily Van Pelt, sophomore music education major and a member of both the University Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the Women’s Chorale. Casey has collaborated with Choral Director Brian Gendron to organize the event. “They are excited to sing under Mr. Whitacre and to hear about his compositional process,” Gendron said of his students.
I had the pleasure of meeting Eric recently and must say that as a rising superstar in the choral world he certainly has the movie star looks to go along with. My wife was gaga..
April 5, 2006
It's not their granddad's barbershop quartet
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA):
In a small music rehearsal room upstairs in Emory University's Schwartz Center, 11 students form a loose circle. Grant Braswell starts them off, laying down some vocal percussion by making rhythmic, exhaling "p" sounds through his lips like a toddler pretending to be a motorboat. Ryan Huff and Makobe Tabengwa bring the bass, singing a repeated "ba-doom-doom, ba-doom-doom." Several young women chime in with harmonic ah-oohs, and then comes Rohan Rupani over all of them with the melody: "I'm just a teenage dirtbag, baby ... " Liz Bullard waits for her cue to join him in a duet, bouncing lightly on her toes to the "ba-doom-doom" bass.
The song, "Teenage Dirtbag," was a tongue-in-cheek pop hit about adolescent self-loathing for one-hit wonder band Wheatus in 2000. Now it's in the repertoire of Aural Pleasure, an Emory University a cappella group that's part of a growing number of college students reinventing the tradition of singing without instruments. Aural Pleasure is one of several groups performing Friday night at Emory's third annual BareNaked Voices concert, along with No Strings Attached, The Gathering and AHANA.
These aren't traditional glee clubs, barbershop quartets or choirs. No spangly vests, and any finger-snapping is probably ironic. These are students bringing a wry iPod sensibility to vocal harmony. They offer intricate, sometimes ravishing, sometimes bizarre, arrangements of recent rock, pop, hip-hop, R&B and country. "Since You've Been Gone," "Hey Ya," "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," as well as songs by Pink Floyd, the Fugees, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Green Day and Michael Jackson, are fair game.
"I love a cappella — you're creating the sound of a whole band, but with voices," says Lauren Poor, who sings with the Emory group the Gathering. "Sometimes you want to do something like 'Creep' by Radiohead that no one would think you could possibly do a cappella," says Becky Herring, music director of Aural Pleasure. The co-ed group of 14 has also done "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Lady Marmalade," while Emory's all-male No Strings Attached once served up "People Are Strange" by the Doors.
A quirky sense of humor runs through the college a cappella scene. One University of Georgia group calls itself With Someone Else's Money (i.e., the members' parents'), and Aural Pleasure speaks for itself. Other names include the Hangovers, Voices in Your Head, and ARRRR!, a Brown University group that dresses like pirates. Some puns get a little obscure: a California group's name is Fermata Nowhere, but not many people may know that fermata is a musical term.
Few of the singers, at least at Emory, are music majors. Christine Tagayun, a junior and president of the Emory co-ed group AHANA (African Hispanic Asian Native American), is a neuroscience and behavioral biology major. "Music is a love, and I was going to be a music major, but my parents were leaning toward neuroscience," she says, telling a full story in just a sentence. Poor is a senior psychology major who sings with the all-female group The Gathering, which has one voice major out of about a dozen members.
Many of the groups become friends or little social circles. "We have the vibe we do because we're more like a family," Tagayun says. "We hang out together." Kevin Smith, a freshman who sings with No Strings Attached, says, "There's a certain energy around college a cappella." And sometimes, a certain following as well. On Facebook.com, the social networking Web site that's an obsession among many students, there are two groups of Emory women who call themselves (with tongue in cheek) "groupies" for No Strings Attached. "If you honestly polled most guys in the group," Smith says, "they would tell you they joined to get girls."
The popularity of college a cappella is fairly recent, at least at Southern schools. The Yale Whiffenpoofs, which started as a glee club in 1909, are considered the first college a cappella group, but the national scene didn't start heating up until the mid-'90s, when a company called Varsity Vocals started holding national competitions and issuing compilation CDs.
There are more than 1,000 college groups, says Amanda Grish, executive director of Varsity Vocals, although it's impossible to keep track. "It really started growing first on the East Coast. It's just now starting to take hold in the South, but now it's starting to get huge there." At Emory, three of the four groups started in the '90s. And AHANA, a diversity-oriented group that leans more toward R&B, is just 2 years old. Grish says the a cappella scene used to be fairly "white bread," but that has changed dramatically in recent years.
A cappella groups sing in all sorts of circumstances. They perform for free during various campus activities, while some hire themselves out for serenades on Valentine's Day or local parties. Nearly all record CDs regularly and sell them for about $10-$12 through their Web sites. The funds generally help pay for road trips to festivals and contests. They also have to deal with demanding schedules and not being members' top priority.
All the Emory groups performing Friday have members who are studying abroad this semester, and even Brendan Dolan, who's president of No Strings Attached, will miss the concert for family reasons. But Emory President James Wagner will be there. He used to sing in a barbershop quartet, and he's been known to join some of the groups onstage for a singalong.
April 4, 2006
Von Trapps on Broadway
Believe it or not one of the busiest a cappella (almost) groups out there today are the grandchildren of the famous singing Von Trapp Family. They are doing two performances on Broadway on Easter weekend at the Lamb’s Theater (130 West 44th Street) and their tour schedule is quite impressive and includes several prestigious symphonys. They have toured internationaly and have garnered quite a bit of media attention, have management, a booking agency and, by all accounts, a professional put together show. Read on interview with them in Broadway World here.