November 29, 2006

Bobby's famous dad passes

Baritone Robert McFerrin Sr., the first black man to sing under contract at the Metropolitan Opera and the father of Grammy-winning vocalist Bobby McFerrin, has died at the age of 85, the Associated Press has reported. McFerrin died of a heart attack at a hospital in St. Louis, the Washington Post has reported. He is survived by his second wife, Athena — whom he married in 1994 — as well as his two children, three grandchildren and a sister.

McFerrin won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1953, and made his Metropolitan Opera debut two years later as Amonasro in Aida, a role he would perform seven times with the company over three seasons; McFerrin also sang a single Faust Valentin and two Rigolettos while on the company's roster. The baritone's Met debut on January 27, 1955 came almost three weeks after contralto Marian Anderson sang Ulrica in Il Trovatore in her historic company debut on January 7, 1955. The quick succession of both debuts signaled a notable detente in the opportunities provided to singers of color under the tenure of then-new general manager Rudolph Bing over that of his predecessor, Edward Johnson.

McFerrin also notably sang the vocals for Sidney Poitier's title character-portrayal in Otto Preminger's 1959 movie adaptation of Porgy and Bess.

Bobby McFerrin Jr., singer of the buoyant 1980's hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," performed in concert with his father in 1993, when McFerrin Sr. appeared as a soloist with the St. Louis Symphony with his son as guest conductor.

"His work influenced everything I do musically," Bobby McFerrin is quoted as telling the Associated Press in 2003. "When I direct a choir, I go for his sound. His musical influence was absolutely profound. I cannot do anything without me hearing his voice."

Born in Marianna, Arkansas, Robert McFerrin was one eight children in the home of a Baptist minister who reportedly forbade his children to sing anything other than gospel music. In 1936 he moved to St. Louis to undertake classical vocal training. Throughout the next two decades, McFerrin would go on to make his debuts on Broadway — in the ensemble of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars — as well as with the National Negro Opera Company. In March of 1949 McFerrin made his New York City Opera debut in the role of Popaloi in the world premiere of Harlem-Renaissance composer William Grant Still's Troubled Island.

In 1973 McFerrin returned to St. Louis. He suffered at stroke in 1989, but, while his speaking voice was impaired, his singing voice remained largely unaffected; he continued performing for years afterwards. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award by Opera America in June 2003.

Posted by acapnews at 12:20 AM

November 28, 2006

"Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz" jingle contest

Here's another jingle contest that's perfect for a cappella groups. Alka-Seltzer is holding a competition for bands to redo perhaps the most famous TV commercial jingles of all time – "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh What a Relief It Is!"

The national search to remake the classic ad jingle begins 11/13/06 and is open to musicians of any musical genre. Using “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz Oh What a Relief It Is” in at least one of the verses, competitors are challenged to remake the song using their own original music.

Four first place winners will each receive a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to compete for the grand prize of $10,000 and may be featured in a national TV commercial! More info here

Posted by acapnews at 8:30 PM

November 27, 2006

View Manhattan Transfer on Emeril

To help get you in the holiday mood here's a video clip of the Manhattan Transfer on a Christmas edition of the Emeril Food Network TV show.

Posted by acapnews at 10:27 PM

November 25, 2006

Tonic Sol-Fa builds success, not fame

Sioux City Journal (IA):

Why isn't Tonic Sol-fa bigger? It's a question fans have been asking for years. Why aren't the Minnesota-based singers challenging pop, country and gospel groups for the big awards? Why aren't they on all the late-night talk shows or playing huge arenas? "It's a question of success over fame," says Shaun Johnson, the group's lead singer. "Fame is fleeting. Success is built."

If you look at the a cappella group's climb over the past decade, you'd see growth. General Mills offered Tonic Sol-fa CDs one year. Later, the "Today" show asked them to sing Christmas songs. In the past, Newsweek has written about their marketing strategies. This year, Public Television stations will air one of their past holiday shows.

Attention? They get it. But, says bass Jared Dove, "It's a gradual thing." "We've done great things," Johnson adds, "but we've got to have that synergy." A story in Newsweek, for example, has to coincide with the release of a CD, a concert tour and an appearance on a network television show. "If you've got three or four things going at once, people pay attention."

Then, too, there's the field they're in. A cappella doesn't exactly burn up the CD charts. Of the groups springing up around the country, Tonic Sol-fa is among the most successful. If a cappella is going to make headway, Tonic Sol-fa has to blaze the trail. "People have told us we should add instruments, learn some dance moves and we can be successful," Johnson says. "They'll say, 'If you do gospel and move to Nashville, you guys will be huge. If you go to Branson and sing old songs, you'll be huge. If you go to Vegas and do cheesy bits, you'll be huge.' Everybody in every venue has said that to us."

But there's something the four would sacrifice if they did roll the dice -- control. Now, because they do much of the legwork, they're able to control what they sing and say on stage. Under a record label's aegis, they could be asked to change. That's not always a good thing. "We've performed with many stars who are now deejaying in Florida," Johnson says. Conversely, "we've had a 10-year career that keeps growing every year."

The four figure their career has built because they're calling the shots. "We're control freaks," says Dove. "We've been doing this for a long time ourselves. We want to make sure it doesn't change so drastically." Fans, in fact, love the folksy quality Johnson, Dove, Greg Bannwarth and Mark McGowan bring to their shows. They like the interaction. They enjoy the comedy.

A bigger problem for the four is knowing what contributes to their success and what doesn't. Plastic Santa -- a feature of several previous holiday shows -- has been a real source of debate. Should the bit die? Or should it stay? "Some are extremely tired of him, like myself," Dove says. "Some want to see him stay." Nothing more than a cheap yard ornament, Plastic Santa has come to embody the goofiness that is Tonic Sol-fa. "We're up there being goofballs," Bannwarth says. Plastic Santa is a way to bring comedy into the act. But is it the right vehicle? "Ultimately, we just want the fans to enjoy us for who we are," Dove says.

To prove the quartet is trying a different approach, there'll be an opening act -- country singer Bryan White -- on six of the concert dates. "He's doing an acoustic set and we think he'll complement us," Bannwarth says. Interestingly, Tonic Sol-fa opened for White eight years ago. Tastefully Simple is partnering with Tonic Sol-Fa this year, too. The food company has a special "gift pack" featuring the group's best-selling holiday CD. Other tie-ins are in the works.

Pointing to Mannheim Steamroller as a trailblazer, the four say founder Chip Davis was able to achieve success on his terms. "Like Greg has said many times, we'd like to compete with other groups, but to do that you have to build," Johnson says. "It took Chip and his New Age thing time to get there." So it is with Tonic Sol-fa.

While the quartet has performed across the country, it focuses on a 10-state area. When something like the General Mills promotion introduces them to new audiences, they inevitably get requests to perform. The PBS special, they say, could crack things in a big way. Slated to air on more than 200 stations, it will give Tonic Sol-fa the largest audience yet. "You've got to take a chance on it," Bannwarth admits.

"There are lots of a cappella groups around the country but they don't get beyond their towns or colleges," he adds. "You don't know how good you are until you take it other places." For Tonic Sol-fa, holiday ticket sales are a real gauge. "Every single venue except one is up this year," Johnson says, "so we must be doing something right."

Posted by acapnews at 12:19 AM

November 24, 2006

Warm voices from a cold war

Waterloo Record (Canada):

Born out of post-war propaganda Berlin's Kammerchor now serenades the world as a highly respected choir

One of the world's most acclaimed and historically significant choirs will stop in Kitchener -- one of only three Canadian cities the RIAS Kammerchor will visit on its first North American tour. On Monday, the choir will be at the Centre in the Square to perform a selection of mostly Romantic-era music, including works by Brahms, Schubert and Schumann.

The music will have two themes: German Romanticism and the depiction of nature through music, said James Wood, from England, who has worked with the choir before and is acting as guest conductor for the duration of the tour. "There's a little twist at the end, because of being in Canada, it was thought it would be quite nice to do something with more of a French feel to it," he said, naming pieces by Claude Debussy and Francis Poulenc. "(They) also have to do with nature but are less romantic."

The 35-voice a cappella choir's history is intimately linked to the post-war formation of the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, because of the radio station where it started performing. After the Second World War, Germany was split into four occupation zones -- American, French, British and Soviet.

Much to the Americans' consternation, the Soviet Union quickly came to control Berlin's largest broadcasting centre and established Berliner Rundfunk, or Radio Berlin, as its mouthpiece to the German people. The Americans countered by setting up their own station, Wire Broadcasting in the American Sector, which they called "the free voice of the free world."

According to a Goethe Institute article, the signal could originally be received only via telephone wires -- the same wires that had transmitted air-raid signals during the war. The name was later changed to Radio in the American Sector, or RIAS. Although staffed by Germans, the radio station was initially an American-controlled propaganda vehicle, much as Radio Berlin was initially a Soviet-controlled propaganda vehicle.

But RIAS also played an important cultural role, one that increasingly became uniquely German. In addition to jazz and swing music, the station hosted choral music almost from its inception in 1946. In 1948, the RIAS Kammerchor became a full-time, professional choir and started recording and performing all over the world. Although the RIAS radio station was incorporated into DeutschlandRadio 12 years ago, the Kammerchor lives on.

Berlin is also home to a larger and older choir with its roots in radio, the Rundfunkchor Berlin. The RIAS choir has purposely stayed a smaller chamber choir, Wood said. "The RIAS Kammerchor kept its name in order to have a clear identity from the (Rundfunkchor) radio choir, which still very much exists as one of the largest choirs in Germany today." Some of the music the choir will perform in Kitchener will likely be familiar, particularly to German-speaking audiences, Wood said. "I hope that they would feel a large degree of nostalgia . . . the Brahms pieces are very, very important Brahms pieces. And I think my experience so far is that in the tours we've done, a lot of people do know the music we're singing."

Some of the music, on the other hand, is less well-known. "The Schumann pieces are very unusual . . . a cappella music is not that easy to find; it's not got a huge public and most of the major composers wrote just a little for a cappella choir, not a huge amount," Wood said. "It's possible well-educated musicians might not be familiar with all these pieces."

Posted by acapnews at 10:00 PM

Chanticleer on Today Show

Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based, all-male a cappella choir, will make a return appearance on NBC's Today Show on December 4. The choir begins its holiday tour today (November 24) in Palm Desert, California. The group will then perform in Chicago on November 29 and 30; in the Medieval Courtyard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 3, 5, and 6; and at Stanford University’s Memorial Church on December 12 and 13. Additional performances are scheduled for the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono on November 26 and L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall on December 19.

For years Chanticleers series of Christmas concerts were held almost exclusively here in the Bay Area and remain hugely popular. It's good to see they are now touring and getting national media attention. One of our favorite a cappella ensembles."

Posted by acapnews at 9:30 PM

November 23, 2006

300 singers -- and one remarkable Estonian

The Oregonian (OR):

High keening, low primeval chanting and surging waves of choral harmony filled the room. For more than two hours Monday, the ancient/modernist music of Estonian composer Veljo Tormis ebbed and flowed around a packed audience at First United Methodist Church.

It was a remarkable evening, as four choirs totaling 300 singers took turns performing separately before coming together for two final songs. Lullabies rocked, war songs marched by and laments of piercing beauty unfolded. We heard children's songs, courtship songs, battle hymns, odes to weddings and in-laws and songs of dissidence and homeland.

The power of Tormis' music comes from its simplicity rooted in ancient folk music, around which the 70-year-old composer builds dense choral layers that can reach symphonic proportions or thin to a whisper. Gorgeous triadic harmonies glide in parallel chords. Repeating figures, often accompanied by a drone, emphasize the music's chant-like qualities. Contrasting timbres -- a dissonant note here, a sharp attack there -- spike the textures.

An interesting aside: American and Western European choirs put high value on diction, spitting out consonants for rhythmic and musical effect. But Estonian diction softens consonants in favor of smoother, rounder sounds. The results were silken.

Oregon choral directors revere Tormis as one of the great choral composers of our day and have invited him here -- and taken their choirs to Estonia -- on several occasions. For the past month, he and his conducting colleague Hirvo Surva have been teaching and rehearsing Tormis' music at the University of Oregon in a "Music Today Festival" directed by composer Robert Kyr. Surva was marvelous to watch: His big, bold gestures drew precise sounds from the singers.

Tormis also appeared onstage for an aboriginal song about political oppression whose only word was "taboo." The combined choirs sang the word over and over while Tormis roamed the stage beating a hand drum like a shaman.

In addition to fine and committed singing of 33 songs by the four choirs -- Milwaukie's Unistus Chamber Choir, conducted by Lonnie Cline; Pacific Youth Choir led by Mia Hall Savage; Oregon Repertory Singers conducted by Gil Seeley; and the University of Oregon Chamber Choir led by Sharon J. Paul -- the concert offered a powerful overview of a composer who values beauty, simplicity and conviction.

Posted by acapnews at 12:02 AM

November 21, 2006

Manhattan Transfer TV Christmas concert

The PBS TV network will be offering "The Manhattan Transfer Christmas Concert" to their member stations this holiday season. Presented by WLIW21 New York the show will be shown between Nov 25 and Christmas day nationwide.

Posted by acapnews at 10:36 PM

November 20, 2006

Church Abuzz With the Sound of Medieval Music

New York Times (NY):

The divine voices of Trio Mediaeval entranced a rapt congregation on Sunday afternoon at the intimate Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan. Presented by Music Before 1800, this a cappella trio from Oslo — Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Ostrem Ossum, Norwegians, and Anna Maria Friman, a Swede — performed an enchanting program that included two of their three specialties: medieval music, both polyphonic and monophonic, and traditional Norwegian songs.

Staying true to the title of the series, the singers ventured into their third strand, contemporary music, only once, with a piece by the Norwegian composer Lillebjorn Nilsen. The program opened with somber English medieval music honoring the Virgin Mary. These items, said to have been revealed to the 12th-century hermit St. Godric in a dream, are the oldest surviving songs in the English language, according to the program notes.

Using just the faintest hint of vibrato, the singers immediately demonstrated their immaculate blend and nuanced control, and the beauty of their clear, fluid voices.

A highlight of the program (and there were many) was “Dou way Robyn/Sancta Mater,” an intriguing 13th-century motet. Ms. Friman and Ms. Fuglseth sang an ostinato phrase in English that sounded like a lullaby, while Ms. Ossum’s voice soared brightly above them singing a Marian hymn in Latin. They performed this tricky piece with graceful precision, fading to a whispered pianissimo.

Their lithe dynamic shading was notable in other works as well, like the 14th-century English song “De spineto nata rosa.” The women all have fine high soprano voices, and Ms. Ossum adds a rich lower range. Their individual timbres are finely balanced. The program also included a Ukrainian song and Norwegian numbers based on hymns, psalms and folk tunes, many arranged by Ms. Fuglseth. They had a soulful, almost plaintive quality to them.

As an encore the trio gave the delighted audience a gracefully spirited rendition of a Norwegian wedding march. Wearing elegantly smocked dresses and high-heeled brown boots, their auburn, blonde and brunette hair cropped short, the women looked as lovely as they sounded.

Posted by acapnews at 11:25 PM

November 16, 2006

Singing from the same hymn sheet?

Ely Cathedral Girls' Choir was formed in September


A cathedral will break with 1,000 years of tradition on Wednesday when its new girls' choir sings its first evensong. Is this long overdue or sacrificing an ancient tradition for political correctness?

Now that the Church of England has opened its doors to women priests, and, on paper, to women bishops, it seems the tide of equal opportunities has caught up with Anglicanism. But there is a less obvious bastion of all-male culture in the Church - the boys' choir. There is an ancient Christian tradition of boys singing, from providing the high notes in Allegri's Miserere, to the solo first verse of Once in Royal David's City. Is it now time for the girls to get a look in?

In what has been called "a quiet revolution", an increasing number of UK cathedrals are starting girl's choirs. The latest is Ely in Cambridgeshire, where on Wednesday the cathedral girls' choir will sing its first evensong. The famous boys' choir there is 1,000 years old. Its female counterpart was formed in September. Salisbury Cathedral led the way, starting a girls' choir in 1991, and others have followed since, including Wells, Southwark and Liverpool. "It's not a break with tradition so much as creating a new one," says Sue Freestone, the head of King's School in Ely, who started the choir. "We're not replacing the boys' choir, we're adding to the richness and variety of musical tradition here."

The advantage of girls' voices is that they do not break in the same way as boys. The Ely choir deliberately takes girls from the age of 13 - the time when things tend to go a bit wonky for the lads. "They can sing the same kind of parts as boys, but you get a fuller sound instead of that beautiful purity of a younger child's voice," says Ms Freestone.

Not everyone appreciates that fuller sound however. The choirboys, for a start, seem to have reservations. Alan Thurlow, the director of music at Chichester Cathedral, says he introduced girls into the all-boys parish choir. "The end result of that was I lost the boys," he told BBC Radio 3's In Tune. The same thing has happened in many churches and cathedrals that have tried mixed choirs. Apparently the hormones that have not yet broken the boys' voices have also not made hanging around with girls an attractive option.

This is another reason why Ely have decided to avoid an overlap of boys and girls - not to scare off the boys. Dr Peter Giles, of the Campaign for the Defence of the Traditional Cathedral Choir (CTCC), takes a different - but equally strong - stance against girl choristers. "We are sacrificing a wonderful, ancient tradition of men and boys' choirs for political correctness," he says. "In 1963, there were 180,000 boys singing every Sunday in parish churches. Today there's hardly a boy singing."

One might think getting girls singing would help make up that loss, but Dr Giles sees that as short-term expediency. "It's a different kind of choral music, so we are losing the repertoire and the musical tradition is being weakened. Boys and girls are being trained in the same way and in time their choirs get amalgamated because cathedrals don't have the time or the money to run them both."

And yet, surprisingly perhaps, research has cast doubt on listeners' ability to tell boy and girl singers apart. A number of studies have been done in the 15 years since girls' cathedral choirs began, with varying results. The most thorough and up-to-date is from Professor David M Howard of York University. He recorded 20 snippets of the boys' and girls' choirs of Wells Cathedral performing with adult accompaniment. "So long as they are singing the same material with the same acoustics and have had the same training, people simply can't tell the difference," he says. "It does depend upon the material though. If they are singing something that includes the notes from the C above middle C to the F above that, those can give the game away."

Posted by acapnews at 12:05 AM

November 15, 2006

New Release: Singers Unlimited - Complete A Cappella Sessions

A cappella bliss! This remastered new double CD release of all 33 a cappella recordings (non-Christmas) of the Singers Unlimited is perhaps the most amazing a cappella release I have heard which is a statement I do not make lightly. Most of our customers are familiar with the group and we have sold well over a thousand copies of their boxed set Magic Voices (the bible of vocal jazz as a customer once called it) but for those of you who may not already have their CDs here is your chance to listen to some of the most incredible a cappella voices and arrangements ever recorded. Gene Puerling rules!

Listen to Michelle, Fool On The Hill and Autumn in New York. It don't get much better than this!

In stock and on sale at Primarily A Cappella

Posted by acapnews at 2:51 AM

November 14, 2006

A quick chat with a King's Singer

For almost four decades, the King's Singers have wowed audiences worldwide with a distinctive sound, sophisticated musicianship and intriguing repertoire. Put together in 1965 by members of the choir of King's College of Cambridge University, the sextet sings everything from Renaissance motets to daunting new contemporary music to popular songs in the American tradition of close harmony.

Baritone Philip Lawson, a member since 1993, answered questions for the Chronicle's Charles Ward.

Q: What made the King's Singers such an enduring institution?

A: The main thing is the sound. It's the thing people notice when they first hear the group. It doesn't sound like six soloists battling for supremacy.

Q: When did you start singing?

A: I started at the age of 9 at the local parish church in Worth in Sussex in southern England. I became a boy chorister in the choir.

I was unlike most of the members of the King's Singers. I was not a cathedral chorister, which means living at the (cathedral choir) school and singing every day. I just sang on Sunday.

Then at age 18, I did go to York Minster (the cathedral in York) to be a choral scholar.

Q: How did you continue your singing career?

A: I moved to London and did free-lance singing and had (voice) lessons.

In 1982, I moved to Salisbury as a baritone lay clerk in the Salisbury Cathedral. That meant (singing) daily services, which I had always wanted to do — three service on Sundays and midweek services as well.

When I got to Salisbury, one of the boy choristers was the son of Simon Carrington, one of the founders of the King's Singers. He used to come in and listen to us, and occasionally deputize for me. When he decided to retire, he suggested that I try out. That was in 1993.

Q: Is the path followed by most of the King's Singers members the typical manner for training English male singers?

A: The tradition of cathedral-trained singers (starting as young boys) is the dominant manner for male singers.

In your country, singing is very well established in high schools and colleges. In England, it's not.

Q: Have any singers not raised in the cathedral tradition been members of the King's Singers?

A: I think I might be the only one.

The original members were all cathedral choristers. Once you get the bug of English church music, it's in you forever.

Q: Would a singer from other traditions be able to join?

A: We have auditioned people from other countries — recently a Canadian and a German — but there's something in the way the vowel sounds are produced. The German couldn't make the vowel sounds (we needed) at all.

Posted by acapnews at 8:45 PM

November 13, 2006

Cops Choir face the music!

Atlanta Journal Constitution (GA):

When Clayton County sheriff's deputies offered to form a gospel singing group last year, the idea sounded sweet: a public relations and morale boost. Now Sheriff Victor Hill is having to face the music after finding out his department paid the choir up to $45,000 in overtime to sing last year.

Hill said Monday that all compensation to the group, Voices of Praise, will end. The choir can continue singing, they just won't be harmonizing on the taxpayers' dime. "The Clayton County Sheriff's Office will not provide any overtime, comp time or regular time to the choir," Hill told reporters at a news conference Monday. Hill also announced the sudden retirement of his chief deputy, William "Tee" Cassells, who the sheriff said had been paying the choir overtime without his approval.

Voices of Praise was started by a group of deputies shortly after Hill took office in January 2005. The group has about 30 members, practices twice a month and has performed nine times at fairs and funerals, said its director, Deputy Eugene Nobles. The group last sang Nov. 4 at the Bedford School fall fair in south Fulton County. A dozen members, mostly wearing black leather jackets, stood on the grass under a clear sky as they clapped, swayed and sang, "Melodies from heaven, rain down on me, rain down on me." "He's been good to me!" Nobles called to the crowd. "Has he been good to you?"

Hill has said the choir is a service to the community and an employee morale builder. Still, some wondered why the sheriff allowed deputies to spend time singing in the choir after he's complained about staffing at the county jail. At a County Commission meeting this year, one of Hill's top assistants told of a near staffing crisis that occurred one Friday when the choir had an engagement. "Two of the jail sergeants and myself spent all day trying to find 19 people to come in that weren't already allocated to sing somewhere else on the sheriff's choir," Maj. Mike Maddox said. Laughter filled the room.

A Clayton County grand jury didn't see the humor and this month issued a report suggesting that the the choir was creating staffing problems and that members should sing only when off duty. At first, Hill denied that the county was paying choir members overtime to sing, though he said they might be paid straight time or compensatory time if they peformed on their regular shift. But after looking into county records, Hill said Thursday that choir members had been paid up to $45,000 in overtime last year and that Cassells had approved their time sheets. Hill suspended Cassells with pay. He retired Monday. Cassells did not return a telephone call at his home seeking comment Monday.

Cassells, 54, the department's No. 2 official, handled the department budget. A ramrod figure in a pressed uniform, he towered over Hill as the two men walked the jail corridors together. Hill said his second-in-command misled him, saying choir members were not paid overtime. The sheriff said the investigation into the matter is ongoing. "There was bad discretion used," Hill said. "Clearly, overtime cannot be used with a voluntary group like the choir." The sheriff said Cassells also approved unauthorized overtime for other activities, such as answering telephone calls.

One Clayton resident was angry choir members had been paid overtime to sing. "That's outrageous; that should be voluntary. They are not professionals," said Al Woodard. Clayton District Attorney Jewel Scott said Monday her office would bring the matter to the grand jury for investigation if Hill makes a request. Hill said he doesn't plan to do that. Of Cassells, a nearly 25-year employee, Hill said: "I'm sure the good outweighs the bad and we want to remember that."

Posted by acapnews at 9:50 PM

November 10, 2006

A cappella group ready to wail with the pros

Marin Independent Journal (CA):

Every Thurday, James Currier leaves his busy family and his full-time job to spend three hours with 17 other men. It isn't to discuss business or argue about sports. It's to sing, a cappella. Currier is a co-founder and member of the Richter Scales, a group dedicated the performance of a cappella music for every occasion.

"I've been singing all my life," the Strawberry native says. The group started early one August morning six years ago at an International House of Pancakes, where Currier and two friends, Mark Casey and Rob Seal, joined in their common passion: to sing a cappella. "We auditioned about 80 people, took about eight and then we started," says Currier. "We grabbed a bunch of a cappella scores and we just started learning them and performing whenever anybody would let us."

The group, whose members come from all over the Bay Area, will be performing for the first time at the 13th annual A Cappella Summit at Dominican College on Saturday with big a cappella stars M-Pact and Vox One.

"We're really excited," Currier says. "I think it's going to be great. While people are going to be judging us in the end, I feel like having more groups perform together is a great thing because we can all appreciate each other's art." "It'll be a treat," adds Casey, a San Francisco resident. "It's always fun to perform for an audience that likes a cappella."

The group will be singing three original and humorous compositions written by member Brian M. Rosen and included on their just-released first CD, "We Hate A Cappella." The group spent a year working on the CD because members only wanted to include original compositions and original arrangements.

"We don't really hate singing a cappella. We just like singing about hating a cappella," says Casey, who says he's happy to be back in Marin after a recent performance at Mill Valley's 142 Throckmorton Theatre. "We like performing in Marin. The audiences there are pretty sophisticated. They either like us or they're just being nice to us."

It will be another event to juggle in their busy lives, but Currier, an Internet entrepreneur and the former CEO of Emode, says the balancing act is worth it. "The experience of standing in the middle of 10 guys singing in harmony is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It's beautiful and powerful. You have everyone's vibrations and resonance in your body and your jaw, resonating with the other people around you," Currier explains. "It's incredibly uplifting."

The men have also made friendships that they believe will never fade "It's really hard to keep a band together, whereas a cappella groups stay together for decades - there's less ego when there's no external instruments, and it's harder for one musician to stay better than everyone else," Currier says. "A cappella creates great friendships. If you can't all work together then it's nothing."

Currier loves all aspects of his singing life - but one thing truly stands out. "The street scene is probably what I love most, where we can just walk around and walk into a restaurant singing a song," he says. "People's jaws just drop open, and that doesn't happen when there's a band playing. It makes me feel accomplished, like an artist - I feel pride in what I do."

He hopes to pass that along to his four kids. "We sing with them every night before bed, at the dinner table ... I would love it if they could end up singing a cappella," he says. "Singing a cappella is beautiful and powerful. It takes a normal afternoon and turns it into a sparkling day you'll never forget."

We are all busy getting ready for the big event tomorrow. Ticket sales are strong and we expect a good turnout and hopefully great fun will be had by all.

Posted by acapnews at 1:30 PM

November 7, 2006

Virginia Gentlemen director is certainly no gentleman

Cave Spring Connection (VA):

Older guys singing old songs - maybe a bit off key. That is the view many people have of barbershop harmony. The Virginia Gentlemen Barbershop Harmony Chorus begs to differ while offering a cappella entertainment to audiences of all ages.

Here’s a twist: the director of the all-male chorus is actually a young woman. Erin Odell is a 2005 graduate of Virginia Tech with a BA in Music Education and Piano Performance. She recently began working as the Choral Music Director at North Cross School in Roanoke. At Tech she served for two years as Music Director of “Soulstice,” Virginia Tech’s female a cappella group. Erin has been a piano teacher since 2002 and sang with Tech’s top choir, the Chamber Singers. She has also performed barbershop harmony music extensively as a part of three Sweet Adeline International choruses since 1999.

The Northern Virginia native, just 23, said, “Both my parents are barber shoppers” as a way of explaining her interest. A grandmother was the first member of the family to sing barbershop. “It's such a unique style of music - it absolutely originated in America.” The Choral and music education major explored all types of sounds at Tech, and performed classical piano solos as part of her graduation requirements.

At North Cross Odell teaches general music for students from kindergarten through second grade, then choir from fourth through 12th grades. Students at North Cross have to take some sort of music at least through middle school. “The greatest thing about music is learning the discipline necessary to become a good musician. With all the other subjects it gives you that same feeling [of confidence]. You know what it takes.”

Odell, now in her second year, is working to improve the level of musical proficiency in the chorus by introducing the vocal techniques she learned at Virginia Tech to weekly chorus rehearsals. Odell is also bringing in other coaches to work with group. “They respond great to me,” she said. During rehearsals or a performance -- she still hears an occasional murmur from the crowd when walking out to take her place - the Gents “absolutely respect me,” but in social situations she’s just “one of the boys or one of the kids. They’re fun to hang out with.” The Virginia Gentlemen finished 19th out of 25 groups at a district competition in New Jersey recently.

The youngest and newest member is a music student at Radford University. Two other young members are Roanoke County police officers. At the other end of the age spectrum two of the Chorus’ members have been singing barbershop harmony for over 50 years. Bill Clark is a charter member of the Roanoke group: “I started singing barbershop harmony 50 years ago in a quartet in my college glee club, before I even knew there was a barbershop harmony society. I have sung twice in international competition, but I’m having as much fun now as I’ve ever had.”

Posted by acapnews at 12:04 AM

Choir sings on movie soundtrack

The African Children's Choir has just recorded music for the soundtrack of 'Blood Diamond’ in London. The Choir will be the last song in the film before the closing credits. Blood Diamond, a story centered on the possession of a priceless diamond, is due to be released December 8th and stars Lenardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Conelly.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

November 6, 2006

Chapter 6 Comes from Chicago to sing Tuesday night

Indiana Statesman (IN):

Chapter 6, originally from Chicago, consists of six members, Chuck Bosworth, Mark Grizzard, Jarret Johnson, Luke Menard, John Musick, Nathan Pufall and A.D. Stonecipher. "Chapter 6 is a premier jazz group from Millkikin University in Decatur, Illinois," said Chuck Bosworth, management representative and vocalist. "They were crowned the 2001 International Champions of Collegiate A Cappella."

Chapter 6, which started in 2000, with their first professional debut in 2001, has been distinguished as the youngest group ever to qualify for the national finals at the Regional Harmony Sweepstakes Grand Championship, Bosworth said. They are currently three-time champions and have won more competitions each year.

"Chapter 6, who wishes to spread the word of Christianity through their music, comes to Terre Haute to do just that," said Jane Victor, the administrative assistant. "All seven members of the group have special talents and enjoy using them to help spread the word."
The members of the group all enjoy their music and enjoy different aspects of what is going on with it.

"I enjoy traveling with the group and performing," Menard said. "When I was a freshman in high school, I started enjoying the sounds of a cappella. I never imagined I would be out there actually doing something with my music." Menard started singing a cappella at a young age, and it eventually lead him to sing for Chapter 6. "When I first started singing a cappella, I just imitated the sound of a violin and it made for great practice," Menard said.

Other members have a different outlook on it, like Pufall. "I joined Chapter 6 when I was a sophomore in college. It became an outlet to sing, and little did I know that it would turn into an adventure of touring around with my six best friends."

The boys believe singing is a great way to let go of their problems, and let God in, Bosworth said. Performing and just being up there doing what it is they do best, is the best outlet for their spirituality.
"There is hardly ever any time for friends and family," Pufall said. "By letting go of the worries and allowing God to inhabit us, we can take pride in what it is we are doing and fully understand what is it we are doing here, and the message we are providing to our audience."

Posted by acapnews at 9:46 PM

November 3, 2006

Singing slugs

The new animation release "Flushed Away" features the blobby slugs, which act as a kind of a cappella Greek chorus, warbling vintage Bobby Vinton and Bobby McFerrin tunes to set the mood. They also scream like little girls when frightened, scattering at a snail's pace. Flushed Away is the first collaboration between Dreamworks, the folks behind the computer-generated Shrek, and Aardman, who gave us the claymation antics of Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit.

This clip is not a cappella but hey it's a slow a cappella news day and it's a fun clip regardless.

Posted by acapnews at 11:10 PM

November 2, 2006

Playing Tag With the Text

Washington Post (DC):

Chanticleer, the renowned men's chorus, performed six new American works Monday night in the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium. Though the longest work isn't likely to end up in the choral canon, Music Director Joseph Jennings and the chorus made fine advocates for them all, easily handling some hair-raising technical challenges and going to the essence of each piece.

Ezequiel Vinao contributed the program's centerpiece, "The Wanderer," a setting of an Old English poem in his own intriguing translation. Vinao effectively used six-part counterpoint and endless shades of dissonance to evoke the alienated mood of the poem as well as the text's medieval origins. Unfortunately, the contrapuntal thickets tended to obscure the text, and it was tough to follow (much less enjoy) the ambiguous harmonic paths of the work as it ran for over a half-hour.

By contrast, Robert Kyr's setting of medieval musical encomiums, "In Praise of Music," was short and sweet, a fine curtain-raiser, while Steven Stucky's "Drop, Drop, Slow Tears" provided engaging postmodern musical commentary on the original Orlando Gibbons hymn. Paul Schoenfield set selections from Psalm 82 to shimmering, stirring harmonies.

In "Of Gold," Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez concentrated on striking word-paintings; obsessive repetitions of "all around, my blessing and my curse" left the chorus red-faced from effort. Arthur Jarvinen, though, stole the show with his sense of humor. His "25 Lines for 25 Quires (Set 1)" featured a number of good gags, including Beach Boys-style harmonies employed sarcastically for this Erik Satie quote: "An artist may be imitated. A critic is inimitable, and priceless."

Posted by acapnews at 2:43 AM

November 1, 2006

A cappella passion sweeps Swarthmore

The Phoenix:

The college light bulb joke often goes: How many Amherst students does it take to screw in a light bulb? Thirteen: one to screw it in, and 12 to form an a cappella group to immortalize it in song. A love for a cappella is just one of the many things small liberal arts colleges have in common. Swarthmore has seven a cappella groups on campus: Chaverim (serving the tri-college consortium), Essence of Soul, Grapevine, Mixed Company, Oscar and Emily, Sixteen Feet and Sticks and Stones, and all are gearing up for a semester of song.

This semester, Swatties can expect great things from these a cappella groups.

In fact, many of these groups have already dazzled Swarthmore audiences. Grapevine performed for a packed Alice Paul lounge on Friday, Oct. 27. The show was their first with four new members and was in promotion of their recently recorded CD. Laura Wolk ’09, a Vine member, said that “Our new grapes are amazing and really fast learners, so you should expect to hear not only the stuff we’ve all fallen in love with, but some old favorites as well.” Wolk was right. Grapevine is as talented as ever, and the concert was of the caliber one comes to expect from Swarthmore’s only musical ensemble that, through fermentation, can produce wine.

Grapevine’s concert began with a stirring rendition of “Mad World,” made popular by the wildly successful independent film “Donnie Darko.” Immediately before a brief intermission, Grapevine really shook things up with a medley of classic songs, including “No Scrubs,” “Hollaback Girl” and “Milkshake,” just to name a few. Just when it couldn’t get any better, when all of the boys were brought to the yard, Grapevine pumped up the crowd with a dance breakdown before launching back into song. Then Grapevine took a different turn.

At Swarthmore, it seems that in every possible context, there is an understanding that “Hallelujah,” the song made popular by Jeff Buckley, must be performed. Usually, renditions are tired and overplayed, by virtue of the fact that we’ve all heard it before. Grapevine, however, just raised the bar. With Cara Arcuni ’09 and Sasha Shahidi ’09 soloing, the performance was spine-chilling. Alice Paul lounge was stunned silent. Grapevine continued the show with some favorites that loyal a cappella fans will remember from performances past, culminating in their version of “Cell Block Tango” from the musical “Chicago.”

Other Swarthmore a cappella groups will also be strutting their stuff in the weeks to come, as Jamboree, Swarthmore’s end-of-semester a cappella showcase, comes near. Rachel Rynick ’07 of Sticks and Stones says that the group is a little short-handed for this semester, “but we’re excited about the rep we’re working on for Jamboree, which will include some favorite oldies alongside some stuff you wouldn’t expect from us.”

Sixteen Feet, a group of eight guys singing mostly contemporary pop, is gearing up for concerts at the end of the semester. Wren Elhai ’08 explained: “We’ve got four new guys and new songs, which may be debuted sometime the weekend of Nov. 17-19. Beyond that, little is clear.”

Essence of Soul, Swarthmore’s a cappella group specializing in the music of the African diaspora, is kicking off its semester in style. “Essence of Soul has some great new members and we have an awesome lineup of songs for Jamboree,” Rachel Turner ’08 said. “We have a nice new flavor this semester that’s smooth, silky and soulful. Definitely something you won’t want to miss.”

In addition to students’ talents, the professional a cappella group Blue Jupiter will be visiting Swarthmore on Nov. 4. During their stay, they’ll be leading a series of workshops before their concert at 8 p.m. For any fans of a cappella, this is not to be missed.

Posted by acapnews at 10:25 PM