December 23, 2006
Merry Christmas videos
Our Christmas gift to our many readers of this humble blog is a collection of vocal harmony Christmas videos we have put together. There's some fun stuff such as The Monkees singing an a cappella rendition of "Ríu, Chíu", The Manhattan Transfer on the 1992 Tony Bennett Christmas special and a fabulous Take 6 Christmas medley from 1999.
Have a happy and harmonious holiday!
December 22, 2006
Tonic Sol-fa Christmas TV special
It's been a busy and very succesful Christmas for one of favorite contemporary a cappella groups Tonic Sol-fa. Their annual always-sold-out Christmas concerts was filmed and made into a PBS TV Christmas special which is being aired on hundreds of TV stations across the country this season. View the TV schedule here to see if it plays in your town. The program is also available on DVD.
December 16, 2006
Quintet will again make sweet music at home
Orlando Sentinel (FL):
It has been almost two years since Toxic Audio took its high-energy a cappella act to New York, for an off-Broadway run that might better position this Orlando-based vocal group for world domination. Or at least a shot at being the next Blue Man Group.
"The plan is being executed slowly, but it's maybe not world domination as much as world exposure," says Toxins frontman and baritone Jeremy James, who performs with wife, alto Shalisa James, scat-singing soprano Michelle Mailhot-Valines, tenor Paul Sperrazza and bass Rene Ruiz. "We've had many opportunities to travel around the nation and around the globe."
This month, Toxic Audio will be in Mexico before it closes the year with shows Dec. 29 and 30 at the Helen Stairs Theatre in Sanford. The singers, along with technical director John Valines III, also traveled to Japan this past winter.
Isn't there a language barrier for a show that relies solely on voices? Not really, James says. "Our show, because it's based on the human voice, is perfect because music is the international language," he says. "And many of our pieces rely on facial expressions and body language, which is universal. There's also a lot of scat and jazz in numbers that translate well. It kills in any language."
The difference between a Toxic Audio show and the a cappella styles of say, Bobby McFerrin or Manhattan Transfer, is the Toxins' willingness to embrace the theatrical and downright silly. A familiar routine is Sperrazza's version of "Dream a Little Dream of Me," sung as if his voice is being sped-up and slowed-down by an out-of-control turntable.
Toxic Audio also slips MTV-era songs into the mix, everything from Michael Jackson material to Thomas Dolby's 1980 hit "She Blinded Me With Science." The singers who first came together as Toxic Audio for the Fringe Festival in 1998, are always looking for new tunes.
Recent additions include the Rascal Flatts song "Broken Road," adapted during a swing through Texas. Often, arrangements are rehearsed by e-mail and digital audio files, because Sperrazza and Ruiz now live in Las Vegas and Manhattan, respectively. "Where we live doesn't matter," James says, "because we're on the road so much." Even so, James considers the Sanford shows "a holiday homecoming" for the group, which still has its sights set on the world.
December 14, 2006
New Real Group DVD
What a merry Christmas we are going to have now! As an extra special holiday treat we are pleased to announce we have in stock the brand new Real Group DVD "Live at the Stockholm Concert Hall", their first ever. Based in Sweden and rarely coming to the US it has been tough for fans to see this fabulous quintet live but now, for much cheaper than a airline ticket, one can have the next best thing by watch this concert on your TV. And the even better news is that this group is just as wonderful in performance as they are on their recordings and with high production values in both video and audio this is like having perhaps the world's very best a cappella group performing in your very own living room. Vocal harmony heaven!! Watch a collection of clips from the DVD by clicking on the arrow in center of the image above.
To order this and to see our other holiday specials click here
There's still plenty of time to receive your orders in time for Christmas and our extra holiday staff is helping ensure that most all orders are going out the very same day by first class or priority mail.
December 12, 2006
Chicago A Cappella: Smooth and soothing
Wednesday Journal (IL):
In this season famous for kerchunking cash registers and reveling partyers, Chicago A Cappella (CAC) toned things down with a hush and whisper at their 10th annual holiday concert at Pilgrim Congregational Church, Dec. 2. Conceived by founder Jonathan Miller, this year's program offered a soothing evening of close vocal harmonies, good will, and musical creativity, inspired by the stories of Hanukkah and Christmas from many different cultures.
Since its founding in 1993, CAC has become entrenched on the Chicago choral scene, with a sizable and hearty following in Oak Park. Their singing is a total vocal experience with no gimmicks, no tricks, no props-nothing but the bare human voice in all its beauty, multiplied by nine.
Artistic Director Miller has a reputation for culling the mysterious and unusual from the trove of choral literature. This program featured an Eskasoni version of the native Canadian First Nation Huron Carol. A plaintive and haunting baritone solo, "The stars grew dim and wand'ring hunters heard the hymn," rose above the drone of men's voices in the extreme depths of their vocal register. The fascinating aural effects of this setting left the room ringing with overtones akin to the Maoris of New Zealand.
On a lively note, an Igbo art song by Nigerian composer Christian Onyeji translated the familiar "For unto us" text into the highly rhythmic idioms of western Africa. The concerto-like texture pitted small groups of singers against one another in spirited and friendly competition.
Although Chicagoan Richard Proulx is too well-established in the American music scene to be considered unusual, his settings of four seasonal texts were highly original and moving. Proulx's pensive and tender "How silent waits the listening earth" was among the freshest in the evening's mix of rarefied singing.
Proulx's work was complemented nicely by the ravishingly beautiful "Lullay My Liking" of Mississippian Thomas H.B. Slawson and the ethereal echoing alleluias of "The Christ-Child's Lullaby" by Gwyneth Walker.
One of Bach's impossibly taxing double-choir motets was balanced by the ensemble's excursions into jazz and popular idioms in clever arrangements of "S'vivon" and "Who Is the Baby?" Sizzling close harmony is something that CAC has rightly been noted for, and the ensemble was at its best when blending into thick and lush "night-club" chords.
For anyone who wanted the tried and true, there were the lilting No�l Nouvelet, delivered in flowing French, "The Wassail Song," putting your neighborhood carolers to shame, and "Go Tell It On the Mountain," delivered with control, assurance, and the closing cry of "Glory, glory!"
But the most memorable moment might almost have been an afterthought: the second encore, received by a crowd of about 300, who seemed reluctant to leave at the end of the evening. With delicacy and sincerity, the singers turned silence into stillness with Elizabeth Alexander's contemplative and hopeful "Work of Christmas," set to Howard Thurman's poignant text:
When the song of the angels is stilled ...,
The work of Christmas begins,
To find the lost ...,
To rebuild the nations ...,
To bring peace ...,
To make music.
(From The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations by Howard Thurman. Friends United Press, 2001 edition. Used by permission.)
December 11, 2006
Cantus a holiday delight
Daytona Beach News Journal (FL):
Yet even after that varied introduction, Cantus continued to surprise, and impress. The next section, four songs grouped together as "There Lies the Home," was anything but conventional. From Veljo Tormis' eerie, echoing lament for the lost Estonia and her doomed passengers, "Incantatio maris aestuosi," to a truly hair-raising rendition of Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," with bass Tom McNichols, Cantus set a new, lofty standard for vocal performance.
Every note rang out, each unsettling murmur in Tormis' "Incantatio" evoked visions of a seething sea, each strand of intricately interlaced melody was true, sure and vibrant. The impressions in "An Ameican Christmas," all elicited by the precision and passion of Cantus' flawless performance, were remarkably diverse, powerfully inclusive.
A toe-tapping spiritual, "Go Where I Send Thee," led into an exquisite rendition of "Ave Maria" and on to Kenneth Jennings' contemporary, startlingly effective composition for "O Little Town of Bethlehem." And then, in the sort of revelatory twist that was typical of Cantus' approach, the singers brought their voices together to shape the sensuous, layered sounds of Eric Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque." Its thick, velvety sound, ideally suited to its lyrical text, vividly evoked the honeyed light and celestial sounds of the Adoration.
One of the highlights of the News-Journal Center concert came near the end. That's when E. Mani Cadet , a graduate of Stetson University and New England Conservatory of Music, brought his sweet tenor and radiant stage presence to the finger-snapping "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow!" and had his audience beaming.
Cantus, through the sheer brilliance of its programming, outstanding voices and seamless performance, transformed the two hours of its Friday concert into a holiday delight: The most wonderful time of the year.
December 8, 2006
Tight-knit Nylons never wear thin
Chronicle - Herald (Canada):
Here today, gone tomorrow: pop groups come and go. They are as impermanent as the weather, unless, like The Nylons, they know how to make old music sound fresh. One of the world’s best known and most honoured a capella vocal quartets, originators of a classic version of Wimoweh/The Lion Sleeps Tonight (originally popularized by Pete Seeger and the Weavers), they have been active for 28 years. Of 13 recordings from The Nylons (1982) to Play On (2002), seven went gold, six platinum.
Tenor Claude Morrison is the only member left of the original four actors who got together in the back of a Toronto delicatessen in 1978 to sing a few tunes after their shows. Since then they have become an international byword for a capella singing. Over those years, Morrison has worked with 11 different singers. "It’s psychically exhausting to get a new member into the group," Morrison admitted over the phone between shows at the Winnipeg Casino on the weekend. But, he added, newest member, bass Tyron Gabriel, has been a quick study, learning all the tunes, the harmonies and the choreography in a few months after he joined in 2005.
Although record producers like David Foster and especially Adam Messenger over the years have helped arrange the close harmonies, jazzy riffs and percussive vocals which define the Nylons style, some tunes they arrange together. It’s a fairly straightforward process, Morrison said. It helps that Morrison, tenor Garth Mosbaugh, baritone Gavin Hope and Gabriel are all qualified musicians. The Nylons bring their A Wish For You Christmas show into Casino Nova Scotia’s Schooner Showroom on Saturday night at 8 p.m. They will sing a "mixed bag" of original, traditional, not-yet-recorded songs and novelties like the Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).
Keeping the music fresh is a preoccupation with Morrison. "The essence is still the vocal harmonies," he said. "We don’t want to make the same record over and over. We don’t consciously think of harmonies. We follow an organic process. We want to be really loose, within a very tight format. "Our attitude to the show is unstructured," Morrison said. "There is a plan, of course, but we’re not afraid to digress from it."
Lately they have come up with a new idea, which, considering the polished character of their arrangements, sounds risky: taking requests. "We ask the audience what they want to hear. Sometimes they will ask for a song we don’t know. Somebody will start singing and we will see what we come up with. It’s flying without a net. We just fell into it — but it works." Yet it’s not that easy for anybody to come up with a song, certainly a pop song from ’50s to the ’90s, that the Nylons haven’t heard of.
Just this year they released Sterling, a 25-year retrospective album of 23 tunes from all the way back to 1979, including previously unreleased tracks, rehearsal tracks and two new bonus tracks (Secret Part of Me and Eli’s Coming). The CD is a model of how to retain a group identity through four decades of changes in pop music styles. Swinging, rocking, even rapping — the sound is always instantly recognizable as The Nylons.
"We’re not very conscious of stylistic changes," Morrison said. "It’s a jazzier era now, but essentially it’s always going to sound like The Nylons. Like Blue Rodeo and Great Big Sea we have a distinctive sound." Keeping the show fresh is also a matter of technique. "We were all theatre people at the beginning. We employ the technique of the actor to keep it fresh — we don’t phone it in."
Fatigue, however, especially on the road, is a constant reminder to the singers of how dependent they are on their voices. "We never worry about the level of activity," he said. "But you have to make sure you get your rest. If you put too much strain on the voice you’re drawing not on the interest but on the principal." "And you have to drink a lot of water. It’s dry as heck here in Winnipeg," he added. Technically The Nylons know they can rely on their soundman and on their tried and tested Shure SM58 cordless microphones. As for fatigue, humour is a powerful antidote. Most of all, though, they just love to sing. And somebody is always singing, whether at sound check, or in the car, Morrison said.
Even as a kid, Morrison loved singing. His biggest influence was The Mamas & The Papas. He listened to the records, knew all the words to all the tunes, and sang Mama Cass Elliot’s parts over and over again. Motown was another big influence. One of the first "wells" The Nylons went to was the Motown vault. The music of the ’50s even influenced them — with tongue firmly in cheek — to name themselves after a fabric, like The Orlons, The Chiffons, The Argyles — all pop vocal groups.
"I love the music, love singing, love doing shows," Morrison said. "Travel can wear you down, but when you hit the stage it’s spontaneous. Sometimes it feels like we don’t take anything seriously. We always have a good time."
December 7, 2006
A cappella Grammy nominations announced
As usual cappella music has garnered several nominations for Grammy awards which were announced today. “Blessed” by The Soweto Gospel Choir has been nominated as Traditional World Music Album and “Long Walk to Freedom” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo was nominated for Contemporary World Music Album. “Padilla: Sun of Justice,” Peter Rutenberg, conductor (Los Angeles Chamber Singers' Cappella) is nominated in Small Ensemble Performance category.
In the Choral Performance category are “Part: Da Pacem,” Paul Hillier, conductor (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir); “Requiem,” Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare); and “Whitacre: Cloudburst and Other Choral Works,” Stephen Layton, conductor (Polyphony). Congratulations to all.
December 5, 2006
A Choir at Christmas, Medieval to Spirituals
New York Times :
The San Francisco men’s choir Chanticleer turned 29 this year, but to judge by the fresh faces among the dozen singers who appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday, several current members might not have been born when the group was founded. The performance, held in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, was the first of the group’s popular annual Christmas concerts.
Beyond the inherent attractions of each selection, the program offered an effective showcase for this extraordinary ensemble’s broad stylistic range. The plainspoken “Natus est rex,” a medieval French chant by an unknown composer, allowed listeners to drink in the heady blend of voices, which swelled and lingered in the reverberant space. Its opposite number was the silken “Nesciens mater,” a dazzling canonic motet by the 16th-century Franco-Flemish composer Jean Mouton.
The singers divided into two groups for Andrea Gabrieli’s “Quem vidistis pastores?” and gleefully exchanged buoyant lines set to bouncy rhythms. “Altissima luce,” a medieval Italian sacred song, offered breathtakingly hushed singing from the sopranos and altos. In another of these, “Venite a laudare,” words of penitence resounded with a manly swagger.
A pair of German cradle songs underscored Chanticleer’s tonal richness. The singers seamlessly moved through styles and keys in a patchwork arrangement of “In dulci jubilo” compiled from four different settings, including a densely polyphonic verse by Hieronymous Praetorius and an elegantly adorned conclusion by Bach.
“O Morgenstern,” a brief antiphon (liturgical chant) by Arvo Pärt, was filled with otherworldly harmonies and aching, unresolved melodies. A lush Magnificat by César Cui elicited strong performances from the choir’s highest voices. With eyes closed, it was nearly impossible to believe that you were hearing an all-male ensemble.
The traditional carols that followed included some of those currently blasting from loudspeakers in elevators and department stores; here, they were reinvigorated by the elegant arrangements of Joseph Jennings, the group’s music director. Mr. Jennings joined the choir for its finale, a rousing medley of spirituals in arrangements that sometimes hinted at doo-wop.
The adoring throng demanded an encore, and got one: a ravishing “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl
December 4, 2006
As world music turns, Bulgarian choir returns
Boston Herald (MA):
Whether the singers hail from Mongolia, South Africa or Ireland, world music fans have long been open to sampling off-the-beaten-path vocals that make Colombia’s Shakira sound as mainstream as Barbra Streisand. Which is why a troupe of women from the Bulgarian countryside with gorgeous voices and an otherworldly sound became unlikely world music darlings in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices), an a cappella ensemble of more than 20 singers, shed its original stilted moniker - the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir - and for several years shone as brightly in world music circles as the Buena Vista Social Club and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The former Grammy winners are back in town on Tuesday at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Cambridge. It’s an appearance which begs these questions: Where have they been lately? And why are they playing in an out-of-the-way venue that’s a far cry from the major concert halls that hosted them a decade ago?
“At the beginning the group was very popular among pop music fans,” said conductor Dora Hristova. (Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny is an avowed fan, as was the late Jerry Garcia.) “But the interest (in the group) changed. It’s a little different audience now, more like the classical audience. But the music itself hasn’t changed. We’ve preserved the vocal technique, and the arrangements have become more modern and complicated.”
While Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares hasn’t made Boston a regular stop, this is its seventh U.S. tour. The group primarily performs in European churches. “The atmosphere and acoustics (of a church) fit more with the choir’s voices than other kinds of venues,” Hristova said. The St. Sava performance will include a mix of traditional religious songs, Orthodox chants and Christmas songs. Maure Aronson of World Music Inc., the organization that brought the ensemble here in the past, said he passed on hosting them this year because he felt there was already strong local competition with other Christmas concerts. But he felt the decision to perform in a church made sense. “I remember seeing them for the first time at a church on Tremont Street and their voices were beautiful there,” he said. “Churches are a good place for them.”
As Boston’s top presenter of the genre, Aronson has witnessed the popularity of world music acts ebb and flow. “Just like rock artists, world music artists go through peaks and valleys. With a group like (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares), their very specialized vocal technique has a certain longevity with audiences. You’ll always have the core audience come out, but the people who came because it was a new sound and have now seen them two or three times are moving on to something else.” These days, Hristova considers St. Sava just right for the ensemble, which will number 24 members on Tuesday. The event kicks off - in case you were unaware - Bulgarian Cultural Week in New England.
Bella Voce shines
Chicago Sun-Times (IL):
Only last year the a cappella ensemble Bella Voce was in danger of disappearing, due to the retirement of its longtime conductor and artistic director Anne Heider. But Saturday night the 20 voices of its members filled St. James Episcopal Cathedral, heralding Christmas with glorious song in the first of its holiday concerts. Its new conductor Andrew Lewis, music director of the Elgin Choral Union, selected a program of contemporary composers who have departed in some way from the traditional Western Classical or Romantic style, generously laced with works from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. That continues Heider's tradition, though this appearance revealed Lewis to have even more idiosyncratic tastes.
The concert was bracketed by William Walton's carols, opening with "All This Time" and concluding with "What Cheer?" in acknowledgment of this 20th century British composer's skill in writing for voice. Bella Voce sang two Latin hymns by Swedish composer Otto Olsson, also from the 20th century. The first, "Canticum Simeonis," had a monastic sound; soloist Blake Adams was the cantor and sang without vibrato, while chant portions were sung with the utmost delicacy. In the second, "Ave Maris Stella," the music poured out like honey, rich and shining, with soprano voices soaring above the altos, tenors and basses, like light through darkness.
Particularly powerful was "Lux Aurumque" by 36-year-old American composer Eric Whitaker. The off-center harmonies began quietly, growing in intensity, dawning on us like daybreak, then suddenly the sound dissolved. It did not fade, it actually disintegrated, then, miraculously, came together again. Textured, almost disturbing dissonance also was found in "Bogoroditse Dyevo" by Alfred Schnittke, another 20th century composer. The sound was woolly and dense, arresting and beautiful.
It would not be Christmas without "O Magnum Mysterium," given in versions by Tomas Luis de Victoria from the 16th century and the living American composer Morten Lauridsen. British composer John Rutter, whose music or arrangements seem to be in every Christmas concert these days, was represented by "I Wonder as I Wander" and "There is a Flower." Kathryn McClure was soloist in the first and Laura Lynch in the second, demonstrating the quality of the individual voices in this elegant ensemble.
December 2, 2006
NPR Hosts 5-Part Radio Series on Black Choral Music
Michele Norris, award-winning journalist and host on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered", hosts and narrates a 5-part radio series on the history of black choral music entitled "Every Voice And Sing!"
Slated for release during Black History Month, (February), 2007, Every Voice and Sing! explores the importance of Black choirs in the survival and growth of Black colleges from before the Civil War through the post-Reconstruction eras. With unique stories, interviews and performances, the series traces the development of this music, from the early Spirituals and Work Songs, evolving into Blues, Jazz, and Gospel, and reflected in today's popular and world music. The Programs trace how Hollywood and Broadway influenced public acceptance of this music, and details the changes in the music performed by current Black college choirs as well as performers such as Take-6, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cissy Houston, Donnie McClurkin, and Kurtis Blow and Hell's Most Wanted.
The series is comprised of: Episode One: "Every Voice: The Early Legends" -- the founding and growth of Black Colleges, and their choirs. Episode Two: "The Legend Grows" -- the accomplishments of notable early College Choir Directors and Composers. Episode Three: "And Sing!" -- the development of College influenced Black Choral Music. Episode Four: "A Different Drummer" -- the origins and rise of Gospel Music. Episode Five: "A Joyful Noise!" -- the legacy of the Black College Choral Music tradition.
In addition to her work at NPR, Ms. Norris has also reported for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and LA Times. A four-time Pulitzer Prize entrant, she has received numerous awards, including the 1990 Livingston Award and Emmy and Peabody awards for her contributions to the ABC News coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Major stations that have scheduled Every Voice And Sing in late January and early February include: WETA-FM (Washington, D.C.), WBGO-FM (New York City/Newark), and WDUQ-FM (Pittsburgh). Every Voice And Sing is made possible by grants from the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The project is a collaborative production of EVT Educational Productions, Inc., and Jazz 88, WBGO-FM, of Newark, NJ. WBGO is a non-commercial, publicly-supported, cultural broadcast institution that champions and presents jazz, locally on 88.3FM and worldwide on wbgo.org.
December 1, 2006
Beatbox innovator Kid Beyond uses his voice as an instrument
Pasadena Weekly (CA):
Lots of kids mimic sounds of various instruments in favorite bands. Few, however, translate that into a career. Fewer still have the vocal chops to also cut it as a soul or rock singer.
Kid Beyond is an exception. Growing up in New York City, he performed in plays and musicals and vocally imitated instruments he admired — but, he says, with no dreams of going professional. “I wanted to be John Bonham in Led Zeppelin,” he recalls, speaking by cell phone from Norfolk, Va., before performing with Imogen Heap, for whom he'll open at the Wiltern tonight.
“I wanted to be a drummer,” he explains. “When hip-hop came around and I started hearing beatboxing, I was like, ‘OK, this is sort of like what I'm doing, but cooler. … This is a real art form.'”
Indeed. After graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island, he accepted a friend's invitation to start an a cappella funk-rock band in San Francisco, the House Jacks, in which everyone not only sang but also generated instrumental sounds with their voices. They elatedly signed with Warner Bros.' Tommy Boy Records, but while the band “wanted to rock out,” the label tried to refashion them as a boy band — so their album never went anywhere.
“It was incredibly crushing at the time,” Kid Beyond recalls, “[but] now I'm doing something that's a lot closer to my values and a lot more my own. That feels right.”
What he's done is carve a singular niche for himself as a beatboxer equally at home in the worlds of indie rock, funk and conscious hip-hop. He creates all instrumental sounds with his voice, then processes them through his computer. (Onstage, his “instruments” are a microphone, laptop and foot pedal.) What makes him distinctive is the limber soulfulness of his voice and the musicality of the tracks he creates. The avowed Buddhist's EP, “Amplivate,” is evenly divided between original anthems like “Deep Inside” and “I Shall Be Free” and remixes featuring actual instruments.
“When I made my EP, my thought was that this album has to stand on its own merits … because if I'm just relying on the sort of impressiveness of how it's done, that only gets me so far. That gets old pretty quick. It's like conceptual art: ‘Oh, that's a cool concept.' But ultimately, once you're past that, if the art doesn't move you — if the song doesn't move you — if you don't want to dance or call your ex or take action in your community, or whatever a song can do, then at the end of the day I'm a novelty, not a musician. And I want to be a musician.”