March 28, 2007
Harmony, At Last, at Turtle Creek Chorale
Dallas Observer (TX):
After a six-month search The Turtle Creek Chorale, announced yesterday that Jonathan Palant will take the helm as the new artistic director. Palant’s replacing Dr. Tim Seelig, whose 20-year tenure ends this summer, at the season’s conclusion.
They started looking for a new artistic director early last fall, at the first rehearsal for the TCC’s 27th season; the announcement took many by surprise. But, in fact, the TCC’s been as much a soap opera as a singing group during the last couple of years.
It started with a highly publicized tiff between Seelig and the TCC’s board, followed by key board members’ resignations in fall 2005. Then, for the first time in 20 years, the Black Tie Dinner did not name the Turtle Creek Chorale as a beneficiary among their 2006 recipients. And, of course, Seelig’s retirement announcement last June was followed the executive director and board chair’s resignations. The cherry on top was the recent cancellation of their collaborative show with the Dallas Summer Musicals, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, due to low ticket sales
Palant, of course, is optimistic. Hard not to be when you haven’t even started the job. In the TCC press release issued yesterday, he says, “With very large shoes to fill and with high aspirations, I promise to give my all to this organization and to the City of Dallas.” Don’t we all.
Those singing horses
Its been a little slow this week in harmony news and as I just came across an old bookmark to the a cappella singing horses I thought I'd post the link. Many of you probably are already familiar with the site but it still makes me smile. Check them out here.
March 24, 2007
Harlem Boys Choir founder dies
Walter Turnbull, who founded the Boys Choir of Harlem in a church basement and led the organization to international acclaim that included performances in the White House and the Vatican, died Friday. He was 62. Turnbull died just after 3 p.m. in a New York City hospital, said his brother, Horace Turnbull. He said Turnbull had suffered a stroke months earlier.
"He was a genius of a man who managed to take his talents in bringing out song in young people who had no training," said U.S. Rep Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who helped raise funds for the choir. "To take that talent and turn into academic achievement, it was just remarkable."
Turnbull's death marked the latest in a sad string of events for the famed choir, which has been reeling from scandal since a choirboy accused a counselor six years ago of sexually abusing him. City investigators chided Turnbull for his handling of the allegations.
The chairman of the choir's board, former New York Mayor David N. Dinkins, called Turnbull "a giant in American choral music performance and arrangement." He said the board was dedicated to preserving the choir. The renowned institution has fallen into debt, and the 50-boy choir was evicted last year and now has a reduced, mostly volunteer staff.
In 2001, 15-year-old David Pinks told choir officials he had been abused by Frank Jones Jr., who directed the choir's counseling and summer camp and chaperoned members on trips for more than two decades. Choir leaders - including Walter Turnbull and his vice president, Horace Turnbull - did nothing, Pinks and investigators maintain. In late 2002, Jones was convicted of 24 counts of sexually abusing Pinks and sentenced to two years in prison.
While it is the policy of The Associated Press not to identify victims of sexual abuse by name, Pinks came forward last year in hopes of encouraging other victims not to feel ashamed. In 2003, city investigators concluded that the Turnbulls "failed to report serious allegations of abuse" and continued to allow Jones to be near students.
Walter Turnbull said at the time that what happened to Pinks was "very unfortunate." "We have done over the years all the things that we could to make sure that we did the best thing, the right thing," he said.
Born in Greenville, Miss., Turnbull studied music at Tougaloo College and moved to New York to become an opera singer, eventually performing with the New York Philharmonic. He founded the choir at the Ephesus Church in 1968 and built the after-school program into the 600-student Choir Academy of Harlem, which opened in 1993. The choir has released albums and been heard on the soundtracks of films such as "Jungle Fever," "Malcolm X" and "Glory."
Beyond its musical training, the choir provides educational and personal counseling each year to hundreds of inner-city children ages 9 to 19. City education officials evicted the group from the Choir Academy of Harlem, a public school, in February 2006. Susan M. Shapiro, a lawyer for the city, said the choir was evicted because it refused to make administrative changes after the abuse case.
The choir has been rehearsing at another Harlem church, but it was difficult for the group because most of their equipment was still at the academy. "We're really not functioning on the high level that the Boys Choir is used to functioning on," Turnbull said in April 2006. Rangel said fundraising efforts to keep the choir going would continue. "The boys choir is not going to die with the great doctor," he said.
March 20, 2007
Cantata Singers exhilarate
Boston Globe (MA):
A good performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor will leave you exhausted, drained by the monumentality of Bach's musical and spiritual vision. A great performance will leave you exhilarated, as if the music itself had somehow done the hard work and left you with a powerful rush of vitality in its wake.
Sunday's concert by the Cantata Singers fell into this second category. In their hands the Mass was not only epic but also intensely human and personal. The music had more energy and intensity than any performance of the piece I can remember, including their last shot at it, in 2003.
Paradoxically, a lot of care has to go into making this music sound so unfettered. Conductor David Hoose paced each of the choral movements so that they seemed to grow organically. In his conducting you could see an emphasis not on the beat but on the direction of the phrasing. Tempos were generally brisk: movements like the "Gloria in excelsis Deo" and the "Sanctus" had an irresistible swing to them, while "Cum Sancto Spiritu" and the "Et expecto resurrectionem" flew by at daredevil speed, yet the interweaving contrapuntal lines could be heard clearly. By contrast, the "Crucifixus," the Mass's darkest moment, moved slowly and in pangs of dissonance. Catharsis lay the joyful explosion of "Et resurrexit," which followed immediately.
As always, the soloists were drawn from the chorus ranks. Among the standouts were two veterans, soprano Karyl Ryczek and mezzo Lynn Torgove. Their duet in "Et in unum Dominum" was a model of clarity and balance, and Torgove's "Agnus Dei" was gripping. Baritone Dana Whiteside sang in a lovely, rounded tone in "Et in Spiritum Sanctum," and bass-baritone Mark-Andrew Cleveland gave rock-solid conviction to the "Quoniam." (The other soloists were mezzo-soprano Catherine Hedberg and tenor Charles Blandy.)
But the greatest soloist in Bach's Mass is the chorus, and here the Cantata Singers are virtually in a class by themselves. Their union of polish and expressivity is an ongoing wonder. Hearing them sing the majestic closing "Dona nobis pacem" was like seeing the first rays of daylight slowly overtake the night sky, ending in a blaze of radiant sound.
March 19, 2007
Hospitals: the new barbershop
The end of another eight-week block comes to a close. Due to lack of sleep and countless hours elbow deep in anatomy, eyes are closing, and energy is low as somber medical students file into the auditorium to prepare for the next round of test-taking. Little do they know, today's lecture isn't going to be like the others. Eight soon-to-be doctors, their classmates, emerge from the crowd, singing a tune to lift spirits before test week. "It's a fun five-minute stress reliever when we're nearing exams," says second-year medical student Jamie Marquart.
The group started when three medical students — Ben Kinnear, Matt Fieleke and Elliot Pennington — wanted an outlet to continue their musical hobby. They united at the University of Missouri to form Docappella, an a cappella singing group. The singers soon added a fourth member, James Peppers, and shocked crowds with their talent. Last year they performed "Afternoon Delight," a song originally done by the Starland Vocal Band, "White Christmas" and "Carol of the Bells."
"It was a big hit, and everyone thought it was really funny," says Pennington about the group's first performance. He is the musical director and chose the group's name to follow the "stupid-funny" tradition of a play on words used by other college a cappella groups such as Dartmouth's group the Dermatones. "The first time I heard them, I was so surprised," says Marquart. "I had no idea my friends were so talented."
Now, the medical students look forward to their performances. "I'm a total Docappella groupie," says Adam Stevens, a second-year medical student and fan. "I've been following these guys for almost two years now, and I never miss a show."
Enjoying their success, the original members continued the music into this year. "We thought it'd be kind of fun to get together and do it again," says Pennington. "At the beginning of this year, we just sent an e-mail out and got four more guys to join." The group expanded to eight: the founding four and four first-year medical students: Jacob Becker, Adam Alter, Dan Bettis and Clayton Butcher. As their membership expanded, so did their set. The additions included the popular "Brown Eyed Girl," originally by Van Morrison, and a lesser-known but popular a cappella song, "Insomniac," by Billy Pilgrim.
Because the group performs existing arrangements without instrumental assistance, it consists of all guys, calling for only tenor and baritone parts. The soloists of Docappella stand out, and Fieleke is one of them. "There's this one guy, Matt, in the group that all the girls swoon over anytime he sings a solo," Stevens says.
Regardless of the song, practice time stays pretty consistent. It takes about three 45-minute sessions to learn a new song and a few more sessions to perfect it. Most of the members have college singing experience, but they try to find simple songs due to time constraints. Although they all hope to carry on the fun for the rest of this school year, the four second-year students might soon pass the reins to the younger members because of their grueling medical-school schedules.
"It's different — the first two years of med school is very much like college," Pennington says. "But then the third and fourth year, you are in the hospital all the time." "Hopefully these four first-year students will want to keep it going next year," Fieleke says. "It seems like in each class there will be some people that would enjoy singing and having fun and keeping the tradition going." Docappella looks to expand its performances by singing in nursing homes and hospitals.
Until then, the general public might have to sit through a lecture on anesthesiology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine to catch a glimpse of these singing doctors.
Be a Menudo
The search to recreate Menudo, one of the biggest and most successful Latin pop singing groups, kicks off in Los Angeles. Additional casting sessions in Dallas, Miami and New York will be held through the end of April.
Celebrity judges along with renowned music manager, Johnny Wright will be on hand to audition teenage boys on their natural singing and dancing abilities, charisma and stage presence. The auditions are open to males who are at least 15 years old and appear to be less than 19 years old. All contestants will be asked to sing a song, in English or Spanish, from a pre-selected song list available on mtvtr3s.com. A legal guardian who can sign a release must accompany contestants under 18. Complete eligibility requirements are available at here.
March 16, 2007
Brave New World for Beatboxing
This is London (UK):
Beatboxing has come a long way since the early 1980s when rappers such as Doug E Fresh and Biz Markie ruled the block. In the 1990s, The Roots's Rahzel evolved beatboxing from cool party piece/gimmick into the realm of recognized art form.
Sunday's third Human Beatbox Convention aims to build on beatboxing artistic reputation by establishing a community and support network for British beatboxers. It features a series of workshops and seminars, and a screening of Joey Garfield's beatboxing documentary Breath Control, followed by a concert in the evening.
The convention comes to the South Bank courtesy of beatboxer Shlomo, currently the venue's artist in residence and part of hip hop crew Foreign Beggars.He first realised beatboxing's possibilities when he got in the studio with Bjork for her 2004 Medulla LP (2004).
Now Shlomo's personal crusade is getting beatboxing acknowledged both as a credible form of creative expression and as a musical instrument.
On Sunday evening he performs with three other beatboxers with a strong background in music (Bellatrix, MC Zani and Spitf'ya) and esteemed a cappella choir The Swingle Siingers to create groundbreaking vocal music built around jazz, swing, classical, intricate rhythms, high hats and booming basslines - without a single instrument. The performance might be the end of six weeks of rehearsals but it's sure to mark the beginnings of a brave new world for beatboxing.
March 15, 2007
Cooking the Baker's Dozen
San Francisco Chronicle
By Caille Millner
A few words of wisdom for the kids involved in the Yale New Year's Eve confrontation: Man up.
Seriously -- it's time for these kids, and their parents, to suck it up. Stop whining to the press. Stop siccing lawyers on everything that moves. Stop complaining that the San Francisco Police Department didn't move fast enough to catch the perpetrators of a street brawl between the precious children of the privileged class.
That's all this was, right? A street fight among a bunch of wealthy kids who'd been drinking. In a more modest time, these kids would have taken their licks and shut their mouths. Their parents would have taught them how to handle themselves in a fight, on the expectation that kids don't always get along -- or, at the very least, they would have taught them not to behave as if they were in a street gang ("We're the 415!" "Yeah, well, I got 20 of my boys coming!") unless they were prepared to fight.
But we've reached an era when people demonstrate a complete and utter lack of personal responsibility, which means the ancient codes underpinning our legal system will have to guide the way to the obvious: the obvious being that felony convictions are unlikely, and this case should never have been prosecuted.
Legal experts have already mentioned how difficult it's going to be to prove who did what to whom, thanks to the general level of drunkenness and confusion in this contretemps. These kids will probably be looking at community service -- which they clearly need to do more of -- and probation. Big deal. Next time these kids are in a fight -- and with such sniveling, poor-me attitudes, who wouldn't want to fight them? -- they should keep it in the streets, not drag it into our courtrooms, distracting our judges from important matters.
From the outcry that's erupted over this, you'd think it was the first time anyone had ever been in a fistfight. You'd think it was the worst thing in the world that a couple of Yale singers got hit in the face. You'd think that human beings have evolved to the point where violence isn't a day-to-day part of our existence. You'd think that kids weren't getting killed in the Bay Area every day over such minor infractions as the sort of taunting that preceded this fight -- or maybe you would think that, because the stories of those kids -- usually poor, usually Latino or African American -- often are on the inside pages of this paper.
I can't speak for Sean Hannity and Fox News, or some of the other media outlets that have hopped all over this story, but I will be the first one to blame this paper for giving it far more life than it deserves. Since the story broke during the first week of January, we've had three front-page stories about it -- making it more important than the landslide on Telegraph Hill (one front-page story), say, or the scandals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (one front-page story).
The over-coverage here has been matched by the over-investigation of the police department. Originally, SFPD smartly treated this fight like a third-tier priority (the squalling parents who faulted them must have thought that the police didn't have enough to worry about during the first week of January).
Once the kids got lawyered up, however, and Fox News started yammering the (untrue) accusation that the kids had been beaten for singing the "Star-Spangled Banner'' and offering a $10,000 reward, the police department suddenly had nothing better to do than fly around the country, desperately seeking evidence. How can they explain their actions to the two children whose parents were shot in front of them in Mission Terrace on Jan. 13? Or the families of the two men who lost their lives in the Sunnydale neighborhood on Jan. 1?
The real loser in all of this, as usual, is the public, specifically those members of the public who don't have family connections in important places and can't afford expensive lawyers to grease the wheels of justice. These people harbor no illusions about the fate awaiting them, should they be the victim of a crime in this town -- their case would languish, probably unsolved, certainly uncared for -- because this Yale singers' case has shown them exactly where the attentions of their media, their district attorney's office and their police department lie. That's the real lesson to take from this case, and it's the only thing that's even remotely outrageous about it.
These spoiled kids from Yale and San Francisco? Those kids are learning the wrong lessons. They're learning that when you get in a fight, you need to run to Mommy and Daddy, then to Mommy and Daddy's lawyers. They're learning that if you get hurt in a fight, you don't need to study your own behavior -- you need to demand monetary compensation and the head of the police chief, the Marine Corps and anyone else within shouting range. Worst of all, they're learning that their little fistfight is more important than the lives of poor children in Richmond, in Newark, in San Francisco and anywhere else they may roam.
They won't learn otherwise during the course of their education at Yale -- this used to be the sort of thing that kids learned in the real world. Alas, this time the real world has failed both them and the rest of us.
There are now felony charges against two individuals and today one of the Yale singers filed a civil suit.
March 14, 2007
A cappella series at the Kennedy Center
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have announced their latest season which includes a 10 day series called "A Cappella: Singing Solo," and will showcase Bobby McFerrin along with The Men of the Deeps, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Chanticleer, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, The Manhattan Transfer, Trio Mediaeval, Cantus, I Fagiolini, The Paschall Brothers, The Persuasions, La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva España, Jitro Czech Children's Chorus, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.
March 13, 2007
Back from the Choral Directors convention
There were no postings recently as it's been an extremely busy and rewarding week of a cappella, both for business and pleasure. Catalog manager Nate and I spent the past week exhibiting at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) convention in Miami Beach, Florida. It's a whole lot of work preparing and vending at this very large convention as we are ordering and shipping thousands of a cappella CDs which end up being more than fit in a pickup truck bed. We know, we tried!
But also the convention is a chance to meet in person some of the composers and conductors whose CDs and arrangements we sell thru our web site. It was an honor and pleasure to meet with such great artists as Dale Warland, Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre and to hang out with the Swingle Singers whose booth was next to ours. Perhaps being English myself I am bias but what a wonderful group of folks are the Swingles whose vocal talents are equal to their charming demeanor. They sang several showcase sets and were received enthusiastically by the discerning ACDA audiences.
One of the biggest treats was meeting (and having many good laughs) with another esteemed English artist David Fanshawe. Specially invited by the ACDA to world premiere his choral work "Pacific Song", in its Double Choir version, as performed by the Multicultural Honor Choir conducted by Dr Rollo Dilworth. David is a highly regarded choral composer probably most known for "African Sanctus where he juxtaposed his Mass with live recordings of traditional African music, which Fanshawe had recorded himself. I was also most amused by his business card which states – "David Fanshawe: Composer and Explorer". Not too many folks can claim such an exotic title.
Having never been to Miami Beach before I was most impressed with the art deco architecture in South Beach with some truly amazing building. Such a refreshing change from the bland corporate hotels that one usually see in resort areas.
Harmony Sweeps results so far
A first for me this weekend was to sell a cappella CDs in two states on the same day. With the Bay Area Harmony Sweeps (and 3 other Sweeps concerts) on March 10 the schedule called for me to be in Miami Beach at the ACDA convention on the same day. On Saturday I worked the exhibit hall at the convention hall till noon when I then jumped into a waiting cab to go the the airport. I flew back to San Francisco to take a cab directly to the Palace of Fine Arts where I arrived a 6pm to immediately start working the Bay Area Sweeps event. Everything ran smoothly and here are the results so far:-
Boston - Men In Black
Los Angeles - Moira Smiley & VOCO
Pacific NorthWest - Real Time
San Francisco - Solstice
More info at the Harmony Sweepstakes web site
March 5, 2007
Harmony Sweepstakes season begins
The 23rd annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival kicks off this weekend (March 10) with shows in San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and Olympia (WA). We have a great line-up of groups again this year and there will be plenty of wonderful vocal harmony singing that's for sure.
More info at the web site
March 1, 2007
Avenue X, the a cappella musical, opens in New York
The sounds of doo-wop, rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel will ring out as Off-Broadway's Dreamlight Theatre Company presents the first NYC revival of Avenue X, an a capella musical by John Jiler and Ray Leslee. Directed by Chip Klose, Avenue X will play a limited engagement of 16 performances from March 1 through 17 at the 45th Street Theatre (354 West 45th Street).
Avenue X will star Cheryl Alexander (Dreamgirls), JD Goldblatt (Les Mis), Mitchell Jarvis (Fiddler On The Roof), Keifer Mansfield, Megan McGettigan, Jonathan Stewart, Jeffery V. Thompson (It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues) and Anthony Wills, Jr. Peter de Mets is music director for Avenue X and features choreography by Jonathan Howard. "Set in a racially divided Brooklyn neighborhood in 1963, Avenue X captures both the nostalgic harmonies of an innocent age and the rumblings of future discord. As in New York and other American cities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, teenagers gather on stoops and sidewalks to pass the time singing together -- the best groups win contests and dream of record deals. In Avenue X, the Italian-American and African-American groups wouldn't think of singing together -- until Pasquale (Jonathan Stewart) and Milton (JD Goldblatt) find that their shared love for the music transcends the escalating racial tension," according to notes.
Avenue X premiered at Playwrights Horizons in February 1994, winning the Richard Rodgers Award in 1992 and 1993, and has been produced to great acclaim around the country at theaters like Barrington Stage Company, The Wilma Theater, Dallas Theater Center, A Contemporary Theater in Seattle, Odyssey Theater Ensemble in L.A., and Pittsburgh City Theatre Company. John Jiler wrote the book and lyrics for Avenue X, his first musical, when he was covering Brooklyn's Bensonhurst racial violence for the Village Voice. The inspiration for the play came from his assignment; saddened by the futility of urban racial groups clashing again and again. Jiler's first full-length play Sour Springs wonthe Weissberger Prize from the New Dramatists and an Emerging Playwright's Grant from the Jerome Foundation. Ray Leslee, who wrote the music for Avenue X, composed and performed Standup Shakepeare directed by Mike Nichols, which was produced in New York and Washington, and The Common Pursuit, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He has composed original music for productions at Steppenwolf Theatre, Theatre for A New Audience and others.