June 29, 2007

Comments are welcome!

After a couple of frustrating years of being unable to leave the comments feature active on this blog I'm pleased to say that thanks to a new upgrade and plugin for the blog software I finally have spam filters that are effective in deleting the deluge of junk mail the comments received. I will moderate the posting to ensure no further spam gets thru and will probably not allow any comments that are particularly negative. Otherwise I'd love to receive your comments especially when they add to the information already presented.

Posted by acapnews at 10:44 PM | Comments (1)

Cedric Dent helps vocal jazz campers upgrade their skills

Kalamazoo Gazette (MI):

A Christmas song in June? Students at the Steve Zegree Vocal Jazz Camp at Western Michigan University didn't appear to question having to learn a new version of “O Come All Ye Faithful'' on Thursday. The arrangement of the song was a version created by the Grammy Award-winning group Take 6 and was taught by one of the group's members, Cedric Dent, fresh in town from Nashville, Tenn. “You flip on your gospel switch there and it is more choral before that,'' Dent told the students as he coached them on how to sing a part of the song at a rehearsal. “I know I'm throwing a lot at you here,'' he said.

Dent was the guest artist of the camp this year, following past guest artists such as jazz singer Curtis Stigers, opera baritone Tim Noble, who also sings jazz, and Darmon Meader, of the jazz vocal group New York Voices. The five-day camp culminates at 7:30 tonight at WMU's Dalton Center in a free concert. The 48 camp students, who range in age from 15 years old to adults with grandchildren, have been working on 20 group songs for the show.

The students also have been singing and perfecting solo numbers at The Union Cabaret and Grille, 125 S. Kalamazoo Mall, every night this week for their personal enrichment. Twenty-four of the 48 students sang in rapid-fire succession each night backed by a professional jazz band. During the day, the students practiced jazz singing and learned the history of jazz. On Thursday, Dent worked with students on a choral arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful'' from Take 6's 1991 CD “He Is Christmas'' and an arrangement of “Family of Love, Family of God,'' from the group's 2006 CD “Feels Good.''

Since the Christmas song had elements of choral music and gospel music, learning both styles helped the students become stronger singers, camp director Zegree said. “The big thing was hearing and seeing Cedric Dent, right before us, playing for us, filling in some of the solo parts of the song,'' said camp student Julia McCune, 19, of LaCrosse, Wis., after the rehearsal.

The $475-camp began four years ago with about 40 students and is up to its capacity of 48 students this year. The enrollment was kept low to allow students to get lots of personal attention from program instructors. It also was kept low to allow each student to sing twice during the week at The Union.

One group of 24 students sang on Monday and Wednesday nights and another group of 24 students sang on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Many students sang classic jazz ballads, songs composed by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Hoagie Carmichael. Patrons at The Union liked student Katie Ernst, 18, of Naperville, Ill., so much that, following her performance Thursday evening, they gave her a standing ovation. Table conversations ceased as Ernst sang and played the acoustic bass at the same time.

“To gain the stage experience, to sing in front of an enthusiastic crowd is everything,'' said camp student Jennifer Boone, 32, of Baltimore, Md., after singing a slow, powerful rendition of “Stomping At The Savoy.'' Many students said they enrolled in the camp to hone their skills for a career in professional singing. A few adult students, who are choral directors in other cities, came to the camp to strengthen their existing abilities.

“We give them an experience of what it is like to be trained as a young professional singer,'' Zegree said at the end of the students' Thursday night performance at The Union. “Beyond that, we try to instill a lot of our philosophies on how to be a successful musician and a successful human being.''

While students have been working toward perfecting songs to be presented in tonight's performance, “it is more about the process (of learning) than the product,'' said camp student Smith Graham, 16, of Chandler, Ariz. “This (camp) raises the bar and matures you,'' Smith said.

Posted by acapnews at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

Cadence finds a new voice

The Toronto Star (Canada):

The hand-off is subtle. Kevin Fox exits stage left and, with a pat on the back, passes his microphone – the one he's spat and sang into for nine years – to Kurt Sampson. Sampson, 24, beefy and blond, struts on stage to fill the empty spot that Fox, 33, skinny and balding, leaves behind. Cadence launches into song.

The transition from old member to new recruit is seamless – probably because the a cappella band has had practice to perfect its routine. Last week's performance at Lula Lounge was the second farewell/welcome concert in six months for Cadence, which has been nominated for three Junos in the last few years, including best vocal jazz. The first was when tenor Dylan Bell, 34, said goodbye.

The departures mean Cadence is scrambling to reshape its identity. The turmoil has left Heidi Berger, 31, wife of the group's only remaining founding member, joyful but emotional. "Eight months ago, they said they were leaving," she says. "And now look at them....I'm such a sappy wife."

Carl Berger, now 33, was there when Cadence was created in 1998. Ross Lynde is another seasoned member of today's version, along with Sampson and Aaron Jensen, 24, the group's new tenor. Wearing black suits, each with a different coloured shirt and matching tie, the quartet makes it sound like there's a seven-piece band in the room. They do it with nothing but their windpipes and vocal chords.

Cadence is singing "High and Drysville," an ode to 1940s-era jazz. It's written by Jensen, who started singing with Cadence in January after a similar Lula Lounge microphone hand-off with Bell. Bell, who joined Cadence in 2002, announced in August he was leaving to create and produce music using instruments. Fox followed in the fall, securing a spot with The Swingle Singers, an a cappella group in London, England.

This evening's concert is the first time this Cadence version has appeared in front of an adult audience (Sampson warmed up performing during a small tour of elementary schools in London, Ont. last month). But the band members look like four thieves who've been stealing the show for years. The act is polished, Berger says, but that doesn't take the sting out of losing "brothers." "Kevin's been with us since the beginning," he says. "These guys are like family. Imagine replacing one of your siblings for a new person."

After news of the defections, Berger and Lynde felt lost, vulnerable. Cadence has performed more than 170 shows, toured the Midwest U.S. and Europe in the last 10 months. Looking forward to a similarly busy year with only a twosome, not a foursome, was abysmal. "What happens if Cadence doesn't continue?" Berger remembers thinking less than six months ago. "What will we do?"

Finding new members seemed like a daunting task. The recruits would have to be a cappella-minded – more into harmonies than melodies – and love kids. Since the vocal band scene in Canada is small, performing at schools is Cadence's bread and butter. A new hire must also have a quirky sense of humour, Berger says. Cadence is known for cracking wise while on stage, telling jokes, and poking fun at each other. Jensen, who started in January, was the right mix of talent and funny bone, Berger says.

Sampson, who was inspired by the band to love a cappella nearly a decade ago, is thrilled to be part of it now. He's moving to Toronto from Prince Edward Island and plans to take listeners by storm. But not all at once. Until last week, he was shadowing Fox, just trying to walk in his predecessor's shoes before stepping beyond them. "You can't really replace someone," Sampson says. "But that's what's refreshing about a new guy. It's new ideas. They think differently, sound different. "It's not like Cadence is losing anything. What I bring will just be adding to it."

Posted by acapnews at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2007

The Fault Line rocks!

Congratulations to current New York Harmony Sweepstakes Champs The Fault Line who has made it thru to the next round of "America's Got Talent" TV show. Warmly received by both judges and audience the quintet did a great job with "Some Kinda Wonderful" and will be seen next week in the round to be held in Las Vegas.

Posted by acapnews at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

A cappella ensemble hits number 2 on Billboard charts

Stile Antico, a young vocal ensemble from Great Britain, has made its first appearance ever on the Billboard classical chart, arriving at no. 2 with its debut recording.

"Music for Compline," a collection of liturgical music from Tudor-era England intended for the "bedtime liturgy" at Catholic religious institutions, was released by Harmonia Mundi early this year. The recording quickly received top accolades, the Diapason d'or and Choc du Monde de la Musique, from France's two leading classical music magazines, and very favorable reviews from the Anglophone press as well. Last Friday (June 22), National Public Radio featured "Music for Compline" on All Things Considered, and within a few hours the disc reached the top of the classical bestsellers list at Amazon.com.

Founded in 2001 and little known in the U.S. until last week, Stile Antico came to notice in the British arts world in the summer of 2005 via the Young Artists' Competition at the York Early Music Festival. The group won the Audience Award and took second prize overall; among the jurors, as it happens, was Robina Young, artistic director of Harmonia Mundi USA, who wasted little time in recruiting the singers for her roster.

(The next album by Stile Antico, called "Heavenly Harmonies" and featuring English Protestant tunes by Thomas Tallis alongside Latin Catholic motets by his friend William Byrd, was recorded last month and is scheduled for release early next year.)

Listen to the NPR show here.

Posted by acapnews at 8:58 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2007

At the Bowery Mission, Songs of Faith and Redemption

New York Times:

Inside an empty chapel in Lower Manhattan, Dwight Walker stood with his back facing the empty rows of pews. His voice began to rise with songs that included words like faith, found and lost. Five other men joined him. “The storm is passing over — have faith in the Lord,” Mr. Walker sang in the sanctuary at the Bowery Mission.

The six men are known as Anointed Voices, an a cappella group that sings and preaches in churches, in hospitals, before youth groups and in prisons. Theirs is a small tale of redemption — of how hard work, willpower and faith can sometimes lead people away from lives of desolation. All were homeless at some point, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. All forged a new path at the Bowery Mission, a faith-based organization that serves the homeless. “The message is, no matter where you come from, there is a place God has given you,” said James Macklin, 67, a member of Anointed Voices and director of outreach for the mission. “The only thing one has to do is mine for this goal and make a human being all he can be.”

In 2004, Ien Williams, 46, lost everything to his cocaine addiction: his marriage, his truck-driving business and his home in Queens. He carried his possessions in two suitcases through the streets of Manhattan. Someone told him about the Bowery Mission, and though he was wary of its emphasis on Christianity, he decided he had nothing to lose by going there. Spending time there helped him beat his addiction, he said, and now Mr. Williams lives at the mission, on the Bowery near Rivington Street, where he is in charge of housekeeping duties. The other singers call him “the minister” because of his preaching. “For me, it’s a total worship experience,” Mr. Williams said. “I sense the presence of God. This is where I’m safe.”

The life stories of the other singers — Eugene Chisholm, Dennis Ogarra and Carroll Baylor — are strikingly similar to Mr. Williams’s. Three of the six live at the mission, while the others have found their own places. Mr. Ogarra helped found Anointed Voices in 2006 and recruited Mr. Walker and Mr. Williams. The others joined soon after. Elvon R. Borst, manager of alumni programs at the mission, was impressed when she heard the group perform recently at a church in the Bronx. “It seems to me that the men really try to deliver a message of encouragement and hope,” she said.

Mr. Macklin serves as the group’s coordinator, arranging four or five performances a month. Some churches have been particularly welcoming, impressed with their music and their message. “Everyone,” Mr. Macklin said, “deserves a second chance.”

Two years ago, Mr. Walker, at 39 the youngest of the six members, was using large amounts of crack cocaine. His awakening came, he said, when he was shoved into a van in Manhattan with a bag over his head. The details, he said, are vague because he was high on crack. The next thing he remembers was a bright light shining through the bag into his eyes, he said. It was the police. Mr. Walker eventually found his way to the Bowery Mission. “This has helped me stay clean, helped me develop a relationship with God,” he said.

Mr. Ogarra, 49, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, joined the Army to escape living on the streets. He was stationed in Kansas at Fort Riley, but before long he was back to his old ways — using crack and cocaine and abusing alcohol. After he was discharged from the Army he moved back to Brooklyn. “I took the habit with me,” Mr. Ogarra said.

His addictions kept his life in chaos, preventing him from holding a steady job, and leading to the breakup of his marriage. In 2005, he said, he stood on a Long Island Rail Road platform on Atlantic Avenue and thought about killing himself. But something stopped him, he said, and someone who spotted him called the police. An officer suggested he seek help at the Bowery Mission. “I was just mixed up,” Mr. Ogarra said. “I drank many years away. I did many things. I had no direction, no drive and no hope.”

The mission has kept him free of drugs. and the musical group has given him a more hopeful view of life. He now lives in Washington Heights and has a job with U.S. Security Associates, a nationwide security firm. “It’s a godsend I got here,” Mr. Ogarra said. “I’ve learned to trust in my faith. If I was to give up I would be lost.”

A tear rolled down Mr. Ogarra’s right cheek as he spoke. But as the six men talked about their lives and prepared for another singing performance, there were plenty of jokes and laughter, too. “We’re kind of like a family,” Mr. Macklin said.

Posted by acapnews at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

National Lutheran Choir honored

The Minneapolis-based National Lutheran Choir has been honored by Chorus America, with its Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence. Named for the founder and longtime director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chorus America's highest honor is presented annually to a choir that "demonstrates artistic excellence, a strong organizational structure and a commitment to outreach, education and/or culturally diverse activities." The choir received a $5,000 cash award.

The National Lutheran Choir is the fourth Twin Cities-based choir to win the Hillis Award in its 16-year history. The Dale Warland Singers received the inaugural award in 1992, Vocal-Essence (then called the Plymouth Music Series) took the honor in 1996, and the Rose Ensemble shared the award in 2005.

Posted by acapnews at 9:46 PM | Comments (1)

Teacher investigated after choir student's profane rant

Yakima Herald (WA):

A choral teacher is under investigation by school officials after a student stunned a concert audience with a profane tirade that she said was merely imitating the instructor's style.

Savannah Larson, 13, gave the first performance in the spring concert attended by about 700 students, teachers, relatives and friends at Monticello Middle School. At the end of singing Rogers & Hart's "Where or When," she delivered what first appeared to be a verbal nod to the instructor, Constance S. "Connie" Noakes.

"I forgot to thank my wonderful choir teacher, Ms. Noakes, for all that she's taught me these past couple of years, like always knowing what to say in any situation, like...," Larson began, then let fly a stream of expletives and obscenities she said Noakes regularly used in class.

The next day, June 6, the eighth grade honors student was suspended for 10 school days, forcing her to miss her graduation ceremony and party.

Longview School District officials said they were investigating her claims about Noakes, who remained on the job. The teacher did not return several telephone calls from The Daily News of Longview this week, and could not be reached by The Associated Press at the school Thursday afternoon.

Larson and her mother, Anastasia Larson, said they had complained several times to school administrators and talked to Noakes about her language and behavior to no effect.

Vice Principal William N. Ofstun, who is leading the probe by interviewing other students, teachers and parents, would not comment on the Larsons' claims that he received prior complaints about Noakes.

If the Larsons' claims are supported by others, the matter could be referred for possible discipline to the Office of Professional Practices in the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Posted by acapnews at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2007

Insects as well as birds have own songs

Houston Chronicle (TX):

Next to bird songs, insect songs are the most common tunes of summer. We often attribute insect songs to crickets, but we may actually hear 42 other species of singing insects in local neighborhoods and parks.

You can learn which insect is singing what song with a new book and accompanying CD, The Songs of Insects by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95). The book describes 75 species of singing insects found in the contiguous United States.

Superlative photographs depict clear images of crooning insects along with range maps that describe where each species shows up and sonograms that display a wave profile of each insect's song. A 70-minute audio CD lets us hear what the songs sound like.

Insects famous for their songs include crickets, trigs, katydids, coneheads, shieldbacks, grasshoppers and cicadas. Take the crickets you hear while sitting around a campfire in a nearby state park. Could be the curiously named confused ground crickets. Or listen to the grasshopper's crackling call at midday in your backyard. Probably a Boll's grasshopper.

You may wonder how insects "sing," since they have no vocal apparatus like birds. The book explains that critters like crickets and katydids produce stridulations by rubbing the edge of one forewing called a scraper against a hard bumpy surface called a file on the opposite forewing. The resulting sound comes out as trills, chirps and buzzes.

Grasshoppers rub their hind legs against the edge of their forewings like a fiddler rubbing a bow hard across a violin to produce a raspy sound. Grasshoppers common in neighborhood yards often fly a short distance while emitting a crackling sound and flashing the bright colors of their hindwings.

Cicadas make sounds with organs called tymbals, which contain ribbed structures that vibrate to let forth a euphonious sound. But a cicada chorus at midday can be deafening.

Songs of insects like cicadas generally rise in amplitude during midday sun and drop in amplitude at sundown because insects are coldblooded and depend on ambient temperature to regulate their body heat. Also, many insects raise and lower their wings throughout the day to sharpen or dampen the tenor of their songs.

Male insects sing for the same reason male birds sing — to impress females. A "calling song" attracts female insects to a male's territory, and a "courtship song" serenades her once she arrives.

Some male insects like katydids sing in colonies that counter-sing back and forth across a field. The choruses may gradually build to a crescendo and, as if on cue from a choral director, abruptly stop.

Posted by acapnews at 12:41 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2007

Hank Medress, 68, Doo-Wop Singer on ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Dies

New York Times:

Hank Medress, a founding member of the 1960s doo-wop group the Tokens, whose biggest hit was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 68. The cause was lung cancer, his family said.

The Tokens’ sole Top 10 hit was a big one, an update in street-corner harmony of a Zulu song from South Africa. The song had become a folk staple in the 1950s after a recording by the Weavers — with Solomon Linda’s original lyric, “mbube” (lion), misheard as “wimoweh” — but entered pop eternity in the Tokens’ chirruping 1961 version, which stayed at No. 1 for three weeks.

Mr. Medress formed the group in 1955 with friends at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, among them a young Neil Sedaka; its original name was the Linc-Tones. By 1960 Mr. Sedaka had a solo career, and the quartet was repopulated with Jay Siegel, who sang most of the leads, and the brothers Mitch and Phil Margo.

The group reached No. 15 in early 1961 with “Tonight I Fell in Love,” but besides “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” it had no other significant hits for years, reaching No. 30 in 1966 with “I Hear Trumpets Blow” and No. 36 the next year with “Portrait of My Love.”

But “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was enough to propel Mr. Medress’s career. The Tokens were given an unusual production deal by Capitol Records, and one record the group produced — that Capitol passed on — was the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” a No. 1 hit for four weeks in 1963 on the Laurie label.

Two other Tokens-produced songs by the Chiffons, “One Fine Day” and “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” reached the Top 10, and the Tokens made two Top 10 hits with the Happenings, “See You in September” and “I Got Rhythm.” With Dave Appell, they also recorded “Candida,” “Knock Three Times” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” with Tony Orlando & Dawn.

Mr. Medress sang backup harmony with the Tokens but took a primary role in their studio efforts, and he left the group in 1973 to concentrate on producing. Among those he recorded were Dan Hill, Melissa Manchester, Richard Simmons, Rick Springfield and David Johansen (as his alter ego, Buster Poindexter).

From 1990 to 1992 Mr. Medress was president of EMI Music Publishing Canada and after returning to New York became a partner in Bottom Line Records, which released recordings of performances at the Bottom Line club in Greenwich Village as well as new work by emerging artists. In recent years Mr. Medress had worked as a consultant for SoundExchange, an agency that collects royalties from digital broadcasters, like satellite and Internet radio.

Posted by acapnews at 11:22 PM | Comments (1)

June 21, 2007

"Why We Sing" documentary on PBS

Why We Sing! is a documentary premiering on PBS stations across the country in June and is narrated by Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco. Produced and directed by Lawrence B. Dillon, written and co-produced by Eric Jansen. the documentary's focal point is GALA Choruses' (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) 7th International Choral Festival held in Montreal, Canada. More than 5,000 singers and 160 choruses gathered to sing. Through song and interviews, the documentary delves into and personalizes many issues on the public's mind today: same-sex marriage, religious views on gay rights, and the emerging transgender rights movement, among others.

Interwoven with concert footage are interviews with conductors, singers and spectators along with a blend of history and events outside of the main concert hall, including the gay-bashing of one of the singers early in the festival week. While shocking at first, the incident served to galvanize and reinvigorate the festival-goers, reminding them of their purpose.

Posted by acapnews at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2007

Cuban vocal group tours Canada

The Newsleader (Canada):

Novel Vos may be performing at a choral festival, but the term “choir” hardly does them justice. The Cuban group, among the guest performers at the Coastal Sound International Choral Festival June 29 to July 4, is more of a “vocal ensemble” or a “vocal orchestra,” said Jonathan Watts, president of the Canada Cuba Sports and Cultural Festivals, which is co-sponsoring the septet’s visit to B.C. this month.

“They’re a Cuban dance band but a cappella,” said Watts, a Canadian currently living in Cuba who is accompanying them during their stay here. “They don’t really fall into any category. They really sound like a salsa band when they sing.” Novel Vos, which means “new voice” in Spanish, is reciprocating a cultural exchange that started a few years ago with Lower Mainland students and schools, and Coastal Sound Music Academy choirs visiting Havana, Cuba. There they participated in music workshops with Novel Vos and learned about the Cuban culture, Watts said.

The Cubans-to-Canada part of such exchanges is not common mainly because it is so expensive for Cubans to travel here. So Novel Vos is one of the first groups of Cubans to reciprocate the exchange, Watts said. Throughout the month of June while they’re here, the group has been holding performances and workshops with the schools and students they’d met previously at home, travelling across the Lower Mainland, to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. During the festival they’ll be joining conductors, choirs and other guest performers from around the world in a non-competitive event primarily focused on children’s and youth choirs.

Back home, Novel Vos is well-known, having won a Cubadisco, the Cuban equivalent of the Juno award in 2005 for best vocal ensemble. The seven members have varied educational backgrounds, with four teachers, a lawyer, an engineer and a composer/arranger among them.

In addition to regular vocals and arrangements, the group sets itself apart with its blend of Cuban rhythms and jazz by also imitating instruments with their voices. Five voices sing harmony, providing imitations of brass instruments along with vocals, while two voices provide bass and percussion, supplying the sounds of an upright bass and Afro-Cuban percussion instruments such as bongos and congos. They are also choreographed and dance so as to look like they’re playing the instruments, Watts said.

The group hasn’t had too many surprises during their stay so far, as they became familiar with the Canadian music education system during their previous encounters in Cuba with local students and teachers, said Isabel Zamora Alfonso, through Watts, who served as interpreter. “Even though we heard Canada is a cold country, we disagree,” she said. “We think Canada is a very warm country because of its people.” “We’ve felt right at home,” added Eduardo Jiménez through the interpreter. “Some schools have done projects on Cuba, made Cuban flags, learned how to say welcoming phrases in Spanish.” Finding out that students were learning about Cuba before the group arrived “makes us very proud.”

As for cultural differences, Susana Orta Lopéz noted any comparison has to take into account the differences in climate. “Cubans as a culture is happy, extroverted, people interact with people easily in the street, we’re very spontaneous, we’re extroverts,” she said through the interpreter. “Canadians are not as extroverted, they’re more reserved than we are.”

Isabel Zamora Alfonso added, “It’s a difference in climate because in our climate we live with doors and windows open and live out in the street.” Their music is laced with African, Spanish and Asian influences. “The African influence really impacts the rhythms of our music and the need to dance,” said Orta Lopéz. “In order to sing our music, you have to dance. When you listen to us, you have to dance.”

Posted by acapnews at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2007

One Place Where Everything Is Harmonious

New York Times (NY):

Some guys like to play golf in their free time. Others prefer fishing. And then there are those fellows whose hobby involves getting together with about 85 other men to sing barbershop harmony. For 55 years, the Westchester Chordsmen, an a cappella men’s chorus, has been performing doo-wop, Broadway show tunes, traditional, gospel and contemporary songs, all arranged in four-part harmony for tenor, lead, baritone and bass.

Their music can be upbeat or strangely haunting. The dozens of voices blend into a smooth sound that — if you close your eyes — can sound like only four men singing. The Chordsmen look like they’re having a great time and make it all seem effortless. But don’t be fooled. All this takes discipline and practice. Chorus members can be as competitive as the fiercest weekend warriors. The group is ranked in the top 4 percent among all 825 chapters of the national Barbershop Harmony Society. Last month, the Chordsmen won the overall championship for their division. Judged on their singing, presentation and musical quality, the chorus received its highest scores in decades of competition.

So who are these men? The youngest member is 20; the oldest is 80. A few have been singing with the group for 50 years. Their members include lawyers, accountants, a dentist, an I.R.S. agent, some retired I.B.M. executives, a personal trainer, an appliance repairman, teachers — pretty much a cross section of Westchester County.

The chorus culture can seem a little, well, offbeat. Alan Fennell, of Shrub Oak, a member for 34 years, jokingly describes basses as “God’s chosen people.” As for baritones, he says, “they’re not the smartest — they have to sing the notes nobody else wants.” The group’s president, Bill Kruse, signs his e-mail messages, “Chord-ially.”

The men harmonize off the stage as well as on it. When a Chordsman is in the hospital, his singing buddies visit. If a family member dies, the group will sing at the wake or the synagogue. “This is my second family,” Mr. Fennell said. “People come from all walks of life, and they all come here to sing. There is a lot of camaraderie, because they’re all down-to-earth, nice guys.”

The chorus performs frequently for charitable organizations. They can also be hired, for $60 to $70, to arrive on someone’s doorstep for Valentine’s Day. A quartet clad in tuxedos and red vests will deliver roses and sing love songs. “If the tears come, we know we did a good job,” said Stephen Bartell, a five-year member from Larchmont. “When we sing for a man, he usually can’t wait for us to finish.”

Alan Ferris, of Croton, the vice president for membership for the group and a member for 12 years, said that the Chordsmen strike a balance between being sociable and competitive. “There are two kinds of choruses,” he said. “You can have a social club that doesn’t care about being professional. The other extreme is all business. They want to win. Then you’ve got choruses that are a mix of the two. We have been able to do that.”

The Chordsmen recently held open tryouts during one of their weekly three-hour rehearsals. Newcomers do not need to be able to read music or have professional experience. Andre Lemond, of White Plains, came to guest night after seeing the Chordsmen perform their holiday show. “It feels like a brotherhood,” Mr. Lemond said, stepping off stage after an hour of practice. “Everyone makes you feel welcome. Usually I only sing in the shower.” Rick Shiels of White Plains, another potential recruit, said he had no voice training but constantly sang “unsolicited” to his family. “They’re technically so proficient,” Mr. Shiels said. “They’re much better than I expected them to be, so it’s a little humbling.”

The last thing the Chordsmen want to be is intimidating. New members are assigned mentors to help them master the music and make them feel comfortable. The group recruits constantly. After placing an advertisement on placemats in local diners, they had a surge in membership.

The advertisement, which read, “Come Sing With Us!” caught the eye of Dr. Carey S. Goltzman, the chief of pediatric critical care medicine at the Westchester Medical Center. He had heard the chorus perform at a benefit for the new children’s hospital. Dr. Goltzman, who used to sing in his college chorus, said that tryouts were nerve-racking, but the payoff has been worth it.

“I find it very therapeutic,” he said. “My group of pediatricians are taking care of the most highly acute and sickest kids in the community. This gives me my bit of escape. These guys couldn’t care less what I do for a living. And when we go out and perform, it’s one of the great joys of my life.”

Posted by acapnews at 9:55 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2007

America's Got (barbershop) Talent

Probably the most exciting new barbershop chorus to emerge in many, many years The Westminster Chorus are competing on the hit NBC show "America's Got Talent". The Los Angeles chorus based are odds-on favorites to win this year's Barbershop Harmony Society's annual competition and many think have the chance of winning the TV contest as well. They will be competing this Tuesday at 9/8c on NBC and here is a clip of them performing on the show:-

Posted by acapnews at 3:37 PM | Comments (7)

June 12, 2007

Warland's golden sound still echoes

Minnesota Public Radio

Dissonance is often viewed as something negative. In the hands of choral conductor Dale Warland, a dissonant chord is luscious and very moving.

"How you approach and leave dissonance is very important," Warland explains. "When you get into a tight dissonance, it's terribly important that those notes are right on the money. You can't have very much vibrato, or at least excessive vibrato, or you will not hear the true chord that the composer wanted at that particular moment. So vibrato control, balance of those voices, intonation--those are the very important elements, and they became expectations with the Dale Warland Singers."

Dale Warland led his own a cappella ensemble for more than 30 years. Since he disbanded the group in 2004 he's been composing and guest conducting. But Warland admits he's felt a sense of loss.

"I do miss having my own instrument, where you don't have to explain everything and you can get right to the essence without wasting any time," he says.

The true essence of this ensemble is captured on a recording that's just now being released, "Lux Aurumque." Much of the recording was planned several years before the group disbanded. The music came out of its concert series, "Cathedral Classics." Warland chose these pieces because he says these composers really knew how to write for the voice; they knew how to develop a true choral sound.

"There's this magic you hope will come through," he adds, "that really ends up being like a spirituality that carries the music beyond what you would hope."

Like cream gently rising to the surface, that magic comes through in each piece on "Lux Aurumque."

"A Prayer of the Middle Ages" by American composer Howard Hanson was out of print for many years before being revived by Dale Warland. It really grabs my attention with the opening fanfare. Then it moves into a warm, romantic melody. A wide range of dynamics and impeccable balance turn the Dale Warland Singers into a choir of angels as they sing this piece.

Warland has a soft spot for the motet "Hymn to the Creator of Light" by English composer John Rutter.

"Most of his original works are with instruments," Warland explains. "This work is a cappella. It's semi-extended for double choir. It just doesn't sound like the other Rutter that most of us know. I think he really stretched himself."

Tight, dissonant chords give this choral work a wonderful sense of mystery. Rutter wrote the piece in memory of English composer Herbert Howells for the 1992 dedication of the Howells memorial window in Gloucester Cathedral. When the choir sings, "A light which never sets," I can just imagine a vibrant sunbeam shining through the rich colors of that stained glass window.

The Dale Warland Singers perform with such honesty and sincerity it's almost impossible not to be touched by their music. Their expert phrasing, intonation and balance give the music on "Lux Aurumque" a wonderful sense of freedom. Dale Warland's thoughtful direction enhances their natural ability to make incredibly beautiful music that goes beyond the ears and directly to the heart.

Listen to the interview here

Posted by acapnews at 10:55 PM

June 11, 2007

State honors professor's work with prison chorus

Cincinnati Enquirer (OH)

Each Thursday morning, a music professor arrives at the Warren Correctional Institution to teach, direct and nurture the voices behind walls. Friday, Catherine Roma, professor of music at Wilmington College, was honored with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's Gold Star Award for Service.

The department presented the award to Roma at a ceremony at the Corrections Training Academy in Orien

She was recognized for her work as founder and director of the UMOJA Men's Chorus at Warren Correctional Institution. She has taught at the prison since joining the college's music faculty in 1993. She volunteers to instruct the non-credit, extracurricular music program offered there by Wilmington College.

"Working with this group is incredibly rewarding," Roma said.

The UMOJA chorus, which gets its name from the Swahili word for unity, is composed exclusively of inmates. The group has recorded two compact discs, "Feel Like Going On" in 1996 and "Do It for the Children" in 2000. Proceeds from their sales have gone to local charities.

In 2005, Roma coordinated a live telecast performance of the chorus singing from the prison to the citywide celebration of Martin Luther King Day at Cincinnati Music Hall. Each year, she organizes an MLK Day celebration at Warren Correctional with speakers and performers. She teaches courses at Wilmington College in music and global issues, while directing the College Chorale and other choral groups.

Roma is also the founder and director of MUSE, Cincinnati's Women's Choir and director and co-founder of the Cincinnati Martin Luther King Jr. Day Coalition Choir. Roma is minister of music at St. John's Unitarian Church in Clifton.

"Dr. Roma has remained committed to her choir members throughout the years and arrives every Thursday morning like clockwork," said Wanza Jackson, warden at the institution.

Posted by acapnews at 9:33 PM

June 7, 2007

Rocket science a cappella

The Chromatics were delighted to have been asked by the NASA AIM project (The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) to write a theme song for their satellite mission to study unique polar clouds on the edge of space that may result from climate change. AIM was launched successfully on April 25th, and today they are very proud to unveil their latest science tune Noctilucent Cloud. Listen to it here.

Posted by acapnews at 9:36 PM

June 5, 2007

Stile Antico

The Times (UK):

One of the glories of British musical life is the profusion of professional choirs that have transformed notions of how Renaissance and Baroque music could, and perhaps should, be sung. But the best of those ensembles "the Tallis Scholars, the Sixteen, the Monteverdi Choir" have mostly been knocking around for decades. It's as if one particular generation has cornered the market in motets.

So the arrival of some new kids in the cloisters is exciting. Especially as the 12 twentysomething choristers of Stile Antico are not only talented but have fresh ideas about how 16th-century sacred music should be presented.

They can't help but sound what they are: former Oxbridge choral scholars, with all the pluses (wonderfully clear lines, excellent intonation and diction, intelligent dynamics) and one minus (a slightly unvaried timbre) that this implies. But they don�t have a conductor, and that changes everything.

First, they work like chamber musicians: watching each other carefully, achieving cohesion through interaction. Secondly, their interpretations, especially of Byrd�s great multisectional motets, where pacing and mood must be so carefully varied, are done with the conviction and unanimity that comes when an ensemble arrives at its own conclusions, rather than merely bowing to a maestro�s whims.

And thirdly, the absence of the conductor throws the audience�s attention on to the singers, who respond by lifting their heads from their copies and projecting straight at their listeners. That makes a big difference to communication. The next step is to dispense with the copies altogether � certainly in simpler pieces.

This programme mingled Byrd�s anguished polyphony � the great motets of lament that seem to have carried a covert message for the persecuted Catholics of Elizabethan England � with the hymns that Tallis supplied for Archbishop Parker�s psalter, including the celebrated Canon and the tune that inspired Vaughan Williams�s Tallis Fantasia. It was an ingenious mixture; the artful simplicity of the latter contrasted with the majestic complexity of the former.

Of course, such was the pragmaticism and flexibility needed by composers if they were to survive in the perilous 16th century that an equally effective programme could have been devised with simple sacred songs by Byrd and polyphonic epics by Tallis. Perhaps Stile Antico will present that next.

Posted by acapnews at 10:13 PM

June 4, 2007

New Oreo cookie jingle contest

Press Release

"America's favorite cookie" is launching its third annual search for that special combination -- Oreo fans who love to sing! The "Oreo & Milk Jingle" contest invites groups of friends, families, co-workers, etc. to sing the O-R-E-O jingle for a chance to win the "ultimate moment" -- having their performance broadcast on a Times Square Super Sign in New York City and $10,000.

Groups of two to 15 people are invited to put their talents to the test, creating videos of themselves performing the jingle in their own creative, unique way. Ten semi-finalist groups will be posted online for America to help choose five favorites. The five groups will then go on to compete in a live finale competition in Times Square hosted by NBC late night talk show host and New Year's Eve "Times Square commentator" Carson Daly.

"As someone who has been in the music and entertainment industry for many years, I have seen how the simple act of singing can be a fun and powerful way to bring people together, especially when delicious cookies are included," says Daly. "I'm excited to be part of the Oreo & Milk Jingle Contest. It will give five lucky groups the chance to connect in a way that they'll never forget."

How To Get S-I-N-G-I-N-G

Need some tips on how to create a winning performance? Past finalists and winners -- from a "beauty shop quartet" from San Diego who sang the jingle a cappella to a pop funk rendition by a group of college friends -- are posted on the web site for everyone to view.

This year, groups of two to 15 people can enter by uploading a video of their performances at http://www.oreo.com/ from June 4, 2007 through July 23, 2007. All group members must be at least 7 years of age and residents of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia. Entries can also be submitted via mail, or groups can sing the jingle and be recorded live at select Minor League Baseball games throughout the summer.

Ten semi-finalist groups will be selected based on vocal ability, originality and creativity of performance, overall stage presence and enthusiasm as well as appropriateness to the Oreo image and posted on http://www.oreo.com/ beginning August 23, 2007. America will then help choose five finalist groups by casting their votes for their favorites online. The five groups will each receive $1,000 and head to New York City in September to perform in Times Square for the chance to broadcast to millions on a Times Square Super Sign and take home the grand prize of $10,000.

Additionally, every person who logs on to cast a vote can also enter into a sweepstakes for the chance to win $5,000 and join Daly and the winning groups in Times Square for the final competition.

Sing for Your Cookies

For those who aren't looking for the limelight but are looking for free Oreo cookies and milk, groups of 16 or more singers also can submit video of themselves singing the jingle and Oreo will send them FREE Oreo cookies and milk to have their own special moment!

For complete contest and sweepstakes rules, entry materials and offer details
click here.

THIS is the jingle contest to enter as a cappella groups have won the contest for the past 2 years (A Cappella Gold and Blue Jupiter). Nothing ventured, nothing gained..

Posted by acapnews at 10:48 PM

June 1, 2007

McFerrins at the Barbican

All About Jazz.com

Taylor McFerrin

April in London was the hottest and driest on record. But May was something else: cool, grey and rainy. It felt like the end of a summer that wasn't. So by the time Bobby McFerrin played the Barbican, we needed some sunshine to lift us. And we werent disappointed.

McFerrin was the latest in a line-up of artists to do a residency at The Barbican (an impressive list of jazz notables including Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock preceded him), each given the time to perform in different contexts and to show different facets of his talent. McFerrin, especially, proved a mercurial performer, so to see him over two nights in the company of a procession of guest performers, was to witness the core of his art as well as some of its outer reaches. The core is McFerrin alone on stage with a mike, and this was how he opened both nights, giving a stunning display of what his voice can do on its own. Starting by singing in a pure, clear treble voice, he was soon embellishing the primary melodic line with bass accompaniment plus his trademark chest percussion and occasional falsetto leaps. The total effect was like listening to a vocalist with rhythm section and supporting soloistsand all out of that one mouth.

Although McFerrin sang versions of some well-known songsincluding Blackbird, Thinkin About Your Body, Simple Pleasures, even Somewhere Over The Rainbowit was his skills as an improviser that wowed the audience. As a performer, he's as relaxed as they come, comfortable with himself, a smile never far from his lips, safe in the knowledge that he has the audience in the palm of his hand. That safety allows him to take off on flights of fancy as well as take genuine risks, the key to great improvisation. As often as not, he would include the audience in his improvisations, using them as a backing chorus or for call-and- response exchanges. He expectedand gotthe audience to be able to sing back just about anything that he sang to them. An especially magical moment came whenin a typically swift u-turnthe versatile performer abandoned I Want You/Shes So Heavy in mid flow and switched to Ave Maria, using the audiences vocal talents; judging by the soaring ethereal sounds that swirled around the auditorium, there were many choir members in that audience.

The guest musicians, upon joining McFerrin, further drew out his eclecticism: he proved just as likely to draw inspiration from Bach as the blues, from the Beatles as bebop. A performer who seems at home with any musical culture, he demonstrated his command of different idioms during duets with Gavino Murgias resonant throat singing, Sheema Mukherjees classical sitar and Dhafer Youssefs oud and incantations; in each instance, McFerrins responses were not only sympathetic with the unique style: they enhanced the music.

However, the highlight of the each night's show was closer to homethe duo of McFerrin and his eldest son. Indeed, Taylor McFerrin is a mean human beat-box, capable of reproducing an array of bass, percussion and studio effects with unerring fidelity. The sounds of father and son weaved around each other in a rhythmically complex display that brought a whooping standing ovation. Expect to hear more from Taylor McFerrin.

At the end of the second night, in lieu of an encore Bobby McFerrin came out for a brief question and answer session with the audience. Out of several noteworthy answers, one especially deserves repeating: Anyone can improvise. All you have to do is sing any notes for ten minutes. After two minutes, therell be voices in your head telling you to stop, but keep going for ten minutes. Do it every day, and after a while youll start shaping what you sing. Probably good adviceand maybe it's true that anyone can improvise. But one thing is certain. No one improvises like Bobby McFerrin. Since his visit, summer is back. The sun hasnt stopped shining in London and the temperature has soared. Can't be a coincidence!

Posted by acapnews at 10:27 PM