October 29, 2007
Songs, Poems and Burps in a Theater for the Ear
New York Times:
A single plummy voice probes sentences in the belligerent tones of a workingman’s indignation: “Well I sez to him, I sez, what I’m tryin’ to say, what I mean to say, I mean, you know. ...” Repeated, the words stumble into patterns of defensive insecurity, suddenly affording an uncomfortable glimpse into someone’s neuroses. Then the speaker’s accent changes, and the words become those of an upper-crust pedant, who invests the same syllables with crisp self-satisfaction.
This is theater, all right: Theater of Voices, the excellent vocal ensemble Paul Hillier founded in 1990, which performed three very different, very theatrical vocal compositions at Zankel Hall on Thursday night. This repetitive opening monologue was “As I Was Saying,” by the writer Sheldon Frank; as performed by Mr. Hillier himself, it attuned the ear to the nuanced dance between sound and meaning that formed the theme of the program.
Another theme was the play between the serious and the antic, continued in “A-Ronne,” by Luciano Berio, which, like many Berio vocal works, has a tongue-in-cheek air. It drew laughs as it played with tones of voice and sound effects (including one accomplished burp), but seemed dated in brandishing an air of transgressive naughtiness that is no longer either transgressive or naughty. But it is engaging, like an elderly uncle who is still a witty raconteur of oft-told tales.
And Mr. Hillier’s group, which has already brought new life to one arm of the 20th-century avant-garde this year with its CD of Stockhausen’s “Stimmung” made it sound as fresh as possible. The five singers caressed and repeated the individual words of the Edoardo Sanguineti poem that the piece deconstructs, from “principio” (beginning) to “ronne” (an archaic Italian term for the end of the alphabet).
By contrast, the final piece — David Lang’s “little match girl passion,” in its premiere — was tragedy. But it was tragedy presented so that you sensed implied quotation marks around certain passages that danced elegantly along the line between high art and kitsch. Mr. Lang took Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale and made its Christian subtext explicit. The story of a poor child who freezes to death — told in long, gentle, repetitive chains of notes, with the lead voice gradually dragging the three other voices behind it in a messy wake — was interspersed with meditative sections, including a quasi-chorale on the words “Have mercy, my God.”
Touched with the frost of chimes and tubular bells, the piece goes a little over the top, and the four singers looked for guidance to Mr. Hillier, here the conductor, as if they were all still seeking the tone they would ultimately choose.
October 26, 2007
Liberty Voices - the world's busiest a cappella group?
Orlando Sentinel (FL):
They aren't rock stars, but the members of Liberty Voices have probably performed for more people than, say, Aerosmith, has in the past 25 years.
After all, there's a built-in audience at Walt Disney World, where these singers have done multiple shows a day -- every day -- for more than two decades at Epcot's American Adventure. Tonight, you can catch a supersized version of this a cappella ensemble, without that big park admission, at Faith World, off International Drive in Orlando.
It's a one-of-a-kind reunion concert uniting more than 90 singers who have performed under the dome at the American Adventure since the attraction opened in 1982.
"We all keep in touch with each other," says Tracy Scott, 52, who has been singing with the ensemble for 10 years. "This is such an intense group that it sticks with you the rest of your life."
Scott says the 92 singers performing tonight represent about 75 percent of the members who have participated in Voices of Liberty. The slight revision of the name, to Liberty Voices, reflects that the project is organized outside the Disney umbrella.
Whatever you call it, the reunion sounds like a major logistical headache, especially all the rehearsals, right?
What, no rehearsals? "Not yet," Scott says. There might be time for at least one, he says.
I guess when you're doing seven shows a day, the drill becomes pretty automatic. Well, yes and no. Singing in a theme park, performers develop their own set of pet peeves.
"Our biggest challenge is cell phones, believe it or not," says Scott, who has worked in entertainment at Disney since he was age 19 in acts ranging from Broadway at the Top (atop the Contemporary Resort) to the Diamond Horseshoe Revue. "We'll be in the middle of a song and a cell phone goes off, playing a lovely melody. It can grab your attention."
Otherwise, Scott says the environment is pretty much perfect. The dome at the American Adventure is acoustically hospitable, and the ensemble doesn't have to sing outdoors much.
And there are the fans. "We even have our groupies," Scott says. "People who come here once a week, sometimes three and four times a week, year after year."
Conducting a lifelong effort to teach the world to sing
Boston Globe (MA):
If you've ever sung in a chorus or listened to much choral music, you probably know the name of Sir David Willcocks. Willcocks is a choral conductor who has spent much of his career leading two of Britain's seminal vocal groups: the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, and the Bach Choir of London. With them he made a large number of recordings, works that reach from Purcell and Bach to Britten and Vaughan Williams, both of whom he worked with. His arrangements of Christmas carols have become orthodoxy for choirs everywhere.
More than a conductor, he is an institution in the art of choral singing. Since 1998, Willcocks has been retired from his various positions, which also included a stint as director of the Royal College of Music. He now spends much of his time working with choirs throughout the world. His latest stop is Trinity Church, where he has been rehearsing Brahms's "A German Requiem" with its choir in preparation for a concert on Sunday.
These mini-workshops would seem to be the antithesis of the long-term work of ensemble refinement Willcocks undertook with his two eminent groups. Speaking by phone a day after arriving in Boston, Willcocks reflects on what he can impart during only two or three days of work. "In most cases they love the music they're singing - otherwise they wouldn't be doing it," he says. His voice is somewhat raspy but its vitality is undimmed. "I try to deepen their love of it, point out why the composer did certain things."
Of course, he adds, basic details like intonation have to be attended to as time allows. But he sees his mission as a broader one: "If you make everyone live the part, you're doing your job."
Willcocks was director of the King's College choir from 1957 to 1974, and of the Bach Choir from 1960 to 1998. The two groups represented opposing poles of the British choral tradition. The King's choir, established by King Henry VI, consists of 16 boys and 14 young men, an iconic example of a small, all-male chorus. Willcocks's tenure coincided with the LP-era boom in the recording of classical music, and he recorded large swaths of the choral repertoire, ranging far outside what the choir usually sang during its liturgical duties at the college's chapel.
Willcocks says he feels lucky to have had the chance to record so much, though at the beginning things like microphone placement were less than scientific. "When I started, the boys used to stand on chairs to get extra height," he says. "All sorts of ugly things happened."
By contrast, the Bach Choir is a large group of men and women, numbering between 250 and 300. Their rise to prominence was in large part due to their involvement with Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," which had been composed for the rededication of Coventry Cathedral in 1962. It was intended as an act of healing for Europe after the Second World War, during which Willcocks served in the British army.
The chorus sang the London premiere of the piece and recorded it under the composer's baton. "He was so thrilled when he heard them, he not only had them do the recording but also said, 'I want them to go and sing it around the world.' " So the choir toured with the piece, and Willcocks reels off the itinerary as if it happened last year: Perugia, Milan, Venice, Madrid, Lisbon, Hong Kong, Amsterdam. "We felt like we were spreading the gospel."
Equally undimmed is his memory of working with both Britten and Vaughan Williams, who together gave Britain most of its finest choral music of the century. Britten, Willcocks says, was meticulous in his scores, which contained a wealth of detail about phrasing, dynamics, and other matters. " 'People have only got to do what's there and I shall be happy,' " he remembers the composer telling him. " 'If anybody does anything different, I don't want to hear the music again.' "
By contrast, when Willcocks asked Vaughan Williams for guidance while recording his music, the composer replied, "If you do it as you feel it, I shall be happy. I've never heard you do any of my works when I wasn't absolutely happy with it."
One further index of Willcocks's stature is the number of former students, choristers, and assistants who have gone on to have important musical careers. They include Simon Preston and the conductor Andrew Davis. Willcocks's 1963 recording of the Allegri "Miserere" featured some striking solos by a 12-year-old treble named Roy Goodman, who has become an acclaimed violinist and conductor.
And don't forget Prince Charles, whom the conductor knew as an undergraduate at Cambridge, and who was a member of the Bach Choir.
"He said, 'Could I join your choir?' And I said, 'Only if you rehearse and have an audition,' " Willcocks recalls with a laugh. He also selected and conducted the music for Charles's marriage to then-Lady Diana Spencer.
"Lovely person, and we're so lucky to have him next in line to the throne," he says.
He is equally matter-of-fact when asked how he would like to be remembered, once he is no longer conducting: "As a chap who loved music and loved making music with others. I'd love for people to think of me as someone who really enjoyed music and only did the music he really liked."
October 24, 2007
An interview with Jeff Thatcher
Daily Cardinal (WI):
After their 1990s fame from singing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” as well as commercials for Folgers coffee, Rockapella is singing their way to the Memorial Union Theater with UW- Madison’s men’s a cappella group, the MadHatters, as the opener.
Rockapella, a professional men’s a cappella group with only five members, are nationally famous and has been touring the country almost since they were discovered in 1990.
“To survive this long you really have to diversify as a working musical act,” said Jeff Thacher, Rockapella’s vocal percussionist. “Most bands out there usually survive two to six years, and then they’re gone. So to be around this long as a business, let alone as a creative act, is unusual, to say the least, considering we’re not on a major record label.”
Thacher said the group has been successful over the years, but many people, particularly college students, are not familiar with their music as a result of online downloading.
“There are a lot of tracks on the file sharing service right now that say ‘Rockapella’ but are not us,” Thacher said. “You hear 15 guys singing instead of five. I recommend people stop by the website and get a taste of who we really are.”
Although Rockapella have different members now from when they started, Thacher said the long-term commitment of members keeps some continuity in the dynamic of the group.
“We don’t often have to replace new members, but when it happens the right one often just falls into our lap, and we essentially become something new, yet familiar,” Thacher said. “I don’t think the group has ever been tighter musically. It’s just a pleasure to go onstage, and everybody is at the top of their game from what I can tell.”
Another little known aspect of the group is the difficulty of a cappella singing.
“For anybody doing it [the hardest part] is the art of listening and responding to each other because there’s nothing to back you up,” Thacher said. “You have to listen to each other, constantly adjust your blend and be the whole show, the entire energy of every sound. Sometimes I’m amazed that it happens, but we seem to be able to do that pretty well. And I’m proud to be a part of that.”
According to Thacher, while the group loves performing, what makes it so enjoyable is the city they’re in.
“We’ve been here a total of maybe three times,” Thacher said. “I think it’s just a combination of that it’s a northern town, [there are] lots of students, a great vibe and a great energy. And Rockapella seems to be welcomed into that.”
Thacher said although the group will sing “Carmen Sandiego,” the show will be a new experience for those who have seen it before.
“We do about half covers and half originals,” Thacher said. “I think for any group to stick around you need to get some originals out there. [If someone] wants to write one we run it up the flagpole and see if it waves. As far as the covers go, we tend to do things prior to 1980s. We try to bring it into the contemporary style and don’t do it old fashioned but sort of re-energize it.”
Besides re-energizing the songs, Thacher said he believes Rockapella has been successful by energizing their performances as well.
“I think that the secret of being successful performers is enjoying what you’re doing on stage,” Thacher said. “The audience can see that you’re having a good time, and they have a good time along with you. Rockapella is definitely comfortable in its own skin.”
From Russia, con brio
Los Angeles Times (US):
Sharing the Royce Hall stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company's crumbled-looking set for "King Lear," the Russian Patriarchate Choir of Moscow was a potent symbol of renewal when this male a cappella ensemble made its West Coast debut Monday as part of the UCLA Live series.
After all, it wasn't that long ago that performing Russian Orthodox Church music in the Soviet Union endangered the careers of these singers and their director, Anatoly Grindenko.
But there they were -- or nine of them, anyway -- having overcome politics (the choir was formed in 1983, eight years before the Soviet breakup) and a flight delay (half the members arrived two hours before the performance). Various other issues prevented the remaining three from making the engagement.
Their program traversed the myriad wonders and changes of style in Russian chant and polyphony from the 16th to the 20th centuries. A set of four Russian folk songs and three encores completed the evening.
Interpretation of early music notation is an evolving, contentious enterprise, San Diego-based conductor Vladimir Morosan informed listeners in excellent program notes. (Distribution of texts to the audience would have been helpful too. Reviewers got them.) So some of the tangy dissonances may not have been historically accurate. But how thrilling they were.
From the rolling, pure and direct lines of a 16th century call to worship, the program progressed through the delicate, spectral colors of a 17th century introductory Psalm at Vespers to an 18th century drone-based version of the first three Psalms.
A return to the 16th century showed that music then was not monolithic. In "Lord, I Call Upon Thee," tenor Andrey Bashkov sang a sweet, fervent melodic line that might have been a love song. A Eucharistic canon, on the other hand, was assertive and crushingly dissonant. "Hymn to the Mother of God" was lofty in its quiet serenity.
By the time Rachmaninoff wrote his beautiful Vespers in 1915, music had become more personal, warm, arguably sentimental. Bashkov again applied his expressive tenor wonderfully to the solos in Rachmaninoff's "Bless the Lord, O My Soul," and the rest of the chorus responded with hushed, deep-felt tones. Bass Yury Vichyakov plumbed the depths in the composer's "Lord, Now Lettest Thou Thy Servant Depart." Bass Oleg Kovalev closed the religious set with Goncharov's humble "Before Thy Cross We Bow Down."
In the set of folk songs and encores, baritone Andrey Zhuravlev was the powerful soloist in "Legend of Twelve Brigands," "Petersburg Road" and a Cossack song, while tenor Viktor Balkarov often added lusty, ringing enthusiasm.
When the program repeats tonight in Costa Mesa, one hopes more singers will be there.
October 23, 2007
New generation of barbershop singers learn to harmonize
Journal Gazette (IL):
It was a new generation of barbershop singers in the making. Spread throughout rooms in the Eastern Illinois University Union, local- middle- and high-school songbirds tested their skills Monday on a unique type of singing unlike what they learned in their schools’ choral programs.
For the third consecutive year, the Coles County Barbershop Singers invited local students to the East Central Illinois Youth in Harmony workshop, a day of learning to sing in the a capella barbershop style that culminates with an evening concert with three popular barbershop quartets from Illinois and New York City.
Youth in Harmony is a workshop held in different locations across the country each year. The Coles County Barbershop Singers brought the event to Charleston in hopes of giving students of chorus and their teachers a new experience to take with them to school and through life, said Tom Woodall, co-director of the Coles County Barbershop Singers.
As some members of the Coles County Barbershop Singers start to retire from the hobby, Woodall said he hopes to pique the interest in barbershop singing in the younger generation. “We hope to experience some growth over the years,” Woodall said.
The style of harmonizing and singing a cappella that barbershop quartets do appealed to high school freshman Alexis Teichmiller of Dieterich, who after a few hours at the workshop said she was enjoying the experience of singing without any musical accompaniment.
Having been a member of chorus for as long as she has been in school, Teichmiller said she came to the workshop in hopes of improving her bass singing. However, being at the workshop, Teichmiller said she was quickly learning learning barbershop singing also means learning how to harmonize with a group. “I am definitely going to know how to harmonize better,” Teichmiller said of her experience at the workshop.
As a senior at Shelbyville High School, Zach Brown is taking his first year of jazz choir and decided the barbershop workshop gave him a chance to experience a style of singing he had not yet done. “I just decided to come and see what I can do,” Brown said.
With the limited experience he has in chorus, Brown said he noticed some of the notes in the barbershop style were more difficult than what his jazz choir sings. Although, Brown was unsure whether he would have any future with barbershop singing, he said the rest of his jazz chorus was excited to be using this new style of singing.
The main differences between what choral students learn in school and the barbershop style are the chords barbershoppers use and the varied definitions of what makes a person a tenor, baritone, bass, or lead, said Tim Pashon of Sterling, workshop clinician.
The workshop clinicians know barbershop singing cannot fully be taught in a day and some notes would be missed when it came time for the concert, but they wanted to give students a glimpse of how barbershop quartets have fun by breaking into spontaneous song without the help of lyrics or musical accompaniment. “The most important part is to have fun,” Pashon said.
The event drew approximately 450 students from local high schools and middle schools and was sponsored in part by the Charleston Area Charitable Trust Fund, Woodall said.
October 22, 2007
What's 500 years old and wears sailor suits?
Columbus Dispash (OH):
What's 500 years old and wears sailor suits? The Vienna Boys' Choir, a throwback to the Holy Roman Empire that embraces music by generations of great composers from Heinrich Isaac to Franz Schubert.
About 100 youngsters ages 10 to 14 make up the current choir, which has its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, at the Augartenpalais, a former imperial hunting lodge. Founded in 1498 during the reign of Emperor Maximilian I, the choir was taken over by the Austrian government in 1918 with the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire.
The tradition lives on, however, as the Vienna Boys' Choir continues to delight listeners around the globe. The 24-voice group heard in Columbus today, conducted by Nikolaus Mueller, is one of four touring ensembles currently associated with the organization.
The boys offered a conventional program of sacred classics, many sung a cappella, followed by lighter fare. A closing group of novelty items included yodels — complete with dancers in lederhosen — and waltzes by Johann Strauss Jr. What could be more Viennese?
The boys sing everything from memory and are obviously highly disciplined. With works mostly in two- and three-voice harmony, the difficulty of the pieces varied greatly, and the most entertaining songs, such as the well-known Mexican folksong La Cucaracha in the second half, were not necessarily the easiest.
Among the highlights were the charming Echo by Orlando di Lasso and Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck, a piece repopularized by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli a few years ago. These and other selections featured soloists who stepped bravely from the ensemble; the clear but understated direction of their conductor/accompanist gave the boys strong guidance.
October 20, 2007
Central Asian throat singers find similarities in Wyoming
Billings Gazette (WY):
A quartet of singing horsemen might seem like a predictable band to perform in a town that has seen more than a century of ranching, riding and roping. But no one could have predicted the huge crowd Tuesday night in the school gymnasium, or the rousing standing ovation for four men who performed traditional central-Asian songs dating to 13th-century warlord Genghis Khan.
Performing in period formal, Huun-Huur-Tu have played more than 1,000 shows in Europe and America, said Vladimir Oboronko, the group's manager. But their trip to Meeteetse this week was like a homecoming of sorts, said Sayan Bapa, a co-founder of the group. "We came from the plane in Cody and looked around and thought it was autumn in Tuva," Bapa said, referring to his homeland, an autonomous Russian republic of 305,000 in southern Siberia, bordering Mongolia.
"It was the same kind of landscape: lots of grass, not many trees, mountains in the distance with snow. We felt like we were back home. This is a good, huge territory, with a lot of grass and not many people," Bapa said. The similarities of place, and the Tuvans' reputation as master horsemen who traverse the steppes tending cattle and sheep, made for some obvious cultural parallels with Meeteetse, said Steve Schrepferman.
Band members gave a workshop Monday on the art of throat singing, also called overtone singing, a rare and difficult vocal technique that is a hallmark of their musical style. Throat singers can produce two, and sometimes three, distinct tones at one time. They sing a lower, growling tone, called the fundamental, mirroring it with a higher harmonic tone. Imagine the low drone of a bagpipe accompanied by a flute.
Huun-Huur-Tu is Tuvan for "sun propeller," the kind of refracted light seen shining through clouds at sunrise or sunset, and a visual representation of the throat-singing technique. Performers must exercise precise and intense control of their throats, and band members often closed their eyes and appeared to grimace as if in pain during Tuesday's performance.
"The tension is strong from your chest, up into your mouth, and your tongue, lips and head," Bapa said after the show Tuesday, dressed in blue jeans and smoking a cigarette in the cool night air outside the Meeteetse school. "But it doesn't hurt," he said. "It looks difficult, but for us it's not so hard."
"If you grew up riding a horse with your grandpa holding you against his chest while he did it, then it might not be so hard," said Elijah Cobb, a Cody photographer who attended the workshop.
Cobb said none of the 15 students who tried could pick up the technique, but he praised Robert Rumbolz for coming close. It turns out Rumbolz, an ethnomusicologist who teaches at Northwest College in Powell, had an unfair advantage. He had met Huun-Huur-Tu member Alexei Saryglar a decade ago, while Rumbolz was in graduate school. "I was feeling pretty sure about my abilities," said Rumbolz, who has worked occasionally to pick up the technique since meeting Saryglar. "Then I went into the workshop and they told me, 'No, you don't have it,' " he said with a laugh.
Some of the band's songs are about love, or evoke the sounds of birds in the forest. Many are filled with a sense of plaintive and soulful longing that recalls difficult days of solitude in wide-open spaces.
The horse is a common theme in the music of Huun-Huur-Tu. So it was an unexpected treat for the band members Tuesday when a group of local cowboys took them on a trail ride in the hills around Meeteetse. One cowboy said the musicians were adept riders, who first asked politely if they could "exercise" their horses before taking off at a mad gallop.
Bapa said all the band members have ridden since an early age, and that Tuvans typically learn riding from grandparents, who expect the grandchildren to help with herding livestock. Some of the band members have formal musical training in other genres, including jazz, and their songs include moments that swing with layered syncopation. "It's syncopated, yes, but like a horse galloping," Bapa said. "Swing gets around the world, you know. It didn't just come from Africa."
October 18, 2007
Barbershop in Space
International Barbershop Quartet Champion and super group, Max Q, is set to perform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on October 23rd, between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. EDT, prior to the launch of the Harmony node aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. Max Q is the Barbershop Harmony Society’s most decorated quartet champion in the history of barbershop singing.
Among the four pedigreed members, tenor Greg Clancy owns the most gold medals with 11 chorus and one quartet gold medal; lead Tony DeRosa is a three-time quartet gold medalist; baritone Gary Lewis has two quartet gold medals; and bass Jeff Oxley owns three quartet gold medals and seven gold medals in chorus competition. All four men grew up cutting their teeth on barbershop harmony. Ironically, the name of the group is taken from aeronautical term, “Max Q,” which is the point of maximum dynamic pressure from the atmosphere experienced by an ascending spacecraft.
“We are humbled and honored to represent “harmony” and the Barbershop Harmony Society at NASA’s launch of the Harmony node,” says Max Q member, Tony DeRosa.
Putting a song in the heart of every person on Earth just might be the key to harmony in international affairs. “Keep the Whole World Singing” – the motto of the Barbershop Harmony Society – just might be the key to peace in our time. This musical art form is preserved through the Society’s mission of enriching lives through singing and through its dedication towards preserving music in our schools and communities.
“We are honored to have the world champion barbershop quartet Max Q perform at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for thousands of guests from around the world in honor of the Harmony module” said Tom Olson, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Director of Marketing.
Harmony is the next piece to be added to the International Space Station. The Harmony node was named by U.S. school students in a competition that included 2200 students ranging from kindergarten to high school from 32 States.
“This module will allow international partner pieces of the station to connect together, so it is really wonderful that kids recognize that harmony is necessary for space cooperation,” says Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.
October 13, 2007
The Four Bettys Crowned Queens of Harmony
Congratulation to Joan Boutilier (tenor), Lynda Mears Keever (lead), Heather Mears-Keever (baritone), Corinne Albrecht (bass) of the Four Bettys who were tonight crowned the new Sweet Adelines champion quartet. Hailing from Chicago they came in second at competition last year and are a real fun quartet to watch. Coming in 2nd this year was Jackpot, 3rd Razzcals, 4th Moxie Ladies and Capri was 5th.
Esoterics choral group will perform Islamic texts
Seattle News-Tribune (WA):
They’ve sung in Latin, Finnish, Hungarian and ancient Persian. They’ve sung secular texts, Christian ones, Buddhist, Islamic, even Zoroastrian. They’ve sung in all keys and none, music written yesterday and music from before written notation. For 15 years the music of the Esoterics, a Seattle-based a cappella choir, has seen no limits.
Yet in the next program, which opens Saturday at Tacoma’s Trinity Lutheran Church before several Seattle concerts, the choir’s inclusiveness takes an interesting turn. Four pieces inspired by Islamic texts make up the RU’IA program: one in Arabic, one in French, one in Tatar and one Arabic/English.
Since elucidation of Islamic holy texts is one of the choir’s aims with RU’IA, they’ll mount supertitles for the first time, despite their polylingual history. And for their downtown Seattle concert on Oct. 20, they’ll break their tradition of singing in acoustically gorgeous churches and perform in the Olympic Sculpture Park Pavilion – an expensive move made, they say, out of sensitivity to the spiritual subject matter.
RU’IA itself doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground. The central piece in the program is a slightly revised repeat of “Twelve Qur’anic Visions” by founding director Eric Banks, which the choir premiered in 2005. Set to some 148 verses from the Quran, Banks’ piece creates what he calls a “choral dreamscape” set, in his usual complex style, for 12-part double chorus and six soloists. Using traditional Quranic chants as the melodies, the piece selects those verses from the Quran that Banks wanted Westerners to know.
“After 9/11, I felt that a lot of people were taking out of the Quran lots of things that weren’t actually there,” says the director. Not Muslim himself, he had nevertheless studied Arabic at the University of Washington and traveled to many Muslim countries. “I wanted to use music as a vehicle to expose the text, to tell people what’s really there.”
The three other pieces in RU’IA include a merging of the Muslim call to prayer with African street sounds by Vancouver composer Hussein Janmohamed, one by Seattle’s Bern Herbolsheimer set to a story about angels by Turkestan’s national poet Gabdulla Tukai, and the Islam-inspired “Priere” by Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw.
Says Banks, “The whole point of the concert is to initiate people in the West to one of the most prevalent religions in the world.”
Yet as well as connecting Westerners with Islam, the Esoterics also wanted to connect to the Muslim community in Seattle. The choir usually performs in churches – Trinity Lutheran near Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, and Holy Rosary in West Seattle, for instance – where the acoustics are custom-made for unaccompanied voices and the audience size is intimate. Yet after performing Banks’ piece in 2005, the irony of singing Islamic texts in a Christian church “wasn’t lost on the group,” choir member Bayta Maring points out.
The choir’s board felt strongly enough about the sensitivity of the issue, not to mention the possibilities of reaching a wider audience, that they decided to move the downtown Seattle concert out of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The location costs the choir almost their entire annual venue budget.
“The location change presents an opportunity for the Esoterics to connect with members of the Muslim community in Seattle who would not feel comfortable hearing sacred Muslim texts in a Christian setting,” says Maring. It’s also a chance to collaborate with Seattle organization Hate Free Zone, which aims at empowering immigrant communities and working for social justice: The entire RU’IA series has been made a benefit for the organization.
The rest of the series will be performed, as usual, at various churches around Seattle and Tacoma. Part of this, Banks says, is logistics: Church acoustics and sizes work, and the price is affordable. Yet he also sees a connection between the faiths.
“Many of these verses are very converse with Christian thought – they might be found in the Bible,” he says.
VOENA takes Fetterly stage this evening
Vallejo Times-Herald (CA):
When William Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage," an addendum may have been, "and sometimes, that stage isn't big enough."
Not that it matters to VOENA, the children's a cappella choir. With 100-plus performers, director Annabelle Marie knew she would have to filter a few members out for a comfortable concert tonight at the Fetterly Playhouse for the Arts in Vallejo. "We wanted to fit in the whole group, but we have over 100 kids," Marie said. "Because of the size of the stage, we'll only be able to accommodate 65 or 70."
That's still a significant sound in the intimate venue buried in the middle of Vallejo Plaza. The difficult part, said Marie, is notifying the less-experienced vocalists and their parents that perhaps it's best they sit this one out and witness the concert from the audience. "It's tough," Marie said. "You have kids and parents e-mailing and calling, 'What can we do to be part of this?' "
It was earlier this week when Marie had her pride and joy rehearsing at St. Dominic's Church in Benicia, an acoustically spine-tingling facility. They waltzed through several run-throughs of "Our World," which they will do with Terry Bradford in Rohnert Park on Oct. 20 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center.
"Working with VOENA is easy," praised Bradford. "They are extremely professional and very talented. I call them the most expressive children's choir in the world. I love VOENA."
Up first, however, is today's date at the Fetterly. Being "the show" is different than doing back-up for Bradford. "When we do a concert by ourselves, I'm in charge," Marie said laughing. "And I do it with all my creative juices and do the arranging and composition."
With 35 cultures and a huge group of young vocalists, "it's not just a bunch of kids standing there singing," Marie said. "There's always been theatrical elements and a unique style of physical singing." And if a child believes he or she is above the team concept, Marie manages to do an ego check. Though, mostly, it's about education, she said. "They have to know the 'Annabelle way' is not their way," she said. "From a child's perspective, they think that if they know 50 percent of the words, that means they know it."
Marie wants singing to be as second nature as eating. "And I want them to know they can trust me," she said. "I'll tell them like it is." It's a discipline the children take into their school and, eventually work and life, Marie said. "They know what it means to be ready for something now," she said.
VOENA's participants range from 5 to 18. Most are from Benicia, though the group has members in Vallejo, Napa and throughout Solano County. Though, with so many members, some can't perform in every concert, "most of the families are very supportive," Marie said. Though working with kids could get frustrating, Marie said she keeps her cool.
"I don't swear," she said grinning. "I'm a children's choir director. I have integrity."
October 12, 2007
The Blenders win again down under
The Blenders are the current and eight times national chorus champions, the current and twice Pan Pacific Chorus Champions and have represented Australia at international chorus competitions
The ‘Sydney Sings’ National Convention was a joyous celebration of the love of music, friendship, competition and fun. Organised by the Australian Association of Men Barbershop Singers, thirteen Choruses and 37 Quartets from all over Australia participated in the breathtaking competition at the Convention Centre in Darling Harbour, Sydney, from the 27th to 30th Sept. 2007.
The Blenders, the Gold Coast’s outstanding chorus of about eighty male singers, participated in the contest. They sing a cappella, four-part harmony in the barbershop style. The Blenders are the current and eight times national chorus champions, the current and twice Pan Pacific Chorus Champions and have represented Australia at the international chorus competition held in Anaheim, California (1999) and Denver (2007). Led by a young team of talented directors, Andrew Howson and Aaron Griffin, the Blenders were going for gold again in Sydney.
The competition result was uncertain until the last minute. The Blenders scored 910 points, edging out second place winners “Vocal Evolution” (Perth / 885 points) with Hills Harmony (Sydney) taking third place.
The great success was heightened by more medals won by The Blenders Quartets. “Fast Forward”, one of the youth quartets, took first place in the Quartet Open. They struck for gold again in the Quartet Youth and the Chorus category. “Impulse”, an other youth quartet won a bronze medal.
The Blenders other participating Quartets, Metafour, Escapade, Spike, and Chord on Bleu all scored excellent top ranking results.
The highlight of the event was the final “Harmony Spectacular Concert” on Saturday evening in the sold-out Convention Centre. It featured the top- ranking choruses and quartets of Australia, allowing the The Blenders to shine as they demonstrated their amazing skills as an entertainment chorus. The show program featured four songs - The Last Dance/Sway (medley), All The Way, Nice Work If You Can Get It and Obla Di, Obla Da. The Quartets were in top form as well and won the hearts of the audience.
The Blenders are a non-profit organisation providing entertainment for the pleasure of the community. They are funded mainly from member subscriptions. They are also available for hire on a professional basis to perform at corporate events, lunches, dinner shows, seminars, weddings and other occasions. This funding is all directed back to the chorus so that they can continue to offer the community the delight of this unique style of entertainment.
California Governer signs bill protecting vocal groups
SACRAMENTO, CA – Today the Governor signed legislation aimed at curbing the deceptive and misleading practices of phony live musical performers. Beginning January 1, 2008, it will be unlawful for any person in California to advertise or conduct a live musical performance through the use of “false, deceptive, or misleading affiliation, connection, or association” between a live performance group and the actual recording group.
“I’m extremely pleased with the Governor’s decision to sign this bill,” said Portantino. “Not only will the new law go a long way to protect musical legends, but consumers of live music can rest assured they are getting what they paid for. The only people who loose are the imposter musical performers who use the likeness of these musical greats to deceive the public and line their pockets.”
Shady promoters have used the music and originality of mostly 1950s African-American musical legends without proper authorization for several decades. These musical legends such as the Platters, the Drifters, and the Coasters, some of whom are available for performances, don’t work because imposter groups undercut their salaries and assumed their fame. Meanwhile, consumers are being ripped off by paying for imposter group concerns when they believe they are seeing the real thing.
“We thank Assembly Member Portantino, the California legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger for acting to stop this form of consumer fraud,” said Jon “Bowzer” Bauman formally of the 70’s group “Sha Na Na” and Chair of the Truth in Music Committee at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. “Now California audiences will know that they're getting what they paid for when they go to see a show, and the musical pioneers of the Doo-Wop era, as well as all musical groups from now on, can rest assured that their legacy is safe from this insidious kind of identity theft.
“I am delighted that the California Legislature together with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the all important Truth in Music Bill into Law today,” said Herb Reed, founding member of the legendary group the Platters. “It is especially important for me that this bill has been passed in the state where it all began for the Platters and a place that I called home for a large portion of my professional life.”
Under the legislation proposed under AB 702, individuals would be prohibited from performing live musical performances under the name of a recorded group unless the performers hold a trademark, at least one member of performing members was a member of the original group, the event is advertised as a “tribute” performance or the performing group has prior authorization.
California joins Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Michigan among the growing number of states that have enacted similar protections.
Vocals in motion
The Herald (CA):
The Manhattan Transfer will never go out of style. Perhaps because there isn't any one style attached to the four-member vocal ensemble, except perhaps a contemporary jazz leaning, which is essentially pop music with jazz sensibilities.In the group's 35-year history, they've covered the gamut of genres, with attention to trends and nostalgic cycles.
And they have kept their fans interested by offering great musicianship, variety in arrangements and energetic performances of their career highlights, such as "Birdland," "Boy From New York City," "Java Jive," "Operator," and the list goes on and on for the 10-time Grammy Award-winning group.
"What I think is unique about Manhattan Transfer, which is different from all the other vocal groups, is that we are eclectic," said Los Angeles resident Alan Paul, a member of the group since its second inception in 1972. "We do lots of different styles. The Four Freshmen had their own approach, and Lambert Hendricks and Ross were known for their vocalese. We do doo-wop, we do jazz and vocalese, we do pop songs.
"We've been very fortunate in our career because Ahmet Ertegun signed us to Atlantic Records. After two and half years of schlepping around New York, gigging and trying to get a record deal and not being able to because no one would touch us, Ahmet was the one that saw it and signed us and trusted us, and gave us a lot of freedom to do our thing and just jump around."
Despite the group's shifting tastes in music, the members have been successful in keeping their act together with the same lineup for the last 28 years."It's been a great career and a real blessing," Paul said. "It's enabled us to want to continue. I think that over time, we learned a lot and grew up together. It's really like a family."
Prior to its 1972 inception as a four-part harmony retro swing act, founding member Tim Hauser participated in what has been described as a band similar to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.Formed in 1969, it didn't last very long, and Hauser, who had cut his teeth in doo-wop groups the Criterions and the Viscounts in his high school days, would later begin his search for new harmonizing partners.
Hauser met the first of his new ensemble in 1972 while working as a New York cabbie to supplement his income as a marketing executive.While riding in his cab, Laurel Massé discovered she knew of his only album with the original Manhattan Transfer, "Jukin'," and they connected. Several weeks later, Hauser met Janis Siegel at a party. Although she was then in a folk group called Laurel Canyon, Hauser convinced her and Massé to be part of his nascent group.
Paul, meanwhile, was appearing in the original Broadway production of "Grease." The bass player for the show was a songwriter trying to get a record deal. "He put together the guys from the "Grease" band and did a gig featuring his songs at this club," Paul said. "Janis and Laurel and this other girl were singing backup. I came down to listen. It was the first time I heard them sing and they blew me away. When I heard Janis sing, I could not believe the voice I heard out of this 19-year-old girl. She was like Aretha Franklin, and I went 'Wow, that's amazing.'
"Two weeks after that, Laurel approached me. 'Hey we're putting this group together with Janis and this other guy. Roy said you might be interested.' I really wasn't interested in being in a group. It was the last thing on my mind that I wanted to do in my career. But their voices were so powerful, I was interested to at least talk." Needless to say, he joined. Massé left the group in 1978 after a serious auto accident. Auditions were held to replace her, and Cheryl Bentyne, a singer/actress from Mt. Vernon, Wash., got the job.
While the early albums were often confusing for their breadth of stylistic daring, the group later would limit themselves to a particular concept for each release. The group's first radio hits were in Europe, and in America, they were first recognized for the pop song "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" from the 1980 release "Extensions," which also contained the band's first Grammy-winning song "Birdland," a vocal remake of the great Weather Report song.
Manhattan Transfer's fortunes have remained fairly constant over the years, with live performance always being their strongest asset.
They've worked with stellar jazz musicians, and outside writers and producers, and each have solo careers as well, but they all have made significant contributions to the band's material, either in original songwriting or vocal arrangements. For their appearance next Thursday at Carmel's Sunset Theatre, Paul said they will present a program that represents a retrospective of their 35 years together and the 28 recordings they've put out.
October 11, 2007
“Err, shhh, haa” – testing the human instrument
Baltic Times (Latvia):
A 28-year-old student from the Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy is thrilled to be one of the youngest composers to lead a world-famous vocal ensemble at the Gaida 2007 festival. “The ensemble has a lot of practice with local techniques, and how to make noises like ‘ERR’ ‘SHHH’ and ‘HAAA,’” composer Egidija Medeksaite told The Baltic Times. “You can’t even imagine how it can be composed because it is so unique.”
Medeksaite is among the many performers and composers who will explore the most intimate musical instrument - the human voice - at Gaida 2007, held in Vilnius from Oct. 19-30, and Nov. 27.
The Lithuanian word “gaida” translates to “music note.” This year’s festival introduces visitors to “vox nova,” or “new voice” music in different combinations of symphony, chamber music, to voice theater and experimental. Famous names in the international scene and local singers and composers will showcase their talents at the National Philharmonic Hall, Congress Hall, Contemporary Arts Center, the Domino Theater and St. Catherine’s Church.
Gaida’s Managing Director Remigijus Merk-elys told The Baltic Times that as one of the leading contemporary music festival in the Baltics it is “one of the key catalysts of the new Lithuanian works and new music scene in general, also presenter of the time-tested legends of contemporary music.”
“Gaida sets the criteria of contemporary music festivals in many aspects - as a principal collaborator with the similar organizations on the international new music scene, as instigator of large-scale projects traveling through all the three capitals in the Baltics, as the festival which sets the criteria for performance excellence and production quality,” said Merkelys.
Medeksaite’s piece of work is titled “Sophismata”, and she uses three singers - soprano, tenor and bass. Ricardas Kabelis’ piece “Farce” features all six ensemble members. One of the challenges she finds, however, is how to compose an a cappella with three singers. “Less is definitively harder because when you have 20 people or more you can make changes in the quality of sound and sound mass,” she said.
October 10, 2007
Choir gives unusual work its due dignity
Denver Post (CO):
The Denver-Boulder metropolitan area is fortunate to be home to several strong a cappella chamber choirs. Concerts by such vocal ensembles offer musical intimacy, vocal purity and often an adventuresome spirit not always associated with larger, better-known organizations.
All those qualities were present Sunday evening at St. Elizabeth's Church, when one of Denver's most respected such groups, St. Martin's Chamber Choir, presented the second of two performances of its season-opening program.
The nimble, 21-voice group marked the 300th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude. Though not exactly a household name, the composer was influential in the middle-baroque era, and his works are still frequently heard at organ recitals and choral concerts.
But because he wrote almost nothing for a cappella choir, he would seem an odd focus for St. Martin's, but that did not faze the group's talented, always imaginative artistic director and conductor Timothy Krueger. "He stands in the middle of an era - the baroque - that began and ended with great flowerings of a capella music, and his debt to the earlier composers and the influence that he, in turn, exerted over the later ones is unquestionable," Krueger wrote.
This tack gave the conductor an excuse for a fascinating exploration of German-baroque treasures, including the ambitious program's virtually unknown centerpiece - Christoph Demantius' "Passion nach dem Evangelisten Johannes (Passion of St. John)."
This 30-minute antiphonal work, a kind of "motet Passion," is unusual on a number of fronts, including the composer's use of a trio of alto and two sopranos for the words of Pilate and a quartet of two tenors, bass and alto for the utterances of Jesus. It is a powerful work, especially considering its compact scale. Krueger and the choir gave full voice to the work's inner drama and imbued it with appropriate dignity and depth.
Other highlights included the Magnificat No. 13 by Johann Pachelbel, who is too often only recognized for an over- played canon, and a spirited version of "Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt," a motet by an unknown arranger. The choir was in top form all evening, performing with superb intonation and impeccable blend and capturing the inner pulse and emotional urgency of these stirring works.
Kennedy Center announces A Cappella series
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced that it will feature a cappella artists representing communities and vocal traditions from around the world—from gospel to sacred chants to barber shop quartets to labor music, from Nova Scotia to Norway to Mexico to South Africa—for ten days, May 28, 2008 through June 6, 2008.
A Cappella: Singing Solo kicks off on the Millennium Stage with a program entitled “Singing in Halls of Stone,” featuring The Men of the Deeps—a choir of working and retired coal miners from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia—and The Washington National Cathedral Choirs.
On June 1 in the Concert Hall, ten-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist and composer Bobby McFerrin leads an all-star concert featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva España, and Chanticleer. The Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who were featured on Paul Simon’s album Graceland, represents the Zulu culture of South Africa with their vocal style of Iscathamiya developed by South African miners. San Francisco-based Chanticleer has developed a reputation for its vivid interpretations of Renaissance, jazz, gospel, and contemporary music. The Grammy Award-winning female vocal ensemble Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares was created fifty years ago to enrich the heritage of the Bulgarian solo folk song with harmonies and arrangements that highlighted its beautiful timbres and irregular rhythms. Mexico’s La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva España, under the direction of Aurelio Tello, offers both sacred and secular choral music from the colonial era of the 17th and 18th centuries, from Spanish and Portuguese composers as well as African-influenced works.
The Norwegian female group Trio Mediaeval and the male group Cantus, from St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota, explore sacred and secular sounds in the Terrace Theater on May 30, 2008. The British a cappella ensemble I Fagiolini, winner of the 2006 Royal Philharmonic Society Award, bring their imaginative approach to Renaissance and contemporary music to the Terrace Theater on May 31, 2008.
The Center's free Millennium Stage will host a number of dynamic artists featuring varied vocal styles from around the world during the ten-day celebration, including: Tidewater, Virginia’s Paschall Brothers and Brooklyn-based Persuasions in a gospel and pop quartet program; the Jitro Czech Children’s Chorus; Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver with the amazing harmonies of bluegrass gospel; barber shop quartets; and more. On June 1, 2008, the Millennium Stage will also host a Collegiate A Cappella Summit, a day-long event highlighting the rich tradition of singing from historically black colleges and universities to the Ivy League.
A Cappella: Singing Solo closes on June 6, 2008 with the Millennium Stage Eleventh Anniversary celebration featuring the Grammy Award-winning Manhattan Transfer, who combine traditional and progressive jazz, Latin, world and pop music.
October 8, 2007
Swingle Singers Seek Tenor/High Baritone
International a cappella group the Swingle Singers are looking for a versatile low Tenor/high Baritone to start in May 2008.
They are looking for a singer with solid tuning and rhythm with the ability to perform to an exceptionally high standard both as part of and ensemble and as a soloist. The ideal candidate will be comfortable in classical, jazz and pop styles, with the ability to take any vibrato off the voice and sing softly throughout the vocal range (low G to high A although notes outside this would be useful). Basic vocal percussion and improvisation experience would be useful, but neither is essential. Good reading skills would also be an asset.
This is a full time position. Each singer is unique and indispensable and the group does not use deputies/subs. All the repertoire is performed from memory and with microphones.
The closing date for applications is Monday 22nd October, and the first round of auditions will be held in late October and early November. Applications should include CV, photo and demo tracks if available and all enquiries should be made by email to Tom Bullard at email@example.com.
October 6, 2007
Penn Masala: Join them in a fusion fest
Orlando Sentinel (FL):
Blending Bollywood and barbershop might seem like fusion disaster, but Penn Masala, which grew out of a college dorm, has achieved near rock-star status among young Indians with their a cappella version of popular Hindi film songs. On Saturday, the group comes to Orlando for a fundraiser to benefit Ekal Vidyalaya, a foundation that helps educate children in rural India.
"Indian kids growing up here can really relate to their music," says Shobana Daniell, a local organizer.
Penn Masala is also known for its English covers -- merging U2's With or Without You with Mere Mehboob Mere Sanam (My Love My Beloved) from the 1998 movie Duplicate. Or Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes with Na Tum Jano Na Hum (Neither You nor I Know) from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai (Say You Love Me), a 2000 film.
The 15 members are all undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. They often wear traditional clothes onstage and harmonize like a barbershop quartet. While most of their songs are in Hindi or English, they also sing in Arabic and Tamil. "We are like an extended family," says Bharat Moudgil of Gainesville.
Membership is revolving, with new singers added when others graduate. Most are from the United States, places such as Madison, Wis., and Tulsa, Okla.
"The beauty of our group is that we logically combine the Hindi music we grew up on and the American a cappella style," says manager Ricky Sharma, a junior studying business and political science.
Penn Masala started in a dorm room in 1996 with four friends. Their breakout performance came in 1998 at Bhangra Blowout, a showcase of Indian fusion music. The group toured to other college campuses and Indian events in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Then, Toronto and London.
Penn Masala was featured on the soundtrack for the 2001 movie American Desi, about a New Jersey college student and his traditional Indian parents -- another ethnic subculture hit.
In 2002, the group performed at the Star Screen Awards in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Earlier this year, Penn Masala released its fifth album, Pehchaan, Hindi for identity. In September, Penn Masala performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for a show marking the 60th anniversary of India's independence from Britain.
Russian singers plumb the depths of the human vocal range
Minnesota Public Radio:
Russia's top choir, the State Symphony Capella, concludes its first tour of this country in Minneapolis with a performance with one of this country's top choral groups, the National Lutheran Choir. All of the sections - sopranos, altos, tenors and basses - will have their moment in the sun. But a signature sound of Russian choral music comes from the bass section as they plumb the depths of the human vocal range.
David Cherwien has a theory he's borrowed about why there is a centuries old human fascination with deep vocal sounds. "One of my mentors, Alice Parker, talks about this as being a characteristic that surprisingly comes out of oppressed cultures," he says. Alice Parker is an American composer and conductor.
Cherwien is music director and conductor of the Minneapolis-based National Lutheran Choir. There's no scholarly support for his theory. But there's some circumstantial evidence.
Before Tuva's independence, China, then Russia, then the Soviet Union took advantage of their remote neighbor. Tuvan throat singing by the group Huun Huur Tu features lots of low notes but who knows? Maybe the tradition is born as much from the isolation of herding reindeer as from oppression.
The theory gets a bit more support closer to home with the Fairfield Four and bass Isaac Freeman. It's much easier to imagine a link between their music which features Freeman's remarkable range and the oppression of slavery.
How does the theory of oppressed cultures' fascination with the mournful sound of low voices express itself in Russian music? For centuries Russians suffered under one lethal batch of leaders after another. Many found refuge in the church. On Sunday in Minneapolis the State Symphony Capella will sing liberal doses of Sergei Rachmaninoff's music. He composed plenty of choral music where he often sent the low voices into the vocal root cellar.
Russian sacred choral music conjures an image of people gathering to try find some comfort and hope in their Orthodox houses of worship, according to David Cherwien."I think we get images of these wonderful open mysterious spaces, probably dark, although that may be a stereotype with incense and icons, and the music represents that sense of mystery."
Russian church music for a long time seldom reached ears outside the country. Part of the reason was a tiff in 1054 between religious leaders in Rome and Constantinople over what language to use in the church helped bottle up and isolate the eastern music tradition from the west, Cherwien says.
One reason it has taken so long for Russia's premier chorus to come the United States can be traced to the former Soviet Union. Soviet arts bosses controlled the destiny of artistic groups, says Leonid Flyshacker, a New York producer who helped arrange the choirs' U.S. tour."They were in command to say who is touring where and why," he says.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated 16 years ago, the USSR Chamber Choir became the State Symphony Capella and traveled the world.
In Minneapolis they'll share the stage with the National Lutheran Choir. The two choirs will perform separately, and then they'll stand together, all 120 voices, to sing a couple of tunes including a famous one, Pavel Chesnokov's song praising the Virgin Mary. The piece got a makeover and a new title in the West, "O Lord God," to make it palatable for Protestants. The combined choruses will sing the Chesnokov composition as written in Russian.
October 5, 2007
Choir performance falls short
San Antonio Express (TX):
Hard as it is to attain high standards, it's harder still to maintain them. From its debut two years ago, Scott MacPherson's professional San Antonio Chamber Choir set a very high standard indeed for ensemble precision, secure intonation and nimbleness.
Opening a new season Tuesday night, the troupe fell several rungs below its previous level, especially in the very difficult material that MacPherson favors.The ungenerous and somewhat harsh acoustic of Christ Episcopal Church may have contributed to the impression, but that couldn't be the whole story.
MacPherson set a daunting agenda for his 24 singers — maybe too daunting for the allotted rehearsal time. The program opened with J.S. Bach's "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" for double chorus, a tour de force of complex counterpoint. It was compromised by small but pervasive ensemble problems and by some wobbliness in the sopranos.
MacPherson brought his accustomed energy to the performance, but not enough care with balances. Rather than a tableau of interweaving lines, the result was too often a gray mush.
Christian Ridil's "Nachts," settings of three poems by the German anti-Nazi wartime writer Horst Lange, uses restless, ambiguous harmonies and protean rhythms to convey the texts' atmosphere of gathering danger. In previous outings, the troupe delivered comparably demanding material with seeming ease. This time, pitch and ensemble problems blurred the music.
The choir was on firmer ground in the luxurious harmonies and long lines of Johannes Brahms' meditative "Warum ist das Licht gegeben," to religious texts. MacPherson shaped the whole beautifully, giving it a fine sense of momentum. The choir sang cleanly, too, in three slight but attractive French songs by Paul Hindemith and in Franz Schöggl's amusing send-up of Franz Schubert's familiar song "The Trout," in the styles of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber and Wagner.
The troupe gave a spirited account of Manfred Länger's delicious "Act Up!" Spoken rather than sung, the piece sets fragments of frivolous gossip, newspaper reading and come-ons in carefully constructed counterpoint. For an encore, the choir gave an aptly serene performance of Schubert's "Du bist die Ruhe" in Norman Luboff's choral arrangement.
October 4, 2007
Deep-voiced men father more children
New Scientist (US):
In evolutionary terms, Barry White's rich, bass voice may hit all the right notes – a new study among modern-day hunter-gatherers shows that men with the deepest voices produce significantly more children than their more falsetto counterparts. The finding helps explain why men have evolved lower voices than women, say researchers.
Scientists have long known that women perceive men with deep voices as sexy, healthier, and more dominant. Previous studies have even shown that women show the strongest preference for low-pitched voices at the most fertile phase in their menstrual cycle.
This background research hinted that men with the deepest voices had the most luck with the ladies, giving them an evolutionary edge. However, the use of modern-day contraceptives makes it difficult to link voice range with fertility. So experts lacked hard evidence to back up the notion that men with bass voices had any real reproductive advantage over those talking in tenor tones.
Coren Apicella at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, and her colleagues found a way around this challenge by studying the Hadza, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer cultures in the world. The Hadza women generally dig for root plants and gather fruits, while men primarily hunt animals and collect honey. The Hadza, who live in Tanzania, have no modern birth control and practice serial monogamy.
Apicella recorded 49 Hadza men saying the Swahili word hujambo, which loosely translates as ‘hello’ in English, and calculated their voice pitch using computer analysis. She also recorded their age and the number of children they had fathered.
On average, the men had 4.8 children and a voice pitch of around 115 Hz. After controlling for possible confounding factors, such as age, researchers discovered that men with the lowest voices had the most children. For example, men who had an average voice pitch around 90 Hz had about two more children on average than those with a super-high voice around 160 Hz. "That's a huge difference" in terms of reproductive success, says David Puts, an anthropologist at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, US, who studies voice preferences.
Puts explains that men typically have deep voices as a result of high testosterone levels. High levels of this hormone cause the vocal cords to lengthen and thicken, and therefore vibrate at a lower frequency. "Testosterone is associated with all sorts of things, like high libido and physical competitive ability," Puts notes. He adds that there appears to be a connection between testosterone and sperm quality, which might explain why the Hadza men with low-pitched voices fathered the most children.
Another possible explanation is that women prefer men with deep voices because such men are perceived as holding higher social status, says Puts. Researchers speculate that evolution favoured men with deeper voices, and that this perhaps explains why men's voices are so much lower than that of women. For example, while Hadza men have an average voice pitch of 115 Hz, the women average around 210 Hz.
However, Apicella notes that some of the children listed by the Hadza men as being their own, might have in fact been fathered by other members of the group. This, she says, allows for an alternate explanation for her findings: "Maybe men with lower pitched voices feel more confident to say the children are theirs."
Well the great Bob's bass Richard Greene immediately comes to mind as he has fathered somewhat of a clan. Any other anecdotal evidence of basses having large families?