March 31, 2008
GoodBye to a Genius
Legendary vocal jazz singer and arranger Gene Puerling passed away this past week at his home in San Anselmo, California just days before his 79th birthday. The GRAMMY-winning performer sang and created almost all the arrangements for the ‘50’s vocal group The Hi-Lo’s and later for the incredibly talented Singers Unlimited - considered by many to be the finest vocal harmony group ever.
Gene was a neighbor of mine living just a few blocks from my home and he was kind enough over the years to be a judge at the Harmony Sweepstakes and to teach workshops at the A Cappella Summit. I have been communicating with Gene for over a decade and he occasionally visited my home – although the stairs became too much for him in recent years. Gene was not in the best of health in the later part of his life but he always stayed busy with family and was often commissioned for vocal arrangements.
The word genius is almost always used when describing Gene and his amazing body of work and I, for one, have always been in complete awe of his talent. I have often sat transfixed listening to some of his more complex arrangements and as a craftsman of the art of blending and harmonizing the human voice he has no equal.
Many of the other great a cappella performers I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years have almost to a person credited Gene for being a primary inspiration to them to pursue their art. It has also been a secret little test of mine to see if a singer really knew their stuff as to whether they knew of him or not. An arrangers’ arranger to be sure but his art was also readily accessible as his success as an arranger of national advertising jingles demonstrated.
He will of course be missed but he can leave us secure in the knowledge that his contribution to the art of vocal arranging will live on for ever. I am very confident that for years to come his music will be studied, rerecorded, enjoyed and will be an inspiration for new generations of vocal harmony singers. Thanks Gene - you really were the best!
March 28, 2008
Absence of artifice distinguishes a capella choir
Columbus Dispatch (OH):
The Renaissance came alive again tonight at the Pontifical College Josephinum as Early Music in Columbus presented Pomerium, a 14-voice a cappella choir founded in 1972 by conductor Alexander Blachly. Titled “Musica Vaticana, 1503-1534,” Pomerium's program featured a collection of 16th-century papal music, many parts of which were performed in the Sistine Chapel in the time of Michelangelo's service.
As should be expected, the selections were richly textured, dripping with reverence and nobility. Most pieces were scored with five- or six-part polyphony, which creates an interesting complexity without muddiness. Pomerium's singers worked well with the St. Turibus chapel's acoustics, even though they occasionally suffered ghostly interference from music in other parts of the building.
Pomerium's uniqueness lies in its singers' lack of artifice. Unlike many popular early-music performers, they do not exaggerate their articulation and dynamics to underscore stylistic effects. Instead, they take a straightforward approach that results in a sound both true to tradition and strikingly modern.
Their overall sense of ensemble improved throughout the evening, although the tenors and altos never completely lost their eagerness to bark out the cantus firmus lines in exposed places.
Their only real challenge seemed to be in Josquin Desprez's Virto salutiferi; the men seemed to work harder than they needed to, and the tempo seemed to waver on the verge of dragging. The group's best performances were with the works of composer Costanzo Festa, whose Inviolata, integra et casta in particular, while lengthy, held the audience's unwavering attention from beginning to end.
Unfortunately for most modern audiences, Renaissance music is not so much an acquired taste as a delicacy to be enjoyed in smaller amounts. Unless one is an early-music aficionado, an entire program from just four decades is just so many shades of beige, no matter how beautiful the presentation.
Fortunately, however, Columbus has a good number of enthusiastic early-music aficionados who were willing to brave another cold night to fill the chapel and enjoy the performance.
March 26, 2008
Who you singing at?
Here's a cool photo I came across recently of Robert DeNero and Danny DeVito singing doo wop with Long Island a cappella group (and NY Harmony Sweeps particiant) L5. I have heard before that DeNero likes doo wop and didn't he sing harmony with a group in a scene in one of his earlier films?
March 23, 2008
Perfect Tone, in a Key That’s Mostly Minor
New York Times:
Midway through Jonathan Coulton’s wedding reception in 2001, someone asked the band to stop playing. In a suddenly silent hall in Boston, Mr. Coulton turned to his bride, Catherine Connor, and in the company of some 100 friends and family, began to serenade her.
He sang a few songs, including Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which Mr. Coulton performed without any musical accompaniment, save for a handful of fellow Yale graduates harmonizing behind him on a refrain of “doo bee doo bee doo.”
“This was not planned,” said Mr. Coulton, 37, a musician who lives in Brooklyn, “though the singing was assumed.” As a senior at Yale, he had been a member of the Whiffenpoofs, the all-star singing group that performs a cappella and recruits its roster from other campus teams that also sing unaccompanied. “Get a couple of Whiffs together,” Mr. Coulton said, “and try to stop us.”
He does not often talk about his past as a member of a collegiate a cappella group. “There is a stigma associated with a cappella,” he said with a laugh, adding that he admits to this bit of his résumé only “when someone outs me.”
Collegiate a cappella is a tradition that goes back to the early days of the Whiffenpoofs, founded in 1909; it now includes more than 1,200 groups on campuses from Appalachian State to the University of Oregon, according to the Contemporary A Capella Society. It is a curious genre, one that makes sense under an ivy-strewn archway only to become inexplicable upon graduation.
For some, a cappella may be a gateway to a career in the performing arts (as it was for Anne Hathaway, John Legend and Art Garfunkel). It can also be a lingering embarrassment to those who cannot grasp how a dozen or so singers making drum noises with their mouths might look to an outsider.
“There’s something about a cappella that rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” said Mr. Coulton, who performed on world tours with the Whiffenpoofs and on an album called “Take a Whiff.”
“When you’re in it,” he said, “you do think you’re a rock star. But you have to ignore the majority of the population who don’t want you singing jazz standards at their dinner.”
For alumni of these singing groups, membership is a lifelong obligation. “It’s like being in a fraternity, but not,” said Peter Lerangis, 52, a children’s book author and an alumnus of the Krokodiloes, a Harvard a cappella group, who continues to edit the group’s alumni newsletter, Nunc est Cantandum (meaning “Now is the time to sing”). “It’s like being on a sports team, but not. The bond of music is just different.”
Other veterans aren’t as eager to admit to evenings spent in jacket and tie, singing Madonna covers without instruments. “A cappella — I thought it might catch up with me,” said James Van Der Beek, the “Dawson’s Creek” star and former member of 36 Madison Avenue, a singing group at Drew University.
“I couldn’t play an instrument well enough to be in a band, so I thought, O.K., this sounds like something I should look into,” Mr. Van Der Beek said. And yes, membership had its privileges. “A girl heard me sing ‘Englishman in New York’ and I got to, like, go to her dorm room to give her our CD.” But now, he seemed less enthusiastic about those exploits. “I can’t believe I’m talking about this,” he said.
Whenever a cappella is mentioned in pop culture (see the comedy “The Break-Up,” in which Vince Vaughn is beaten up by an a cappella group; the bio for Stephen Colbert’s broadcast persona, which claims that he performed a cappella in a Dartmouth group called the Sing Dynasty; or the recent dismissal from “American Idol” of Luke Menard, who also sang a cappella), it is almost always a shorthand for rampant geekiness. On the NBC sitcom “The Office,” the grating Andy Bernard, a character played by Ed Helms, often reminds co-workers that he once performed with a Cornell group called Here Comes Treble.
Mr. Helms said the show’s satire of a cappella was all in good fun, though he still bears the scars of his own brief encounter with the art form: in 1993, he said, he quit the Oberlin Obertones after one semester because of a personality clash with the group’s music director. “I decided smoking pot was more important than extracurricular activities,” he said.
Taken to an extreme, dislike and mistrust of a cappella has even led to violence: a 2007 fight outside a New Year’s Eve party in San Francisco — instigated, allegedly, by an impromptu performance of the national anthem by the Baker’s Dozen, a men’s a cappella group from Yale — sent several members to the hospital.
But many alumni eventually learn to embrace their musical identities. When Bruce Cohen, an Oscar-winning producer of “American Beauty,” graduated from Yale in 1983, he was certain he had made a clean break from the Baker’s Dozen and would never return for its shows, or jams. “In my day,” he said, “you kept in touch with your friends, but you wouldn’t be caught dead going back to the B.D. Jam. You went on with your life.”
In January 1992, Mr. Cohen received a call from a friend who told him their old group was performing in Pasadena, Calif. “This was shocking to us,” Mr. Cohen said. “That the B.D.’s could afford a plane trip in our day was unimaginable. We went to Florida — and we drove! From Connecticut! In vans!”
When the group returned to the Los Angeles area in 1993, Mr. Cohen invited it to perform at his annual Christmas party, as he has done every year since. He maintains a strict no-talking policy during the annual concert, and regularly wangles celebrities like Jim Carrey and Marisa Tomei into attending. “When they get here and they go into the bedroom and get a private concert from the B.D.’s, they’re loving it,” he said. “Hilary Swank fell in love with them.”
There are now increasing numbers of post-college outlets for enthusiasts who aren’t ready to stop snapping their fingers in unison with friends. Last August Deke Sharon, founder of the Contemporary A Cappella Society, created a league for recovering singers, with some 25 groups across the country. “Five thousand collegiate a cappella singers graduate every spring,” he said. “What are their options? Church choirs and karaoke.”
Sara Yood, 26, an alumna of the Washington University Amateurs, continues to perform with a women’s group called Treble. For Ms. Yood, who discovered the group four years ago while searching for “a cappella” on Craigslist, it is more a social outlet than a way to make money. “In college, a cappella was about competing and recording and rehearsing three nights a week,” she said. “But this is low key. We all have lives.”
The collegiate groups expect the occasional teasing that comes with their brand of entertainment. “There will always be people who say a cappella is stupid,” said Alexander Koutzoukis, 20, music director of the Tufts Beelzebubs. “We like to think what we do is different.”
He and his group had just performed a short set (including a medley of Kanye West’s “Stronger” and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter”) at the Chelsea offices of EMI at the invitation of a Beelzebubs alum, Marty Fernandi, who works in the company’s music resources department.
The EMI staff had, of course, experienced its share of live music. But the Bubs, as they call themselves, still managed to impress with their manic energy. “After the show, the C.O.O. told us this was one of the best performances he’d seen in that setting,” Mr. Koutzoukis said proudly. “And they’re used to seeing the original artists.”
Indeed, some performers who make peace with their pasts in a cappella go on to become respected artists in their own right. On a recent Friday night, two hours before a show at the Beacon Theater, Sara Bareilles, the writer and performer of the pop hit “Love Song,” sat in her cluttered tour bus. As Ms. Bareilles, 28, took a swig from a bottle of Corona, her guitarist, Javier Dunn, recalled the first time he saw her perform. It was years ago, he said, at a U.C.L.A. student talent show called Spring Sing, where she appeared with a campus group called Awaken A Cappella.
“Sara sang that George Michael song ‘Freedom,’ ” Mr. Dunn said, not quite concealing a smile. “The girls all wore leather, like a biker chick thing.” A Cappella had played a crucial role in her coed life. “It’s so goofy,” she said, “but I felt like I’d found my family at school.”
Mr. Dunn continued his inquest. “When I think of a cappella I picture drama students and nerds,” he said. Ms. Bareilles shook her head. “You love action figures!” she said to Mr. Dunn. “Why can’t you let us sing and be happy?”
March 21, 2008
Sweet Honey's Aisha Kahlil
In 1981, Aisha Kahlil was working at a vegetarian restaurant in Washington, D.C., when a member of the a cappella vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock came in to eat.
"I had come to Washington preparing for a tour in Europe and Africa that fell through," Kahlil said in a phone conversation. "So I taught dance and theater and got a job in a restaurant. One of the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock came in and asked if I was interested in auditioning for the group."
Now, 27 years later, Kahlil is still singing with Sweet Honey in the Rock -- a vocal ensemble with roots in the 1960's Civil Rights Movement. Kahlil, an upstate New York native, always loved singing and performing.
"I've been singing since I was young. I sang in my high school choir," Kahlil said.
She is an experienced jazz vocalist and African dance and song artist. In 1994, Kahlil was named best soloist in a cappella music by CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society of Music) for her performance of "See See Rider" and "Fulani Chant," a song without words. She has composed some of the group's most experimental work including "Fulani Chant" and "Wodaabe Nights" which was a part of the score for the 1998 PBS film series "Africans in America." She also made an appearance in the 1998 movie "Beloved" with Oprah Winfrey.
"It was an interesting experience. It was great working with Oprah," she said.
Kahlil is considered Sweet Honey in the Rock's strongest blues singer. The group's music draws its inspiration from many sources including blues, spirituals, traditional gospel hymns, rap, reggae, African chants, Hip Hop, and jazz. All of the group's songs are sung a cappella, meaning there is no instrumental music to accompany them. They are one of only a few female groups that sing entirely a cappella. A feat that can be tough for singers.
"You have to be right on pitch at all times and your timing has to be perfect," Kahlil said. "Also, you have to sing for two hours straight without a break. It can be difficult."
March 15, 2008
Plumbing the Depths of Harmony
Longmont Daily Times- (CO):
The members of the a cappella group Plumbers of Rome say they “sing at you.” But their in-your-face attitude is all about fun. “I’m a man who loves chicken,” they sing in “Love Song of a Carnivore.” “Chicken is all right by me/I’m gonna to get myself a chicken/Gonna eat it with salt and ketchup and peas.” It gets looney from there, with lyrics about stapling cow meat to their chests and wearing ostrich on their heads “like a beret.”
It’s all done in impeccable harmonies, and their vocal talents helped land them in the 19th annual Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes, an a cappella festival that takes place Saturday night in Denver. The event is open to the public.
The three-member Plumbers are led by 30-year-old Longmont resident Tim Jones and were founded in 2005. The two other current members are Denver resident Michael Hanna and Boulder resident Peter Driscoll. The group, in various incarnations, has competed in three past Sweepstakes.
Produced by the Colorado Vocal Jazz Society, the Sweepstakes is a regional competition whose winner goes on to a national competition May 3 in San Francisco. “It’s a really big deal to win a regional,” Jones said. “The national competition is really kind of the Super Bowl of a cappella singing.”
Another group Jones leads, Vocality, was the runner-up in last year’s Sweepstakes. Vocality had been slated to compete this year, but a last-minute personnel issue prompted the Plumbers to take their place.
The Plumbers of Rome will be among seven groups in the competition. The field includes ensembles from metro Denver, Fort Collins, and Lubbock, Texas. “Our purpose is to ‘deconstruct’ pop music,” Jones wrote about the Plumbers in an e-mail. “(We) take hits of today and yesterday and strip the music down to its most bare elements.”
Character creation is also part of the Plumbers act. The three members wear workman’s coveralls and purport to be actual plumbers from ancient Rome. Jones says the group has a “long history.”
March 14, 2008
Amy “Bob” Engelhardt is a little perplexed around tax time since she has to note her occupation. “The truth is that I make odd noises for a living,” Engelhardt said while calling from Boston. “It's unusual but true.” The engaging singer-songwriter is part of the Bobs, an eccentric a capella act. “We're serious musicians who don't play instruments,” Engelhardt said. “Some people don't know what to make of us.”
Indeed. A cappella is usually misinterpreted as doo wop, which fails to cover the Bobs sound. “I don't think there is a genre you can fit us in,” Engelhardt said. “We're not doo wop. We sing. We make all of the instrument sounds. It's unusual.”
The Bobs have garnered a strong cult fan base courtesy of its witty original compositions, which have been inspired by such unusual subjects as sleepy bus drivers and spontaneous human combustion. The group, which will perform Thursday at Patriots Theatre at the War Memorial in Trenton, also delivers audacious covers of such classics as Cream's “White Room” and the Trashmen's “Surfin' Bird.” The vocal virtuosos completely transform familiar songs and are entertaining live. “It's just a good time when we get out on the road,” Engelhardt said. “I have the most fun with these guys.”
Engelhardt will share the stage with Bobs veterans Matthew “Bob” Stull and Richard “Bob” Greene. Dan “Bob” Schumacher joined the group in 2007. “It's been good getting some new blood in the group,” Englehardt said. “We enjoyed the jolt.”
Schumacher wrote some of the songs for the latest Bob release, “Get Your Monkey Off My Dog.” All of the new tracks are playful and many are campy. “I Dreamt That David Mamet,” “Disappointment Pants” and “The Tight Pants Tango” are some of the funniest tracks on the disc. Engelhardt wrote each of those tunes. “I had a lot of creative energy going into this album,” Engelhardt said. “I just made the best of that.”
The Bobs celebrated their 25-year anniversary in 2006. “We're still reeling from that two years later,” Engelhardt said. “To be around for this long is amazing. I hope we can keep it going for many years. I don't see why we won't be around for awhile. There is so much to have fun with. I've been with these guys over a decade and I still feel the same way I did when I started. That's reason enough to continue.”
March 12, 2008
A Passion to rouse and soothe the spirit
Boston Globe (MA):
There can have been few in Emmanuel Church on Saturday who did not think of Craig Smith, the church's late director of music, when the St. John Passion came to the words: "Rest well, and bring me also to peace!" Handkerchiefs were out, and one felt longing for a communal embrace that would have been assuaged if we had been allowed to sing, as Bach's churchgoers were, the closing chorale. This is a period practice that should be reinstituted.
The performance of this first and shorter of J.S. Bach's two great Passion settings, the first by Emmanuel Music in a decade, was natural, elegiac, and totally involving. Michael Beattie, Emmanuel's associate conductor who stepped in for Smith (who died in November), beat time loosely and flexibly, inviting the singers to contribute in their own way. With an experienced and music-loving ensemble, this can have magical results, and so it did. Each movement settled into what seemed just the right tempo, and the solos, sung by choral members, emerged as intense, individual outbursts of music-drama.
One can't mention all of them, but especially memorable were tenor Jason McStoots's Mozartian grace in "Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter," soprano Kristen Watson's springwater "Ich folge dir gleichfalls," tenor Frank Kelley's two anxious-manic-heroic arias, bass Sumner Thompson's angry cries as Pilate, Mark McSweeney's verbally nuanced "Betrachte, meine Seel," and evangelist Charles Blandy's single, long, woeful cry expressing Simon Peter's weeping, sharp as a wrist-slash. What a miraculous emotional gamut is run in this masterpiece. Joy dances alongside the most searing sorrow - sometimes inside it, as in the alto solo "Von den Stricken."
The 16-voice chorus, consistently engaged, made a slightly raw sound in the hurried crowd numbers (which is just right) and blended into beautiful four-part harmony for the two madrigal choruses and the chorales. Three tenors did not seem quite enough - the balance lacked high male brightness. And perhaps more could have been made of the key words "Verspeit" ("Spat upon") and "Kreuzige!" ("Crucify!") in Part Two.
Much depends on the foreground figures. The Evangelist was sung with power and soft touches by Blandy. Paul Guttry's Christ was well sung, but hieratic and monochrome. A few hints of humanity would have made him and his fate even more moving.
March 10, 2008
Master Chorale deftly balances Bach's Mass
Los Angeles Times (CA):
With a performance of Bach's B-minor Mass, the ever-adventurous Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale strode bravely through the minefield of historically informed Baroque performance practice Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Things used to be so simple. A conductor would pick up a copy of the score, assemble his or her forces and have a go. But at least since the '70s, the style police have been dictating terms. Is the choir too large? Too small? Is the phrasing clipped and short (hurrah) or long and songful (boo). Is the texture light (terrific) or heavy (so yesterday)?
Gershon selected from the menu of approved options and introduced a few ideas of his own. If the results were less monumental than light-textured and dance-like, they were also intimate, well-balanced and varied.
Gershon used a chorus of about 40 singers, a number Bach probably could only envy but perhaps half or maybe a third of what used to be the standard in the pre-correct performance days.
He dispersed the singers in an untypical way: sopranos flanking the tenors and basses with a sprinkling of altos at both sides and across the front of the men. This arrangement allowed him to keep the lines of the frequently divided sopranos clear and also to ensure a fine blend of choral sound.
The conductor favored short phrasings, such as dividing the opening word, "Kyrie," into three distinct, almost hiccuping syllables. What kept the approach from becoming unsettling and monotonous was his adroit use of dynamics and buttery attacks, as well as his counterpoising such phrases with longer-flowing lines.
While the orchestra played with minimal vibrato, the quartet of vocal soloists seemed to be using the technique in varying degrees as an expressive device. Mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen, for instance, would start on a straight tone, then employ so much vibrato that one wondered if she were embellishing the line with a trill. But soprano Mary Wilson often matched her in this regard in their duets.
In the imposing "Quoniam," baritone Jesse Blumberg seemed more like the obbligato instrument to James Thatcher's horn than the other way around. But Blumberg sounded more powerful in his later solo. James Taylor was a honey-toned tenor. The most impressive sections were the heavenly "Sanctus," the "Gratias" and the latter's reprise as the final "Dona Nobis Pacem."
At least one listener would have appreciated more power and majesty, but with clarity of line, texture and text, this version provided compensatory rewards.
March 8, 2008
Tonic Sol-Fa mixes unusual potion of a cappella
The Twin Cities a cappella quartet Tonic Sol-Fa takes its name from a 19th century English method of teaching choral singing, but its upbeat repertoire is firmly rooted in the present and recent past. "We [sing] everything from country to pop to rock to jazz to gospel, and we kind of bounce back and forth," says the group's bass singer, Jared Dove. "We like to take a little bit from everything so that we don't get pegged as being too specific in what we do because, obviously, doing a cappella people do tend to stereotype anyway."
Dove has been with the 12-year-old group since 2000. While he hits Tonic's low notes, Greg Bannwarth and Shaun Johnson are its tenors, and Mark McGowan serves as the group's baritone. Dove says a lot of people think of barbershop quartets when they think of a cappella singing groups, an unfortunate stereotype that even the briefest listen to Tonic Sol-Fa will dispel. There's no "Down by the Old Mill Stream," "Sweet Adeline," "Shine on Harvest Moon," or even worse, anything resembling The Singing Senators — Larry Craig, John Ashcroft, Jim Jeffords and Trent Lott — warbling "God Bless America."
Instead, Tonic Sol-Fa feeds its audience a diet of pop-rock classics such as Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia," Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," along with high, lonesome bluegrass in "Man of Constant Sorrow" by the Stanley Brothers, the gospel standard "Go Tell It On the Mountain," Marty Robbins' gunfighter ballad "El Paso," and even a breathy, bopping bit of blues via Willie Dixon's "29 Ways to My Baby's Door."
To that mix, they work in original songs with rhythmic, high-sheen harmonies and a few morsels of comic relief, such as the silly snap of "Scooby Doo, Where Are You" and the Christmas-y "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." The holiday season is always a busy one for the group. Of Tonic's eight CDs thus far, three have been Christmas albums; their only DVD is also geared toward the holiday.
Their most recent release, last year's "On Top of the World," is a collection of Christmas songs, but Dove says the group is already at work on a new CD. They should have the disc ready to go by the time of their annual appearance at the Minnesota State Fair in late summer. "It's going to be a non-holiday album," he says. "There will be a lot of original tunes and a number of covers we're really proud of."
He says Tonic has added about six new numbers to its show, but he's unwilling to name names of songs. Some songs could be left off of the playlist because they might not be practiced to perfection. "I don't want to say," he says somewhat nervously. "The songs are coming along real well, but we've got a couple of the guys recovering from the flu, so our singing in practices has been limited."
Dove says the group typically practices two to three times per week (not including its 10 to 15 monthly performances), for several hours at a time. Not all of that practice is full-blown performance-level singing, he says, but it consists of practicing pieces of songs, outlining arrangements, working on their often-humorous song introductions and the like.
All four singers work on Tonic Sol-Fa full time. They tour the Midwest and other areas, but they're able to make ends meet with a lot of gigs at corporate meetings and conventions, with past clients including Bose, Schwan's, General Mills, Tastefully Simple, Herberger's, Wal-Mart, LifeTouch, 3M Co. and Wenger Corp.
"It's a good life," Dove says. "We're very lucky and happy to be able to do this for a living."
March 7, 2008
A cappella competition spans genres
The Olympian (WA):
If a cappella music conjures up thoughts of barbershop quartets, you're right - and wrong. The annual Harmony Sweepstakes Northwest Regional Competition, happening Saturday in Olympia, will feature a wider array of music than most people would expect.
"There are some groups that are more into the jazz side of things and others that are into being goofy on stage and just doing fun or funny stuff," said Jon Morgan, a member of Olympia's own Akafellas, who will compete Saturday night. "Some are more rock 'n' roll, some do a lot of choreography on stage, and others just stand there and do their thing and sound great," Morgan added.
The Akafellas' 10-minute set consists of The Beatles' "Let It Be," Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " and Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom. The group has competed in a number of the regional competitions, Morgan said. The Akafellas came in second in 1999 and third in 2005, the last time the group competed.
"We've always gotten a kick out of it," said Morgan, who sings bass. "The main reason is we get to perform in front of a group of people who really enjoy that kind of music. "And we get to meet a lot of these groups that do what we do. It's neat to get to talk to other people who like to do this kind of thing and see how they do things. You get ideas. You see how they arrange songs and perform their stuff."
The Coats, the band that won the regional and national competitions in 1994, will perform during the judging. "They are the pinnacle as far as I'm concerned," Morgan said. "They are fun to watch."
The regional competition is hosted by Masterworks Choral Ensemble. "We run the whole show," said the group's director, Gary Witley. "Our people are invisible to the audience, but we are the crew. It's the unique thing in our season in that we are the presenters and not the performers in this."
Morgan and fellow Akafella Tony Benjamins met when both sang with Masterworks. Rounding out the group are Kurt Fralick, Michi Imamura and Jon Murdock. Morgan said some of the members are more invested in winning than others. "Of course, we'd love to win," he added. "The audience favorite award is the one I've hoped we would win."
But win or lose, the Akafellas get a lot of support. "It's fun to have many people cheering for us because they know us from other things and might have seen us performing," Morgan said. "We've always been the hometown boys."
March 6, 2008
Barbershop in space
Barbershop chorus the Houston Tidelanders will honor the first woman Commander of the International Space Station, Peggy Whitson, when they serenade her in space on International Women’s Day with the tune Peg of My Heart. Celebrated annually on March 8, International Women’s Day is a global day connecting all women around the world and inspiring them to achieve their full potential while addressing social, economic and political barriers affecting women. The 90 voice Tidelanders recorded the video performance for Whitson and unfurled a banner bearing the message “Happy International Women’s Day, Peg.” The video message will be sent up to the International Space Station for her on March 8 and will be posted on the NASA web site for all to see. Whitson epitomizes just the kind of role model that International Women’s Day strives to celebrate. Selected as an astronaut in 1996, she spent 184 days on the International Space Station in 2002. Comprised of four International award-winning quartets as well as the performance chorus, the Tidelanders are the second oldest continually-existing performing arts organization in Houston.
March 5, 2008
Craig Jessop resigns from Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Deseret News (UT):
Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop resigned Tuesday night during a meeting with members of the choir, leaving the group stunned and emotional, according to one source. He made the announcement to choir members following a regular rehearsal. Associate music director Mack Wilberg will serve as interim choir director.
Jessop apparently read a letter to choir members announcing his resignation. At first, one source said, the group wasn't sure who the letter was from. Then it began to dawn on them.
A press release issued late Tuesday night by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quoted Jessop as saying, "I now find myself at a major crossroads of life. With long and prayerful consideration I have decided to resign as director of the choir.
"I look forward to new challenges and opportunities and I intend to keep active in the musical world including teaching — the career that I originally began my musical journey." Jessop said he and his wife, RaNae, and their family "are looking forward to spending more time together with our children and grandsons."
Choir president Mac Christensen told choir members that Jessop had taken the choir to great heights with each concert, tour and performance, according to the release. "Now the choir, with Mack Wilberg as interim director, will move forward building on the foundation that both Craig and Mack and their predecessors have helped to lay," Christensen said. "Along with the First Presidency, we extend our love and appreciation to both Craig and to his family."
One choir member who didn't want to be identified said members of the group were "simply stunned" when Jessop read his letter of resignation during their practice session Tuesday night. "We cried. We stood up spontaneously and started to applaud. But that doesn't even begin to say how we feel. We were just stunned. There are no other words for it. We never saw it coming."
She said Jessop's departure will leave a large hole in the organization, "but as long as he is OK, the most important thing is him and his family. We love him and if this is what's best for him, it's what he needs to do. "I have to have faith that if Craig feels this is the right thing for him and his family then the Lord will provide. I don't know how. I love the gospel and have faith that it will be OK, but I sure don't know how."
Jessop was appointed music director and conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in December 1999, after having served as the choir's associate director since 1995. During his tenure, the choir performed with world-renowned artists and performers at Christmas concerts in the LDS Conference Center that became so popular, more than 1 million tickets were requested for the 2007 performances.
The release said Jessop's vision was to bring the music of the choir to everyone. "My passion has always been music and the power of music — helping other people in lifting their spirits. And whenever we're on tour I see the emotion that the choir can generate from the audience. It's a wonderful experience."
During his tenure, the choir and orchestra at Temple Square launched a private record label in March 2003 and subsequently releasing over 10 albums, several of which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Music chart. They performed 20 times during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, including the opening ceremonies.
Under his baton, the group received the Special Recognition Award from the International Radio and Television Society Foundation and the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush. In April 2004 the choir and its Music and the Spoken Word broadcast were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Jessop is scheduled to present workshops this summer at the prestigious Berkshire Choral Festival.
BBC "Choir Wars" seeks choirs
I received today this email from the BBC:-
BBC ONE is launching a brand new Saturday night entertainment show showcasing some of Britain's favourite choirs.
We are inviting applications from all choirs countrywide and want to hear from choirs of all musical genres; classical, gospel, barbershop, pop, a cappella, folk and rock etc.
Choirs will need to get their entries into us as soon as possible to avoid missing out on the competition deadline - Friday 4th April 2008 at 6pm.
Please go to this link to access the Choir Wars application form:-
Please call 09001 800 313 should you have any further questions about the application process.
We look forward to hearing from you!
The Choir Wars Team
March 3, 2008
40 Years of Perfect Harmony
London Evening Standard (UK):
It's an ancient conundrum: if the constituent parts of an object have been replaced one by one, is it still the same object? For the King's Singers, the answer is definitely "Yes".
This year marks their 40th anniversary and while none of the current members was in at the beginning, it is recognisably the same ensemble with the same characteristics: immaculate harmony, minutely synchronised delivery, identikit blazers and ties. This opening concert of its birthday celebrations could easily have been a greatest hits package.
Nothing so frivolous. Instead we got an austere, even ascetic survey of 16th-century Iberian polyphony, the first half sacred, the second mostly secular.
It may not have been obviously crowd-pleasing but it made a perfect showcase for the sextet's architecturally layered sound, keening falsetto and droning bass providing top and bottom, tenor and baritone floating discreetly in between.
Before the interval, renaissance bassoon provided another texture, low and intestinal one minute, pleading and mournful the next. Merging perfectly with the voices, it floated like pungent incense.
The centrepiece was a massive, 20-minute setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Alonso Lobo, a vocal challenge despatched with almost nonchalant precision. They are too refined ever to sing loud, of course, but they have an imposing weight of sound that it seems impossible for just six voices to achieve.
After the interval, things got as near raucous as they ever do with this group. The good humour was infectious, yet even in bawdy songs about well-hung sailors there was no hint of vulgarity.
At times it might be nice to hear some grit and grime in the glistening pearl of their harmonies but then they would no longer be the King's Singers.