April 30, 2008
Breakthrough Treatment Saves Vocal Chords and Lives
ABC Evening News:
Armed with a special laser he uses on opera singers and rock stars, Dr. Steven Zeitels, director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital, is taking aim at vocal cord cancer, to see if he can save not only lives, but also save voices in danger of being destroyed by conventional surgery or radiation.
Armed with a passion for preserving the health of vocal cords, Dr. Zeitels has saved some of the most famous voices in the world, like Aerosmith's.
"I had the opportunity over time to manage very elite voices which taught me a lot of physiology, be they singers or lecturers. And I tried to interweave what I learned about their physiology into the design of cancer operations," Dr. Zeitels said.
He has developed a breakthrough in treating vocal cord cancer. And his research is already paying off for Sefi Rivlin -- one of Israel's most beloved comic actors. In 2006, Rivlin was diagnosed with vocal cord cancer and offered traditional treatments, surgery or radiation, both of which would work but permanently damage his voice.
"One is to do radiation, and the other option is to cut all my larynx with my vocal cords. It's mean not to talk forever. For me, in my profession, it's like a death penalty. It's like my life is over." Rivlin said.
Rivlin first arrived in the U.S. in October 2006 with cancer that filled his entire larynx. It's the largest vocal cord tumor that Dr. Zeitels has attempted to treat with this radical new approach.
Rivlin agreed to undergo Dr. Zeitels' radical new approach, using a special laser -- called an angiolytic laser -- that targets the tumor's blood supply, thereby killing the cancer cells.
In the 10 treatments Rivlin has undergone so far, the transformation is stunning.
"I see no evidence of cancer. The dysplasia is mostly resolved," Dr. Zeitels said.
Most of the procedures are done without general anesthesia, in the office, and take about 20 minutes. A major advantage of the laser: It can be repeated as needed for years to come if new lesions are found, with surgery and radiation preserved as options if needed.
Unlike other lasers that cut away tissue, this one targets just a tumor's blood supply and leaves normal tissue alone. Dr. Zeitels explained, "You're directing the light but you're only directing it under a microscope to the cancerous tissue and you don't affect the normal tissue."
In the United States, 90 percent of patients with early vocal cord cancer receive radiation. But radiation often makes normal vocal cord tissue rigid and unable to vibrate, and that impairs the voice.
"For vocal cords to vibrate, they need to be soft and pliable, very similar to a child's skin or an infant's skin. This laser is absorbed by hemoglobin and blood and only heats the tumor which is why the pliability is basically preserved," Dr. Zeitels said.
Tomorrow, at the annual meeting of the American Broncho-Esophageal Association, Dr. Zeitels will report on his 5-year pilot study of early vocal cord cancer treated with the angiolytic laser. The results are dramatic: all 23 patients are cancer-free and all have excellent vocal function. Larger studies need to confirm these findings, but Dr. Zeitels has no doubt ushered in a new era of treatment for vocal cord cancer, where losing one's voice isn't the trade-off for saving one's life.
Kennedy Center: Soaring Voices
Representing vocal traditions and communities from around the world,
May 28-June 6, the Kennedy Center presents A Cappella: Singing Solo, a
celebration of the human voice--from gospel to sacred chants to barber
shop quartets to jazz, from the Czech Republic to Norway to Mexico to
"We're happy to put the spotlight on this unique form of music," said
Garth Ross, the Kennedy Center's Director of Programming for
Performing Arts for Everyone, "and to showcase its breadth and
diversity as witnessed by the many cultures and groups who will
perform on the Kennedy Center stages."
Bobby McFerrin is one of the natural wonders of the musical world. A
ten-time Grammy Award winner, he is one of today's best-known vocal
innovators and improvisers, as well as an acclaimed classical
conductor. On June 1 in the Concert Hall, McFerrin hosts "A World of
Voices," featuring Grammy-winning male vocal group Chanticleer;
Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning South African ensemble
Ladysmith Black Mambazo; the Grammy-winning female group Le Mystère
des Voix Bulgares, renowned for their Bulgarian folk songs; and La
Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva España, who perform music from Mexico's
Called "the world's reigning male chorus," by New Yorker magazine, San
Francisco-based Chanticleer has developed a remarkable reputation for
its vivid interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to
jazz, and from gospel to venturesome new music. With its seamless
blend of twelve male voices, ranging from countertenor to bass, the
ensemble has earned international renown as "an orchestra of voices."
Ladysmith Black Mambazo represents the traditional culture of South
Africa and is regarded as the country's cultural emissary at home and
around the world. They became known to many here in the United States
through their collaboration with musician Paul Simon on his Graceland
album. Simon was captivated by the stirring sound of bass, alto, and
tenor harmonies and incorporated these traditional sounds into
Graceland, a project regarded by many as seminal to today's explosive
interest in World Music.
An ensemble of a rare artistic gift and enormous popular appeal, Le
Mystere des Voix Bulgares was created fifty years ago. Its goal was to
enrich the heritage of the Bulgarian solo folk song with harmonies and
arrangement that highlighted its beautiful timbres and irregular
rhythms. They transform sounds into strange vocal colors as if
something other than the human voice. They jubilate, shout, ornament,
form fast and perfect glissandos, let one crazy rhythm follow another.
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 gleaming voices of two acclaimed ensembles combine May 30 in the
Terrace Theater for a splendid concert of rich a cappella sound.
Norwegian female group Trio Mediæval returns to the Kennedy Center
with music from medieval Europe, along with several contemporary
works. Their distinctive, enchanting style is paired with the engaging
harmony of male choral ensemble Cantus, originally founded at
Minnesota's St. Olaf College. Their diverse repertoire explores
several eras and genres, from Renaissance motets to American folk.
This exciting event will include separate performances by each group,
as well as collaborative arrangements.
With a name meaning "little beans" in Italian, there's no doubt I
Fagiolini makes for a uniquely entertaining end to the Fortas season.
For more than 20 years, they've been one of Britain's most innovative
vocal ensembles, known for their bold approach to early music.
Graduates of Oxford University, the performers specialize in
Renaissance and Baroque as well as contemporary works. I Fagiolini's
self-described "music-theater"--staged presentations of pre-classical
secular masterpieces--is spirited and vibrant, while at the same time
historically informative. Don't miss all the fun and excitement these
extraordinary singers bring to their concert on May 31 in the Terrace
April 29, 2008
Another a cappella jingle winner
Carey Dyer, a regular reader of this blog, contacted me today to say he had read an earlier post here about a jingle contest (for the Texas Department of Transportation) that was open to a cappella submissions. Well he wrote and arranged a jingle, submitted it, and wound up being one of the winners! Congratulations to Carey and I am always very pleased to hear about such successes. Listen to the jingle and see him accept the prize on TV station KVUE.
April 25, 2008
Voice for harmony is silenced
New York Daily News (NY):
(Published March 6)
Sometimes the most modest radio shows have the most interesting stories behind them, and that was surely true with Ronnie Italiano, better known as Ronnie I, who died Monday night after a long battle with liver cancer.
Ronnie was a champion of rhythm and blues vocal group harmony music in the style of the 1950s, and he played it on WNWK, WHBI and WNYE for 23 years. As recently as last year, he sat in for Christine Vitale on WFDU (89.1 FM), where she is one of a handful of hosts on various stations who still play that music on "specialty" shows.
For a time, a half century ago, some of that music - think "Earth Angel" or "Silhouettes" - made it into the popular mainstream, particularly in New York. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, or the Cadillacs, Heartbeats, Flamingos, Moonglows, Five Satins and Harptones, were the street sound of their era, like rap a generation or two later.
Most of the great early New York radio deejays are associated with that sound, from Alan Freed to Jocko, Hal Jackson and Dr. Jive. When WCBS-FM launched its oldies format in 1972, R&B vocal groups were a foundation.
But as years passed and the original fans drifted away from music, moved out of town or died, it receded more into the past - which is what Ronnie Italiano spent his life fighting not to let happen.
He sold the music at his record shop, Clifton Music. He worked to reissue the most obscure R&B material. Perhaps most critical, he founded the United in Group Harmony (UGHA) which, since 1976, has held monthly meetings with live shows, becoming a place where fans could get together and know the music hadn't died.
He tracked down vocal group singers who hadn't performed in decades, adding immeasurably to the history of the music and, even more important, reinforcing its stature as a living, breathing art form.
Since music fans are as contentious as those in any other avocation, Ronnie had his skirmishes. For starters, he hated the term "doo-wop," which he felt trivialized and insulted his music.
It also drove him crazy when WCBS-FM reduced and then virtually eliminated R&B vocal groups. He praised WCBS-FM hosts Don K. Reed and Bobby Jay and accused the station of abandoning the city's music roots.
But his real focus was the larger prize: honoring and preserving the music he grew up with. He was convinced tens of thousands of people still loved it, and that it needed to be kept alive for those who will love it in the future.
In that pursuit, he left everything on the field - just like the good Yankee teams he also loved. We as music lovers," said Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, "are all better off for his efforts."
I knew Ronnie for a long time as he was the producer of the New York Harmony Sweeps back in the 90’s and I have been buying and selling wholesale CDs with his record company Clifton Music for years. Ronnie certainly was a character and perhaps as I'm a noted curmudgeon myself I could never really get mad at him for his occasional inexplicably ways of doing business. Ronnie was very much a product of his time and place and his genuine passion for vocal harmony music was undeniable. He may of been controversial but he really was instrumental in keeping the Jersey vocal harmony group tradition alive and much of his work will, I’m sure, live on forever.
April 24, 2008
April 22, 2008
Harmony Sweeps signs TV deal with Sony Pictures
It's been a great season for the Harmony Sweepstakes this year with all the regionals reporting record turnout and top notch competing groups. After the Los Angeles show this past weekend we now have all the regional winners for this year’s National Finals and what a stellar line up it is.
And this year we have an extra special announcement to make. I have just signed a deal with Sony Pictures Television who would like to create a reality TV series based around the Harmony Sweepstakes. As of right now they have optioned the TV rights for a certain period of time and are in the process of creating a team to develop the concept. I am also pleased to report they have hired me as a consultant for the series and I will of course still be the national producer of the Harmony Sweeps themselves.
Sony Pictures Television are a major supplier of TV programming and own such popular shows as Seinfeld, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Days of Our Lives and many others.
While the exact content of the TV series is still being developed I can assure you that the Sweeps will continue to keep its homegrown charm and retain the same appeal that has proved to be such a success over the past two decades. The TV series will not be an American Idol type of show but rather behind the scenes, following the groups, going to rehearsals, “road to the Finals” sort of concept.
This is a great opportunity for a cappella groups and a wonderful way to get national exposure for vocal harmony music. If the series does indeed come to fruition it would be a fantastic promotional vehicle and would also increase exponentially the possibilities of all kinds of other media exposure as well. As a veteran promoter of a cappella I relish the opportunity to make the most out of getting a great deal of attention to this wonderful musical art form we all love so much.
The regional winners who will competing the in National Finals are:-
Syncopation - Boston
5one - Chicago
Where's Gesualdo - San Francisco
The Baudboys - Pacific Northwest
Legacy - Rocky Mountain
Vocaldente - Mid Atlantic
Red No5 - New York
Sound Stage – Los Angeles
Hosted by 2007 National Champions Moira Smiley and VOCO
HARMONY SWEEPSTAKES A CAPPELLA FESTIVAL NATIONAL FINALS
Saturday May 3, 8pm
Marin Veteran's Auditorium
San Rafael, California
April 21, 2008
SoCal Vocals wins collegiate competition
Congratulations to University of Southern California SoCal VoCals who took first place at the Collegiate A Cappella Competition held this past weekend in New York. Florida State University All-Night Yahtzee placed second and New York University N'Harmonics came 3rd.
April 16, 2008
When you're hot..
We know that Naturally 7 are hot right now as they perform large venues on their North American tour supporting Michael Buble but we didn’t realize they were so hot that their tour bus would burst into flames. But that’s exactly what happened in Kentucky recently - while the group members were asleep the bus suddenly started to burn and soon was in flames. The group immediately scrambled off and within minutes the whole bus was ablaze. Absolutely all their possessions were lost leaving them at the side of the road in nothing but their pajamas. They were helped by the local Chamber of Commerce and a replacement bus was sent in time for them to make sound check later in the day. The running gag was that at least they didn’t lose their instruments…
The group has been receiving rave reviews on this tour and they are using the cool term “vocal play” for their sound. They are to appear on the Ellen TV show this week and have just released a great new a cappella video "Wall of Sound" on YouTube.
S.F. judge dumps most of Baker's Dozen case
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
A judge threw out felony charges Wednesday against two young San Francisco men in the nationally publicized Baker's Dozen assault case, ruling that prosecutors lacked evidence against them in the New Year's 2007 clash with members of a Yale University singing troupe.
Judge Kathleen Kelly cleared Brian Dwyer, 20, entirely and cut the case against Richard Aicardi, 20, to a single count of misdemeanor assault. "I simply do not have sufficient evidence," Kelly said following a three-day preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court. "I have very, very carefully considered the evidence and the exhibits."
Dwyer burst into tears and embraced Aicardi, his lawyers and his family. The two defendants - the only men ever charged in the case that may have involved more than three dozen people - left quickly down a Hall of Justice staircase without commenting. The two could have been sent to state prison if convicted of the felony assault and battery charges originally lodged against them.
The case stemmed from a New Year's party at a police sergeant's house in the Richmond District that turned into a sidewalk melee between the singing group and local teenagers. The trouble started, some say, after the troupe stood in a circle and sang the National Anthem and one member of the group kissed a local girl while another helped himself to a beer without permission.
Dwyer's attorney, Tony Brass, said he was "very pleased" by the ruling that cleared his client of charges related to the attack on Yale student Evan Gogel. Dwyer had admitted to police investigators that he kicked someone that night and "wanted to put pain on him," according to police testimony. But he did not admit that Gogel was the person he kicked, and the judge found no evidence to tie Dwyer to the attack on Gogel. "Brian Dwyer is not the person who kicked Mr. Gogel," Brass said. "He wanted no part of the fight. He admits kicking someone, and he's certainly not proud of that, but he did not commit a criminal act."
Aicardi's lawyer, Jim Collins, said people "had the wrong impression about what happened" during the melee. He said participants on both sides had been drunk and that the Yale students were "no angels."
Before issuing her ruling in the hushed courtroom, Kelly said she was "very, very troubled" by accounts of the fight and said she was "particularly disturbed to hear of the injuries Mr. Gogel suffered." Gogel testified that four to five men had kicked him repeatedly and left him bruised on the pavement.
But the judge said that identifications of the defendants provided by Yale students involved in the incident were contradictory and that evidence showed that Gogel's attackers, who fled before police arrived, could not have included Dwyer, who was briefly detained by officers at the scene. Kelly left standing a misdemeanor assault charge against Aicardi and ordered him to return to court May 7.
Aicardi allegedly punched Yale singer William Bailey in the jaw after Bailey tried to diffuse the brewing conflict. Collins said the severity of the remaining assault charge against his client was "as low a crime as can be."
James Hammer, an attorney who represents families of Yale students who have sued Aicardi and Dwyer in civil court, said he was disappointed at the outcome of the case but said the plaintiffs would pursue their lawsuit.
April 14, 2008
Yale singer recounts sucker punch as Baker's Dozen hearing begins
San Francisco Chronicle:
A member of a Yale University singing troupe told a San Francisco courtroom Monday what happened when he tried to calm down a combative teenager at a now-famous New Year's Eve party. "He socked me in the left jaw," said William Bailey, a member of the Baker's Dozen singing group.
Bailey was one of three members of the a cappella group who testified in a preliminary hearing against alleged attackers Richard Aicardi and Brian Dwyer. Both defendants, now 20, have been charged with assault and battery in connection with the brawl between the Yale students and a group of recent graduates from Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High School in San Francisco.
Bailey pointed across the courtroom at Aicardi and identified him as the one who slugged him early New Year's morning last year. Bailey said he had been trying to act as peacemaker when he approached Aicardi, said, "Let's not do this," and Aicardi threw his punch.
Aicardi's lawyer, Jim Collins, said outside court that the confrontation had been a fight, not an unprovoked attack. "The Yale boys were not little angels," Collins said. "They were argumentative, uncooperative with police and intoxicated."
Under cross-examination, Bailey and fellow singer Evan Gogel conceded that they had been drinking. Gogel, a sophomore, said the troupe had arrived that evening in a van from Squaw Valley, where they had been skiing and singing. They had been drinking beer in the van, and then champagne at another home before drinking more alcohol at the party, he said.
Gogel said he had two beers in the van, a glass of champagne at the first home and then three more beers at the party before the punching started. Tempers began to flare, he said, after the Yale singers locked arms in a circle, lifted their drinks in turn like a "wave" at the ballpark, and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." After that, one of Yale singers then kissed a San Francisco girl, Bailey testified.
That did not go over well with one of the local boys, a youth wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a Santa Claus hat whom Bailey identified as Aicardi. Bailey told Aicardi that he was from Hawaii and tried to calm him down, and that Aicardi had told him, "You're OK." Then he used a vulgarity to refer to another singer, Bailey said.
Bailey said the Yale singers began to leave the party and that Aicardi followed them outside, where a van pulled up and more young men got out. That's when Bailey said Aicardi doubled up his fist and slugged him. "I was very stunned that he hit me," Bailey said. "He said we were cool, but clearly that wasn't the case."
Gogel said that about that time, he was attacked on the street nearby by four or five men, who kicked him repeatedly, and that he had seen fellow singer Sharyar Aziz on the ground and being attacked as well. Aziz suffered a broken jaw.
Collins asked Bailey if any of his fellow singers had been intoxicated. "I'm sure some of them were drunk, yes," Bailey replied.
In court, the two defendants whispered to each other, smiled and shared a water bottle. During a break, Dwyer said he was getting bored and wanted to go home and take a nap. The hearing continues Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kelly, who must decide if there is sufficient evidence to order the men to stand trial.
I really hope no more tax payer dollars are spent on this. If not for a couple of self-important parents this matter would of long since been over with.
April 11, 2008
Swingle Singers give Bee Gees, Bach the a cappella treatment
Daily Gazette (NY):
Imagine Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” without the cannon, Bach without the harpsichord or a Beethoven symphony without strings. Or hearing any serious music without instruments. If you can, then you must be thinking of the Swingle Singers, the London-based octet that performs everything from Bach’s fugues to the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” with only their voices. The group, which has been turning classical melodies into a cappella songs for 45 years, will be promoting its newest album, “Beauty and the Beatbox,” with a tour of the United States.
On its first stop, at Proctors on Saturday night, the ensemble will handily intone the rhythms and harmonies of its vast repertory — including Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament”; Ravel’s “Bolero”; Count Basie’s “It’s Sand, Man”; and Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
This eclectic playlist is one of the reason bassist Tobias Hug joined the Swingle Singers in 2001. “I always loved crossover,” said Hug. “Pop, big band, classical, jazz, Latin.” However, he did not conceive of a vocal orchestra until he saw the Swingles a decade ago. “The first time I heard them, I was thrilled; my jaw just dropped.”
Now, he looks forward to dooing and dahing in the Swingles’ interpretation of the theme from “Starsky and Hutch.” “It’s contemporary and funky,” said Hug, who hails from Germany. “But I think my favorite moment in the show is Bach. He has some great bass lines.”
He refers to “Bachbeat,” an inventive interpretation of the composer’s spirited “Badinerie.” It’s just one of many Bach works in the Swingles’ playbook. The group’s first album, in 1963, titled “Bach’s Greatest Hits,” won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The group won another Grammy with its follow-up album, “Jazz Sebastian Bach.” Ward Swingle, founder of the singers, explained how Bach formed the backbone of the group.
“I got out Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavichord’ and we began reading through the preludes and fugues just to see if they were singable,” wrote Swingle in his biography. “We soon found, like many before us, that we were swinging Bach’s music quite naturally. Since there were no words, we improvised a kind of scat singing a la Louis Armstrong, which we later reduced to simple doos and boos, dahs and bahs so as not to get in the way of Bach’s counterpoint. We took advantage of two characteristics common to both jazz and baroque music: rhythm and improvisation.”
Hug said the union between the Swingles and Bach is natural because “his music is formal, but there is room for improvisation. I think if Bach were alive today, he’d be a jazz musician.” Of course, some music buffs feel this is a travesty. One critic noted that “It sounds like one of those novelty records that try to make their mark with funny noises. That grinding noise you hear is Bach turning in his grave.”
But others, like Ivan Hewitt of London’s The Telegraph, has written “The Swingle Singers pitched those mysteriously lovely chords with laser-like precision. . . . On a purely musical level, its performance was a triumph.”
With eight singers, as opposed to the four to six that make up most a cappella groups, the Swingle Singers attain a polyphonic scope that is richer and deeper. It’s also easier to divide up and arrange the instrumental lines.
No matter the style, classical, jazz or pop, all of the music is carefully crafted for the voice. Hug said the music is rescored to the singers’ ranges and strengths. As bassists, Hug and Kevin Fox act as the percussion. The pairs of altos, tenors and sopranos then layer their rhythms with melody or harmony. “We transcribe the music to where we are comfortable,” said Hug. The producers added some formal wear — gowns for the women and tuxes for the men — along with some simple choreographed steps. The package makes for a polished concert.
Hug, who performed with nearly 60 choirs including Jazzchor Frieburg and SiX before joining the Swingles, said performing with this group is richly satisfying as he is continually called on to present an impressive display of vocal gymnastics. “I hope we inspire people to sing, Bach or jazz,” said Hug. “We want to touch, entertain, uplift. We’ve been working hard to put on this show. I think it is like nothing anyone has ever heard before.”
April 10, 2008
5one has familiar voice
Belleville News Democrat (IL):
O'Fallon resident David Kempton performs with a male a cappella singing group, but it's a far cry from barbershop quartet. The group's five members are students at Millikin University in Decatur. They call themselves "5one," (five wuhn) referring to a common cadence at the end of choral pieces.
The group sings rock and pop songs, ranging from "Come Together" by the Beatles to "Trashing the Camp" by Phil Collins "We do a lot of Rockapella," said Kempton, 20, speaking of the group known for Folgers coffee commercials and the TV game-show theme song "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? "Our group is very similar to theirs. We have four main singers and a person who specializes in vocal percussion (also known as "beatboxing").
On May 3, 5one will head to San Rafael, Calif., to compete in the 24th annual Harmony Sweepstakes, a national a cappella competition. Hundreds of groups auditioned for eight regional competitions earlier this year. 5one qualified to perform March 15 in Chicago and won by singing "Thank You" by Boyz II Men, "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals and "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles.
The group gets two extra minutes to perform at the national level, so it will add an arrangement of the "Oscar Meyer Wiener Song. "We don't do much comedy," said Kempton, a tenor. "But we're trying to provide some variety."
Kempton is the son of Paul and Marcia Kempton of O'Fallon. He graduated from O'Fallon Township High School in 2005. Kempton sang with madrigal, jazz, bass, chamber and show choirs at O'Fallon. He also performed in six musicals, playing the lead roles of "Tony" in "West Side Story" and "Ren" in "Footloose" his junior and senior years.
"He has a performer's presence that I've never seen on a local level," said Beth Dippel, head of the music department. "To the average person, it's that 'star quality.' When you see him perform on stage, you are completely drawn to him and captivated by what he's doing."
Kempton's love of music goes back to childhood. He took piano lessons and learned to play drums. His father remembers him volunteering to sing karaoke at a picnic in New York when he was 6 or 7 years old.
"(David) got up on stage and asked them to play an old Beatles song, but they didn't have the music," said Paul Kempton, an Air Force retiree who serves as civilian deputy fire chief at Scott Air Force Base. "So he just sang it a cappella, and the whole picnic crowd stood up and clapped."
Today, Kempton is majoring in commercial music at Millikin. His first career choice is performing; his second is working in a recording studio. Kempton and four other music students formed 5one two years ago. They perform about 15 times a semester at dinner parties, weddings and community events. The part-time job allows them to earn extra money by doing something they enjoy and take a break from the stresses of college life.
One advantage with a cappella is that group members don't have to lug around heavy instruments and equipment, other than microphones and amplifiers. It's also a challenge. "You can't be just a 'decent' singer with a cappella," Kempton said. "You have to have good pitch and intonation and blend."
Hazing prompts a cappella group's suspension
Middlebury Campus (VT):
College administrators suspended the Stuck in the Middle (SIM) a cappella group for the rest of semester after finding the group committed hazing violations. Allegations of the hazing incident came to the attention of the College during the first week of March, Dean of the College Tim Spears said. The hazing occurred during the final week of February when SIM was inducting new members into their ranks.
Word of the hazing came from a source outside of the College, Spears said. "The College received a phone call from a person off campus who was concerned that hazing might be occurring," Spears said. "This call came into Public Safety. They then followed up with interviews with members of SIM."
In the complaint, the caller voiced concern over activities SIM held for new members. "The reporting party raised concerns about activities that a person joining a student organization participated in as part of an induction process," Assistant Director of Public Safety Dan Gaiotti said.
Director of the Center of Campus Activities and Learning (CCAL) Doug Adams said administrators agreed on a punishment following an exhaustive interview process. "The group has been suspended for the rest of this term and we've asked the current leadership to step down," Adams said. "The group can re-form starting next fall. CCAL worked in concert with the Dean of the College's Office and determined the length of the punishment given the situation."
Spears said the group was helpful during the investigation of the hazing allegations. "I want to add that in these interviews membership was very cooperative with the Public Safety investigation," he said. Members of SIM declined to comment about the incident.
Although alcohol is often present in hazing activities, it was not the cause of the investigation in SIM's case. "Often alcohol is involved in hazing incidents," Associate Dean of the College Gus Jordan said. "In this particular situation it wasn't the use of alcohol that brought the activities to our attention."
Adams hopes SIM will ultimately prosper when they return as an organization next year. "I will meet with the student organization to answer any questions they have," he said. "Hopefully they will work through this and improve out of it. We hope SIM can improve and return as an organization united in their love of singing."
April 7, 2008
Stardom a long time in the making
Boston Globe (MA):
In some ways it's a typical golden-years scene: two dozen senior citizens gathered at the Florence Community Center, just outside of Northampton, singing together. But these old-timers aren't scouring their memories for the words to a World War II-era favorite. They're learning Sonic Youth's noise-rock tune "Schizophrenia." And the scene is from a film, "Young@Heart," a documentary about the Massachusetts chorus of the same name. The movie began its unlikely trajectory two years ago as a British television special, became a surprise film festival hit, was picked up by a major US distributor, and will open in theaters nationwide April 18.
"The film is having success we never could have imagined," says chorus director Bob Cilman, who founded the singing group in 1982 as a way to break up the tedium at a housing project for low-income elderly where he worked. Over the last 25 years the Young@Heart chorus has transformed youth anthems into surprising - and surprisingly moving - commentaries on what it means to grow old.
Their repertoire includes the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated," the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," and the chorus has become a staple at cutting-edge arts festivals in Europe.
But while the 27 members of Young@Heart - minimum age 73 - have traveled overseas more than a dozen times in the past decade, performing for sold-out houses in Rotterdam, Berlin, London, and Brussels, the group hasn't made much of an impression stateside. That's likely to change now that Fox Searchlight - the specialty film division that made hits out of "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine" - has picked up distribution rights to Young@Heart. "It's fun, but a little wearying on many levels," Cilman says of the attention.
He's on the phone from Los Angeles, one of 15 cities the chorus members will hit to promote the movie. Fatigue is no small issue, but according to Cilman they are having "the time of their lives." Three singers appear at each event, a rotation that will allow everyone the chance to participate. The entire chorus will perform in Newport, R.I., on April 27 at a special concert following a screening of the film. "Like a comet going across the sky," is how 79-year-old Steve Martin describes the experience.
Ensconced in a suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Calif., Martin - who lives alone in a condo in Springfield - sounds positively giddy. "At this age we've had good things and bad things happen to us and you face life with a lot more reality," he says. "We know in our hearts that this is a one-time shot. It's the World Series and the Super Bowl and the Olympics rolled into one."
It was Cilman who turned a run-of-the-mill singalong into a special event by bringing rock music into the repertoire. Fox Searchlight stumbled on the film at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won a major audience award. Inspired by the emotional reaction there and at other festivals, the company decided to launch a good old-fashioned blitz of screenings and personal appearances, rather than an advertising campaign, to cultivate buzz.
"We saw what happened at the LA film fest when Bob and the chorus members came out - there was this amazing response," says Nancy Utley, an executive with Fox Searchlight. "It was so powerful, and we thought 'Why not try to replicate that?' "
British filmmaker Stephen Walker had long been interested in making a documentary about old age when he went, on a whim, to see the chorus perform in 2005 at a London theater. Walker was "blown away" when he heard the group sing Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere." By the time Eileen Hall, then 92, had hollered her way through the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," Walker was convinced that the Young@Heart chorus was the perfect vehicle to explore the subject of aging. "Nobody wants to talk about getting old, about taboo subjects like death and loneliness and sex, but I knew we could do it through music," Walker says.
Persuading Cilman was another matter. Still stinging from a poor-quality, ill-conceived film about the chorus made many years ago, as well as a 2000 feature for the television show "20/20" that never aired, Cilman was skeptical when approached by Walker and his wife and producing partner, Sally George. But the filmmakers were armed with a commission and financial backing from Britain's Channel Four as well as a solid documentary track record, and after much reluctance Cilman agreed to move ahead with the project. In 2006, Walker and his crew filmed for seven weeks in Northampton - at rehearsals, in homes, and in hospital rooms.
The process was bumpy from the start. "Initially we had a lot of struggle over what the film would be about," says Cilman, who is also executive director of the Northampton Arts Council. "They felt there needed to be some big payoff at the end, and my strong feeling was that they didn't need to create a challenge for us and bring us to New York or Boston to see if we make it or not. I said 'Come to Northampton, things will happen.'
After agreeing to focus on the struggle to learn new material, the film's course changed dramatically when longtime members Bob Salvini and Joe Benoit died within a week of each other. Salvini's death wasn't entirely unexpected, but Benoit's was a shock, and Cilman and Walker clashed over how to proceed. The filmmakers wanted to get emotional reactions on tape. Cilman wanted to protect his charges, and himself.
"They didn't need to see me sobbing and they didn't need to see us telling the chorus. The less said the better sometimes, and I do think they handled it beautifully," says Cilman. "There is no better eulogy for Joe," he adds, "than seeing Patsy [Linderme] singing 'Nothing Compares 2 U' " - a Prince song made famous by Sinead O'Connor.
Since the film was finished, Young@Heart has taken on seven new members, and they're busy working with their longtime collaborators from the experimental theater company No Theater on a performance piece commissioned by the Manchester International Festival for 2009.
Jan St. Laurence, a Northampton native who is about to celebrate her 80th birthday, skipped yesterday's three-hour rehearsal in Florence because she was under the weather. But she can't wait to get back up on stage. "People come up to me after shows and say, 'You know, I'm not as afraid to grow older,' " she says. "There is something here, in these years, if you want to find it."
April 4, 2008
Review - Sounds of Originality
Las Vegas Review Journal (NV):
Oh sure, the showoffs in Toxic Audio can shape a rhythmic version of Harry Nillson's "Coconut" out of coughs, sniffs and sneezes. But what can they do when the mulberries aren't in bloom? Plenty, as it turns out.
No instruments or recordings are employed by the a cappella quintet, but there's plenty of instrumentation. Every drum solo and bass beat comes from the mouths of the five Toxic Audio members. The quintet carved out some off-Broadway turf in the "wordless theater" genre of "Stomp" and the Blue Man Group in 2004, so it's a no-brainer that they would want a base camp on the Strip alongside those shows.
Toxic had a limited run at Luxor in 2005, and now is ensconced in the V Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood for what the cast hopes will be an open-ended stay (with about four more months guaranteed).
Word of mouth can only help the troupe get established. To the credit of their originality, describing them usually comes off like "The Player" or some other flick in which you see a desperate writer getting about 15 seconds to make a pitch to a movie studio executive. Here, you'd say it's Manhattan Transfer meets The Second City, meets Doug E. Fresh or Rahzel (depending on which beatboxer is your generational reference point).
Rene Ruiz originally pulled the act together with friends he met as theme park entertainers in Orlando, Fla. He anchors the new effort with original cast member Paul Sperrazza, the live wire who supplies most of the beatboxing and comic energy, and three singers younger than most of the songs covered.
Maybe the real way to convey the spirit of the show is to focus on Sperrazza's keystone routine. He pulls a female audience member to the stage and snuggles up to her old-school by producing a vinyl album labeled "Love Songs" and cueing up a turntable. As the record player begins to "play" "Dream a Little Dream of Me" -- Sperrazza is doing the song -- other cast members walk out and "switch" the turntable speeds to mess him up.
If you're not old enough to remember what it sounded like when you forgot to switch from "45" to "33 1/3" rpms, Sperrazza does an amazing demonstration of what your boomer parents suffered as teens. (We didn't walk five miles through the snow to school, but trouble we had our share.)
Other inspired segments include Meg Wasik's sculpting layers of harmony with an instant "echo loop" of played-back notes she just sang, and a sketch in which Christine Vienna begins singing the old jazz standard "Autumn Leaves," only to have the others produce signs that command her to switch the vocal to French, Spanish, Japanese, German-- even Tagalog.
Hopefully, the troupe will use the residency to develop more new material of equal quality, so they can retire lesser moments: a Michael Jackson bit that falls into the chasm between tribute and spoof, an Evanescence cover that likewise drops into the gulf between "current" and "classic."
This week, the group moved from an early 6 p.m. time slot into an even earlier 5:30 p.m. start. To make the best of the awkward schedule, those marketing the show should try to convey that it's 95 percent family-friendly, without making parents come down to the "It's all about the kids" level of bubble shows or trained cats.
There's one squirmy moment for Mom and Dad. It's another audience participation bit, in which the Toxins conjure up classic TV themes at the touch of a remote. But when the audience volunteer clicks the remote, it switches to the wacka-wacka music and moaning of a porno movie.
A young lad of about 10, wearing a baseball cap right up front, didn't get the joke. He turned around to his dad with a quizzical look. Dad whispered back an apparent explanation. The lad's eyes widened in delightful surprise, and he turned back to enjoy the windfall he never would have found at the Dirk Arthur magic show.
April 3, 2008
Gene Puerling - Obituary
San Francisco Chronicle:
Gene Puerling, the Grammy-winning vocal arranger whose intricate, harmonically rich arrangements for the Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited influenced many ensembles, including the Beach Boys, Manhattan Transfer and Take Six, died March 25 in a Marin County hospital of complications from diabetes. He was 78.
Mr. Puerling, who lived in San Anselmo, was one of the great jazz and pop vocal arrangers who expanded the sound of harmony singing. The Hi-Lo's, a quartet formed in Los Angeles in 1953 with Mr. Puerling singing bass-baritone and writing the arrangements, became the most popular jazz-based vocal group of the period. They were heard widely on record, in concert and on TV shows hosted by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Steve Allen and Nat Cole.
"Any vocal group that didn't listen to the Hi-Lo's was remiss," said jazz singer Jon Hendricks of the legendary vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
"Gene broadened the harmonies, like Bird did with bebop," said Hendricks, comparing Mr. Puerling to pioneering saxophonist Charlie Parker. "The sound of the Hi-Lo's was choral, even though there were only four of them. The way the chords were spread out, they sounded like a choir."
In late 1950s, when the Hi-Lo's were performing at Birdland in New York, Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross would sit up front, soak up the sound and try to figure out who was singing lead. "Because the blend was so marvelous, we couldn't find the lead half the time," Hendricks recalled with a laugh.
Born in Milwaukee in 1929, Mr. Puerling took a few piano lessons but was a largely self-taught musician. A fan of vocal groups like Mel Torme's the Mel-Tones, the Modernaires and the Four Freshmen, Mr. Puerling formed a series of vocal groups in high school. One of them, the Shades, featured baritone Bob Strasen, who would become one of the original Hi-Lo's (with baritone Bob Morse and tenor Clark Burroughs, the latter replaced in 1959 by tenor Don Shelton).
Mr. Puerling worked as a Milwaukee disc jockey for a spell before moving to Los Angeles, where he sang on recordings by Les Baxter and Gordon Jenkins. With a push from bandleader and film composer Jerry Fielding, the Hi-Lo's began recording for the small Starlite label, performing Mr. Puerling's arrangements of standards like "She's Funny That Way" and "Have You Met Miss Jones?" Their breakthrough year was 1956, when the quartet became the house vocal group for the nationally televised Rosemary Clooney show and was signed to Columbia Records.
Over the next few years, the Hi-Lo's appeared on the tube with Sinatra, Benny Goodman and other stars, toured with Judy Garland, played major halls like Madison Square Garden and recorded commercial jingles for Hertz Rent a Car and other advertisers. After being dropped from Columbia, the group was signed to Sinatra's Reprise label in the early '60s, recording some of the folk songs and bossa nova numbers popular at the time. But with the advent of rock 'n' roll, the Hi-Lo's, like other older pop groups, went out of vogue, and split in 1964.
Mr. Puerling went to work in the Chicago studios writing and singing commercial jingles. Working with fellow singers Shelton, Len Dresslar and Bonnie Herman, Mr. Puerling began experimenting with the new multi-track recording technology to create a rich, layered choral sound by overdubbing the voices. Called The Singers Unlimited, the quartet made a recording of the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" that inspired pianist Oscar Peterson to recommend the group to his record label, MPS of Germany, which put out more than a dozen Singers Unlimited albums.
Mr. Puerling, who was nominated for 14 Grammys, won the award in 1982 for his arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" for Manhattan Transfer. He also wrote arrangements for Chanticleer, Linda Ronstadt and other artists.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Puerling reunited the Hi-Lo's, with whom he recorded a couple of CDs and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival and elsewhere around the country. In recent years, he taught workshops at the Marin-based Harmony Sweepstakes.
"As a craftsman of the art of blending and harmonizing the human voice in song, Gene has no equal," said Harmony Sweepstakes producer John Neal.
Mr. Puerling is survived by his wife, Helen. No funeral plans have been announced.