May 28, 2008

A World Full of Voices

Washington Post (DC):

Birds do it. Bees do it. They make sounds without instrumental accompaniment. When people do it, it is called a cappella singing, and it is the most basic form of musicmaking: the mother singing a lullaby to her child, the kindergarten class sitting in a circle for "Eensy Weensy Spider," the farm workers singing in the fields.

Unaccompanied song is at once a high-culture vehicle (the intricate counterpoint of a Palestrina Mass) and the primary medium for many ethnic folk traditions. These range from the close-harmony groups of South Africa to the massive choruses of the Baltic states, where the Latvian Song and Dance Celebration, held every five years (the next one is in July), culminates with tens of thousands of people in folk costume singing together.

So it's nice that the Kennedy Center's "A Cappella: Singing Solo" festival, opening today and running through June 6, has not limited itself to Western art music. Certainly that music is well represented -- highlights include the popular Scandinavian group Trio Mediaeval, the British early-music ensemble I Fagiolini and the all-male, San Francisco-based Chanticleer. But also represented are Inuit throat singing (the group Aqsarniit), popular music (the Manhattan Transfer), the popular D.C.-based Sweet Honey in the Rock and folk groups Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, the Bulgarian chorus that has been recording since the late 1950s, whose popularity has sparked wider interest in a cappella folk traditions.

Unaccompanied song occupies a particular slot in our culture: It represents a state of innocence, spirituality, grace. The popularity of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares is related to the more recent success of the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, whose first album of Gregorian chant went platinum in the 1990s. This image of innocence is more romantic than factually accurate; what groups like the Voix Bulgares offer are contemporary reconstructions or reinterpretations of folk traditions as much as the traditions themselves. Still, the music can be a way for people to reconnect with their heritage, as in Corsica, where a revival of the island's distinctive brand of a cappella singing (notably the three-part paghjella) started in the 1970s and has led to the rise of folk groups such as Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses and A Cumpagnia.

These groups are subject to the paradox that faces the whole spectrum of what is today marketed as world music: Once you begin marketing and polishing your product for broader consumption, its relationship to authentic folk music starts to become questionable. For one thing, folk tradition alone may not be enough to sustain success; after establishing yourself in a folk repertory, the next step is the Christmas album, or the arrangements of pop standards. (The King's Singers are poster boys for this chameleon aspect of the unaccompanied singing group; the repertory of the venerable sextet ranges from Thomas Tallis to the Beach Boys.) For another, folk song traditions are often raw or involve unusual harmonies, and a certain amount of prettifying, consciously or unconsciously, is often involved in the process of translating them onto disc.

What recording, and popular success, also remove from the equation is the social aspect of a cappella song. Unaccompanied vocal groups represent some of the last bastions of music as a participatory activity rather than something that is passively apprehended. The point of many a cappella groups is performing rather than performance; even the Santo Domingo monks' Gregorian chant is, at bottom, conceived as a way for the singers to meditate and worship rather than something they put on for the benefit of others. At some colleges, a cappella singing groups have assumed a fraternity-like function (groups from the University of Virginia and James Madison University are on the Kennedy Center festival's program); Yale's Whiffenpoofs represent the acme of that phenomenon.

No musical tradition better represents the junction of high and low culture. For centuries, the West looked on vocal works as the highest manifestation of music; instrumental music was seen as something merely functional. But the rough harmonies and soft burring sounds of, say, Alan Lomax's field recordings of Basque singers would long have been shunned by art music purists. It could be seen as a tacit demonstration of the low-culture repute of a cappella song that so many events at the Kennedy Center festival are being presented free.

The timbres of a cappella song can be an acquired taste. I remember with some bemusement my own violent aversion, as a child, to the original-cast album of "The Sound of Music," because the rawness of the unaccompanied nuns' voices on the first track grated on my ear like fingernails on a chalkboard. I find no trace of that aversion now. It may have been schooled out by years of a cappella singing -- in day camp, in school choruses, or on vacation with my mother's family, who bore tattered copies of "The A Cappella Singer" to evening singing sessions like bibles of a tradition too adult for the children to fully understand.

A cappella song is nothing less than a snapshot of musical experience. It is a topic too large to encompass easily, but the Kennedy Center's festival is a welcome chance to give it attention.

Posted by acapnews at 1:31 AM | Comments (0)

10 joyous days of human voices

Baltimore Sun:

Among the memorable, music-related moments in Mayberry, on the classic TV sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, is when a jealous Deputy Barney Fife tries to talk a golden-voiced bumpkin-type named Rafe Hollister out of entering the town's singing contest.

Barney: "They're liable to ask you questions only a trained musician understands.

Rafe: Like what?

Barney: Well, suppose they was to ask, "Can you sing a cappella?" Would you know what to do?

Rafe: No.

Barney: There you are. Why get up and embarrass yourself?

Andy: Hey, Barn, suppose they ask if you can sing a cappella. What will you do?

Barney: Well, I'd do it. (He begins to sing jazzily, snapping his fingers.) "Ah-ca-PELL-ah, ah-ca-PELL-ah, dah-dah-dah-dum-dah-dah ... " I don't remember the rest of the words.

The goofy deputy could get straightened out with a visit to a 10-day, mostly free festival at the Kennedy Center opening on Wednesday called "A Cappella: Singing Solo." Well, maybe not entirely straightened out, since some of the performers will be warbling with instruments behind them - unaccompanied singing is the most widely understood definition of a cappella.

Still, the festival is predominantly about voices operating on their own, and it promises an exceptionally wide sampling of singers and repertoire, including music from the 15th and 16th centuries, when the term a cappella came into wide usage.

Some scholarship points to the Vatican's Sistine Chapel - Cappella Sistina, in Italian - as the probable source for that term. A cappella literally means "in the style of the chapel" (or church), and a lot of early church music, far beyond the Vatican, was sung unaccompanied. By the 19th century, any kind of unaccompanied vocal music was described as a cappella.

Most of the Kennedy Center festival will be free, with performances held on the Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer, which can cram in 4,000 people. Large video screens will bring the performers closer to those away from the stage area. (A ticketed event in the center's Concert Hall featuring vocalist Bobby McFerrin and several a cappella groups is sold out.)

"The impulse behind the festival is something that [Kennedy Center president] Michael Kaiser had taken note of," says Garth Ross, director of the center's Performing Arts for Everyone program. "It's the way that connectiveness to style has begun to diminish, as artists take styles across national borders."

Today, the dancing done by ballet companies in one country may not differ substantially from that done by companies in another. Orchestras that used to have distinct aural identities - a "French sound," for example - are more likely now to sound pretty much like most other orchestras.

"Thinking about this led us to the idea of programming a cappella music," Ross says, "because performance styles of a cappella tend to be very closely related to the region and the people - this kind of singing is unique to those who are singing it."

Certainly no one could mistake, say, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, a female ensemble dedicated to Bulgarian folk song, for anyone else. Same for the South African folk group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Or the Paschall Brothers, the Virginia gospel quintet, and Aqsarniit, an Inuit ensemble.

One of the quintessentially American forms of a cappella singing, barbershop harmony, will be included in the festival, too, both in male (Max Q) and female (Four Bettys) versions. The tight harmonies of bluegrass gospel will get a workout from Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Vintage a cappella doo-wop and pop will come from The Persuasions.

Middle Ages and the Renaissance music will be sampled by a D.C.-based group called Suspicious Cheeselords. The name comes from a lighthearted mistranslation of a Latin motet, Suscipe quaeso Domine. From England comes another a cappella enterprise with an equally delicious name, I Fagiolini ("small beans," in Italian), and a similar emphasis on repertoire 500 or so years old.

Opening the festival will be a female group with a 35-year track record of a cappella singing, Washington's own Sweet Honey in the Rock.

"We'll do many different styles at the concert," says Carol Maillard, "a little bit of everything to show how the voice can be maximized in each genre."

Whether in 19th-century songs, early gospel, or even rap, Sweet Honey is all about unaccompanied singing.

"The human voice can do anything," Maillard says. "The voice was touching you before there was a lyre or a lute, before anyone struck a piece of wood to make a sound. In modern times, everything is so digitalized, electronically enhanced with all kinds of effects. A cappella uses the natural instrument, music that just touches the air. It's straightforward, pure, and amazing."

The festival's closing act will be Manhattan Transfer, known for its close harmonizing in a variety of styles, especially those of the Big Band era and jazz.

"We told them we don't do a lot of a cappella singing," says Tim Hauser, a founding member of the group. "We work with a band. But they said that was OK. And we do have one a cappella song in our repertoire called 'The Duke of Dubuque.' We found it on an early recording by the Four Vagabonds from the early '40s. And maybe we'll do some doo-wop stuff a cappella. We've been known to do that."

Even when not adhering to a strict genre definition, the festival will keep the focus tightly on the remarkable, ages-old art of deftly blending voices in song.

Posted by acapnews at 12:17 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2008

Forget concert halls, the Clerks are singing in a sewage works

The Times (UK):

The most damning word in the modern workplace is “inappropriate”. It's the euphemism used to cover everything from sexually harassing the managing director's pet gerbil to running off with the proceeds of the Derby sweepstake.

But in the arts, inappropriate is good! The incongruity that jolts us into looking at the world in a different way is one of the most potent weapons in the cultural armoury.

And there can be little dispute as to the most incongruous thing to hit the musical world this summer. The Clerks are an excellent singing group, specialising in medieval and Renaissance anthems. Their director, Edward Wickham, has put together an intriguing tour of music from the 15th and 16th centuries marking the transition from life to death. It includes Dufay's sublime Ave regina coelorum, which he wrote to be performed around his own deathbed, and various other wonderful laments from an age when death tended to come so unexpectedly that it was wise always to be prepared for it.

So far, however, so expected. One of the great glories of the British musical scene is the plethora of stunning choirs - The Sixteen, the Tallis Scholars, the Monteverdi Choir - touring this sort of repertoire. But it's where the Clerks are performing over the next two weekends that makes their project so eye-catching. Rather than going to cathedrals, they have chosen four venues where the acoustics are just as reverberant, but the ambience very different. A coalmine. A swimming pool. A sewage pumping station. And a waterworks.

All, however, are architectural glories - and from their own era, which is Victorian. The coalmine, where the music will be sung more than 400ft underground, is Caphouse Colliery in Wakefield, which stopped producing coal in 1985 and is now the National Coal Mining Museum. The swimming pool is the lavish Victoria Baths in Manchester, replete with stained glass and terracotta decorations, which is getting a £3 million facelift after winning the public vote in the BBC's Restoration series.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette's magnificent Crossness Pumping Station in Bexley, Kent, is the sewage pumping station being used, though concert-goers will be relieved to hear that its mighty engines haven't pumped any sewage for 50 years. And the final venue is the equally imposing Engine House at Kempton Waterworks in Hanworth, West London - which, in its heyday, used to supply thirsty Londoners with 86 million gallons of drinking water each day.

What fascinates me is the symbolism of the event. As Pevsner gasped when he first saw Bazalgette's sewage works, these huge Victorian edifices were the “cathedrals” of their day. They may be dead, in that they no longer play any part in our industrial life - what remains of it. But they are now rightly celebrated as the engineering marvels of their age. In that sense, they have been reborn. Where better, then, to hear music that so beautifully celebrates what its composers believed to be the rebirth of the soul?

So, it turns out, the project isn't really incongruous at all.

www.theclerks.co.uk

Posted by acapnews at 9:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2008

Songs In the Key of Cheese

Newsweek:

Pop-trivia question: what do James van der Beek (of "Dawson's Creek") and Osama bin Laden have in common? In their youth, both dabbled in a cappella. According to "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory," by author Mickey Rapkin, the teenage bin Laden—who opposed the use of instruments—organized a group with his pals. That discovery "was pretty weird," says Rapkin. "It just shows that a cappella is everywhere." Love it or hate it, he's right: there are 1,200 college groups in the United States, uniting some 18,000 kids under ivy-covered archways to belt out Coldplay tunes. But Rapkin's book reveals a world with as much discord as harmony. One group (the Beelzebubs of Tufts University) dropped more than $30,000 to record a CD; another (the University of Virginia's Hullabahoos) traveled to the Philippines to sing. The two narrowly avoided a drunken postperformance brawl with each other.

Most a cappella singers don't pursue careers in music; still, their passion is all-consuming. "They stay up all night debating one song," says Rapkin, himself a former performer. It's about the lure of fame, he says. The Hullabahoos can draw 4,000 fans to a show. Harvard's Krokodiloes annually rake in $300,000 from gigs and CD sales. For just as many people, listening to 15-man harmony is the ninth ring of hell. "Khaki pants, vests and snapping are never going to be cool," Rapkin says. "You have to embrace the humor of it." Or run away screaming.

I wonder if Mickey is indeed "taking the Mickey" out of a cappella. Somehow I just can't see bin Laden and his buddies crooning away on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"..

Posted by acapnews at 9:56 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2008

Does singing in a chorus make you healthier?

Boston Globe (MA):
By Judy Foreman

It appears to. And that's great news for the 29 million adults and children who sing in America's 250,000 professional, community, church, and school choruses, according to figures from Chorus America, a service organization.

It's not clear how much of the health benefit is due to hanging out with other people and how much to the artistic challenge, but a handful of studies suggest that, for whatever mix of reasons, choral singing is good for your health.

In 2006, Dr. Gene Cohen, a psychiatrist and director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University, published results of a federally funded study on 300 people aged 65 to 103 in three cities. In each city, half of the participants attended an arts program and half did not.

In the Washington, D.C., group, the arts program consisted of singing in a chorale led by Jeanne Kelly, a professional opera singer. "I have done all kinds of things in my musical career," Kelly said recently. "And this is the best thing I have ever done. I just love to see these folks so darn happy."

After one year, the singers reported better health than at the outset of the study, while the health of the control group was worse, said Cohen. The singers also had fewer falls and greater improvement in measures of depression, loneliness, and morale.

"If a person is actively involved in an arts program, especially with other people," said Cohen, "that's doing very good things for health."

In a paper published in 2004, Gunter Kreutz, a musicologist and research fellow at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, studied 31 choral singers before and after a one-hour rehearsal and found that an immune marker in saliva called IgA increased, as did mood. "We must turn more attention to culture and arts as part of healthy living," he said in an e-mail.

There have been many studies now that all show that harmony singing can be beneficial for both body and mind. I wonder if there's any grant money out there to research this further..

Posted by acapnews at 9:37 PM | Comments (0)

Luke Menard diagnosed with cancer

CBS News

Chapter 6 member and “American Idol” finalist Luke Menard has been diagnosed with cancer.

The handsome Season 7 contender, who was kicked off as “Idol” whittled their top 24 to a top 10, has Hodgkin lymphoma, a rep for his a cappella ensemble, confirmed to CBS news.

“Luke had a lingering cough and was having trouble breathing deeply, so he went to the doctor to have it checked out,” Jane Victor told CBS News. “The suspicion was walking pneumonia. But after a chest x-ray doctors saw a mass and did more testing, which is what led to the stage II Hodgkin diagnosis.”

Though he was booted out of “Idol” earlier in the season, Menard made several appearances in the audience of the show, as recently as last week.

Menard, 29, and his wife remain hopeful. The disease has one of the highest success rates of treatment for any type of cancer.

“They’ve been told that it’s treatable and manageable. Luke is currently in Los Angeles and plans to return home to Indiana soon,” Victor said.

What awful news. A contender for American Idol one minute, facing cancer the next. Life can be terribly unfair sometimes. So I really do try to enjoy each and every day and certainly cherish the good times - especially with my young kids. Our prayers are with you Luke.

Posted by acapnews at 7:45 PM | Comments (2)

May 15, 2008

Pitch Perfect now to be a movie

Hollywood Reporter:

Universal hopes to hit just the right note with "Pitch Perfect," acquiring the rights to a nonfiction tome by Mickey Rapkin for Elizabeth Banks to produce. Kay Cannon ("30 Rock") has been tapped to write the adaptation, which Banks will produce with her Brownstone Prods. shingle partner Max Handelman.

Rapkin, senior editor at GQ magazine, spent a season covering competitive collegiate a cappella. He followed the teams from Tuft University, the University of Oregon and the University of Virginia, writing about the singing, groupies, partying and rivalries.

"Pitch" is intended to be a comedy set in that world. Rapkin's book is due out this month via Gotham Books.

---------------------------------------------------
Here's more info about the book from Mickey Rapkin's web site.


Pitch Perfect, written by GQ senior editor Mickey Rapkin, is a behind-the-scenes look at the bizarre, inspiring, and hilarious world of competitive collegiate a cappella. Pitch Perfect (Gotham Books) is on sale May 29th.

A cappella has come a long way in the last one hundred years, evolving from glee clubs into a tradition that is hugely popular, considerably profitable, and much publicized. There are more than 1,200 collegiate a cappella groups in the United States alone. And the good ones, well, it’s not what you think.

Pitch Perfect will take readers inside the a cappella subculture and explores what the proliferation of these amateur—but phenomenally accomplished—groups says about us, our quest for fame, and our taste in music. The story unfolds over the 2006-2007 school year and concerns three groups, each at a crossroads: the legendary Tufts Beelzebubs, the upstart Hullabahoos from the University of Virginia, and the ladies from University of Oregon’s Divisi.

Along the way we’ll run into boldface names like Jessica Biel, President George W. Bush, David Letterman, Nick Lachey, Merv Griffin, Jim Carrey, Harvey Weinstein, Microsoft’s Paul Allen, Prince and more. We’ll meet the father of contemporary a cappella, investigate a New Year’s Eve incident that sent members of a Yale a cappella group to the hospital and made international news, and find out what made Ed Helms from NBC’s The Office quit the Oberlin Obertones after just one semester in college.

"considerably profitable" - I enjoy good spin but Mickey, although I know a lot of folks making a living in a cappella, none is exactly rolling in the dough. Of course I don't know how much you just sold the rights for ;-)

Posted by acapnews at 10:20 PM | Comments (2)

May 14, 2008

The17 choir

Evening Telegraph (UK):

Petty criminals and prostitutes will be among the first members of the public allowed into Derby's new showpiece arts complex Quad. They will be part of a 1,700 group of city people recruited for a unique performance art project, which will have its premiere at Quad, then be destroyed.

The 1,700 will be split into 100 themed groups, each representing a cross-section of the community. The kind of people the organisers are seeking to fill the groups include petty criminals, sex workers, sumo wrestlers, lawn mower enthusiasts, ghost hunters and Liverpool fans.

Each 17-strong group will go into a studio to record a single note - these will be put together to form a piece of choral music which will be played once in Market Place on August 22 - then deleted.

The 1,700 people will then be invited to step inside the new £10.8m Quad building and enjoy a tour before it opens to the public later in the summer.

Quad is commissioning the work - called The17 - from controversial performance artist Bill Drummond, formerly of pop band KLF.

Read more here

Posted by acapnews at 9:30 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2008

Naturally 7 on Ellen today

Press Release:

Naturally 7 will make their national television debut on ELLEN this Tuesday, May 13th. The Atlanta based, award-winning group have been on tour in the US for the past two months, opening for Michael Buble. Following a short break, the entourage will continue on to Australia, the UK and Europe with solo performances at the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival in July as well as festivals in Canada, this summer.

The performance comes shortly after their appearance at the NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) Gala Dinner, May 7th in San Francisco. The much coveted opportunity put the group before music and entertainment retailers, wholesalers, distributors, record labels, multi-media suppliers and other music industry professionals.

The a cappella/vocal play group did not disappoint. In an audience brimming with industry leaders who have 'seen it all', they quickly rose to their feet, giving Naturally 7 a rousing standing ovation!

It has been a remarkable year and a half for the group. Since the fall of 2007 and the start of the Buble tour, they have performed for over 1.2 million people in Europe, Canada and the US, receiving rave reviews night after night. The Florida Times Union called them "simply superb". The Fort Worth Star-Telegram labeled them "sensational". The Vancouver Province declared they "dazzled the crowd with seemingly supernatural a cappella".

Having attended the NARM GALA dinner in the past I certainly agree that it is a most coveted spot to perform and could well pay major dividends down the road. Roger Thomas called me today and told me about the ELLEN gig and things are going very well indeed for the group. We are so proud of our Sweepstakes champs..

Posted by acapnews at 12:38 AM | Comments (0)

IAJE folds

The International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and will be turned over to a trustee, its assets parceled out to creditors. This is a blow not only to Jazz educators in this country but around the world, not to mention musicians, others in the music business and fans who derived pleasure from attending the annual IAJE conventions.

At least a part of the problem was an ill-advised return to Toronto in January, where attendance was barely above half the average for conferences in New York City and other venues. Faced with a large cash shortage, the IAJE sent a last-ditch fund-raising letter to its members but brought in only about $12,000, which hardly made a dent in liabilities estimated at more than $1 million. Some are now saying that the IAJE, which held its first conference in 1973, overreached itself, especially with a Campaign for Jazz program that never got off the ground.

In a letter to the membership, IAJE President Chuck Owen wrote in part:
”In the next few days, a Kansas bankruptcy court will appoint a trustee to oversee all ongoing aspects of the association. This includes the ability to examine IAJE's financial records and mount an independent inquiry into the causes of its financial downfall as well as disposing of the remaining assets of the association with proceeds distributed to creditors in accordance with Kansas and Federal law. The board will no longer be involved in operation of the organization and will at some point resign. IAJE as it presently stands will no longer exist.”

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

May 12, 2008

Chanticleer tours California's mission era music

Los Angeles Times :

Most California schoolchildren learn the basic facts about the state's mission history in the fourth grade. Established from 1769 to 1823 by Franciscan monks from Spain to spread the Roman Catholic faith among the area's Native American population, the series of strategic-religious outposts spanned 650 miles of California coastline, from San Diego to Sonoma, providing Spain with a powerful presence on the Pacific frontier. Today, these monuments are among the state's oldest buildings and most popular tourist destinations.

Yet despite the importance of the missions to California's development, relatively little is known about the music that formed the backbone of Franciscan rituals and teaching. "The repertoire that was jotted into the mission choir books still remains largely unknown, even to musical historians," says Craig Russell, an expert on Mexican Baroque music at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "Similarly, the musical archives in Mexico City Cathedral preserve stacks of gorgeous and erudite sacred music that are largely neglected but worthy of professional attention and performance."

This month, however, many Californians' knowledge of this music is due to expand, courtesy of Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based 12-member male vocal ensemble. Beginning Thursday in San Luis Obispo, the Grammy-winning group is undertaking a tour of eight of the 21 missions on the California coast's legendary Camino Real, including two concerts in San Francisco's Mission Dolores, where it made its inaugural public appearance in 1978.

"This music is part of both our history and California history. It forms the artistic and musical fabric of the West Coast," says Joseph Jennings, who joined Chanticleer as a countertenor in 1983 and became its music director in 1984. "The mission composers were way ahead of their time," says Chanticleer vocalist Eric Alatorre. "While on the East Coast people were writing hymns and part songs, in the Latin parts of the country they were composing full Masses and venturing into Classical terrain."

Continue reading this fascinating article.

Posted by acapnews at 9:19 PM | Comments (0)

May 9, 2008

Jay Leno with BNO

Here's Boyz Nite Out in a photo with Jay Leno from a show this week in Phoenix. The Alley Cats still perform their regular weekly gig with Jay at The Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas which must mean Jay enjoys a cappella.

Posted by acapnews at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 8, 2008

A cappella is piping up everywhere

Vanity Fair

A cappella singing flowered during the Renaissance, and it’s been beloved by barbershop quartets, doo-wop daddy-o’s, and collegiate songsters off on a spree since Cole Porter was one of the first Whiffenpoofs at Yale. Today, this silky subgenre of vocal music (performed without instrumental accompaniment) has an ever bigger foothold in the culture, from pop to rock, to classical, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing arts, in Washington DC, is honouring that reality with a 10-day festival, “Singing Solo,” May 28 through June 6. The series includes free concerts on the Center’s Millennium Stage by the likes of Sweet Honey in the Rock, the U.S. Army Chorus, and the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters.

The highlight is a June 1 Show led by Bobby McFerrin and featuring a range of topflight groups including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award-Winning South African ensemble that shot to fame on Paul Simon’s Graceland album. Meanwhile, Mickey Rapkin is coming out with a book, Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory (Gotham), which chronicles a year in the life of three ensembles around the country, interwoven with decades of lore (Jessica Biel was rejected by the Tufts Amalgamates, Brooke Shields by my alma mater’s group, the Princeton Katzenjammers). Even Hollywood is blowing its pitch pipe: J.J. Abrams, the hotshot writer-producer-director behind Alias and Lost, has an untitled a cappella project in the works.

Posted by acapnews at 9:54 PM | Comments (1)

May 5, 2008

Germany's Vocaldente wins the Harmony Sweeps

It was a truly glorious evening of unaccompanied vocal harmony singing at the National Finals of the Harmony Sweepstakes this past Saturday evening. Each and every group were in top form and who, perhaps because of the added excitement of the competition, sang and performed surely one of their best sets ever. Plus our knowledgeable, appreciative and supportive audience certainly added to the electricity that ran throughout the auditorium that night.

The 2008 National Champs are Vocaldente, winners of the Mid-Atlantic regional, who hail from Hanover, Germany and are now the second international winners of the event (2003 winners The Idea of North are from Australia). And what great champs Vocaldente are as they epitomize all the qualities we so enjoy in our winners. They are talented singers, have a great arranger in Tobias Kiel and are some of the most natural and entertaining performers (of any type) I have seen in years. They are also very, very funny! The Sweeps tradition of discovering a relatively unknown, immensely talented vocal harmony group continues and one who we will help make the most of this opportunity to build a large fan base and create more performances opportunities in the US.

The various camera crews and producers from Intuitive Entertainment, who are creating the “sizzle reel” for Sony, were a delight to work with and they were most pleased with the footage they shot (over 15 hours worth throughout the day).

Congratulations to all the performing groups who to a person were fun to work with and all of whom had the spirit that helps make the Harmony Sweeps so special. Next year is the big 25th anniversary season. We hope to see you all there!!

National Champions - Vocaldente
2nd - Where's Gesualdo?
3rd - Legacy

Audience Favorite - Vocaldente

Best original arrangement - "High and Dry" Lee Abe, Syncopation
Best original song - "Ain't had None of That Yet" - Stephen Saxon, Where's Gesualdo?

See the complete set list.

Posted by acapnews at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2008

Music from Baudboys, Microsoft's a cappella group

Seattle Times (WA):

While it may not score them points at their next performance review, the men of Microsoft's a cappella group, the Baudboys, have met their goal. About five years ago, the programmers-cum-pop singers started reinventing their sound with an eye on the Harmony Sweepstakes, billed as the "premier American showcase for vocal harmony music."

"We kind of got the idea that we could, if we dedicated ourselves, compete with this," said Dave McEwen, the group's president and a bass/baritone (and a content project manager in Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism group). "So we wrote down our goals, in typical Microsoft fashion, and used it as a cyclical iteration to make ourselves better." They won the Northwest regional event and will compete Saturday in the national tournament.

The group, which split off from another company singing group called the Microtones in the early 1990s, performed to a packed atrium on the corporate campus Wednesday. "How cool for Microsoft to have something like that coming from within the ranks," said Shari Fowler, an employee who spent her lunch hour watching the concert.

The Baudboys, whose name is derived from a measurement of modem speeds, played a set ranging from serene Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a brazenly geeky arrangement of "Gonna Make You Happy (Tonight)," written by an Australian comedy trio called Tripod.

A few of the lyrics:

Before we get down to love, before we get down
I just gotta finish this level
You see I got a high score tonight
And I just wanna save my game
Well I'll be with you in a minute sweet darling baby honey
I love how you dance for me
Could you move a little to the left baby
I can see the TV, oh, hey
Baby I can't wait 'til we start
Its just that the safe points are quite far apart, in this game baby
Ooh la la la la la la la
This parts got a multiplayer section honey
Maybe you could operate a taurant with me, would you like that baby?
Games give you hand-eye coordination especially intelligence together with map reading skills, oh sugar

Fowler and the rest of the audience cracked up. "It's perfect for the Northwest because there's so many gamers here and everybody knows that scene if they've got a husband that's into the gaming world," she said.

The Baudboys practice once a week, sometimes more when they're preparing for a performance. They know the conference rooms around campus with the best acoustics (and with no neighboring offices). They sing to their fellow employees about twice a year and do many more concerts in the community at senior centers, schools and sports events.

Posted by acapnews at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)