July 18, 2008
Justin Timberlake sings barbershop
Members of two Harmony Sweepstakes National Champions quartets have been rehearsing for the past couple of days as they have been hired to perform with Justin Timberlake at the upcoming ESPY Awards on ESPN. Dan Jordan and Phil Gold of the Perfect Gentlemen, Bob Hartley of Metropolis and Matt Smith of the Dapper Dans perform in a large production number that includes a barbershop segment. They tell me it was lots of fun and Justin was great to work with. The 2008 ESPY Awards will broadcast Sunday, July 20 and rebroadcasts seven additional times over the next week.
Brian Eno loves a cappella
I posted once before how mega music producer Brian Eno had formed his own a cappella group and now he has written an article in Resurgence about the experience. How refreshing, after the recent oft snide comments in the media about a cappella, to have somebody as credible as him write so favorably about the experience.
How the starting of an a cappella group led to a musical addiction: the joy of making an unexpectedly beautiful sound together.
This is an article about singing. It’s about you singing. I am writing this because I want to encourage you to sing.
A few years ago my friend and I realised that we both loved singing but didn’t do enough of it. So we started a weekly acapella group with just four members. After a year we invited others to join. We didn’t insist on musical experience – in fact some of our members had never sung before. Now the group has ballooned to around fifteen people.
Now, the reason I’m going to try to persuade you that you should start your own acapella group is because I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, increased self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness, and a sense of humour. There! That got your attention. But it wasn’t all made-up: a thirty-year study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities seemed to relate to a healthy and happy old age. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing.
So what’s so good about singing? Well, there are indeed physiological benefits: you use your lungs in a way that you probably don’t for the rest of your day – you breathe deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits: singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call ‘civilisational benefits’. When you sing with a group of people you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness – because acapella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings: to stop being me for a little while, and to become us. That way lies empathy; the great virtue. Continue reading
July 14, 2008
World Choir Games
The 5th World Choir Games, from July 9 - 19, are under way with 441 registered choirs from 93 nations and some 20,000 active participants. It all starts with the parade of choirs and the formal opening ceremony in Graz, Austria. With 43 participating choirs, China boasts the largest international contingent, followed by Germany (41 choirs) and Russia (40 choirs). The host country, Austria, is also well represented, with 44 choirs.
The INTERKULTUR President expressed his delight at the enthusiasm shown by the choirs in the host country. He pointed out that the festival, which is dedicated to the Olympic idea, will also provide opportunities, such as the Chinese Evening, entitled "Night of the Dragons” to pay tribute to the victims of the earthquake in China and reflect especially on its consequences for the affected children. Titsch described the huge contingent from China as confirmation of the extraordinarily good relations INTERKULTUR enjoys with the country and the many devotees of choral music in China. The Chinese city of Xiamen was the scene of the 4th WCG in 2006, while Shaoxing will host the 6th WCG in 2010.
I participated in a similar type of event when I was a kid and it was a wonderful experience for me and helped spark my early interest in traveling and experiencing other cultures. I wish there were more such events in the US and it would be great for American kids to meet more young people from around the world. The US stance on granting visas, however, makes it very difficult to host such events here. What a shame. More info (and lots of great photos) on the web site.
Gold Company members sing at Olympics
A Western Michigan University music professor, along with four singers who are either current or former WMU students, will perform with the World Youth Choir on its upcoming trip to China. The entourage, which includes Dr. Stephen Zegree, the WMU Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz as the choir's director, lands Monday, July 14, in Hong Kong and returns Aug. 11. In addition to Hong Kong, the choir will visit and perform in Guangzhou and Macau, China. A high point of the trip will be a televised concert at the Hong Kong Olympic Equestrian Venue for the opening festivities of the summer Olympic Games.
Four of the five singers in the choir representing the United States are either WMU students or alumni. Students include Torian Johnson of Kalamazoo, Partick Laslie of Fort Wayne, Ind., and April graduate Nathaniel Adams of St. Charles, Ill. All three sang in Gold Company, WMU's acclaimed vocal jazz ensemble, this past academic year. In addition, the choir's bass section leader is Derek Fawcett, a WMU alumnus from Chicago.
July 9, 2008
'Singing Revolution' - Estonians' songs sent Soviets packing
Pittsburgh Post Gazette (PA ):
The "power of music" is purely personal and metaphorical, right? Wrong. In days of yore, it could be highly political: The Marseillaise, Sibelius' "Finlandia" and Haydn's (expropriated) "Deutschland Uber Alles" come to mind -- all of them effective calls to national resistance.
In days of not-so-yore, too, as we come to find out in "The Singing Revolution," a very powerful and very musical documentary by husband-and-wife team James and Maureen Castle Tusty chronicling the Estonian people's struggle to throw off Soviet occupation.
Tiny Estonia (pop. 1.1 million) was the first wild card in the communist deck -- the one that brought down the whole Soviet house of cards in 1991. It's a lovely little Baltic country, like its neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, but unlike them has an idiosyncratic Finno-Ugric language (one of only four non-Indoeuropean languages in Europe) left over from the tundra herdsmen who first settled the place 5,000 years ago.
From those roots, Estonia endured an endless series of German, Swedish, Polish and Russian conquests. A heady but brief period of independence after World War I was brutally curtailed by the cynical 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty in which Hitler and Stalin divvied up Europe -- assigning Estonia to the tender mercies of the latter. By the 1950s, Estonia had lost some 25 percent of its population to forced-labor camps, Siberian gulags and ethnic-cleansing massacres.
The Tustys' doc concentrates on Estonians' heroic defiance of their Russian occupiers through the step-by-step re-establishment of independence from 1986-91. How did they do it? In a nutshell, through peaceful protests -- and mass musical demonstrations of unity. Despite relentless Soviet efforts to repress and Russify Estonian culture, Estonians sustained their beloved tradition of choral singing, epitomized by the huge quintennial Laulupidu music festival. It was there, in 1947, that Estonian composer Gustav Ernesaks first performed his "Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love," set to the patriotic words of 18th-century Estonian poet Lydia Koidula. In defiance of Soviet edicts, the Laulupidu choirs -- and an astonishing singalong audience of 300,000 -- would then and later drown out the Soviet brass bands by singing the new (banned) national anthem.
"Without any political party and without any politicians," says Mart Laar, Estonia's first post-Soviet prime minister in the film, "young people came together with old people to sing and give this nation a new spirit." You'll fall in love with him and with the fabulous choir director Hirvo Surva, not to mention the gorgeous children whose pristine-pure voices he hones to perfection.
To Sing Like Shakira, Press "One" Now
Hat tip Choral Blog:
Vibrato -- the pulsating change of pitch in a singer’s voice -- is an important aspect of a singer’s expression, used extensively by both classical opera singers and pop stars like Shakira. Usually, the quality of a vibrato can only be judged subjectively by voice experts.
Until now, that is. A research group from Tel Aviv University has successfully managed to train a computer to rate vibrato quality, and has created an application based on biofeedback to help singers improve their technique. Your computer can now be a singing coach.
The invention was recently showcased at an international competition in Istanbul, where it won first prize at the International Cultural and Academic Meeting of Engineering Students. Researcher Noam Amir, a senior lecturer from the Department of Communication Disorders at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, says the tool might not help record producers find the next great pop music sensation. But it could teach singers how to mimic Shakira’s signature vibrato.
Vibrato is a musical effect than can be used when a musician sings or plays an instrument. It adds expression to a song and is created by a steady pulsating change of pitch, characterized by the amount of variation and the speed at which the pitch is varied. TAU’s application can teach singers how to mimic the vibrato qualities most attractive to the human ear.
But mastering vibrato is no guarantee for an American Idol appearance. “Vibrato is just one aspect of a singer’s impact,” says Amir, an expert in the ways that emotions impact speech. “Singers need to arouse an emotional response, and that is a complicated task.”
Three years ago, Amir and his colleagues decided that they would look for an objective, numerical assessment of vibrato quality. New vocal students usually don’t have good control of their vibrato, explains Amir. “Their vibrato is erratic and hard to judge subjectively, and it’s hard to find to a precise measure for this. We wanted to find a way to emulate a human expert in a computer program.”
Amir’s team input into their computer many recordings by students singing vibrato and had their vibrato judged by human teachers. Using hundreds of vocal students and expert judges, the team was able to use mathematical measurements to correlate vibrato styles to their quality as judged by the teachers.
The computer was then able to rate the vibrato quality of new voices on its own, producing ratings similar to those given by the expert vocal teachers. In effect, a machine had “learned” how to judge the quality of an individual singer’s vibrato. The researchers then added a biofeedback loop and a monitor so that singers could see and augment their vibrato in real time.
July 8, 2008
조선일보(영문판 (South Korea):
Cell phones have recently been dressed up with works of art. The songs of global stars are used as ringtones and works by famous artists decorate the screen of cell phones.
LG Electronics is leading the trend using songs by the Real Group as ringtones for its 30 models. Users of LG cell phones enjoy songs by the Swedish a cappella group when they get a call, make a call, turn on or off the phone, or push the slide up or down.
The Real Group is one of the world’s most popular a cappella groups, having sold some 5 million albums around the world and playing more than 2,000 concerts. LG Electronics asked the group to compose songs for ringtones, and the band accepted and came up with some 50 of them. Some are just two to three seconds long, but others play for more than three minutes.
According to Park Jun-young, a researcher at LG Electronics’ Mobile Communication Research Lab, the company concluded that many customers are sick and tired of mechanical cell phone sounds and asked the a cappella group to produce something different. The Swedish group worked on the “enthusiastically” on the project, he said.
Mosaic breaks out
Las Vegas Sun (NV):
Mosaic, a six-man a cappella group that performs with George Wallace at the Flamingo, will make its Las Vegas solo debut Sunday and Monday at Harrah’s to benefit the Public Education Foundation of the Clark County School District.
“Las Vegas has been really great to us and has allowed us to achieve great success doing what we love, so we’re anxious to give back to this great city,” says Mosaic founder Josh Huslig. “With all the proceeds of this event going directly back into the schools, it’s an honor to be part of such a worthwhile program.”
The show will include renditions of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You,” Zapp & Roger’s “More Bounce” and TV tunes. As a special presentation, high school dancers will perform alongside professional Las Vegas dancers from the Stratosphere’s “Bite” and the Rio’s “Show in the Sky.”
July 6, 2008
A big win for LA barbershop
The results are in and Los Angeles barbershop singers were the clear winners at this year’s International Barbershop Competition with the Masters of Harmony winning the chorus event and one of their quartets, OC Times, taking gold in the quartet competition. This is the second year in a row that a chorus from LA has won the event and the second Masters of Harmony quartet to win it all (Gotcha). The chorus also has two Harmony Sweepstakes national champs Metropolis and Hi-Fidelity.
OC Time's tenor Shawn York and lead Sean Devine are three-time international chorus champions with the Masters of Harmony, having won their third gold medals this week. Bass Corey Hunt is a member of the Reno Silver Dollar Chorus and bass section leader for the 2007 international chorus champions, Westminster Chorus. Baritone Patrick Claypool is the only Orange County native – he was the baritone section leader for the 2007 champion Westminster Chorus.
Crossroads quartet won silver and State Line Grocery claimed bronze while the Ambassadors of Harmony won the chorus silver and Voices in Harmony took bronze. Ringmasters won gold in the Collegiate event. Congratulations to all!
July 2, 2008
Barbershop grapples with modern era
The Tennessean :
It may not be Nashville Star, but the latest singing contest to hit the city has plenty of drama. Barbershop harmony, that sudsy, old-fashioned singing style dispensed by men in bright vests and straw boater hats, is working to update its image, with a new move to Nashville and a push to recruit more youth. But updating barbershop has upset traditionalists, who have accused the leaders of barbershop's governing organization, the 70-year-old Barbershop Harmony Society, of forgetting the past.
This week's gathering of 8,500 barbershop singers in Nashville for their international convention will be a test of whether both sides can finally bury the straight razor. With a series of performances and high-stakes competitions, which run through Saturday and include a Friday appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, the Barbershop Harmony Society hopes to show how fresh barbershop music can sound, while appeasing a traditionalist wing that clings to its old songbook rooted in the Gay 1890s. Keeping harmony will not be easy, not even for people dedicated to the task.
Barbershop's squeaky-clean image aside, modernizers and traditionalists have sparred over everything from last year's move to new headquarters in Nashville to the recent shortening of the society's original name, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, or SPEBSQSA. Traditionalists are trying to build up a parallel organization, the Barbershop Quartet Preservation Association, with its own competitions and meetings. But after threatening to break from the society, the group is working to patch up its relationship with its fellow barbershoppers. "What others want to do, we take no exception," said Jack Martin, the BQPA's chairman. "We just want to do our thing."
Modernizers, meanwhile, say they believe in keeping the door open to traditionalists, but they insist that without new blood and fresh thinking, barbershop will die out. "One of the things I don't think they understand is I can't do any of this without money," said Ed Watson, the Barbershop Harmony Society's executive director. "I'm doing this so they can do their thing."
'Keep it barbershop'
The dispute centers on just how far barbershop can veer from its signature sound of four unaccompanied male voices ringing in harmony before it ceases to be barbershop music. It pits modernizers versus people known within the society as "kibbers," for their slogan, "Keep it barbershop." Many joined the society decades ago, and they believe the musical form should not deviate too far from the roots that made it successful.
Traditionalists believe most modern songs do not lend themselves to barbershop harmonizing, because their chord structures are based on blues, not the classical sounds that form the basis of barbershop. They also dislike the big barbershop choral competitions that have come to dominate conventions. Instead, they want to keep the focus on "quarteting," in which four men form an improvised group instantly by blending their voices. Choruses and modern tunes are fine, they say, but to quartet, barbershoppers need to have a shared songbook.
They also can't become so professionalized that amateurs feel left out. "If you sing with someone, that's a bond," said Liz Garnett, a musicologist with the Birmingham Conservatoire in England who has studied barbershop music for more than a decade. "That's really an important part of why it continues to sustain itself."
The dispute over barbershop's direction has spilled into other aspects of the society. Five years ago, the society decided to slough off the SPEBSQSA name and logo for something catchier. The result was a switch to the more direct Barbershop Harmony Society and an emblem that shows the profiles of four men of different colors superimposed on a simplified musical staff. The logo was meant to symbolize the society's new commitment to increasing racial diversity, but critics said it ripped off the Girl Scouts logo.
Many members were even more upset by the society's decision to move its headquarters from a lakefront mansion in Kenosha, Wis., to a renovated office building in downtown Nashville festooned with stainless steel barbershop poles and a two-story Norman Rockwell print. They saw the move to the Music City as a step away from barbershop's amateur roots. But Watson, a 30-year member of the Barbershop Harmony Society in addition to being its top staff officer, says the move was motivated more by practical considerations, such as Nashville's central location and its airport access, than by an interest in tapping into Nashville's music scene. "Music is what we're all about," Watson said. "But we're not a professional organization. We're a hobby organization."
Modernizers win out
Modernizers, argue that barbershop has been an evolving form from its earliest days in the late 1800s, when African-American men began to mix gospel tunes with vocal techniques brought over by immigrants from Central Europe. They believe many pop harmonies can be arranged to fit barbershop's signature sound. These days, champion quartets and choruses at the barbershop conventions often feature repertoires that include contemporary tunes made popular by non-barbershop singers, such as the Beach Boys and Harry Connick, Jr.
The Psychology of Karaoke Explained
Popular Science (US):
Researchers have confirmed the unfortunate karaoke phenomenon whereupon terrible singers either do not know they sing poorly—or do, yet still hog the stage with little regard for the audience’s ears or glassware.
Psychologist Simone Dalla Bella from Warsaw’s University of Finance and Management and his team asked 40 volunteers to belt out, a cappella, familiar songs such as Jingle Bells and Sto Lat, the Polish version of Happy Birthday. After a number of acoustic tests, the researchers discovered that most of the singers who couldn’t follow a song’s pitch and timing fell into the first of two phenotypes: they were tone deaf yet blissfully unaware of it. The remainder of the poor singers had no trouble judging a proper note, yet were unable to hit it themselves, and knew it.
A more surprising revelation from the team’s work, however, is that most people actually can sing. In an earlier experiment with Montreal colleagues, the researchers staged a “birthday bet” to get 42 people in a public park to croon a Quebecois birthday tune, Gens du Pays, to one of the researchers. Forty of the participants managed to sing on tune and on time, suggesting that singing is actually a universal human trait. Come karaoke time, this should be reassuring.
July 1, 2008
Monks make top 10 pop charts
The question comes off like an old "Monty Python" gag. What musical group in Britain is more popular than Paul Simon or the Ting Tings? The Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz.
Several weeks ago, a group of Cistercian monks who live in a 12th-century monastery near Vienna, who wear cowls and wake at 5 each morning to pray in Latin, made a little music history when their album of Gregorian chants soared up the pop charts and landed at No. 7. At the same time, the CD, which is not yet released here, found its way to the top spot on the U.S. classical chart last week, thanks to feverish downloading on iTunes. Father Karl Wallner, the 45-year-old monk who has been at the monastery since he was 18 and is charged with answering media inquiries—"they call me 'press monk,' that's very funny," he says—had just said goodbye to two television crews and spoke with NEWSWEEK via his cell phone.
Gregorian chant is popular among young people because "there's a big harmony with those melodies." Indeed, at a time when the Roman Catholic priesthood is suffering diminishing vocations in the Western world, Stift Heiligenkreuz has an abundance—28 young men have entered in the past five years. Wallner thinks it's because of the chant.
The success of the monks' album is not entirely a gift from God, as Wallner would have you believe; it's more a dovetailing of smart marketing by a classical-music company in Britain and surprising technological savvy on the part of the monks. Last winter, noticing a surge in sales of chant as well as the runaway success of the futuristic, sci-fi videogame Halo—which uses chantlike melodies throughout its soundtrack—Tom Lewis, an A&R executive at Universal Music Classics, launched a kind of "Pop Idol" contest for Gregorian chant, which he advertised in Catholic papers throughout Britain.