September 30, 2008
New Take 6 release "The Standard"
Take 6, one of our favorite a cappella groups, release their new studio album "The Standard" today. Special guests such as Aaron Neville, Jon Hendricks, Brian McKnight and Ella Fitzgerald (!) join the group on this fabulous recording which is quite possibly the best a cappella release of the year so far. Here is a new promo video for the title from the group where they give credit to the one and only Gene Puerling for being one of their greatest inspirations.
September 28, 2008
Ball in the House generates full sound
Reporter Herald (CO):
When Ball in the House is on the road, the traveling is light. Although the group’s music is rich and full, they have no instruments to tote. That’s because the a cappella group carries all the percussion, strings and brass it needs in its five members’ voices. Whether singing R&B, pop or original tunes, the musicians’ performances are as full-throttled as if backed by a band.
The national act, which has opened for and performed with such notables as Smokey Robinson, Cher, Blondie, Jessica Simpson and the Temptations, will bring its cool, smooth sound to the Rialto Theater on Friday, Oct. 3.
Hailing from Boston, Ball in the House began as a quartet a decade ago under the guidance of Jon J. Ryan, who is now the group’s vocal percussionist. The four practiced several times a week, honing their velvet sound before taking it to coffeehouses and other small venues around the city. By the late ’90s, the “mouth band” had added a fifth singer — an old school friend of Ryan’s — and its full-sound music enjoyed a substantial following. By then, Ryan had given up singing to learn a variety of complex percussive beat box sounds that earned him the title of “human drum machine.”
The percussion added further dimension to the group’s already dynamic sound. Gaining in popularity, the professional, full-time band made it to the stage at the Apollo Theater in New York and a variety of Florida venues before winning the New England region’s 1998 National Harmony Sweepstakes. Added to its list of prominent performances was a gig as the voices behind television and radio ads for Cool Whip.
Gaining critical acclaim wherever it performed, the quintet soon became an a cappella powerhouse. When the tragedy of Sept. 11 occurred, however, several of the members were compelled to leave the band for personal reasons. After a nationwide audition, new singers were brought in to once again fill out the five-singer group.
Today, with Ryan on vocal percussion, Dave Guisti and Aaron Loveland as tenors, Dan Szymezak as baritone and bass singer Ryan Chappelle, Ball in the House travels the world amazing its audiences with unbelievable harmonies. The group has a new album, a Christmas album titled “Believe,” ready for release in November. Fresh from an Alaskan tour, the group will appear in Wyoming and Loveland before heading to New York.
September 27, 2008
The Glee Club is the real monty
Metro (Manchester, UK)
An exploration of the lives and loves of a group of Yorkshire miners in the early 1960s, you'd expect some grim northern stereotypes to surface in this production of Richard Cameron's comedy-drama. However, despite song, dance and copious amounts of male nudity, this is no Full Monty.
Directed by Library favourite Roger Haines, The Glee Club is a carefully crafted, well-paced show that doesn't shy away from the hardships of life in the mines - the dirt, the danger, the political powerlessness of the men down the pits - but refuses to wallow in them. With a cast solely made up of The Glee Club - an a cappella singing group that raised money for charity - the play's success rests in the hands of the six men involved, and thankfully those chosen balance the humour and the hardship of mining life superbly.
Philip Cox's troubled Bant and family man Scobie (John Elkington) are particularly affecting, bringing out the harsher undertones of Cameron's play without letting it descend into self-pity.
A fine way for the Library Theatre to kick off its autumn season, The Glee Club captures the mood of unrest in the early 1960s. A telling insight into male cameraderie in any era, there's plenty here to make a song and dance about.
September 25, 2008
A cappella is a campus hit
Anne Hathaway, John Legend, Diane Sawyer and Art Garfunkel all hit a high note -- in collegiate a cappella groups, that is. A cappella, Italian for "in chapel style," is an ancient form of singing without the accompaniment of instrumental music.
The Yale University Whiffenpoofs, which formed in 1909 after a boisterous night of song at a local supper club, are widely recognized as the first formal collegiate a cappella singing group to capture the ears of Americans. Notable Whiffenpoof alums include composer and songwriter Cole Porter. The group has even appeared on "Saturday Night Live."
For decades, collegiate a cappella singing remained a "frenzied subculture" of campus life, writes Mickey Rapkin in "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory" (Gotham, $26). Then, in the mid-1990s, a cappella singing boomed on college campuses, growing from approximately 200 groups to more than 1,200, according to Rapkin.
"Now, it's bubbling up in pop culture," Rapkin says. He points to a long- running a cappella joke on "The Office" (Andy's college a cappella group was called Here Comes Treble) and the inclusion of situations involving a cappella performances in TV's "30 Rock," the Jennifer Aniston film "The Break-Up" and Broadway's "Young Frankenstein." "The people who were part of that explosion in the mid-1990s are adults and writing for TV. It's what they remember from their college days," Rapkin says.
A cappella singing captivates not just TV and film writers but also today's stars. "The Office" star Ed Helms (Andy Bernard) actually joined a group during his time at Oberlin, but he quit because he thought the group's leader took it too seriously.
Although Helms didn't reach celebrity status until his post-collegiate years, a celebrity-esque feeling is common in the collegiate a cappella scene. Exploring why a cappella singers are perceived as stars is part of what drove Rapkin, who sang in an a cappella group as a student at Cornell, to write "Pitch Perfect."
"I thought there was this hysterical story to tell about singing to screaming girls and traveling the world as a 'rock star,' " Rapkin says. He weaves a cappella's celebrity-filled history into a story that follows three current groups -- Divisi from the University of Oregon, the Hullabahoos from the University of Virginia and the Beelzebubs from Tufts Univer-sity -- over the course of a year.
In writing "Pitch Perfect," Rapkin found that a cappella still resonates with its alumni and today's collegiate stars. "There's a real sense of camaraderie," he says. "And you really are being celebrated. It's so hard for people to let that go." Which may be yet another reason why a cappella keeps piping up everywhere.
A potpourri of a cappella's celebrity story
Before John Legend (University of Pennsylvania) collaborated with Snoop Dogg, he performed at Carnegie Hall in the a cappella finals.
Besides their appearance on "Saturday Night Live," the Whiffenpoofs have performed on episodes of "The West Wing" and "Gilmore Girls" and at the World Series. The group has sung for Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.
James Van Der Beek (Drew University), Mira Sorvino (Harvard University), Art Garfunkel (Columbia University) and Jim Croce (Villanova University) got their start in collegiate a cappella.
Jessica Biel (Tufts University) and Brooke Shields (Princeton University) were rejected from a cappella groups at their colleges.
Not everybody appears to be happy with Mr Ripkin and his book but one certainly must give him credit for doing some great PR over the summer publiczing his book and a cappella. There have been articles in many major media outlets and this one (USA Weekend is the insert one finds in many Sunday papers including my own local one) was probably seen by millions.
September 24, 2008
Encounters can still doo-wop it like 1963
New York Daily News:
They're an echo of old Brooklyn comin' right back atcha. This doo-wop group lives up to the declaration on the first page of its Web site: "The Encounters will bring you back to a street corner in Brooklyn, where the group originated in 1963."
And 45 years later when I listen to them I still can see and hear the guys I saw all over Brooklyn as a kid, singing in subway stations, in apartment-building hallways, under lampposts, chasing an echo, or snapping their fingers and harmonizing in front of swooning girls.
"The Encounters started in Bushwick," says Pete Milazzo, a Wall Street headhunter by day who still sings with The Encounters on weekends. "It was a blue-collar Italian, German, Irish neighborhood of six-story apartment houses with about 150 kids per block. The el ran right behind my house. We had a club on Wilson Ave. called The Sportsman."
There were a lot of storefront social clubs in those days because there were a lot of gangs in the area and the police from the 83rd Precinct didn't let you walk in groups of three or more.
"The Sportsman had stickball, softball, and football teams that played other clubs," Milazzo says. "We had about 30 members and about 150 girls used to come to our social nights for the dancing as we spun 45s on a record player. And one night in early '63 one of the fellas started singing. I started harmonizing with him. Two other guys joined in. And soon we formed a group. That's how it happened all over Brooklyn."
To meet chicks, the group started singing in Grove St. Park and because the subway in their neighborhood was an elevated train they'd walk all the way down to the Myrtle Ave. subway stop to catch an echo.
Then some local guy who knew a guy over in the city who knew a guy in the record business heard the guys from The Sportsman club and sent them to audition for a guy named Joe Venneri.
"Venneri was the guitar player and a vocalist for The Tokens," says Milazzo. "And he was starting a producing career. He heard us and by the end of 1963 we had a recording contract with Swan Records and we recorded an original song called 'Don't Stop,' written by Venneri and Billy Carlucci, of Billy and The Essentials." But Swan Records also had another single called "She Loves You," by some obscure British group called The Beatles.
"We were running around doing live gigs all over the place to promote the record," says Milazzo. "Then we got the news that they were gonna book us on the Clay Cole Show. We couldn't have been more excited. Four guys from Bushwick on Clay Cole! Then a week before we were gonna be on we got a call that we were canceled because Swan Records wanted to put their promotion behind this new fad called The Beatles. We were so disappointed. But we were told we'd get our chance when this fad blew over. But of course the fad called The Beatles never blew over."
September 16, 2008
Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp
Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp is the first feature documentary about Sacred Harp singing, a haunting form of a cappella, shape note hymn singing with deep roots in the American south. Shape note singing has survived over 200 years tucked away from notice in the rural deep south, where in old country churches, singers break open 'The Sacred Harp', a 160 year old shape note hymnal which has preserved these fiercely beautiful songs which are some of the oldest in America. The film offers a glimpse into the lives of this 'Lost Tonal Tribe' whose history is a story of both rebellion and tradition. The filmmakers, Matt and Erica Hinton spent 7 years documenting this yet largely unknown art form.
September 13, 2008
Mosaic on MTV
Congratulations to Mosaic who made it thru the first round of the MTV contest America's Top Pop Group. The six-member group was formed about three years ago in Orlando by Josh Huslig, who "wanted to change people's perception of a cappella groups," according to the band's bio on MTV's Web site. The band eventually moved to Las Vegas where they have been performing regularly as the opening act for George Wallace in the Flamingo Showroom. This is a group on the rise and we wish them good luck in the competition.
September 11, 2008
A cappella rockers
Las Vegas Review Journal (NV):
It's humankind's original musical instrument, and whether employed in the service of a doo-wop tune, a Christmas carol or a disco ditty, an adeptly played human voice can make actual musical instruments seem, well, a bit superfluous. The members of Rockapella, who know something about the power of the human voice, will demonstrate that musical reality Saturday during a show at the Clark County Amphitheater.
The show, part of Clark County Parks and Recreation's 13th annual Moonlight Concert Series, comes on the heels of Rockapella's just-completed tour of Asia and Europe, says Scott Leonard, the group's high-tenor and primary songwriter/arranger.
Rockapella has gone through several incarnations since its founding in the '80s by a quartet of Brown University alumni. Leonard joined Rockapella in 1991 -- "I'm the granddad now," he jokes -- and says the now-quintet "has never sounded better."
Same for the group's shows, Leonard adds. "I think the focus has always been on the content and the performance, and the guys we have assembled now are just singularly talented people."
Rockapella's shows feature original a cappella arrangements, choreography, audience interaction and, most of all, a sense of humor and an offbeat, edgy, fun vibe. Leonard says the musical bill of fare for the upcoming Las Vegas show will include everything from the Mills Brothers to "a cappella disco.""The show itself is really more entertaining than it's ever been," he adds. "It's all about connecting with the audience."
Some of those audience members probably became acquainted with Rockapella through the group's appearances during five seasons of PBS' "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" Others' introduction to Rockapella probably came from a popular Folgers coffee commercial in the early '90s that featured the group.
Because a cappella may be the only musical form to not inhabit a niche of an increasingly subdivided radio landscape, such novel means of exposure -- as well as the release of 10 albums domestically -- have served Rockapella well.
Rockapella "has kind of carved out its own niche," Leonard agrees, and has become so well-known through its appearances at college campuses, arts centers and classical music venues in the United States, Europe and Asia that "it's the name that kind of comes to mind when people think of a cappella."
And while clips of the group can be found on YouTube and CDs can be purchased on Rockapella's own Web site (www.rockapella.com), "the best way to experience Rockapella, and probably a cappella in general, is live, because you can see there's nothing between us and you," Leonard says.
The voice is "the most simple of instruments," he continues, and in live performance, "there's that extra element of seeing it created for you." Even now, as Leonard and other Rockapella members also pursue individual endeavors, Leonard can't imagine not performing with his group. "The neat thing about being with guys like this is, you can be the backup, you can be the Pip in the back," he says. "But you also get to step out and be the lead, which is kind of fun,
September 10, 2008
Armenian a cappella
Providence Journal (RI):
The female a cappella trio Zulal take the rural folk music of Armenia and make it bewitching and transcendent; the tricky rhythms and subtly bizarre (to American ears) structures go down easily when paired with the women’s honeyed voices. On their latest record, last year’s Notes To a Crane, the trio apply shimmering Western harmonies to old folk songs from all corners of Armenia that reflect life, love and happiness that are often subsumed by the painful history of the people.
From the playful opener “Yaruhs Khorodig E (My Sweetheart is Cute! So What If He’s Short?)” to the lullaby “Kele Lao (Come, Let Us Go, My Son),” the non-Armenian speaker won’t know what they’re singing, and yet he or she will, which is kind of what music’s all about, isn’t it?
All three members of Zulal were born and raised in the United States, and Teni Apelian says that “all of us have had fairly different cultural experiences.” But Armenian folk music “has always been part of my life.”
Zulal apply elements of pop and jazz harmony to their interpretations of Armenian songs, but they work from songbooks and archival recordings to find the real stuff. Luckily, Apelian says, there’s plenty of archival material to work from, and the Armenian folk tradition is fairly good shape.
The Armenian a cappella tradition, on the other hand, isn’t as well known, Apelian says — most of the best-known Armenian music is instrumental. But singing a cappella, she says, establishes a connection and an homage to the traditions of Armenian rural life — “the village life from which these songs grew” — to perform them with just voices. “It’s reminiscent of that simpler time. It was very much a vocal tradition.”
September 5, 2008
40,000 expected for National Quartet Convention
Louisville Courier-Journal (KY):
Sandra Moore and some friends will soon be Louisville-bound for a week of gospel music at the National Quartet Convention. Moore, of Smithfield, N.C., will be flying in for her seventh convention, which runs Sunday through Sept. 13 at the Kentucky Exposition Center. "We will hit all the (shows)… and see some new talent we haven't seen or listened to before. There is music going on all the time."
More than 40,000 Southern gospel music buffs from at least 40 states and several foreign countries are expected for the event, said Clarke Beasley, executive vice president of the convention, which has its headquarters in Louisville. Beasley said the convention's arrangement with the Kentucky State Fair Board runs through next year. But he said things "are looking pretty good" to extend the contract through 2014.
The convention generates about $10 million a year for local hotels, restaurants and other primarily hospitality-related businesses, tourism officials say. The visitors book more than 10,000 hotel room-nights. Beasley said he doesn't believe that higher travel costs linked to fuel prices will have any dramatic impact on this year's convention. "Our advance sales are up across the board," he said.
For the first time, the convention expects to have more than 500 exhibitors at its trade show, which will be spread out in about 175,000 square feet of space in the new North Wing. Many of the performing groups will have booths at the trade show, offering visitors a chance to chat with the artists as well as buy their CDs. In addition to music, vendors also will sell clothing, recording gear and other items.
Nearly 50 of the most popular names in Southern gospel music will be featured throughout the event, including the Gaither Vocal Band, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, the Hoppers, the Kingdom Heirs, Gold City, Greater Vision, the McKameys, Legacy Five, the Inspirations and the Dixie Melody Boys.
Nightly concerts will be staged in Freedom Hall, with afternoon concerts and worship services also on tap. The trade show will be open 4 p.m. to around 11:30 p.m. It is also open to the public, as long as the person has an evening concert ticket.
The Pfeifers, a family singing group, have appeared at every National Quartet Convention since 1986. "Everybody in the industry is there, plus 15,000 to 20,000 fans," John Pfeifer said in a phone interview. "Record companies, publishing companies, the major artists are all there. A lot of business gets conducted, because everyone is in one place."
But the social aspects of the conference are also important, Pfeifer said, adding that the conference's atmosphere is very family-oriented. Southern gospel music, he said, "is very spiritual and emotional."
September 2, 2008
Only Men Aloud wins
Congratulations to Only Men Aloud!, the male ensemble from Cardiff, Wales, who this weekend won the highly successful BBC show Last Choir Standing. It is most exciting to see a young group of singers build upon the great tradition of Welsh male choirs and add a modern and personal element to the genre. The Welsh have always been famous for singing which is very much embedded in their culture. Plus the Daily Telegraph (UK) reports today that the BBC show has helped spark a "a renaissance of choral singing" and that the number of groups joining the National Association of Choirs has risen by nearly 20 per cent in the last two years.