October 31, 2008
The Lone Voice That Unites the Chorus
New York Times:
However you wish to label Berlioz’s “Damnation de Faust” — a dramatic cantata, scenes from Goethe’s “Faust,” an opera of the mind, a futuristic musical fantasy or (as Berlioz called it) a “légende dramatique” — the chorus arguably plays the leading role. Through some two hours of music, the chorus appears in many guises: merrymaking townsfolk, drunken students, soldiers marching to war, an Easter congregation in prayer, seductive choirs of airy sylphs and will-o’-the-wisps, foul fiends from hell and angels of heaven. If a stage production were to take it all literally, the comings and goings, let alone the costume changes, would be a director’s nightmare.
Of course Berlioz never intended the work to be staged, but that hasn’t kept opera companies from trying. The Metropolitan Opera, having performed the work in concert, made its first attempt at a staging in 1906 with a starry cast: Geraldine Farrar, Charles Rousselière and Pol Plançon. By all accounts, it was an impressive spectacle.
The experiment has never been repeated until now. On Friday evening the Met unveils a new production conceived by Robert Lepage, featuring Marcello Giordani as Faust, Susan Graham as Marguerite and John Relyea as Méphistophélès, with James Levine conducting. Overseeing his choral forces from the wings — the star of the show, according to many in the company — will be the Met’s chorus master, Donald Palumbo.
Like every other component of the complex apparatus that keeps the Metropolitan Opera functioning smoothly, the chorus has had its ups and downs over the last 125 years. The consensus now is that the overall choral quality registers very high indeed, as it must for any performance of “La Damnation de Faust” to have maximum impact. Mr. Palumbo, 60, first made his mark on the Met as a guest, when he was engaged to prepare the chorus for the new production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” in the spring of 2006. That September he took the job permanently, and it soon became apparent that the Met chorus, which had been sounding a bit ragged and inconsistent, had improved beyond all recognition.
Frequent Met attendees quickly noted the rise in choral quality in repertory operas, day-to-day performances that can easily lapse into routine without constant vigilance and tweaking. The new tonal luster and technical precision could hardly be missed in a great ensemble piece like Britten’s “Peter Grimes” or Prokofiev’s epic “War and Peace.” Perhaps the ultimate challenge last season, for the chorus as well as Mr. Palumbo, was Philip Glass’s “Satyagraha,” with its vast expanses of abstract repetitive choral patterns to be digested, memorized and sung in Sanskrit.
“We had never encountered anything quite like it before,” Mr. Palumbo said. “There was a lot of resistance to Glass’s idiom at first, and the chorus had a hard time making a connection with the language. But after several weeks of plugging away, everything suddenly fell into place. Within a span of just one or two rehearsals, the learning curve took off, and we went from struggling to almost complete comprehension. When that happened, despite all the physical demands the piece makes, it became an intellectual joy for the chorus to sing, and all the performances came off on a real high.” Continue reading
October 24, 2008
Orphei Drängar spans every walk of life
Georgia Straight (Canada):
There is more reason to be grateful for Swedes than their knack for churning out cheap, yet livable, home furnishings; music lovers can be thankful that our Scandinavian friends also provided the inspiration for one of Vancouver’s most beloved choral ensembles.
If it hadn’t been for a visit almost 20 years ago by the more than 80 gentlemen who make up the Swedish men’s choir Orphei Drängar, our own men’s choir, Chor Leoni, might never have been established. At least, that’s how Diane Loomer, Chor Leoni’s founder and conductor, tells it.
"I heard them in 1989, when they were here in Vancouver on tour," Loomer recalls in a phone conversation. "I thought, ‘If I ever create a men’s choir, that’s what I want to model it after.’ Not only did they sing fantastically, but they had an amazing…presence on-stage."
This Saturday evening (October 25), audiences will be able to see and hear for themselves what so impressed Loomer two decades ago, when Chor Leoni presents Orphei Drängar, affectionately known simply as OD, at the Chan Centre. The wide-ranging concert, featuring challenging works as varied as Bob Chilcott’s Five Ways to Kill a Man, Claude Debussy’s Invocation, and Jaroslav Kricka’s Kdo má pocernú galánku, will mark the final leg of the choir’s one-week North American tour with Stockholm-based Ukrainian soprano Maria Fontosh. It will also be the last performance OD gives under the direction of conductor Robert Sund, who is retiring after a long association with the ensemble.
"I’ve been with the choir now for 43 years, and I think that’s enough," the amiable and down-to-earth Sund, 66, explains in accented English by phone from Stockholm. "I’ve been conducting them for 23 years and I was singing with them before, and was an associate conductor."
Sund had big shoes to fill when he took over as full-time conductor from the legendary Eric Ericson in 1991. A champion of choral music in Sweden, Ericson propelled the amateur group into the international spotlight, where it was hailed as the world’s best male choir. Under Sund’s direction, the ensemble expanded its repertoire, commissioning more work, creating arrangements, and maintaining its reputation as the epitome of the male vocal ensemble.
Asked to enumerate what makes OD so special, Sund speaks plainly. "They are very good singers.…And it’s not only a choir, it’s like a society or brotherhood. There are a lot of connections between older former members and new members of the choir." Being in the university town of Uppsala, he adds, makes it easy to find good voices. "Every year there’s about 8,000 to 10,000 new [students] coming [to Uppsala]. Some of them are good singers."
The men in the ensemble, he says, come from every walk of life. "You have everything from farmers…and doctors and lawyers and teachers and so on. There’s no limitation. People can do whatever they want, as long as they are good singers and good persons."
Described in that manner, creating a world-class choir sounds positively easy. But, as with IKEA, it’s one thing to have all the pieces; it’s quite another to mesh them together flawlessly.
October 23, 2008
Beatboxers Hone Their Vocal Tools
Washington Post (DC):
The wood-paneled music room in the Mansion at Strathmore pulsates with the sound of "boom chk buh-buh boom boom chk," as a dozen young men sit in a semicircle learning how to be beatboxers -- or "vocal percussionists," if you will.
The students break only to gulp water, dry mouth being the enemy of a good beatbox jam session. They are here to learn from Dave Baumgartner, the master of the master class in North Bethesda. Baumgartner, 26 and a professional beatboxer for eight years, can mimic the sound of a bass drum, a high-hat and a snare drum. He can do a drumroll. He can make cymbals crash. He can create the sleigh bells at the beginning of "Jingle Bells," something so difficult that at one point he had decided it was impossible and quit trying to master the sound.
During the advanced segment of the three-hour workshop, Baumgartner's instructions stopped sounding like English: "All you need is uh, uh, uh, uh, cymbal, cymbal, crash, crash." Right.
Beatboxing feels like a throwback to '80s hip-hop: Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie are considered the founders of the art form. It is linked with a cappella, which is often the butt of jokes. One of the most prominent a cappella singers right now is the fictional character Andy Bernard on the NBC comedy "The Office." Andy (played by Ed Helms) is an obnoxious Cornell University alum with a habit of breaking into song. Baumgartner -- wearing a suit jacket and torn jeans, with a piercing through his right eyebrow and five silver hoops in his ears -- is no Andy Bernard.
The class starts with the fundamentals of how to make the different drum sounds and then deconstructs the rhythms behind songs by the Beatles, Alicia Keys and Duffy, getting the students to beatbox to the music.
Kevin Barrett, 38, came to the Strathmore workshop to improve the sound of his snare-drum sound and to get more comfortable beatboxing into a microphone. He's the vocal percussionist for the A Cappella Showcase Chorus in Frederick and has been beatboxing for a year and a half. "The hardest part is the whole 'less is more' thing," Barrett says. "I'm a showoff. I'm always trying to do more than I should."
The first time Baumgartner, the son of a music teacher, heard a cappella music was during his sophomore year of high school in the Buffalo suburbs, when he sent away for a Rockapella CD. (Rockapella sang the theme song for the early-'90s game show "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" and still tours. "A Rockapella Holiday" comes to Strathmore on Dec. 9.)
"I'm reading through the CD booklet, and it said all the sounds on this recording are produced by the human voice," he recalls. "I was like, you've got to be kidding me. I had heard of beatbox before, but didn't know you could take it to this level and actually sound like drums." Read more
October 22, 2008
They’d rather sing than fight
Worcester Telegram (MA):
To interview for a chance to be a member of this University Notre Dame University all-male team, students are officially advised that “interviews are a chance for the officers of the club to get to know you a little more personally … They are fun and are not intended to be stressful. Relax, enjoy your interview.”
Wait a minute. This doesn’t sound like a tryout in front of a growling and snarling Charlie Weis, the head coach of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team.
Indeed not. We’re talking about what we might call the “Singing Irish” — The University of Notre Dame Glee Club. Tomorrow, those who have made the cut will be sharing “glee” and a love of music in a concert scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Cathedral, 38 High St., Worcester.
Glee Club director Daniel C. Stowe said the concert will be a potpourri including classical music (with compositions by the likes of Schubert and Gabrieli), along with folk songs, spirituals and lighter material. Chances are, the “Notre Dame Victory March” will also be part of the repertoire.
The tenor of the audition interview may be relaxed, but the club has high musical standards and is regarded as one of the best of its kind in the country. While genial sounding, Stowe said the club rehearses four times a week, one hour per practice. There are a large number of singing commitments, both formal and informal, at university functions, Masses and revue concerts two hours before the kickoff of Notre Dame football home games. There are fall and spring tours, and the club recently completed a 28-day tour of Europe, including performances in Dublin, Paris, Vienna, Munich and Rome. Read more
October 21, 2008
Some Sacred Sounds of Old Spain
New York Times:
The Tallis Scholars, regulars in the Miller series, turned up at the acoustically vibrant Church of St. Mary the Virgin near Times Square on Thursday evening to sing works by two generations of Spanish Renaissance composers.
The older generation, represented by Francisco Guerrero, had the first and last word: his richly harmonized motet “Maria Magdalene” opened the program, and his more densely textured but equally fluid settings of “Ave Virgo Sanctissima” and “Regina Caeli” closed it. Between them, the choir sang works by Alonso Lobo, a student of Guerrero’s, and Tomás Luis de Victoria, the most celebrated Spanish composer of the time (partly because he spent 23 years in Rome, hearing and perhaps studying with Palestrina).
The Victoria works were in many ways the most striking. In the Pentecost motet “Dum Complerentur,” the rush of distinct vocal lines vividly evokes the text, which describes “a voice from heaven like a rushing mighty wind” filling the house in which the disciples were worshipping. More compelling still was Victoria’s “Lamentations for Holy Saturday,” a serene if impassioned setting of passages from Jeremiah’s penitential text. Victoria’s harmony is simple and his themes are melodically constricted, but these scarcely adorned materials yield music of haunting purity and depth.
Lobo’s “Missa Maria Magdalene,” though less moving than Victoria’s Lamentations, has its own considerable charms. It is based on Guerrero’s “Maria Magdalene,” which immediately preceded it on the program, but you could hear the shift in generational priorities: where Guerrero sought a unified, chordal texture, with the top soprano line soaring above, Lobo was more interested in giving his vocal lines greater independence and in setting the text in distinct sections, with stopping points and changes of tempo rather than in a seamless flow of ideas.
Peter Phillips led gracefully paced performances attentive to the ways each composer made the music move to the demands of the texts. And the singers performed these works with power and assurance, and a virtually vibrato-free sound. No doubt they were buoyed by the church’s reverberance, which made the 10-voice choir sound twice its size without taking a toll on clarity.
October 18, 2008
He was "the Tops"
Washington Post (DC):
Few singing groups maintained the quality, popularity and constancy in personnel of the Four Tops, which formed in 1953. They signed with Motown Records a decade later, sold tens of millions of records and generated 19 Top 40 singles from 1964 through the early 1980s. The original members -- the baritone Mr. Stubbs, first tenor Abdul "Duke" Fakir, second tenor Lawrence Payton and baritone Renaldo "Obie" Benson -- continued to perform together until Payton's death in 1997. Afterward, they sang as "The Tops."
As one of the most formidable groups after the Temptations, another Motown hit machine, the Four Tops were responsible for setting "a high standard for contemporary soul in the mid-Sixties," according to their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
The citation singled out Mr. Stubbs for his "bold, dramatic readings" of some of the finest compositions by the Motown songwriting-production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Popular favorites such as "It's the Same Old Song," "Reach Out, I'll Be There" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love" propelled the band into the front rank of American music for years. Afterward, they scored chart-topping hits with "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got)" and "When She Was My Girl."
Critics noted their talent and appeal were undiminished over the years. They made hundreds of concert dates annually, often with the Temptations. A New Yorker reporter attending a Four Tops performance in 1993 wrote its performance was "less of an oldies show than a master class in the golden age of Motor City soul."
Levi Stubbles II was born June 6, 1936, in Detroit, and he was one of eight children born to a foundry worker and a housewife. In the early 1950s, Levi Stubbs and other local high school students formed their group at a birthday party. Their path into the music business was smoothed by Mr. Stubbs's cousin, singer Jackie Wilson. In addition, one of Mr. Stubbs's brothers, Joe, sang with the Contours and the Falcons.
In selecting a name, the new band shunned the bird-group trend -- Falcons, Orioles, Flamingos -- because, he told The Washington Post, "That sounds great at 14, 15, 16 years old, but at 35, somebody calls you the Cuckoos, it just doesn't work."
As the Four Tops, the group sang in nightclubs, cut several flop records and toured with a revue without any particular notice until Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. signed them to his subsidiary label Workshop in 1963 for a $400 advance.
By this point, the group's signature harmonies and synchronized dance steps were polished, but the missing ingredient was music and arrangements. The Holland-Dozier-Holland team, which admired the Four Tops's club act, correctly thought their "Baby I Need Your Loving," would provide the breakthrough. Recording in 1964, the song reached No. 11 on the pop charts. Read more
Growing up in England during the 50's and 60's The Four Tops, along with the Temptations, were the first vocal harmony groups I listened to. I was a huge fan and remember to this day almost all the lyrics to their many hits. Levi Stubbs was probably the most well known of the singers and his style was always captivating to me.
October 17, 2008
Viva Voices: The Idea of North
Australian Stage Online (Australia):
Wollongong mightn't be able to attract a high calibre of councillors or developers, but it fares rather better when it comes to the arts. Prima facie evidence came in the form of the urbane, witty, entertaining and highly-polished acapella of The Idea Of North, comprising four fine voices: arranger and alto, Naomi Crelin; strong, soaring soprano, Sally Cameron; bassist and percussionist ('all with the same mouth') and local yokel, Andrew Piper; pleasing tenor, gentle humorist and frontman, Nick Begbie.
The beauty of a capella, aside from the strange solace afforded as the collective sound, so much greater than the sum of its parts, strikes a chord somewhere deep down, is, traditionally, it allows a group to transgress boundaries of genre and style with cavalier impunity. This, alone, lends a great deal of promise for an engaging evening; realised in TION's performance, via bookends such as a hilariously meticulous, ridiculous 'German folk song' and a singalong, three-part harmony take on Stevie Wonder's sweetly affecting Isn't She Lovely. This would seem to be something of a specialty of the house.
They seem to have affinity, too, with Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now. Indeed, songs such as these last two, especially, denote the measure of the fab four's serious & wholehearted commitment to songs which, clearly, float their boat. Wherever one finds that, I contend, one's bound to find an audience that's right there, with the performers, every step of the way. There seems to be little or nothing outside Idea's scope, or range: jazz (including standards, such as The Nearness of You & nouveau stylings, as in Sting's breathtaking Fragile, with very special guest, Katie Noonan), pop, funk, folk, gospel and beyond.
Andrew Piper is compelling to watch: for much of the concert, I was doing my damnedest to discern by what alchemy, or devious magic, he manages to tirelessly output rhythmic and bottom-end sounds, with matchless fluidity.
Crelin seems like the serious one of the group, her constant smile more stagecraft than sincere, spontaneous joie de vivre, it seemed to me; which isn't intended to take anything away, for her arranging is clever, distinctive and carefully-tuned to individual and collective capacities.
Cameron has a pure tone, which sails out of her, to the ceiling.
Apart from Begbie's universally lovable, tender tenor, there's his equally engaging personality, idiosyncratic anecdotes (apropos of nothing, but rapport-building) and romantic serenades with deliberately, or randomly, selected audience-members.
It's all broadly crowd-pleasing, with each treatment of a piece given enough originality that, if you've heard it before, it can never really be stale and, if not, it will make the discovery enriching and enjoyable, if not downright thrilling. Even 'classics' rendered sacred and inviolable by personal favouritism, such as Wonder's aforementioned wonder of lyrical, mellifluous wonders, are given the respect and attention they demand and deserve. On the occasion, what's more, this surfeit of talent was bolstered, ambiently, by well-mixed sound (hallelujah!) and conducive lighting, under the surprisingly intimate Circus Monoxide Big Top. So, whether it means heading somewhat south to see them, or in an entirely different direction, ensure your musical compass is set to The magnetic Idea of North.
October 16, 2008
Soweto Gospel Choir 'touches the soul'
Post Crescent (WI):
However far the two-time Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir travels, the South African singers never forget where they came from. "We are young South Africans that have been given a great opportunity," said Sipokazi Luzipo, the show's narrator and one of the touring choir's 26 or so musicians, most of whom started singing young in their churches and neighborhoods. "It's about showing the beauty that has come out of South Africa. What we do is also to our communities' benefit."
The choir's current U.S. and Canadian tour, "African Spirit," which stops Oct. 23 in Appleton, showcases traditional African gospel, Western gospel and contemporary songs of the type that choir members have performed for disadvantaged and ill children at orphanages throughout their homeland.
At some point during the concert at the downtown Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, the choir will provide an opportunity for audience members to donate funds to its charitable foundation, Nkosi's Haven Vukani. The foundation has raised about $1.05 million to help alleviate poverty for South African children, and choir members have personally distributed supplies at orphanages.
"We just form a line, and we pass the food from one choir member to another," said Luzipo, 24, who joined the choir when it formed in 2002. "Bags of rice, vegetables. The kids will eat; the choir will sing for them. We just try and reach out to all of them. The ones who don't go to school need blankets, but the ones who do go to school need books. All of them need food. That's where we come in as a group."
Making and listening to music in African cultures is a daily activity through which people worship, pass along oral histories, mourn and celebrate, said Dane Richeson, a professor of music and the director of percussion studies at Lawrence University in Appleton. The African percussion ensemble he directs, called Kinkaviwo, will demonstrate Ghanaian styles of drumming, dance and song during a pre-concert presentation.
"A lot of the music is highly complex, rhythmic composition, all passed down from generation to generation," Richeson said. "There's something very soulful and powerful in the music. It's something I can't imagine (the African people) ever going a day without." Read more
October 14, 2008
Blenders music in the movies
The Blenders are about to kick off their annual series of Christmas concerts while also being featured singing the soundtrack for the trailer of the new movie "Nothing Like The Holidays" featuring John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodríguez & Debra Messing. Watch the trailer here.
October 10, 2008
Gospel competition: 'How Sweet the Sound'
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
"Let your glory fill this place," Tina Landry tells the 15 singers in her Voices of ICC choir as she dictates harmony parts from memory to the soprano, alto and tenor sections. "Tenors, you've got to hit those bottoms," she commands, then adds her resonant contralto to the blend.
One of six Bay Area choirs participating in the "How Sweet the Sound" competition Friday night at the Oracle Arena, the Voices of ICC are awaiting word from the event's sponsor, Verizon Wireless, on which song they're going to perform. With only the beat of a tambourine augmenting their otherwise a cappella voices, they run through four possibilities during a Wednesday evening rehearsal at the temporary headquarters of their Independent Community Church in a former Mechanics Bank building on a stretch of largely abandoned storefronts in downtown Richmond.
The Fred Hammond composition "Glory to Glory to Glory" proves particularly tricky. The words "glory to" are repeated six times, followed by "God," which is broken into three syllables - "Gah-ah-od" - in rapid 16th notes. Landry has the singers repeat the line over and over, until all are rhythmically in sync.
Landry, daughter of church pastor the Rev. Tommy Bradford, is hoping her choir will win the $10,000 prize at Friday's concert, then go on to the national finals Nov. 8 in Atlanta, where the overall winner of the 11-city contest will receive $25,000. The money, she says, will be used to purchase chairs and carpets for the church's new building, currently under construction.
Rehearsal ends with a prayer led by choir member Parrish Foster. His grandfather, the late Paul Foster, was one of the most celebrated gospel quartet singers of all time, having spent seven years trading leads with Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers. Parrish remembers seeing his grandfather perform at a Soul Stirrers reunion 25 years ago at Noah's Gospel Chateau, a now-defunct Richmond gospel-music nightclub that was operated by the church. Throughout the 1980s, the club presented such major gospel attractions as Shirley Caesar, Rance Allen and the Winans and served no-alcohol fruit cocktails with names such as Jesus on the Rocks and Hallelujah Highball.
Although the Voices of ICC sing mostly modern gospel songs by such artists as Hammond, Donald Lawrence and Kirk Franklin, the male quartet tradition greatly informs their harmonies.
"It's ingrained in us," Landry says. "If you grow up on something, it's going to influence the way I present the music to the choir." Read more
October 8, 2008
The curse of perfect pitch
There was a very interesting interview on NPR's Fresh Air recently with Oliver Sacks, author of a new book 'Musicophilia'. The neurologist explains that there is no single musical center in the brain, but rather 20 to 30 networks spread throughout every region that analyze different components of music, from pitch to melody. That's why a symphony that moves some people to tears is perceived by others as the cacophonous clattering of pots and pans, a condition known as amusia. Sacks also tells of people haunted by musical hallucinations, in which they hear a set of tunes, or even full-fledged choirs inside their head, a phenomenon one patient describes as his "intracranial jukebox."
Indeed, once music is part of us, it seldom takes its leave. Sacks tells the story of a man with Alzheimer's who "has no idea what he did for a living or what he did 10 minutes ago," but who "remembers the baritone part to almost every song he has ever sung." Music, Sacks says, "is one of the only things that keeps him grounded in the world." He also talks at length about the the phenomena of Perfect Pitch and how having it can be both a blessing and a curse. A very interesting listen here.
October 5, 2008
Enough of the a cappella comparisons!
After reading the latest article (below) about collegiate a cappella I feel compelled to make comment. To Mickey Rapkin who wrote the article I say stop equating collegiate a cappella with the greater world of a cappella music! Collegiate a cappella is by its very nature sung by amateurs - students often with little formal music training and with no real music business experience. To include them with the professional artists and singers in the genre is disingenuous and unhelpful and frankly is an insult to the talents of these musicians. Rapkin and several other writers continue to make fun of the music without making any mention of the wonderfully talented performers who have indeed been signed to major record labels such as the Swingle Singers (5 GRAMMYS – Virgin, Philips), Real Group (EMI Sweden), Take 6 (8 GRAMMYS - Reprise), Sweet Honey in the Rock (Earthbeat - WEA), King’s Singers (EMI, RCA), Chanticleer (2 GRAMMYS - Warner Classics), Naturally 7 (Sony Germany, Japan), Bobby McFerrin (10 GRAMMYS - Elektra) and the many other artists who have had successful careers on independent labels.
Whereas I am very pleased that there has been an explosion of interest in a cappella on campuses around the country and am supportive of individual collegiate groups wherever possible I do not by any stretch see them in the same league as the many successful artists who make their living from singing vocal harmony. Nor do they come close to comparing with some of the other non professional a cappella performers such as top barbershop quartets The Gas House Gang, Acoustix and Ambiance or the many fine choral ensembles around the country.
There are many a cappella singers who have extensive musical training with decades of experience performing and recording who have garnered serious awards and great reviews and are doing this as a lifelong passion and not as a fun thing to do on the weekend to impress the babes!
A cappella Dreaming: 10 Voices, One Shot
New York Times:
Ten years ago, the founding members of Straight No Chaser — an undergraduate a cappella group from Indiana University — performed at Carnegie Hall. They sang the national anthem at a Chicago Cubs game. They took road trips, ensnared female fans and created a lasting tradition on campus. And then they graduated.
The a cappella group Straight No Chaser has taken a not-so-straight path to a five-album recording contract. The members, now mostly in their 30s, began singing in the act while undergraduates at Indiana University.
Save for the odd wedding or college reunion, these men had not sung together with any regularity since. Until 2008, when Craig Kallman, the chairman and chief executive of Atlantic Records, offered the 10-man group a five-album record deal.
This may be the year’s most unlikely major-label story.
David Roberts, 31, a project manager for a Midtown bank, was sitting in his cubicle in January when he got the call. Michael Itkoff, also 31, a sales rep for a medical-device company, was at home in Atlanta. Jerome Collins, 32, was in Hong Kong starring as Simba in a theme-park production of “The Lion King.”
“We thought it was a joke,” Mr. Itkoff said. “But Atlantic flew us to New York and put us up at the Dream hotel. There was a fruit plate in my hotel room. They were talking about a tour with Josh Groban or Michael Bublé. I thought, Are you kidding me?”
Mr. Kallman — like nearly eight million others — discovered Straight No Chaser on YouTube in December, through a 1998 video of the group performing an unlikely riff on “The 12 Days of Christmas” (a riff that incorporated snippets of everything from “I Have a Little Dreidel” to Toto’s “Africa”). Randy Stine, an original member, had uploaded the clip strictly for the group’s own amusement, but it quickly went viral.
“We thought the attention would die down after the New Year,” said the group’s founder, Dan Ponce, 31, now a reporter for ABC News in Chicago.
But Mr. Kallman smelled a potential holiday crossover hit in the vein of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a metal band famous for playing Christmas music in large, sold-out arenas. That band has sold more than five million albums, and last year it played a 90-city tour that grossed more than $45 million.
“We’re at a time when we’re entertained by air-guitar video games and reality competitions about hairstyling, dressmaking and grocery bagging,” Mr. Kallman said in a telephone interview. “Straight No Chaser was this organic YouTube sensation. The idea is to develop an act with real resonance for the holiday season and build a brand in the a cappella arena.”
Major labels have flirted with a cappella groups before. R&B acts like the Persuasions had been signed to the majors in the 1970s before moving to smaller labels in recent years. In 2005, Tonic Sol-fa, an a cappella quartet out of Minneapolis, was briefly signed to Vivaton Records (a division of Sony), but the label folded a week before the group’s album hit shelves. At the height of the 1990s boy-band boom, an a cappella group called 4:2:Five (featuring a young Scott Porter of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights”) met with Sony, but when the executives suggested adding backing tracks and choreography, the members walked.
That kind of tinkering is perhaps understandable. While there are more than 1,200 collegiate a cappella groups in the United States, according to estimates from the Contemporary a Cappella Society of America, mainstream attitudes toward the genre are not kind. A cappella is regularly mocked on screen, notably on the NBC comedy “The Office” and recently in the Will Ferrell film “Step Brothers.” Still, Mr. Kallman was not deterred. He did not want to hide that these men were an a cappella group. Rather, he hoped to embrace it.
“Group harmony is in the air,” he said. “ ‘Jersey Boys’ is a worldwide phenomenon. The ‘Mamma Mia!’ soundtrack is Number 1.” With Straight No Chaser, Atlantic is aiming for the mass audience that made Mr. Groban’s “Noël” the top-selling album of 2007.
October 2, 2008
Mosaic Wins MTV Contest!
Congratulations to Mosaic who have won the MTV Top Pop Group contest taking home a cool $100,000. Let's hope they can get a record deal out of this as well. Check out their dynamic performance on the show here.
October 1, 2008
Mosaic In Finals Tonight
The Ledger (FL):
A cappella group Mosaic aims to pack an unusual pop punch. Within the throats of the six-man "vocal band" lies an entire orchestra of sounds, from toe-tapping drum beats to the wackiest of synthesized effects. Now the Las Vegas sextet, formed three years ago in Central Florida, hopes their unique sound will help them clinch the title of Top Pop Group on the MTV show's finale tonight.
The band members, some of whom have their roots in Polk County, say they're out to change the world's dusty old ideas about a cappella music. "A lot of times when people hear 'a cappella,' they'll hear barbershop or doo wop or simple chords," said member Troy Dolendo. "Our stuff gets pretty complicated."
Raised in Los Angeles, Dolendo spent almost a decade in Lakeland and Orlando while acting and singing at area theme parks. That's where the six singers crossed paths, and the group later moved to Las Vegas in search of bigger opportunities.
On Sept. 11, Mosaic began fighting weekly against eight other pop groups for $100,000 and the Top Pop Group title on the elimination-style show, hosted by ''Saved by the Bell'' star Mario Lopez. The remaining six groups will duke it out for the top spot today at 10 p.m. on the music network.
What's allowed Mosaic to shine in competition is each singer's ability to cover a range of music genres, from jazz to opera, said member Heath Burgett. Burgett grew up in Winter Haven and graduated from Landmark Christian School in Haines City. "I think what's most unique about our band is we're kind of a supergroup, in that all of us are able to step out and take a leading role," Burgett said. "It gives us great versatility."
And because of its a cappella foundation, Mosaic can also adapt its songs at will, said member John Gibson, a native of Orlando. "Since we create everything on our own, we can change up things without having to depend on the track," Gibson said. "So if we want to we can change the music, we can change the feel, we can change the tempos."
Mosaic has already shared a stage with pop superstar Prince, the Pussycat Dolls and funny man Chris Rock. The group has opened nightly for comedian George Wallace in Las Vegas.