November 28, 2008
Voice Male, find inspiration in children's music
Deseret New (UT):
For Voice Male, it's always been about fun. It's been about making music, about providing uplifting entertainment, but it's also been about having fun — for themselves and their audiences.
"We're just normal guys who like to have fun and happen to sing," John Huff says.
"As entertainers, the thing we enjoy most is seeing people laugh," adds Mike Bearden. "We try to sing well enough not to be a distraction. We like to sing in key. But we also like to interact with our audience and fans."
It's a formula that has served them well over the past 14 years, as they have accumulated nine CDs filled with 120 songs, performed in a "venue list practically a mile long," and gathered up fans all over the place. Their "Jingles" Christmas albums have won national awards; they are multiple People's Choice award winners with the LDS Booksellers Association. They were recently honored as the 2008 Utah State University Young Alumni of the Year.
In fact, about the only area where they haven't been successful — quitting. As the six singers have gotten married and now have children — some 19 among them all — and a couple of guys have moved away, and they all have other day jobs, it gets harder. "We think we can't possible keep going," says Bearden.
"But by some miracle we do," adds Huff.
In addition to Bearden and Huff, the group is comprised of Phil Kesler, Richard McAllister, John Luthy and Mike Wilson. Their a cappella group was formed when they were all students at USU, mastermined by bass and vocal percussionist Luthy, who recruited other members of the LDS Institute Choir. Originally, there were nine members, but that quickly settled into the six who have carried on.
"We joke about how we gave our farewell concert tour in 1997," says Bearden, "but we can't seem to quit." Read more.
November 24, 2008
Tonic Sol-fa to present new holiday concert
Tonic Sol-fa concerts have become a Christmas tradition, but the Minnesota a cappella group promises some surprises this season. "We're coming back this year with a brand new show," tenor Greg Bannwarth said during a group telephone interview. "We've got all kinds of great songs."
Tonic Sol-fa - which also includes lead vocalist Shaun Johnson, a tenor; baritone Mark McGowan and bass Jared Dove - will sing Saturday at The State Theatre. The group will perform the following night in the Rice Lake High School auditorium.
Along with new songs, Tonic Sol-fa has a new set, inspired by a female pop band featured on British TV. "We have a pretty fantastic set that we're going to be bringing in," Bannwarth said. "Believe it or not we were watching the BBC. There was some girl group from Europe that was performing with this cool set behind them."
Tonic Sol-fa started in 1995 at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. Since then, the group has released six albums, selling more than 1 million copies. The singers have appeared on national TV, in magazines and on the radio. This year the group was nominated for two Emmy Awards for a Toys for Tots commercial.
"It was kind of out of the blue for us," Johnson said. "As a singing group, you think maybe someday you'll be nominated for a Grammy or something, but it's really cool to have this opportunity to be nominated for two Emmys."
Traveling internationally, Tonic Sol-fa averages more than 150 show per year. The quartet also embarks on an annual Midwestern holiday tour. Read more
Harmony enriches Trio Mediaeval's austere melodie
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Trio Mediaeval, a female vocal ensemble from Oslo, Norway, brought an entrancing program of traditional Norwegian folk music to a packed house Friday evening at All Saints Cathedral. Presented under the Early Music Now Series, the three vocalists were joined by percussionist Terje Isungset, who served as something of a medieval backup band, playing ram's horn, jaw harp and an intriguing collection of simple percussion instruments.
The singers, Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Ostrem Ossum, are as respected for their work with contemporary music as with the early music. Friday's program consisted mostly of folk songs arranged for their voices.
The women sing with exceptionally clear, mostly non-vibrato sounds. Singing in harmony, they lock pitches and allow the overtones of the pitches they're producing to create resultant tones. The result is a richly layered sound that gives the impression of more that just three voices at work. At times, the women blended softly articulated sounds to create a ringing swell that resembled the "humming" of crystal wine glasses.
They used the natural acoustics of the performing space to amplify this effect, facing away from one another or strolling through different corners of the church as they sang. The program ranged from snappy, up-tempo tunes with precisely executed lyrics to a tender lullaby, a spirited ballad and some haunting prayers and wordless melodies, many of which segued gracefully into the next selection.
In addition to presenting numbers featuring their trademark a cappella sound, the women accompanied themselves with hand-held chimes on several selections and were joined by Isungset on quite a few tunes as well. Isungset played a colorful mix of ancient-sounding percussion instruments that ranged from familiar drums, bells and tambourines to pieces of wood and bones suspended like chimes, and small stones struck together or scraped across one another for various effects. His jaw harp, one of the oldest musical instruments in the world, added an earthy sound to several numbers.
Many of Isungset's contributions to the concert, including the timeless wail of a ram's horn, added an ancient, earthy flavor to the crystalline sounds of the vocalists. But a few times over the course of the evening, the rattles and clicks of the instruments became more clutter than musical enhancement.
November 19, 2008
'Brothers to Brutha': a dramatic record of singers on the rise
New York Daily News:
With all due respect to the Monkees, television has never been all that good at creating pop-music groups. It has promoted a few to modest success, but music groups seem to work better if they develop someplace other than under TV lights.
Brutha, an R&B vocal group consisting of the five Harrell brothers, started singing well before BET's cameras picked them up for this new "reality" show. So they may have a better shot. Based on the first few episodes, they already have a better-than-average TV show, playing more like a running documentary than your standard-issue "reality" project.
It doesn't hurt that these guys can sing, and sing together. The half-hour format doesn't leave a lot of time for extended musical segments, but when they sing an a cappella gospel song, they're clicking. True, many steps lie between singing talent and stardom, like material and production and promotion and dedication, but without raw ability, none of the rest would much matter.
"Brothers to Brutha " picks up the story as the brothers have just been signed by Island Def Jam and are meeting with label execs, whose comments aren't what the casual fan might expect.
Instead of painting a picture of fame and fortune, they're almost all cautionary, telling the brothers they haven't accomplished anything yet and have a lot of hard work ahead if they hope to. With this carrot and those sticks, the brothers return home, where the drama gets more intense. Read more
Review - Stile Antico at the Old Royal Naval College
The Times (UK):
With its Wren architecture and Tallis connections, Greenwich already has links to two golden-oldie eras - Baroque and Tudor. Its three-day Early Music Festival brought the antique tinkle of period instrument makers and performers to the borough. Take away the traffic, the passing Jumbos, the glass towers of Canary Wharf and the giant blob of the 02 arena up the road and you could imagine yourself back in the days of Good Queen Bess.
I caught Stile Antico's concert, exploring late-Renaissance choral music inspired by the sensuous texts of the biblical Song of Songs. In less than five years this chamber choir has made a big impact on the early-music scene, and even beyond - it is embarking on a Far Eastern tour with none other than Sting, that well-known exponent of Jacobean lute-songs.
Its success is not hard to understand. Very much a product of Oxbridge's college choirs, its young voices produce impeccably tuned harmonies and immaculately clear textures. Even in the thickets of ten-part Renaissance polyphony, each line is beautifully discernible.
The choir also operates collegiately, minus a conductor or dominant individual. Perhaps this idealistic model will be hard to sustain over the long term in the hurly-burly of professional musicmaking, but it certainly adds to Stile Antico's appeal. Without the looming barrier of a gesticulating maestro, the singers - grouped in a semicircle - can engage directly with their public.
But Stile Antico's strengths could also be limitations. Its repertoire is very narrowly focused. Hearing a dozen mostly slow-paced 16th-century motets one after another, separated only by plainsong, one longed for a change of era, mood or medium. And the hard-edged voices, though wonderful at biting into dissonances and false relations, also weary the ear after a while. I'm sure the singers have warmth and personality, but a slightly clinical conformity is what comes across. The lack of programme-notes, texts and translations doesn't help. Most music lovers know of Palestrina and Lassus. But Lhéritier, Vivanco, Ceballos? Give us a clue.
November 17, 2008
Go Fish Crusades For 'Christmas With A Capital C'
Acclaimed family entertainers Go Fish find themselves in the middle of the "Christmas" word controversy once again this year, but that’s exactly where the Minneapolis-based trio wants to be. Set to bring their "Christmas With A Capital C" Tour to 13 cities this season, Go Fish’s ongoing mission to keep "Christmas" in the public vernacular is strongly resonating with Americans opposed to growing civic and cultural attempts to promote the word "holiday" instead.
According to a recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 92 percent of Americans believe in God, and Go Fish is proudly taking a stand not only for this majority, but for the religious freedoms the term "holiday" threatens to put at risk.
A highlight of Go Fish’s high-energy Christmas concerts is the performance of their popular original selection, "Christmas With A Capital C." The song, from Go Fish’s acclaimed 2006 Christmas recording, Snow, also features commentary from comedian Brad Stine. A fan-produced video of "Christmas With A Capital C" has generated more than 7 million hits on YouTube to date.
"This song unapologetically reminds people that Christmas is about the birth of Christ," says Go Fish founding member Jamie Statema. "The whole point of 'Christmas With A Capital C' is to show that this annual debate is about something much bigger than just whether or not to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ It's about an ongoing effort to remove God from our American culture. We decided it was time to take a stand and as a result, ‘Christmas With A Capital C’ has become an anthem for Christians all over the United States."
Kicking off December 6 in Madison, Wisconsin, the "Christmas With A Capital C" Tour will also hit the Target Center in Minneapolis; as well as Des Moines, Iowa; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Holland, Michigan, among other cities, before wrapping December 20 in Chicago. A concert experience designed for children and adults alike, the "Christmas With A Capital C" Tour will also feature Go Fish’s signature a cappella and percussion-based arrangements of classics and new favorites from the Snow recording.
Dove Award-nominated Go Fish has been covered by such national media as the "Today" Show, American Profile and Focus on the Family magazine, among other outlets. The group’s live performances have attracted sell-out crowds across the country, including an audience of 14,000 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
November 14, 2008
'Toxic Audio' will be unleashed in Williamsport
Danville News (PA):
Break out the contamination suits and the hazardous material warning signs because today downtown Williamsport is going to become toxic — with the Off Broadway hit, “Toxic Audio.” With their strong and hard hitting vocals, the break out group celebrates and showcases music only from the human voice. Although the show lacks a band or any type of back-up musicians, the group themselves supply the sounds of a lively band.
“Our show is certainly unlike audiences have ever experienced,” said band member Jeremy James. “ What we do on stage is show what the human voice is capable of.”
“Toxic Audio”, often referred to as an “acappella sensation,” has garnered national fame and attention while picking up numerous awards since the group’s formation 11 years ago.
In 2005, the Off Broadway performance of “Toxic Audio” was named the Artist of the Year by the CARA Awards, as well as being rated number one in the “Wall Street Journal/Zagat Theater Survey.” The show went on to become that year’s Highest Recommended Show, receiving higher audience ratings than “Hairspray”, “The Lion King” and Mel Brook’s smash hit, “The Producers.”
The reason the little Off Broadway show was able to steal some of the spotlight from the block buster shows was the simple fact the group uses no instruments to make their music. “We have always attracted a very varied mix of people to our shows, everything from people that love classical music to school kids, families and older people. People of all ages turn out to see us, so that is an honor for us that we can attract such a varied mix of people,” James said. “We always make sure we have a very family friendly show and that everyone has a good time.”
In addition to James, Toxic Audio consist of Shalisa James, René Ruiz, Paul Sperrazza and Michelle Mailhot-Valines. Their musical skills and broad vocal range allows the group to weave together a tapestry of musical styles both acting independently and as one.
“People will hear, or think they hear rhythmic drumbeats, guitar and bass lines from classic, contemporary and pop songs,” he said. “The drive and energy they put into each performance is defiantly noticed by audience members, but also by the media.”
In addition to touring across the nation, “Toxic Audio” has performed at such venues as Shea Stadium, the mayor of New York’s Gracie Mansion, Robert Deniro’s Tribeca Film Festival and numerous TV appearances.
“This is what we do, what we love. While, being out on the road can get to you at times,” James said, “but when we get in front of an audience and hear the applause and see the people clapping, that makes all of the traveling issues worth it.”
For folks planing on attending the Williamsport performance, there is no need to don safety gear, the only thing needed is an open mind and the ability to be entertained.
November 12, 2008
Rockapella finely tunes its vocal instrumentation
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA):
Jeff Thacher is rather proud of his profession -- the vocal percussionist says he spits for a living. A member of the famed Rockapella group, Thacher uses only his mouth and vocal chords to produce a whole band's worth of instruments.
"I like to compare it to being a brass player, like playing the trumpet," the New York City resident says. "I use my mouth to make these sounds into a microphone and make it a realistic performance. My favorite shows are those with nice big speakers because we are an amplified group."
Along with Thacher, other members of the contemporary a cappella group are Scott Leonard, the group's high tenor; Kevin Wright, tenor; George Baldi, bass voice; and John K. Brown, tenor.
"I saw Rockapella in concert earlier this year and was amazed to hear their unique sound live in concert, especially vocal percussionist Jeff Thacher," says Teresa Baughman, director of marketing and programming for the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, where the group will perform Tuesday. "Thacher is truly amazing. You think you're hearing a drum set, but it's all in his voice, which really adds to the group's harmonies."
"Teens and young adults remember the 'Carmen San Diego' theme song, and everyone will recognize their commercial jingles," Baughman says. "It's a high-energy performance -- even the ballads are so powerful. It's just great music with the simplicity of pure vocals."
The pop musical group has taken a cappella music to a new level, performing a wide range of genres including pop, doo-wop, Motown and rock. Its captivating sound caught the attention of many, leading the band back into television for stations such as HBO, and eventually into the studio, where it has produced seven albums.
"So far, we tended to stay away from things that are frequently on the radio. They are what they are, and I think it's better to go back in the past and make something new again," Thacher says. "If you want to be a contemporary pop style, you have to go back to, like, the 1970s. There's lots there you can make your own.
"We also go deep into vocal group history to get that older male group sound. We like to pay tribute to them in the show. So we have originals and some contemporary stuff."
Thacher is the only member of the group who resides in New York; the rest of the band live in Florida. He says the group performs as a "well-oiled machine" and rehearses only while on the road traveling. He says it's particularly important, though, to continuously work on his "instrument" to ensure a good performance each time he steps onstage.
"When you're dealing with the human voice, so many things can change moment to moment. With a guitar, the strings will sound the way they sound. But with the voice, you constantly have got to keep it maintained. When you're blending with everyone, it's a constant listening and feedback loop," he says. "And when it's done right, people can really connect with it. It's human music performed by humans. It's written by humans, about humans. It's the ultimate organic music experience."
November 10, 2008
The new Queens of Harmony - Moxie Ladies
Congratulations to Stacey St. John (tenor), Jennifer Edwards (lead), Amy Leacock (baritone) and Gretchen Holloway (bass) of the Moxie Ladies quartet who were crowned the Sweet Adleines Queens of Harmony this weekend at the international convention held in Honolulu. Moxie Ladies represent two regions; Regions 17 and 4. In second place was Jackpot! and Razzcals Quartet came third. Winning their 5th International gold medal The Melodeers Chorus made Sweet Adelines' barbershop history when they won with a score of 3,023 points, the highest score ever awarded to a Sweet Adeline chorus. North Metro Chorus won silver and Scottsdale Chorus bronze.
November 3, 2008
'Peruvian songbird' with multi-octave range dies at 86
Washington Post (DC):
Yma Sumac, a Peruvian folk entertainer with an astonishing vocal range who surged to fame in the 1950s with an "Incan princess" mystique that captivated millions of record-buyers in search of exotic sounds, died of cancer Nov. 1 at an assisted living facility in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles. She was believed to be 86, according to personal assistant Damon Devine, who said he had seen the birth certificate.
Nearly every biographical aspect of Ms. Sumac's life was long in dispute, including her age, her town of birth and her ancestral claims that on her mother's side she was a descendant of the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa. Fueled by an intensive publicity machine, the rumors grew so thick at one point that she was jokingly rumored to be a "nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn" who had merely reversed her name, Amy Camus.
Ms. Sumac (pronounced EEE-maw SUE-mack) thrived during a postwar period of American music when the exotic was hip and the composer Eden Ahbez ("Nature Boy") was briefly in vogue. Los Angeles Times music critic Don Heckman once called Ms. Sumac "a living, breathing, Technicolor musical fantasy -- a kaleidoscopic illusion of MGM exotica come to life in an era of practicality."
Onstage and off, Ms. Sumac adopted a regal poise and stretched back her raven hair to make her haughty cheekbones even more pronounced. She was fond of flamboyant clothing often laden with gold and silver jewelry, and she spoke of her musical influences among jungle animals.
"At night in my bedroom I hear the whoo-whoo of the little birds and I hear the dogs barking very sad," she told People magazine. "That's what I put in my records. I don't bark bow-wow, but I bark whoo, and I sing like the birdies."
As an interpreter of Andean folk-influenced songs, her voice sailed, growled, roared and yelped effortlessly across four octaves -- from bass to soprano to coloratura soprano. She was adept at mimicking animal calls, from toucans to jaguars, and one never knew where she would dot melody with quick, piercing high-D notes.
"She's either got a whistle in her throat or three nightingales up her sleeve," said a bassist with whom she recorded early in her career. Read more
I had the great pleasure of not only seeing her in concert but also met her backstage after a concert in San Francisco over 20 years ago. I have been around singers for a couple of decades now and she certainly was one of the most talented and unique voices I have ever heard. Listen to her 4 1/2 (she claimed 5) octave voice. Be sure to check out "Chuncho" - amazing!!. (No electronic enhancements here!)