December 30, 2008
Brooklyn a cappella group stays in harmony
The Patriot Ledger (MA):
More than 45 years into their careers, The Persuasions have no intentions of slowing down, with two album projects under way and the usual busy slate of touring. When we last talked with Persuasions bass singer Jimmy Hayes two and half years ago, the quintet was still dealing with the 2004 departure of original lead singer Jerry Lawson. Today’s version of the group includes talented baritone Reggie Moore and tenor Ray Sanders, along with original members Hayes, tenor Jayotis Washington and baritone Joe Russell.
The group had worked as a foursome after Lawson left for a solo career, and also began sharing the lead vocals. With all the original singers now in their 60s, The Persuasions had developed a good “bench'' as Hayes put it, and tried several of their regular subs before settling on Moore.
“Reggie is pretty well set with us now, after starting in about 2004,'' Hayes said from his Brooklyn home. “It is true that he literally came out of a crowd at a Washington show when we invited people to sing with us onstage. He was very good, so I took his number. But later on, we also advertised in the Village Voice too, looking for someone able to sing lead and background harmonies. We ended up auditioning quite a few singers, but Reggie has something special that convinced us to give him a try.''
“We still have to tune him in a bit,'' Hayes laughed of his 40-something cohort. “He’s so much younger than us he has lots of energy, and wants to do all kinds of things onstage we did when we were younger. So, we have to settle him down now and then.'' Sanders joined the band after original baritone Herbert “Tuobo'' Rhoad died in 1988. One change that the newer members have prompted is in lead singing; while Lawson took most of the leads before, now everyone takes a turn.
“We don’t see ourselves getting into one guy doing all the leads again,'' Hayes explained. “Jerry Lawson basically did all the leads, and maybe Joe and I would do a very few. Now, we’ve found a better way to do it and, from the audience response, people like having us change it up.'' Read more.
December 24, 2008
Harmony at Christmas
Here's the First Baptist Church of Tyler, TX and their annual singing Christmas tree, a concept I find so strangely intriguing. I hope I get to actually see a singing tree one day!
As I prepare to settle in with my family this Christmas Eve I am filled with such happiness and joy to be here with them, in good health and fine cheer, on this most special of holidays. There really is a storm outside, the fire is indeed burning bright and my lovely wife is preparing a wonderful meal. Our two young children can barely contain their excitement and, as they have been so good all year, I believe Santa is going to be most generous this year. I surely must be the happiest man in the whole wide world!
Peace on Earth and Merry Christmas everybody!
John, Tess, Emma and Sean Neal
December 23, 2008
A cappella singer slain
Harrisonburg Daily News Record (VA):
As police arrested a juvenile who they say killed a James Madison University student and his mother in their Dale City home on Friday, James Smith's friends continued to mourn the loss of the popular member of the collegiate a cappella group Exit 245. Police say they suspect the slayings came in the midst of an attempted burglary.
Matthew Beck, a 22-year-old senior at JMU who sang with Smith in Exit 245, said the circumstances of the killings were especially disturbing given the randomness of the crimes. "It's completely unnecessary and selfish," Beck said. "It was completely preventable. That's the worst part."
On Monday, the News & Messenger newspaper of Prince William County reported police arrested a 17-year-old Hylton High School student and his girlfriend in connection with the slayings. Detectives arrested Xavier Pinckney of Dale City around midnight Monday, three days after Jean Smith, 39, and her son James Smith, 19, were slain in their home during an attempted burglary.
Pinckney has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, burglary, robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, Prince William County police Maj. Ray Colgan said. His girlfriend, Jacqueline Munoz, 22, has been charged with obstruction of justice and being an accessory after the fact for allegedly providing him an alibi, police said. Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said he is seeking to have the murder charges against Pinckney upgraded to capital murder. Read more.
December 19, 2008
SNC on CNN
When you're hot, you're hot! There has been a link on the lead section of CNN.com all day to a segment where Straight No Chaser are featured and interviewed. From the New York Times to papers and TV across the country the group has been getting major attention. Their new CD sold beyond expectations and WEA had to hurriedly reprint another batch to meet demand. Somehow Randy Stine, who has been my contact with the group and first who put the clip on YouTube, does not seem so much the fresh faced college kid I sort of expected. I always highly respect singers who take the initiative to promote themselves and in this case of hitting the jackpot! Watch the segment here.
December 18, 2008
Straight No Chaser on holiday
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
Last December, a former member of the Indiana University undergraduate a cappella group Straight No Chaser posted a 1998 video of the outfit singing a goofy version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" on YouTube. The clip, which saw the 10-man chorus jumbling the song with bits of "I Have a Little Dreidel" and Toto's "Africa," went viral and racked up more than 8 million hits. Then something really crazy happened: Atlantic Records stepped in with a five-album record deal for the collective that had disbanded after graduation, with its members scattered around the globe working as bankers, teachers and theme park characters.
Now the recently reunited Straight No Chaser has become the season's unlikely crossover bet, like Josh Groban in 2007 and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra every year before that. On Monday, the group performed for an eager, sold-out crowd at the Great American Music Hall, playing a set filled with songs from its first album, "Holiday Spirit." It was best appreciated by people who wait all year to break out their Bedazzlered Christmas sweaters and get a kick out of watching grown men pretend to dance badly as they call one another "dawg."
Like a herd of groomsmen serenading a new bride, the members of Straight No Chaser wore matching black suits, red ties and blinding smiles. The first half of the evening consisted of random covers, from a doo-wop inspired take on Van Morrison's "Moondance" to a kitschy "Any Dream Will Do" from "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," delivered with the same decade-old joke in the intro.
There was the requisite stopover at "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," now with added smugness. Though it's hard to understand why they opened the show with Montell Jordan's 1995 R&B hit, "This Is How We Do It," a bawdy ode to downing 40-ounce cans of malt liquor and partying with gangbangers and gold diggers. The song may have gotten the frat house jumping back in the day but made most of the group's new silver-haired patrons blush. Still, it was better than the group's own material, which recalled the boy-band era's most pallid remains.
Things made more sense when Straight No Chaser segued into its holiday segment by announcing, "We're going to seamlessly segue into our holiday segment."
Harmonizing in earnest, the singers delivered good-natured versions of winter standards like "Auld Lang Syne" and "Carol of the Bells" alongside takes on contemporary Christmas fare such as "Jingle Bell Rock" and the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" to the expected frenzy. They ended the set with the song that started it all by precisely re-creating the old "The 12 Days of Christmas" routine, currently at 9,127,564 views and counting.
Chapter 6's Luke Menard is Cancer Free
Former “American Idol” Season 7 contender Luke Menard is cancer free. The Crawfordsville, Indiana based singer, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, just days after being voted off the FOX reality show this past March. But he told AccessHollywood.com that the holidays have brought him good news about his health.
“I’m cancer free according to my last test scan that I had,” Luke told Access down the phone from a wintry Indiana. “It’s been exciting to get that news.”
The singer, who released his sixth album With The Windows Down with a cappella group Chapter 6 on December 2, still has a little over a dozen radiation treatments to go to target the scar tissue left over following months of chemo. But, the spirited 30-year-old said he was thrilled to end 2008 on a high.
“We were always praying for this news — to be cancer free. When you’re going through chemo, it’s kind of a one-day at a time thing. You don’t know how you’re gonna feel when you wake up in the morning and sometimes you’re kind of sick and you’re throwing up. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “It’s definitely been a year to remember and a year to forget — being on ‘American Idol,’ and days after I was eliminated being told I had cancer. It’s been a crazy year.”
But his year was enriched by the friends Luke picked up during his “Idol” tenure; friends who came through when he received his cancer diagnosis while still in Los Angeles, following his elimination from the Top 24.
“All the producers from ‘American Idol,’ 19 Entertainment… David Cook, who won ‘American Idol,’… he has been extremely helpful, even financially with medical bills. 19 Entertainment has helped out with medical bills, so it’s been way more than I expected,” Luke said. Read more.
Unaccompanied weather forcast
Thanks to the Choral Blog for bringing our attention to this humorous clip of the all-to-familiar British weather forecast as sung in a cappella chant. I do miss many things about England but the weather is certainly not one of them.
December 17, 2008
A cappella video nominated for People's Choice Award
Congratulations to Moosebutter and Corey Vidal who created this latest viral a cappella YouTube hit with their Stars Wars song. With over 3,000,000 views and counting the clip has been nominated for CBS's People Choice Award in the "Favorite User Generated Content" category. The shows airs January 7th and voting is open here.
December 16, 2008
A cappella irreverence will keep you bobbing
Seattle Times (WA):
Family drama, loony relatives, overconsumption and badly misguided gifts: When you think about it, the holiday season was made for The Bobs. Now in its third decade of musical mayhem, the a cappella ensemble continues to ply a trademark style that combines astounding vocal agility, deliciously ridiculous original pieces, wildly imaginative arrangements of tunes by the likes of the Doors, Kurt Weill and the Beatles, and off-the-cuff stage antics that give every performance the edge of stand-up comedy.
And for the Bobs, the holidays are a gift that keep on giving, providing the group with plenty of material ripe for Bobification. The quartet performs a holiday show tonight at the Triple Door, though half the program reflects the group's ever-expanding book of nonthematic material, with an emphasis on last year's CD "Get Your Monkey Off My Dog".
"As a topic, the holidays are kind of unavoidable. It's an easy target," says Richard "Bob" Greene, a founding Bob who recently moved from his longtime home in Berkeley, Calif., and now divides his time between Virginia and Seattle, where he's joined co-Bob founder Matthew "Bob" Stull and most recently Bob-christened Dan "Bob" Schumacher (the fourth Bob, Amy "Bob" Engelhardt, lives in Los Angeles).
The Bobs' holiday fair includes seasonal favorites such as the Beatles' "Eight Days A Week" reimagined as a Hanukkah song; an ode to excessive lawn displays, "50 Kilowatt Tree"; the mall adventure saga, "Too Many Santas"; and that traditional Yule classic "Christmas in Jail."
The Bobs are often thought of as a group that specializes in unlikely covers, but the majority of their book consists of original pieces like the paranoid feline fantasy "Fluffy's Plan for World Domination" and the tender love song "Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country." The mistaken impression probably stems from the ensemble's origins. Read more.
December 15, 2008
A King's Singers Says Goodbye
The Ottawa Citizen (Canada):
Looking back on his eight years in one of the world's elite singing groups,
He remembers trying to keep his voice in shape during concert tours that involved a dizzying blur of cities and concert halls, long hours in airport waiting lounges, nights in stuffy hotel rooms, and rushed mornings of packing up to move on to the next city.
But as the counter-tenor prepares to say goodbye after eight years with the British male vocal sextet the King's Singers, he says the rewards have outweighed the drawbacks, and it wasn't an easy decision to step down.
Tyson's stint with the group has meant high-profile television appearances, adoring fans and concerts in the world's great halls, including Vienna's Musikverein, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and New York's Carnegie Hall. Following Christmas concerts in Ottawa Monday and Tuesday with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the group returns to Carnegie, for a concert that will include renowned American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.
"I've had a wonderful time and I'm really enjoying this last tour, getting everything out of it I possibly can," Tyson, 37, said the other day from a tour stop in South Carolina. His final performance with the group will be in Siena, Italy, in January.
Tyson says he's quitting to spend more time at home in London with his wife and their three-year-old twin boys, and to start a new career in artist management, though he says he will continue to do some solo singing.
"It was the combination of an opportunity coming up, and wanting more of a family life. I decided to go out on top, whilst I still could sing and was still really enjoying the King's Singers," said Tyson. "Many of the things I've always wanted to do as a singer, I've now done. It's been an incredible privilege. Musically, it's been even better than I thought it would be. In terms of the scope, depth and breadth of music-making, particularly for a countertenor, it's unparalleled."
Founded 40 years ago at King's College, Cambridge, the group has changed membership over the years, with singers staying an average of 10 years.
Counter-tenor David Hurley and bass Stephen Connolly are the current mainstays, and have each been with the group for two decades. The sextet, which usually sings a cappella, is lavishly praised for its beauty of tone, sensitive phrasing, and the kind of warm, impeccable harmonies that give listeners goosebumps. They're also known for a sense of fun in their comments to audiences between songs.
The members are also part of a rare breed: classically trained singers who can sing lighter pop tunes and make them feel natural rather than awkward and forced. "Simple Gifts", the group's new album of folk, spiritual and pop songs on the Signum label, has just been nominated for a Grammy Award in the classical crossover category. Tyson, whose responsibilities with the group included organizing recording projects, is proud of the nomination.
December 12, 2008
Gents hazing involved dunkings in jungle juice
UNH The New Hampshire (NH):
New details have surfaced about the incident that led to the probation of one of UNH's popular a cappella groups. The New Hampshire Gentlemen accepted responsibility for nine violations of UNH policy, including hazing and providing underage people with alcohol.
According to the disciplinary hearing decision released by the Office of Conduct and Mediation on Tuesday, the hazing occurred at a large party that involved a punch that had a high alcohol content, a drink commonly referred to as jungle juice. New members of the singing group had their heads dunked in the punch by other members as a rite of initiation.
The Gents' musical director, sophomore Jon Blauvelt, admitted to the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday that the dunking did happen and that it had been a tradition within the organization. In that same interview, Blauvelt also said that dunking wasn't an apt description, instead preferring to describe it as a dip.
It's unclear how much or what kind of alcohol was in the punch. Jungle juice has no defined recipe, but is instead noted for its haphazard creation method of mixing many different types and flavors of alcohol and juices together. The drink is normally potent. Read more.
December 11, 2008
In conversation with Cedric Dent
There's an interesting interview on jazz.com with Take 6's baritone Cedric Dent who performs with the group when he’s not teaching at Middle Tennessee State University. Read here.
December 10, 2008
Tremble Clefs sings through Parkison's disease
Valley Tribune (AZ):
It's the season for choirs around the country to bring holiday cheer, with tunes like "Deck the Halls" and "Silver Bells" ringing out. But one Valley group brings that same spirit, only there is a different twist. Known as the Tremble Clefs, this choral group is made up of singers living and singing with Parkinson's disease. The group provides therapeutic singing for those with the disease, with the belief that a healthy voice generates good breathing and good posture.
Vince Blenkle, an original Tremble Clef, said that while once Parkinson's disease attacked his vocal chords and limited his speech, he now has regained it. Blenkle had practically lost his voice, he said, but now he said he is able to reach volume that he never had before. "The whole group feels like a family," he said. Blenkle has been with the Tremble Clefs since the choir was founded in 1994 by speech therapist Karen Hensley.
Members of Tremble Clefs meet each Tuesday at the Scottsdale Senior Center to sing, stretch and move to music, and in doing so they say they are strengthening their voices and their bodies. The Tremble Clefs hope to keep members active and engaged, sharing an enjoyable activity, resulting in a new-found energy and a sense of accomplishment, they said. Also, members participate with spouses or caregivers.
Blenkle was diagnosed with Parkinson's on Jan. 30, 1991, and has lived with the disease for 17 years. "The voice gets quieter and quieter," said Blenkle.
While it's agreed that the exercises benefits may be numerous, some say that sometimes it may be too much. Blenkle said that his wife, Faith Blenkle, is dealing with the resurgence of his voice. "She says I exercise too much of one part of my body," he said. "My mouth." Faith Blenkle said the Tremble Clef are more clan than choir. "It's a family," she said. "We love everybody."
Delores Wheelock, originally from Milwaukee, said she still participates while her husband who had Parkinson's passed away years ago. She says that Tremble Clefs meetings are tough to miss. "If we don't meet we have Tremble Clef withdrawals," she said.
Rosemary Aubin, 75, has been with the choir for 12 years. She has had Parkinson's for 23 years. "I like the camaraderie," she said. Her caregiver, Rhoda Thomas, said that participating in groups like the choir has helped Aubin retain her vitality. "I'm a healthy 65 and there are a lot of times I can't keep up with her," Thomas said.
Thomas has been Aubin's caregiver for about six months. Don Dodds' wife was diagnosed with Parkinson's 13 years ago. He said the Tremble Clefs have been extraordinarily beneficial to his wife. "The darn disease progresses no matter what you do," said Dodds. "I think the progression would be a lot more advanced if she didn't participate in the group."
Dodds said that the group provides a respite from the struggles of the disease. "When you have Parkinson's it can be kind of a discouraging thing," Dodds said. "But it's a very positive support group ... It lifts her spirits."
Former Glee Club director dies
Yale Daily News:
Fenno Heath ’50 MUS ’52, director of the Yale Glee Club from 1953-1992, passed away Friday evening at the age of 81. His family did not wish to release the cause of death. One of only seven Glee Club conductors ever, he devoted 39 years to the chorus and played a vital role in the a cappella community on campus.
“Fenno made so much music, with so many people, for so many years, and anyone who ever sang with Fenno became a much richer person for it,” said Jeffrey Brenzel ’75, the dean of undergraduate admissions.
Heath was a leader to singers all over the world, and an inspiration in his own home. “He was our encyclopedia, our dictionary, our movie critic, our connection to the Arts world, our literary scholar, and our rock, as he would give anyone in his family, his beloved wife Carol, his 6 children, and his 6 grandchildren, the shirt off his back,” daughter Peggy Heath Ogilvy wrote in an email to the News Tuesday night. “He was the family patriarch.”
Heath majored in music as a Yale undergraduate, singing in the Yale Freshman Chorus, the Apollo Glee Club, the Yale Glee Club and the Spizzwinks(?). During his senior year, he served as conductor of the Whiffenpoofs. Heath continued his musical pursuits at the Yale School of Music immediately after graduating from Yale. It was during this time that he became the conductor of the Apollo Glee Club.
One year after graduating from the School of Music, Heath became the conductor of the Yale Glee Club. In 1969, when women were first admitted to Yale, Heath took a progressive stand by admitting females to the chorus the following year. “When the history of music at Yale is recorded, a special chapter will be devoted to the legacy of Fenno Heath,” said School of Music Dean Robert Blocker. “As director of the Yale Glee Club, he explored new musical frontiers — from international tours to football concerts, from his own compositions for the Glee Club to his performances of major works in the literature.” Read more.
December 9, 2008
Who's the a cappella grinch?
An upsetting message from the King's Singers
We have been in North America for 12 days or so now, and spent last night giving a performance at the wonderful new Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It has been really quite relaxing to be luxuriating in the harmonies of our Christmas show, called “Joy to the World” - but I doubt today’s performance will be quite as relaxing. That’s because for some reason two sets of music were lifted off the stage after the concert. Now why would anybody do that? Its true that people are very interested in our performing editions, and the notes we make on the music. It’s also true that people want souvenirs of our concert - but enough to take our music home? If you know where that music is, could we ask that you get it back to us? If it was you - ask yourself: why did I do that?
There is a number of reasons why we need it back: we still have two weeks of performances on this Christmas tour; next year the new countertenor Tim Wayne-Wright will be singing at least some of it, and will not be able to benefit from the hand-written notes made over the years by his predecessors; some of that music is unpublished King’s Singers music which we do not give out for other choirs to sing; a lot of the music IS published of course, in cleaned-up versions for choirs - wouldn’t this be so much better? We assume that whoever has the music enjoyed the concert, the music, and the singing. How that enjoyment translates into “lets jump up on the stage and run off with the music” is baffling…
Call 1 800 WHERES THE JOY TO THE WORLD if you have any information.
December 5, 2008
Toxin goes Vegas big time!
Toxic Audio founding member Rene Ruiz has landed himself a sweet Vegas gig as the host of a flashy new game show on the Strip called "$1,000,000 Vegas Game Show". Read the Review Journal review here.
December 4, 2008
A cappella Grammy nominations
It's another great year for a cappella with 11 recordings garnering Grammy nominations in today's announcement. Take 6 have won several Grammys in the past as have Ladysmith Black Mambazo but most surprisingly the King's Singers have been overlooked and have yet to win the coveted award. As a voting member of the Academy you know they will all have my support.
Best Gospel Performance
Shall We Gather At The River - Take 6
Best Traditional World Music Album
Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu - Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Best Contemporary World Music Album
Live At The Nelson Mandela Theater - Soweto Gospel Choir
Best Classical Album
Spotless Rose: Hymns To The Virgin Mary
Charles Bruffy, conductor; Phoenix Chorale
O'Regan, Tarik: Threshold Of Night
Craig Hella Johnson, conductor; Conspirare
Best Choral Performance
O'Regan, Tarik: Threshold Of Night
Craig Hella Johnson, conductor; Conspirare
Rheinberger: Sacred Choral Works
Charles Bruffy, conductor (Kansas City Chorale & Phoenix Bach Choir)
Best Chamber Music Performance
Folk Songs - Trio Mediaeval
Best Small Ensemble Performance
Monk: Impermanence - Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble
Spotless Rose: Hymns To The Virgin Mary
Charles Bruffy, conductor; Phoenix Chorale
Best Classical Crossover Album
Simple Gifts - The King's Singers
December 2, 2008
Singing (in Yiddish) for a better world
Boston Globe (MA):
They meet every Saturday on the third floor of the Goldman Family Residence Center, 80 singers in all, to rehearse the rich four-to-six-part harmonies of Eastern Europe. Together they make up the largest Yiddish chorus in the world.
On a recent afternoon A Besere Velt (A Better World) was rehearsing for a concert that will take place Thursday at Somerville Theatre with the Klezmatics, a world-renowned New York klezmer band. Lisa Gallatin led the chorus like a Broadway director, flailing her hands and flitting across the room between the altos and sopranos.
"Sit on the edge of your seat, feet flat on the floor, back straight!" commanded Gallatin, of Arlington, who was recruited to lead the group 11 years ago while working as a union organizer and directing a picket-line singing group. She pulled out a pitch pipe, gave an assured blow, then taught the group new stanzas to "Bread and Roses" and ironed out a few wrinkles in "Der Yid Der Shmid."
Many of the songs mirror traditional Eastern European melodies, with lyrics about the labor movement, daily life, social justice, and hope. The song "Vacht Oyf" (Wake Up), for example, written by Jewish factory worker David Edelstat, calls for workers to rise up against poor working conditions.
"The music describes the hardships and dreams of an immigrant generation," said Gallatin, "from mournful lullabies to rousing workers' anthems to songs of unity that make you feel like clapping along."
The chorus began singing in 1997 under the auspices of the Boston Workmen's Circle, a branch of the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, which was started in 1892 by a handful of Jewish sweatshop workers in lower Manhattan. Today the choir includes members from kids to university faculty.
Daniel Albert-Rozenberg, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at the International School of Boston, learned about the chorus at Sunday school. "Yiddish is the language of my grandparents and singing Yiddish songs is the way I express myself as a Jew," he said. "It's the language of the lullaby that my parents used to sing me to sleep with."
Thursday's concert will honor three people who represent key elements of the Workmen's Circle: Mark Erlich of Jamaica Plain (representing the labor movement), the executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters whose grandfather led an organization of Jewish workers in Eastern Europe and Russia; Sylvia Rothchild of Chestnut Hill (Jewish identity), a choir member and writer who was among the first to edit oral histories of Holocaust survivors; and Nora Guthrie (arts and culture), folk singer Woody Guthrie's daughter.
A few years ago, Nora Guthrie, a singer-songwriter who lives in New York, discovered song lyrics of her father's that were never put to music. She approached the Klezmatics, who produced two recordings and were subsequently awarded the 2006 Grammy for best contemporary world music album.
"Mostly it was my grandmother's voice that really introduced us to Yiddish songs," said Guthrie. "She would often put us to sleep at night - first telling us the stories behind the songs, then singing them in Yiddish. I had no idea at the time that many of these songs were her own."
Choir member Norman Berman, 60, a Boston lawyer whose parents were Holocaust survivors, grew up speaking Yiddish with his mother. One of his favorite songs is "Vilne," about the town in Lithuania where his mother lived. She was one of its few survivors. "When we sing it," said Berman, "I think about my mother being there as a teenager, imagining the promise of the future."
Straight No Chaser wishes you an a cappella Christmas
Chicago Sun-Times (IL):
For more than two years, Dan Ponce has been a reporter for the WLS-Channel 7 news team, doing countless interviews with men and women in the street and the sort of "Well, Ron, the snow is really coming down here on the Edens" live stand-ups so beloved of newscasts.
Now Ponce is the one answering the questions as the founder and driving force behind the 10-piece a cappella group Straight No Chaser. A decade after breaking up because they were convinced vocal music would never make them stars, the group has released its debut album, "Holiday Spirits" (Atlantic Records), and it has a shot to become one of the most unlikely industry success stories since "American Idol" reject Sanjaya Malakar.
"The tables have turned on me for sure," Ponce says, laughing. "It's been interesting not asking the questions for once, and kind of refreshing at the same time. The thing is, we were not looking for this, but we had no choice but to take advantage of it. I'd be an idiot not to try it. I work for the top television station in the city, so I kind of have the best of both worlds going on, with a great television job and now a promising music opportunity."
Part of Chicago's Ponce TV dynasty -- his father, Phil, is the host of "Chicago Tonight" on WTTW-Channel 11, and his brother Anthony is a reporter for WMAQ-Channel 5 -- Dan spent his formative years dreaming of a career in music, not journalism. He studied voice, piano and violin as a kid, and he first became interested in a cappella music when his dad gave him a cassette of the Canadian group the Nylons.
"I really liked the doo-wop kind of stuff, and though I play piano and violin, singing has always been my best instrument, so I was always drawn to singing in ensembles and doing harmonies," Ponce says. In high school, he formed a group called New Trier A Cappella, "just getting my buddies together."
Then came college and Straight No Chaser, which won a devoted following at Indiana University, recorded a few indie albums and branched out far enough to perform at Carnegie Hall and sing the national anthem at a Cubs game before everyone graduated and the group split up.
None of the singers had expected to take the group to the top; delightfully old-fashioned, it was modeled on the long-standing tradition of Ivy League vocal groups, mixing flawless, intricate harmonies and a little comedic shtick and wearing tuxedos onstage when it performed.
In fact, that's exactly what you'll find in a clip that features the group performing "The 12 Days of Christmas" from December 1998, and including snippets of "I Have a Little Dreidel" and "Africa" by Toto along with the lords a-leaping, the partridges and the pear trees. Read more.