February 28, 2009

Harmony Sweepstakes complete line up

The 25th annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival has now selected all the groups who will be participating in this year's concerts. Returning favorites along with large amount of new groups encourage us to believe that once again we can be proud to offer a showcase of some of the top vocal groups in the country.

As usual there is quite a variety of vocal music styles represented and once again we are sure that fans of harmony singing will have a jolly good time. Hope to see you there!

March 7 - New York
March 7 - Pacific NW
March 14 - San Francisco
March 21 - Rocky Mountain
March 21 - Boston
March 21 - Chicago
April 4 - Los Angeles
April 4 - Mid Atlantic (DC)

Click here to view the list of all the 2009 participants.

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Swingles in Milk

The Swingle Singers are featured on the soundtrack to the multiple Oscar winning movie Milk starring Sean Penn. The track - the Prelude no.7 in E Flat (from the Well Tempered Clavier Book 2) - is taken from one of the earliest Swingle albums, Jazz Sebastien Bach, from the 1960s.

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February 27, 2009

They're a nude singing sensation

Geelong Advertiser (Australia)

Photographic artist Petal O'Dell will strive to find a new harmony for her singing friends when she features them nude in a money-raising calendar. O'Dell specialises in blending naked female forms with landscapes and her challenge will be to fuse the bodies of Geelong Harmony Chorus members with scenes from Geelong and the Bellarine.

The singers hope sales of the calendars from August will help raise $3000 so they can buy new tiered risers for standing on when they perform.

O'Dell has sung for 12 years and with the Geelong a cappella harmony chorus for one year. Her passion of 35 years is photography. She has exhibited her work in Geelong and Melbourne and nurtured the idea for the calendar with chorus musical director Lucy Jones.

The proposal met initial reluctance but now 29 of the 35 women in the chorus aged from early 20s to early 80s have volunteered to be photographed. "They're so brave, I'm so proud of them," O'Dell said.

"When you mention to any women about posing naked they say 'no way', but when I explained it wouldn't be disrespectful to them as women and took in images they were more at ease."

Ms Jones said the transformation in attitude had been remarkable. "There were mixed feelings about it and initially a few people thought it was a joke," Ms Jones said. "There was some hesitation but it's been incredible the more people have talked about it and the more they've seen Petal's work everyone has really turned around.

"I think it's a kind of celebration of diversity. I imagine Petal saw a great diversity of shapes, because for these women their common bond is singing but they all come from different backgrounds. "I think Petal might be drawn to that and will get a huge palate of shapes."

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February 26, 2009

Phoenix Chorale gladly faces recognition

Arizona Republic:

Watch the ensemble accept their award at the Grammys

It's something award nominees do. It's natural. It's understandable. They practice how their face will look when the winner is announced - and it's not them. You know, the little smile. The slow nodding of the head.

"But you never practice how you'll look when they do read your name," said Charles Bruffy, artistic director for the Phoenix Chorale. On Feb. 8, Bruffy and members of the chorale got to show that face - that one that says, "We won!"

During the pre-telecast festivities for the Grammy Awards, the group won for best small-ensemble performance for "Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary."

The glow of winning a Grammy is something Bruffy continues to bask in. Even though the group didn't win any other awards that night, they were happy with their three other nominations. Their winning disc was in the running for best classical album. The other two nominations - for best choral performance and best surround-sound album - was for their recording "Rheinberger: Sacred Choral Works" with the Kansas City Chorale.

Of the win, Bruffy said the recognition is wonderful. "In the very moment of it, there was a very electric sensation, and frankly I'm glad we have it on tape because I don't remember it," he said with a laugh. "But now that we've regained consciousness, it's profoundly gratifying to us that people around the world have acknowledged the artistic playing that we have achieved through the years of hard work, now that it appears we're an overnight success."

Jen Rogers, director of marketing and communications for the group, said every time the person reading one of the chorale's nominations, members, friends and family screamed in delight. "By the time they announced the best ensemble, he (the person opening the envelope) looked right at us," she said. "We all lost our minds and ran up on stage and it was amazing, looking out on all the faces. It was a lot of fun."

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February 25, 2009

Obit: Richard Salter - Founding member of King's Singers

Richard Salter, who has died aged 65, was a founder member of The King's Singers, the celebrated a cappella group of choral scholars which emerged from King's College, Cambridge, in the mid-1960s; within a few years, however, he had been lost to the German-speaking world, carving out a reputation for delivering baritone roles in the most difficult of contemporary operas.

The King's Singers had their origins in a group of six students who, in 1965, made a recording of unaccompanied vocal music entitled Schola Cantorum Pro Musica Profana in Cantabridgiense. They were soon offering their services to friends and colleagues. As Alistair Hume, another of the original King's Singers, once wrote: "We carried on our undergraduate singing after university, contacted all our old schools and offered them a concert for the price of a pint of beer during the vacation in the summer of 1965."

Engagements under the title "Six Choral Scholars of King's College, Cambridge" followed until a concert was arranged at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 1 1968, which forced them quickly to think of a more catchy name. The sextet's problem was that their repertoire was so wide-ranging that they could not be easily pigeon-holed or categorised. Having considered The King's Swingers as a name, they finally settled on The King's Singers.

The group's first three years had been somewhat light-hearted. Now there were recording contracts, broadcasting opportunities and international touring possibilities. Although Salter sang in that first concert – as did the future broadcaster Brian Kay – his ambitions lay in opera.
Asked why he left the King's Singers so swiftly, Salter (half-jokingly) replied that he found the increasing need for the group to scrub up and take themselves seriously to be off-putting: "I could already see the writing on the wall and began to look around for alternative sources of employment like doing contemporary music where one wouldn't need to sing in tune," he quipped.

Richard Jeffrey Salter was born at Hindhead, Surrey, on November 12 1943 and, after a spell as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral and schooling at Brighton College, read English Literature at Cambridge, where he sang at King's under the direction of Sir David Willcocks. Read more.

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February 23, 2009

Didgeridoo collaboration

The Canberra Times (Australia):

The worlds of Aboriginal and choral music will merge when leading indigenous didgeridoo musician William Barton joins The Song Company on stage for an innovative concert to open its 25th anniversary season.

Billed as a sonic and visual feast, the concert presents an experience of the Australian night and day, as seen through the eyes of Barton, a man from the Kalkadunga people near Mount Isa. Photographer Allan Chawner's images of the Kalkadunga land will be projected on to a large screen, while the sounds of Barton's didgeridoo combine with vocal music, including scores by world-renowned composer Ross Edwards.

While the photos and vocal music follows a set pattern, Barton said his performance left room for improvisation, meaning each show provided the audience with a variety of experiences. ''It's important to have that freedom of expression,'' Barton said. ''The show is a collaboration a while in the making and to see it come to fruition is really exciting.

Artistic director Roland Peelman, who is celebrating his 18th year with The Song Company, said the collaboration with Barton had enabled the vocal ensemble to explore fresh and exciting musical territory.

''The didgeridoo by nature is an instrument of improvisation with no written score, but we were eager to play around with its use as a classical musical instrument,'' Peelman said. ''Our ensemble can do some amazing things with their voices, but William is a truly unique artist who vocalises the didgeridoo to produce a sound much lower than any human voice could ever sing.''

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February 19, 2009

A cappella banned

Dominica News (Dominica):

The Dominica Calypso Association (DCA) has warned calypso finalists that they should not perform a cappella during their performances at this year's Calypso Monarch competition.

Public Relations Officer of the DCA Alex Bruno is hopeful that this decision will be adopted in the future.

“The association has taken a decision to submit that accapella or singing without musical accompaniment is not allowed in the calypso competition, and the guilty party will be penalized ... if you understand melody you’ll know melody comes with voice, music, band everything so you will lose melody and you will lose 35 points immediately,” Bruno said at a press conference this morning.

Personally I'd love to hear some Calypso a cappella. We did recently find this totally cool all a cappella album by Harry Belafonte.

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February 17, 2009

Black spirituals sacred to all

The Southern (IL):

Martin Luther King Jr. famously lamented that the church was the most segregated major institution in America, and after four decades our worship remains largely separate. Research indicates today, only about 5 percent of the nation's churches are racially integrated, defined as drawing at least 20 percent of membership from outside of the church's largest racial group.

But what has broken every racial barrier is black sacred music.

It's hard to imagine the repertoire of any church's choir without a spiritual or gospel song, regardless of the denomination or race and background of its members. It's hard to imagine the church at all without this uniquely American art form that bloomed out of the blood-soaked soil of the black experience.

Among the most significant cultural contributions of African-Americans is clearly their voice, suppressed but never silenced. Considered a national treasure, slave songs have been celebrated and studied internationally since at least the late 19th century when the Fisk University Jubilee Singers began touring around the world. Entertaining the kings and queens of Europe helped the struggling black college raise money, but it also changed the way the world heard the good news.

"You've got German scholars of music listening to black sacred music in the 1800s. This music has been worldwide for more than 130 years," says SIUC's Father Joseph Brown, a Jesuit priest who has done extensive research on African-American religious history and fine arts.

The professor and director of the university's Black American Studies Program describes music as the parchment on which African-Americans wrote their own history and formed their own worship experience.

"The music was the first thing we had, and sometimes all we had," Brown says. "It's still the best way we carry on our culture."

Even before the slaves arrived, before they shared a common faith or language, the spiritual was being conceived in the bowels of slave ships, Brown says. "Groaning in chains, they fell into a humming. They started putting a sound to the feeling."

Denied the opportunity to practice the religions they brought with them, slaves adopted Christianity while retaining and adapting aspects of native spiritualities. Because they were often prohibited from forming their own congregations, slaves organized secretly. Many spirituals simultaneously lift up Christian concepts while also hiding messages such as meeting instructions.

"Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus! Steal away, steal away home, I hain't got long to stay here."

At these meetings, worshippers developed the spiritual by mixing African performance styles with hymns from the European worship tradition. Without access to musical instruments, worshippers' own bodies provided the percussive rhythm with hand-clapping, foot-stomping and swaying. The songs are often performed in a call and response pattern, traced to the worship of West Africa, through which the community shared in the sorrows, hopes and joys expressed by the individual.

The resulting worship style is a powerful expression of emotion the faithful often identify as a channeling of the Holy Spirit.

"It really is the Holy Spirit coming through us," said Evelyn Koine of Carbondale's Bethel AME Church, deflecting praise for her congregation's three celebrated choirs. "There are three young ladies in our choir who probably should be recording, but the rest of us just sing to praise the Lord. We don't have great voices until we all sing as a group." Read more.

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February 16, 2009

Loves, sweat and tears

Sauk Valley Newspapers (IL):

The workout music at Curves on Friday started typically enough, with Latin dance and upbeat rock pumping in the background. But before the morning was over, the tunes turned into something a little less conventional, and a lot more fitting for Valentine’s Day weekend, thanks to the addition of a local barbershop quartet.

A group of Curves regulars hired the Rock Valley Chorus to deliver singing valentines to the gym’s most senior members, Vena Hendryx, 87, and Janet Liapanka, 86, both of Rock Falls.

“It was wonderful,” Vena said, still teary-eyed from the performance. “I was surprised. And those guys did a really nice job. They really did.”

Janet, who used to work with Vena at First National Bank, said the performance made her workout partners envious – and it was worth it. “Sometimes they look down on us old women,” Janet said with a giggle. “But now I think they looked up!”

My dear mum is in her 80's and still attends her weekly Kip Fit classes and has done so since I was a kid. I really should do more myself..

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February 14, 2009

Black Magic

Mail & Guardian Online (Johannesburg, South Africa):

Touring can be a bitch: Joseph Shabalala, composer and founding member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM), can’t remember what month or day it is or which city he is in. He is in Fredericks in the state of Maryland, according to the hotel receptionist. With that anodyne faux-cheeriness particular to Americans, she recited “It’s a fine day at the Fairfield Inn. My name is Nathalie, how-can-I-help-you?”

I heard this close to 30 times as I desperately tried to get hold of Shabalala. He had gone walkabout and to exacerbate matters the tour management had confused his room number with one from a previous hotel. I’d been leaving messages on somebody else’s answering machine. Touring can be a bitch, sometimes.

Finally, with Shabalala on the telephone, I had him rifling through papers in search of an itinerary for the group’s three-month North American tour: “Hold on, hold on, we have a book where we write this down so we don’t forget where we are,” says the 68-year-old. It turns out that LBM had been on stage in Salem, Oregon, this weekend when they received news that their album, Ilembe: Our Tribute to King Shaka (Gallo), had won the 2009 Grammy for best traditional world music album.

“Mitch [Goldstein, LBM’s business manager] called us from Los Angeles to say: ‘I have the Grammy with me!’ Oooh, if I had a camera then! It was a surprise for us and we celebrated with the crowd,” says Shabalala. LBM have also been nominated 13 times for the Grammys -- no other South African artist or group has been able to match this record.

Shabalala’s conversation occasionally drifts off into song when he accentuates a point or idea. His voice quivers, growls and flies off on ethereal tangents, as though the harmony says so much more than mere words, as though the spirit he says inspires and possesses his compositions cannot be contained in language alone.

I ask why Shaka has featured so prominently in LBM’s work and he veers off on to a high-velocity poem in praise of the Zulu monarch. Slowing down, he says: “It happened by itself from inside me, to encourage people nowadays, to tell black people to remember Shaka and Nelson Mandela and learn values from them. To learn about their own identity.”

Shabalala adds that as a young boy, his father, a traditional healer,encouraged him to learn to praise Shaka through izimbongi poetry, so as to glean lessons from an “amazing” life characterised by resilience, pride and a burning urge to improve one’s circumstance. Later, he says of LBM’s brand of isiscathamiya: “We are not singing this kind of music to make ourselves famous -- we are singing to remind our people of who they are.” He reiterates LBM’s role as teachers as much as they are vocalists.

Ilembe, as with many of its predecessors, is imbued with a morality drawn from traditional Zulu culture and Christianity. Simple lyrics preach fidelity and loyalty in relationships (Vela Nsizwa), adherence to religious faith and teachings (This Is the Way We Do and Iphel’ Emasini) and, of course, learning from the life of Shaka (Ilembe). Read more.

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February 12, 2009

The score can be troublesome even for a professional choir

The National (United Arab Emirates):

There is a strange guttural glugging filling the deserted lobby of the British School al Khubairat. Upstairs, inside the starkly-lit auditorium, a less than ordinary choir practice is taking place. A small group of middle-aged men are making a brave attempt at their Middle Earth vowels. “You are not nice gentlemen,” says the German conductor Tobias Leppert. “You are evil Orcs!”

It’s the final week of rehearsals for The Lord of the Rings Symphony. As the performance at the Emirates Palace inches closer, Leppert helps put the final touches to the choir’s performance of Howard Shore’s sprawling work. The score was originally written for the movie trilogy, but Shore has adapted it into a six-movement symphony for the stage that has been performed all over the world.

The music, written to evoke the thrilling vistas and epic drama in the books and films as well as the various civilisations of the author JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, poses several challenges. The styles jostle amid nine-part harmonies and complex vocal rhythms that are troublesome even for a professional choir. For tomorrow’s performance, amateur choirs from Abu Dhabi will be joined by the Orpheus Choir from Sofia, Bulgaria, and the German Radio Philharmonic.

The music is only half the battle: the lyrics are in Adûnaic, Black Speech, Khuzdûl, Quenya, Rohhiric and Sindarin – languages Tolkien created for the Hobbits, elves, Orcs, dwarfs and Men of Rohan who populated Middle Earth.

“It has certainly been challenging for the children,” says Marianne Black, the director of the Al Khubairat Primary choir and the Abu Dhabi Chamber Choir. In fact, Shore included a simpler score for children in order to produce the ethereal sound for the symphony’s recurring ring theme and for Gollum’s Song.

A harsh, guttural grunting starts from a small group in the back row: “ur-us buz-ra, ur-us ni nuz-ra, lu lu lu lu” chant the men. Despite having no idea what they’re saying, their meaning is unmistakable: the orcs mean business. Read more.

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February 10, 2009

ACDA launches YouTube channel

The national office of the American Choral Directors Association has just started a new YouTube channel. Check it out:-


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February 9, 2009

Three Grammys for a cappella

Once again a cappella music was recognized at last night's Grammy Awards when three a cappella recordings won prestigious awards. Overlooked for 30 years The King's Singers were finally rewarded with a win in the Best Classical Crossover category for their studio release "Simple Gifts".

Ladysmith Black Mambazo won their third Grammy with a win in Best Traditional World Music Album for "Ilembe - Honoring Shaka Zulu." In the Best Small Ensemble Performance award Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale won for the sublime "Spotless Rose: Hymns To The Virgin Mary".

Congratulations to all and a thumb on the nose and a raspberry to Mickey Rapkin and others in the media who seem to delight in making fun of a cappella. See that once again that a cappella music has won some serious awards!

Posted by acapnews at 9:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 7, 2009

Inauguration choir from Kenya sees dreams come true.


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Hospital tries doo-wop to push flu shots

Philadelphia Inquirer (PA):

A usually reserved internist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania dances with abandon, a stethoscope around his neck. A cluster of workers sways gently in Central Supply while nurses, technicians and patient reps get down in the ER. Words can't quite describe this music video of hundreds of health-care workers lip-synching to a Chinese a cappella group's doo-wop beat.

About flu shots. For one another.

Baby baby baby baby oh baby baby oh baby . . .

It starts with me and you

Our fight against the flu

Don't we gotta be there when others need us?

With tens of thousands of flu-related deaths a year, medical institutions are fighting an uphill battle to persuade workers to get shots. Some use carrots (win a free iPod!). A few use big sticks (no shot, no job). Penn added "Baby Be Wise - Immunize!," the music video created by an irrepressible nurse and an ER volunteer.

"It's wonderful in my opinion - an engaging and fun way to garner interest on a serious topic while making people feel part of a team," said Gregory A. Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's vaccine-research group, who saw the video on YouTube.

Kearney, 56, is a nurse in Behrman's department - and a fanatic about flu shots. Leonard, 20, is a premed Chinese major, a cappella singer and video producer. Kearney suggested a flu video. Leonard jumped at the chance.

"I got this idea that we could get the whole hospital staff involved in a musical number," he said. "But that would have been chaos." Lip-synching would be simpler. The pair started brainstorming lyrics, many picked up - loosely - from federal vaccine guidelines.

But they needed music. Leonard turned to PennYo. The a cappella group, whose name is a play on péng you, Mandarin for friends, had recorded a catchy Chinese pop song about a guy waiting at the airport for his girlfriend. "It had sort of a doo-wop feel," Leonard said.

Members of the group recorded solos, and then the nurse and the student roamed the halls of HUP - he with a camera, she with treats and a loud music player. Lyrics were handed out. "You don't even have to sing," Kearney told them. "You can sway to the beat, click your fingers. Just look like you're having fun." The video debuted at a flu fair in October and was posted on internal Web sites. Early data show that HUP has vaccinated nearly 20 percent more staff this season. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM | Comments (3)

February 6, 2009

Treat your Valentine to a song or two

They’ll be saying “I love you” in song this month — and they’ll be leaving thousands of sweethearts speechless.

This year, hundreds of barbershop quartets across the continent will deliver Singing Valentines to thousands of special sweethearts. Listen for the sound of harmony in offices, factories, schools, and homes throughout North America. Wherever they appear, they’ll draw a crowd — and sometimes a few tears.

The price of a typical Singing Valentine starts in the low-to-mid two digits (depending on location) and often includes two songs sung in barbershop harmony, a card, a rose, and perhaps a box of chocolates, teddy bear, helium-filled balloon, or similar gifts. Men and women alike are on the receiving end with moving results.

Singing Valentines providers include members of the Barbershop Harmony Society, Sweet Adelines International, and Harmony, Inc.

Valentine providers can be located at SingingValentines.com. The Society also offers a toll-free number for those without Internet access: (800) 876-SING, ask for Singing Valentines.

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February 5, 2009

Group celebrates abundance during the downturn

Wednesday Journal (IL):

At the height of the Great Depression, American songwriters George and Ira Gershwin audaciously looked beyond dollars for hope in "Who cares?"

Let it rain and thunder;

Let a million firms go under;

I am not concerned with

Stocks and bonds that I've been burned with.

In the face of the current economic downturn, Chicago A Cappella shares the Gershwins' sunny disposition. To the naysayers and doom-mongers, this polished group of nine singers touts a sense of musical abundance to lift heavy spirits.

Artistic director Jonathan Miller had worked with music director Patrick Sinozich on the theme for this weekend's concert more than a year before Wall Street headed into a tailspin. Without knowing the future, he pulled together a program of eclectic choral music to celebrate what we do have in abundance.

For those who want to know why Chicago a cappella is singing about abundance, and why they're doing it now, Miller says looking on the positive is just what the nation ought to do.

"The human spirit still has plenty of potential to share abundance, even when times are hard," he observed. "Perhaps we need to do that even more in such times."

"Abundance" offers choral works by some of America's most respected composers. Gwyneth Walker, for instance, has avoided the limelight in central Vermont, but still won recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Choral Directors' Association. Miller has long respected her work and recorded some of it on the latest Chicago a cappella CD (Cedille Records, 2008). He was hooked when he heard "God's Grandeur," set to poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. One of the few who manage to compose full-time, Walker's lovely musical palette is an appealing mix of traditional poetry and modern harmonies. Read more.

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Mory's hiatus hinders groups' traditions

Yale Daily News (CT):

Every Monday evening, one could walk into Mory’s and hear the Whiffenpoofs singing. Another all-male a cappella group, the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, would croon on Tuesdays. Every other Wednesday, the female seniors in Whim ‘n Rhythm would reach a higher pitch. And on Fridays, the Yale Political Union parties would sip on the Baker’s Soup.

But since December, the halls of Mory’s have been silent and empty ­as the club regroups from financial difficulties. And many Yale organizations — both young and old — can no longer walk down York Street to eat, sing or drink out of the club’s famed toasting cups. Without a central location to hold meetings, many groups have resorted to other locations off-campus, including local restaurants, to simulate the experience of Mory’s.

“You could expose a guest of the Union to the very iconic Yale experience,” YPU President David Manners-Weber ’10 said of Mory’s. “It’s difficult to imitate that at another New Haven restaurant.”

Christopher Getman ’64, the president of the Mory’s board of governors, said the club hopes to reopen at the beginning of the fall semester. But in the meantime, the closure of the 160-year-old institution has broken up the routines of many extra-curricular organizations — and perhaps the spirit of their bright college years. Read more.

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February 4, 2009

Cantus new CD getting raves

Pioneer Press (MN):

Has the Minneapolis-based group, Cantus, displaced San Francisco's Chanticleer as "the premier men's vocal ensemble in the United States"? That's what critic Steven Ritter says in the latest issue of the classical music magazine Fanfare. In a review of Cantus' new CD, "While You Are Alive," Ritter raves about the fresh collection of new songs and song cycles, mostly written by American composers.

But he's not alone. Two critics in the latest issue of Stereophile weigh in with praise of "While You Are Alive," with Wes Phillips positing that "the sound is simply astonishing — aural teleportation." And Philip Greenfield of American Record Guide adds: "Cantus sounds terrific in this program of contemporary fare where several of the works have been chosen to capture the sumptuous lyricism these singers summon up so routinely. There's a lot here you're not going to want to miss. So don't."

Posted by acapnews at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)