April 29, 2009
Ben Folds releases University A Cappella
Big news in a cappella is that today is the release date of the new Ben Folds title "University A Cappella". Recently enamored by collegiate groups covers of his songs he recorded a compilation of his favorite groups plus rerecorded a couple of his earlier songs himself singing unaccompanied. Available and in stock at Primarily A Cappella.
For years, a cappella has kept a low profile, hidden in ivy-encrusted college campus centers, dismissed as derivative mimicry, and relegated to the annals of history as novelty tunes sung by overgrown choirboys. Matters haven't been helped by Folgers commercials, children's game shows, or the endless parade of jokes on shows like "Scrubs," which has not-so-subtly derided the art form as "ear rape."
Yet suddenly, the world of contemporary a cappella has gone pop, graduating from its collegiate comfort zone to the realms of film, television, and yes, even rock 'n' roll. On Tuesday, Ben Folds will unveil "University A Cappella," a collection of his piano-rock songs covered by student a cappella groups (including the Newtones of Newton South High School). May marks the release of the second album from the former Indiana University group Straight No Chaser, who, after being plucked from YouTube obscurity by Atlantic Records last year, proceeded to top the iTunes charts and sell 100,000 records of its Christmas debut. "30 Rock" scribe Kay Cannon is writing a screenplay for a recently optioned feature-length comedy based on GQ editor Mickey Rapkin's book "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory." Even reality TV is getting in on the action, with NBC recently giving the green light to an a cappella competition show called "The Sing-Off."
Folds, who hand-picked groups for his album through an open contest posted on his My-Space page, was astounded by what turned up. "I never realized that it was such a big scene," Folds says. "It amazes me that college kids are voluntarily getting together and arranging difficult harmonies and counterpoints for my songs."
This flurry of activity is happening at an appropriate time for the genre: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first college a cappella group, the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Music performed without instruments has been around for thousands of years, of course, but a cappella in its current form has spawned an estimated 1,200 college groups nationally and at least 60 in the Boston area, according to figures from the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America. As Rapkin puts it: "It only took a century for a cappella to become an overnight sensation."
April 28, 2009
From Ryan Murphy, the creator of "Nip/Tuck" and "Popular," comes GLEE, a one-hour musical comedy that follows an optimistic high school teacher as he tries to transform the school's Glee Club and inspire a group of ragtag performers to make it to the biggest competition of them all: Nationals.
McKinley High School's Glee Club used to be at the top of the show choir world, but years later, a series of scandals have turned it into a haven for misfits and social outcasts. WILL SCHUESTER (Matthew Morrison, Broadway's "Hairspray"), a young optimistic teacher, has offered to take on the Herculean task of restoring McKinley's Glee Club to its former glory with the help of fellow teacher EMMA PILLSBURY (Jayma Mays, "Ugly Betty"). It's a tall order when the brightest stars of the pitch-imperfect club include KURT (Chris Colfer), a nerdy soprano with a flair for the dramatic; MERCEDES (Amber Riley), a dynamic diva-in-training who refuses to sing back-up; ARTY (Kevin McHale, "Zoey 101"), a geeky guitarist who spends more time avoiding bullies than chasing girls; and TINA (Jenna Ushkowitz, "Spring Awakening"), an awkward girl who needs to suppress her stutter before she can take center stage.
Will's only hope lies with two true talents: RACHEL BERRY (Lea Michele, "Spring Awakening"), a perfectionist firecracker who is convinced that show choir is her ticket to stardom; and FINN HUDSON (Cory Monteith, "Kyle XY"), the popular high school quarterback with movie star looks and a Motown voice who must protect his reputation with his holier-than-thou girlfriend, QUINN (Dianna Agron), and his arrogant teammate, PUCK (Mark Salling).
Driven by his secret past, Will is determined to do whatever it takes to make Glee great again, even though everyone around him thinks he's nuts. He's out to prove them all wrong - from his tough-as-nails wife TERRI SCHUESTER (Jessalyn Gilsig, "Nip/Tuck") to McKinley's cheerleading coach SUE SYLVESTER (guest star Jane Lynch, "Best In Show," "Role Models") to an ?ber-hip world that thinks jazz hands and sequined tuxedos litter the road to infamy rather than pave the way to Hollywood dreams.
Featuring a soundtrack of hit songs from past and present, GLEE is produced by Ryan Murphy Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Dante Di Loreto serve as executive producers, while Ian Brennan and John Kousakis serve as co-executive producers. Murphy directed the pilot.
April 27, 2009
Simpson a cappella
Eight years after they broke up Pacific Northwest's Canvas had their moment in the media when this Sunday's episode of the Simpsons used the group's YouTube clip of them singing the Simpson's theme song rather than the usual one. More here.
April 21, 2009
Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals line up
It's going to be another great night of vocal harmony singing at the upcoming National Finals of the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival
Here are the regional winners:-
Road Show - Boston
3 Men & A Melody - Chicago
The Love Notes - San Francisco
Rezonate - Pacific Northwest
MouthBeats - Rocky Mountain
MaXX Factor - Mid Atlantic
Cartoon Johnny - New York
Evolution – Los Angeles
Hosted by 2008 National Champions (from Germany) Vocaldente
HARMONY SWEEPSTAKES A CAPPELLA FESTIVAL NATIONAL FINALS
Saturday May 16, 8pm
Marin Veteran's Auditorium
Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael, California
April 20, 2009
For Song’s 250th Birthday, Voices Ring Out in Praise
New York Times
Anniversaries often provide fodder for concert programmers, composers’ and performers’ birthdays being the favorites. On Wednesday evening the superb a cappella men’s choir Chanticleer celebrated a less heralded occasion: the 250th anniversary of “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free,” said to be the earliest surviving American secular song.
Strangely, that work, by Francis Hopkinson (a friend of George Washington’s and a signer of the Declaration of Independence), was not included in Chanticleer’s engrossing program in the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With remarkable elegance and fluidity, the ensemble explored a melting pot of styles.
The program opened with “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” an English hymn set here to a melancholy, traditional Appalachian melody. There were also examples of shape-note music, an American tradition that adds a further graphic element to the notation to facilitate congregational and group singing. A harmonically rich, earthy arrangement of “David’s Lamentation” from “The Original Sacred Harp” by Joseph H. Jennings, Chanticleer’s artistic adviser, was particularly striking. The song “Jefferson,” written during the Revolutionary War in 1779, signified the new patriotic American spirit.
“Night Chant” by the contemporary composer Brent Michael Davids reflects his heritage as a member of the Mohican Nation, evoking traditional ceremonies with Mohican words. At one point the sopranos, accompanied by the earthy sounds of a nose flute, sang over rhythmically intense chants.
“The Homecoming: In Memoriam Martin Luther King Jr.,” a soulful work by David Conte with a text by John Stirling Walker, traversed several keys and moods before ending tranquilly.
The concert also included music from the 17th century by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, a Spanish-born composer who moved to Mexico and wrote solemn liturgical works in Latin, and Juan de Lienas, a Mexican. After a haunting rendition of de Lienas’s eight-part setting of Psalm 115, in which the men’s voices swelled in an immaculate crescendo on the final “Amen,” the mood lightened with “The Queen to Me a Royal Pain Doth Give” and “My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth,” attributed (by Peter Schickele) to P. D. Q. Bach.
Chanticleer also offered deeply felt, expressively shaded interpretations of “Reincarnations” (Op. 16) by Samuel Barber, a setting of three poems on Irish themes by James Stephens.
The program ended with songs by Eric Whitacre and by Stephen Foster, including the lively “Nelly Bly.” As encores, the ensemble offered selections including a striking arrangement of “Summertime,” with dazzling contributions from the sopranos.
April 16, 2009
No blogging this week as we are hosting our family reunion with members flying in from several countries. We are celebrating our mum's upcoming 80th birthday. Back on Monday.
April 10, 2009
Suit by Heirs to 1950s Singing Groups Moot as N.J. Regulators Change Tune
A challenge to New Jersey's Truth in Music Act by progeny of 1950s-vintage crooner groups The Drifters, The Platters and The Coasters has been dismissed, now that the state has backed off its previously broad view of the law's reach.
The state conceded at a court hearing that a common-law trademark to a group's name is to be given the same force and effect as a registered mark, making it unnecessary for the performers to bill themselves as "tribute groups."
U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise ruled Tuesday that the change of tune made the plaintiff's requested injunction moot, and ditto their constitutional attack on the statute, which forbids entertainers from promoting themselves as affiliated with a recording group unless they prove the connection.
The lawsuit was prompted by state Attorney General Anne Milgram's 2007 investigation into concerts planned by the Cornell Gunter Coasters, the Elsbeary Hobbs Drifters and the Platters at the Hilton Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
Hilton, upon being served with a subpoena, discontinued advertising and ticket sales for the shows but the performances went on, with most of the tickets given away and the acts introduced as a "tribute" or "salute."
The group's managers, Singer Management Consultants and Live Gold Operations Inc., supplied the attorney general with documents purportedly showing that they were authorized to associate themselves with the original Coasters, Drifters and Platters.
The Truth in Music Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:32B-1, states five ways in which a performing group may show its connection to a recording group. One way is to show that at least one member of the advertised group was a member of the original band and has legal rights to its name or trademark. Read more.
April 9, 2009
Singers Bring Harmony to Bedsides of Sick, Dying
Voice of America
Kate Munger first discovered the power of music nearly 20 years ago when she saw the profound difference it made for people in the end stages of life, even for those who were comatose. It was 1990, and she was visiting a friend who was comatose and dying of HIV/AIDS.
"I sat down by his bed and wondered what to do next," she recalls. "And instinctively I began to sing. And he had been restless, and as I sang, he calmed and so did I. At the end of that experience, I felt I that I had done something that was a special gift that only I could give at this moment to that person. And it was very penetrating as an experience for me."
After years of leading informal singing groups, Munger started her first Threshold Choir with 15 women in the San Francisco Bay Area. The idea of singing to ease the pain of passing away caught on, and Munger was soon busy adding new choirs around the Bay area, leading rehearsals and scheduling bedside visits.
At that point, Munger says, the Threshold Choir had turned into a full-time job.
"Every single minute of my waking time is devoted to this work," she says, pointing out that she has a degree in psychology; had been a music teacher for 10 years, and had a private practice in deep-tissue massage. "Everything I've done has led me to do this. There is a satisfaction that I've never felt the likes of before, of knowing that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing with your life. I had no idea that this would be as big as it is. So it's exceeded by far my original intention." Read more.
The Threshold Choir is a wonderful organization and anybody looking for a truly rewarding singing experience should consider participating
April 8, 2009
N7 hangs with Coldplay
Chris Martin of Coldplay heard Naturally 7 on UK radio recently and was so impressed by their harmonies and their vocal replication of instrumental sounds, he flew home from Germany to catch their London show. He took producer Brian Eno and pal Natalie Imbruglia with him.
"We'd heard he was coming, but you never know," Naturally 7 singer Rod Eldridge says. "Sure enough he's hanging over this upper balcony with Natalie and Brian. It was pretty surprising."
Martin came backstage with his posse to invite Naturally 7 to record with Coldplay; he's a man of action -- the next day they joined the chart-topping band, Eno and Imbruglia in a London studio. "We just jammed and sang," Eldridge says. "Chris wanted us to teach him vocal sounds, he's working on something. He's not there yet but I'm sure he'll come around. There's nothing concrete but we're planning on doing some things together."
The event was a family affair -- Martin bringing children Moses and Apple. "We were improvising, making music, then we went off to have tea and biscuits, so it turned into a real English thing," Eldridge says.
"Natalie and I were talking vocal techniques, she was giving me tips on how to get around nodules on vocal cords. It was a great day. It's so nice to know someone like Chris Martin appreciates what we do. He's taking time out of his interviews to mention us. We're definitely honoured."
Indeed, Martin heaped praise on the band during his recent Herald Sun interview. "I loved taking Brian, he was knocked out," Martin says. "His favourite thing is singing. And that's what they do. They're incredible."
April 6, 2009
Tenor of the times: Choir needs more off-bass voices
Vancouver Sun (Canada): (Thanks to The Choral Blog)
It’s time for the banana frog, the Cuban long-nosed toad and the Hawaiian duck to make room on the endangered species list for tuxedo-wearing gentlemen with voices that can hit the high notes — better known as tenors. That the tenor is slowly vanishing from the world was evidenced Wednesday morning when members of Vancouver’s Jubilate Chamber Choir risked hypothermia by standing for more than an hour at the south end of the Burrard Bridge, trying to lure a tenor or two.
Choir president Jim Colbert and three others, all in tuxedos, were waving signs saying “Free, the tenors” to passing buses and rush-hour motorists. It wasn’t an appeal to let some Pavarotti-beautiful voices out of jail, but shorthand for telling tenors they wouldn’t be charged the usual $250 in annual fees if they joined the choir.
Colbert is hoping the demonstration will bring one of these scarce voices into the fold. “We stayed out there as long as we could. We left before hypothermia set in,” said Colbert, whose 24-member choir was formed in 1994 and is now down to its last two tenors.
It has a full complement of basses, altos and sopranos, but those sublimely soaring male voices are missing. There has been a mysterious drop in the numbers of tenors worldwide, Colbert said.
So is it global warming? Something in the water? He isn’t sure, though he has heard it might have something to do with diet — hormones in the meat — that is making males grow larger and likewise increasing the size of their voice boxes, which results in lower-pitched voices.
“I know there was an Ideas program on CBC a year ago which dealt with the vanishing tenors and what might be behind it,” he said. “There could be social and physiological reasons. We see boys today emulating gruffer sounds because that is what they are exposed to hearing. So they don’t have the cultural or social motivation to sing classically at a higher pitch.”
Vancouver has dozens of choirs and tenors are in constant demand, said Colbert, who sings bass. It is difficult enough to recruit male voices of any kind, he said. “I was dragged kicking and screaming into the choir. Men in general are hard to recruit.”
April 1, 2009
Barbershop singing Whales
NPR's All Things Considered aired a few comments from listeners about a previously aired story regarding whale farming. Apparently, one of the "farmers," Mr. Summers, had been teaching the whales to sing in harmony. He says, "In achieving four-part harmony in whale song, I think we we have tied nature's most wondrous sound to a great barbershop tradition." A NPR listener, however, had this to say: "Having studied music at college, I want Mr. Summers to know that what he calls four-part harmony is not. Two of the whales are plainly singing the same note. That may be clever, but it's not barbershop." Well, Mr. Summers wasn't having any of that, and he replied, "It wasn't that the whales couldn't sing in harmony, they were just too busy expressing their individuality. They weren't so attached to the group." Listen here.