June 27, 2009
7 million YouTube hits make NYC kids' choir famous
They're a bunch of regular grade school kids, but their fans include Ashton Kutcher, Tori Amos and Perez Hilton — plus millions of YouTube viewers. A New York fifth-grade chorus that first appeared on an online video has become world-famous, a cyber-phenomenon touted by top media outlets, celebrities and politicians. And yet, the young singers from Public School 22 have rarely left Staten Island, a water-ringed New York City borough reached by ferry from Manhattan.
The question is, how does one pull off such a publicity feat? It was hardly an accident.
Much of the credit goes to a music teacher who apparently is a natural at public relations. "A friend in advertising told me that if I ever want to leave teaching, I should come and work for them," jokes the children's music director, Gregg Breinberg.
About three years ago, he taught his kids to sing the group Coldplay's hit single "Viva la Vida" and posted the performance on YouTube, followed by a Tori Amos song. "They've reached the world strictly by Internet," says Breinberg.
One day, gossip blogger Perez Hilton came across them on YouTube singing the Amos song in a Manhattan atrium — with Amos tearing up as she listened. Hilton was bowled over by the innocent-sounding voices that matched faces exuding energy and personality. He posted the link on his blog, triggering a deluge of interest that made the clip one of the top 10 YouTube videos.
Since then, the P.S. 22 Chorus has been featured on television and in major newspapers, while 7 million viewers have watched them on YouTube, and counting. The chorus even popped up on Kutcher's Twitter feed. Read more.
June 25, 2009
Michael Jackson - a cappella
Strip away all the pretension and hyperbole and what you have is both a cappella and Michael Jackson at their very best. This track is stunning! In his prime there was none better.
June 23, 2009
Forever Plaid big screen debut July 9
Several a cappella groups have entered the Forever Plaid online video contest and would love to get your vote. The competition is a promotion for the upcoming Forever Plaid big screen debut when a special edition of the show is to be broadcast live across the country to participating movie theaters. This is a great show that has been produced across the country for 20 years now. Watch the videos and vote here
June 19, 2009
Presidental a cappella
Sweet Honey in the Rock sang for President Obama and other luminaries at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association on Friday night at the black-tie dinner at the Washington Convention Center. This is the second time the group has performed for President Omaba having been invited to the White House by Michelle Obama in February.
June 18, 2009
Hal Leonard acquires Nashville music publisher
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI):
Milwaukee-based print music publisher Hal Leonard Corp. has purchased Shawnee Press Inc., a publisher of choral music. The acquisition increases Hal Leonard's catalog by almost 10%, to about 120,000 publications, and will add several jobs at the firm's offices here and in Nashville, Tenn. Shawnee is based in Nashville. The company's roots go back to a music publishing firm formed in the 1930s by the late bandleader and choral master Fred Waring.
Hal Leonard declined to disclose terms of the acquisition.
Hal Leonard employs about 400 people and had sales last year of $150.3 million. The firm describes itself as the world's largest print music publisher, turning out songbooks, sheet music, reference books and other products.
The 600 pound gorilla gets bigger still
June 15, 2009
King's Singers at Oxford
Senesino, Jenny Lind, Callas, Fischer-Dieskau… While audiences through the generations have been driven to heights of ecstatic frenzy by opera and vocal soloists, there is something about ensemble singing that has failed to produce such popular icons or to inspire anything like the same cult of hero-worship.
The very nature of the genre – its self-effacing focus on group blend rather than individual limelight– might perhaps account for this, yet it’s an argument that only a fool would try to sustain in the face of the global phenomenon that is The King's Singers. With a flawless blend and a balance of playful showmanship and sophisticated musicality that is, if anything, even more impressive live than on their many award-winning disks, the 6-piece ensemble are superstars to a man. (Or a counter-tenor, as the case may be…)
Returning to Oxford for the first time in over a decade, Thursday night's concert was a celebration of the Romance du Soir, with music exploring those perennially associated themes of love and the night. Wending its way from the madrigals of Weelkes to the part-songs of Elgar and Sullivan via a healthy dose of Saint-Saens (not to mention Jenks' 'Vegetable Compound' – but that's another story), the concert was a whistle-stop tour through the highlights of the group's latest CD.
The tone of proceedings was set in the very first bars of the opening pair of Saint-Saens part-songs – 'Calme des Nuits' and 'Romance du Soir.' The delicately fizzing piano of the opening chords, with their wonderfully interior delivery and immaculate tuning, commanded the audience immediately – an understated gesture that typifies all that is best about the music-making of this ensemble. Simplicity and direct communication is the watchword of all their eclectic repertoire, however complex or irreverently light-hearted. Somehow this approach succeeds in bridging the enormous stylistic and historical distances covered within each of their concert programs, and makes appropriate and intelligent sense of each style of music. Read more.
Renaissance music with lasting joy
Boston Globe (MA):
Friday night the Boston Early Music Festival presented music from both ends of the vast terrain it covers. The evening began with a recital showcasing period approaches to Beethoven, only to be followed by two nicely contrasting programs in Emmanuel Church that plunged backward several centuries, focusing on both sacred and profane aspects of Renaissance music.
First up was Stile Antico, a British vocal ensemble making its keenly anticipated US debut with a program devoted to settings of the biblical Song of Songs. Historically the lovers' yearning in this highly sensual text was often seen as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people, or between Christ and his church, and apparently the entire book was like catnip for the polyphonists of the 16th century. This program included settings or adaptations by Palestrina, Lassus, Gombert, and Victoria as well as selections by less familiar composers such as Sebastian de Vivanco and Jean Lheritier.
The group's impeccably blended sound, the lightness and transparency of its ensemble work, and its warmly expressive approach to this repertoire were all notable from the outset. The 13 singers perform without a conductor but nonetheless manage to shape their lines with exceeding suppleness and grace. Polychoral settings by Vivanco and Francisco Guerrero were a particular pleasure, as was Victoria's elaborate motet "Vadam, et circuibo."
June 10, 2009
Cantus Does Covers
Minneapolis Star Tribune (MN):
After the success of last season's "Covers: A Pop Concert," it's not surprising that the male vocal ensemble Cantus would present "Covers II." This year's concert was every bit as much fun as last year's and, in one significant respect, represented a major improvement.
This was straightforward, no-gimmicks musicmaking. Once again, the classical ensemble easily adopted a pop sensibility and took pop ditties, from the B-52s' "Roam" to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," as seriously as any of the other music that they perform. But they demonstrated with "If" by Jon McLemore, a parody of a hillbilly country song, that they don't take themselves too seriously.
Whether performing Tears for Fears' "Mad World" or Alison Krauss' "Baby Now That I've Found You," they sang in the kind of close harmony arrangements that capture the soul of Cantus, while still honoring the originals. Giving Cat Stevens' "Wild World" a reggae twist was particularly nice. There were some repeats from last year that were good to hear again, including the spirited "Donde Estas, Yolanda?" and a version of "Unravel" that continues to out-Björk Björk.
But the group is most famous for its a cappella singing, and those arrangements provided some of the most satisfying moments of the evening, especially "Wanting Memories," by Sweet Honey and the Rock's Ysaye M. Barnwell. Read more.
June 8, 2009
A Cappella Group Jukebox Make Good on Own
Moscow Times (Russia):
Like all popular music groups, the Jukebox Trio has its own successful formula. Presenting a rich mix of classic covers and original material in an open, friendly, accessible style — with two singers and a human beatbox — it's hard not to enjoy the experience of seeing them play.
"I don't know any other a cappella bands with only three people," said lead singer Vladimir Ivanov. "Usually, they have six, but we cut it down to the main things: bass, rhythm and melody. And actually, that's all you really need in music." Clever live sampling techniques are also often used to create layered, harmonized soundscapes that give the impression of more voices.
The group formed in 2004 in Kazan, when brothers Vladimir and Ilya Ivanov met Kirill Sharafutdinov at the vocal studio where they learned jazz and funk fundamentals. "We had mutual interests, we were listening to a lot of the same music — Bobby McFerrin, Take 6, Queen, The Beatles. It's different music, but we like it all," explains Vladimir.
At live shows, this diversity is evident. Reworked Elvis Presley hits, silky Bossa Nova ballads and sermonising soulful serenades are all on the agenda. The penultimate track on the Trio's debut album "Acappellipsis" features a list of influential artists — names as varied as Ozzy Ozbourne, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and the Chemical Brothers are recited in comically exaggerated Russian accents.
However, copies of the CD are somewhat hard to come by. "We decided not to sell the album in shops; it's only available at our concerts," said Vladimir. Why? "It's a big problem to make a good production with Russian record labels. They are really down now." He also cites the mercenary nature of the country's music industry as something the group wants to avoid. "Radio stations and TV channels play everything just for money, apart from maybe Western musicians — mainstream stuff. If you want to be big in Russia, you have to pay.
"The most important thing with Jukebox Trio is that, at first, it wasn't for money — simply for pleasure. When we started to earn money with the music, it was a bonus. And that's still the order of priorities," Vladimir said. Read more.
June 5, 2009
Stuart's senior singers
Minneapolis Star Tribune (MN):
For all his life, he's carried a name famous in Minnesota music circles, but he's always considered himself more aficionado than performer. Now, at 91, Stuart MacPhail is helping create the state's newest singing group, all because of what he calls his "rusty pipes."
The ensemble, just getting started at the Friendship Village retirement community in Bloomington, might perform under his suggested name: Sing for Your Life!
MacPhail is the last surviving child of William S. MacPhail, who in 1907 opened a violin school in downtown Minneapolis. For more than a century, the school has taught thousands of students to play nearly every instrument and develop skills that range from singing, public speaking and piano tuning to dancing, baton twirling and music therapy.
Stuart MacPhail worked at his dad's school for about 15 years, mostly in administrative and bookkeeping jobs, before entering the steel business. He played clarinet in a jazz band in college and sang in the all-male Minneapolis Apollo Chorus, which his father led for 22 years. He remains a lifetime board member of the MacPhail Center for the Arts, which last year opened its new building near the Guthrie Theater.
Late last year, he "casually mentioned" to board colleague Patty Murphy that "I kind of think I would like to study voice again" because his speaking and singing had lost punch and resonance. But he didn't want to drive downtown for weekly lessons or pay a teacher to come to Bloomington for private instruction.
With help from MacPhail Center and Friendship Village, his notion crescendoed into a series of group lessons not only for him, but for friends and neighbors at the retirement complex, home to about 375 residents.
From young kids to our most senior citizens group harmony singing is embraced and enjoyed by all! Some of our local a cappella groups do charity performances in senior homes and find them to be most rewarding. Once again at this year's Harmony Sweeps the audiences included all ages and is one of the most age diverse audiences you will find anywhere.
June 4, 2009
King's Singers left bemused at Grammy mix-up
When the world-famous King's Singers arrived in Tewkesbury to collect their Grammy award they were in for a shock.
The British group was on tour in America in February when members learned their latest album had been given the prestigious musical honour. After months of waiting to receive the award, the six male singers arrived at Tewkesbury Abbey yesterday to be officially presented with their gramophone-style awards – only to find they had the wrong name carved into them.
The plaques underneath the awards said King's Sisters rather than Singers. It seems someone at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in America had failed to check on the sex of the all-male group.
But after much head-shaking, the group members' mood lightened. They were soon laughing about the error when they realised the academy had noticed its mistake and had enclosed replacement plaques with the correct name on them.
Stephen Connolly, who has clocked up 22 years with the group, which was given best classical cross-over album 2008 for Simple Gifts, said: "It's fantastic. It's a really prestigious award."
He and the other five singers were making one of their regular appearances at the Abbey. They spent most of yesterday being filmed in action by the BBC. The footage will be used in different episodes of popular show Songs of Praise throughout next year. Stephen said: "We've been to the Abbey once a year for the past few years. It's lovely. It's a fantastic place. "For the producers, all they have to do is point the camera in one of a 100 places."
June 2, 2009
Whoops! I gave wrong result
Thanks to the readers who contacted me to say I had incorrectly posted the results of the Britains Got Talent TV show. The competition was in fact won by the dance troupe Diversity who, after watching the above video, certainly seems like worthy champs. Sorry about that.
Singing group bests Susan Boyle
Somewhat remarkably the internet and media sensation Susan Boyle took second place in the final of Britain Got Talent being bested by a family singing group Good Evans. IMHO the young lad in the group does have a great voice and he is being compared to a young Michael Jackson but I was not particularly impressed by the group as a whole. I have often jokingly threatened to enter the Neal Family Singers in the Harmony Sweepstakes but maybe that's not such a bad idea after all...
June 1, 2009
I Hear Brooklyn Singing
New York Magazine:
It’s a wonder that the members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus had time to assemble for this photo. Last week, they sang with indie rockers Grizzly Bear at the Town Hall (they’re on the band’s new album) and at their own concerts. As of June 11, they’ll perform in seven of Lorin Maazel’s final concerts with the New York Philharmonic. And they’re preparing for a central role in Really Real, composer Phil Kline’s evening-long piece with choreographer Wally Cardona for BAM’s Next Wave Festival.
Among New York’s choral groups, BYC stands alone. It’s really a vocal academy, started from scratch in 1992 by its unflappable director, Dianne Berkun. (Today, 280 kids sing in five choral levels, from 127 schools.) “Often in a chorus, there’s some compromising on individual development for the sake of an ensemble,” Berkun says. “But these kids are trained to sing all musics authentically.” Maazel calls them “prepared within an inch of their lives,” and Kline agrees: “I don’t think I really got what their musicianship was like till rehearsal. It’s everything you could ask for.” He laughs. “And unlike most professionals I know, they come on time and don’t leave early!” Of course not—then they’d have to go do their homework.