October 31, 2009

McNeil Jubilee Singers mark 40 years with reunion concert

The Tidings (CA):

Celebrating 40 years of performing African American spirituals all over the world, the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers will gather many of the 170 singers who have performed with the ensemble for a reunion concert Nov. 1 at St. Bernadette Church in Los Angeles.

In addition to the rich repertoire of spirituals for which the Jubilee Singers are famous, the group will sing Gospel Mass composed in 1978 by Dr. Robert Ray, professor of music at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and also perform a set of secular songs and choreographed Broadway selections. The concert is a fundraiser for St. Bernadette parish.

The Jubilee singers are named for founder Albert McNeil, a native of Los Angeles who as a child sang at St. Joseph Church downtown and is currently a parishioner of St. James in Redondo Beach. He earned Bachelor and Master degrees at UCLA, and did his doctoral studies at USC, the Westminster Choir College of Princeton, and the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. McNeil is a former teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, professor of Ethnomusicology at USC, and director of Choral Activities at the University of California at Davis where he also headed the Music Education Program.

The Jubilee Singers are an ensemble of 12 to 15 singers who perform most of their music a cappella. Under McNeil's direction they have performed in more than 70 countries.

In addition to their international fame, McNeil and the Jubilee Singers have the respect and recognition of national choral organizations and audiences. McNeil has been honored on four occasions with "Command Performances" before the prestigious American Choral Directors Association, most recently in 2000, during the ACDA Western Division Convention at Loyola Marymount University. Read more.

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October 29, 2009

Toyota Prius a cappella commercials

LA Weekly (CA):

It’s officially cool and okay to hum along to TV commercials, especially if they’re scored — like the Toyota ads currently seen on the tube (and YouTube) — by one Petra Haden. She’s the multitalented, environmentally friendly voice behind those joyfully surreal images in a series of recent Prius ads, doing all that wondrous, melodic tapestry weaving with nothing but her vocal cords and an ear for harmony.

Haden has a deceptively informal air about her when she describes what she does and how she goes about her work. The Prius spots happened when she got a call from a music supervisor who had heard her a cappella version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Haden doesn’t even drive, but she had a vague idea about what might fit the eco-friendly hybrid.

“I wasn’t thinking about Prius, I was thinking about the music,” she says. “‘Let Your Love Flow’ [a cover of the Bellamy Brothers hit], I was thinking, I could re-create this. That song was fun, it was easy, like the Journey song.”

Haden was given free rein in her musical interpretations of oldies standards for the Toyota commercials; the corporate-exec types merely suggested doing the songs slower here or in higher harmony there. For the song beneath the “Solar” ad, which touts the Prius’ use of solar-powered air conditioning, “I was thinking about the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows,’ and I did kind of a variation on that.”

The commercials’ elaborate weaves of vocal harmony are created through a process similar to — though obviously more advanced than — the one she developed for her 1999 a cappella album, Imaginaryland. “When I got my first four-track cassette for my birthday, I just started singing. I don’t play piano, I don’t play drums, I don’t play guitar. I play violin, but I didn’t know at the time how to plug it into the four-track. So what I did was, I had a microphone and I just sang everything that I heard in my head.”

The Bach-worthy flourishes in Haden’s Toyota choral work shouldn’t surprise, considering what she’s accomplished in previous a cappella projects, including Imaginaryland and her spectacular 2005 cover of the entire The Who Sell Out album. (Yes, that’s right, the whole record, the voices, guitars, bass and drums, all performed with her mouth, and so accurate in pinpointing the harmonies and rhythms that it makes your head spin.) Read more.

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October 27, 2009

Sweet Adelines newest Queens

Congratulations to Zing! who were crowned 2010 Queens of Harmony this weekend in Nashville, TN. The Kansas based quartet features Michelle Marie Hunget (tenor), Susan Ives (lead), Mary Rhea (bari) and Melynnie Williams (bass) and all are lifetime barbershop singers. First runner up is Jackpot Quartet with Harmony Sweepstakes champs MAXX Factor taking bronze. The Rich-Tone Chorus won their fifth gold medal with Lion's Gate taking silver and Pride of Kentucky bronze.

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October 26, 2009

Rockapella selects AKG for 2009 world tour

L&Si Online (press release):

The technical staff for the a cappella pop group, Rockapella, together with its members, selected the AKG WMS 4500 wireless system and C5900 microphone as they tour the globe and lay the foundation of a new album.

Commenting on the group's selection of the WMS 4500 and C 5900 microphone, Rockapella's high-tenor and primary arranger, Scott Leonard, said, "The microphone and sound system selection for an a cappella group is extremely important. The human voice is the sole instrument of the group, therefore selecting the right microphones is a highly sensitive process."

Rockapella took extensive time to review the entire line of AKG products as well as those from many competitors. "The microphones we choose have to handle both normal vocals and a wide variety of vocal percussion sounds. Going with the C 5900 microphone through the WMS 4500 wireless system lets us successfully deliver the complete sound of a vocally driven group like Rockapella," said Jeff Thacher, Rockapella's vocal percussionist.

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October 24, 2009

Nashville in Harmony 'flash mobs' surprise city with songs

Out & About (TN):

Nashville in Harmony became a marauding mob recently - and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, the city chorus unleashed what is known as a “flash mob” where a musical group surreptitiously mingles among an unsuspecting crowd and then, on cue, breaks out into song. Starting with just a few voices laying down the rhythm, the rest of the chorus gradually joined the ranks. Before the unsuspecting knew what hit them, NiH was delivering a full choral rendition of “Build Me Up Buttercup”.

The chorus performed six such flash concerts during the course of a busy Nashville Saturday morning.

At 9 a.m., the group quickly congregated at the Nashville Farmers Market where just a few patrons were starting their day. Next was an invasion upon the Southern Festival of Books at Legislative Plaza where quiet shoppers were sucked into the musical vortex only to be left with the ache of smiling faces and hands sore from clapping. Similar surprise attacks occurred throughout the day.

After a brief stop at the Metro Transit Authority Depot, NiH made its way to Centennial Park for a double assault upon the Dog Day Festival where not even hundreds of dogs could sniff out the mischief that was about to unfold. From there, they journeyed into Green Hills where NiHarmony stealthily descended upon the Hills Center. There, 60 to 70 members of the chorus performed inside the small space of Swoozies.

The final infiltration occurred in the food court at Whole Foods. It was an unplanned performance, but with short notice the management approved and the mission went forward, prompting customers and staff alike to sing and dance among the entrées. Several Whole Foods employees commented that the energy level was much higher after the flash mob and customers were friendlier and more talkative. Read more.

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October 23, 2009

M-Pact's Britt Quentin cast as Michael Jackson

For those who know him it will come as little surprise that the super-talented Britt Quentin, artistic director of M-Pact, has been cast as the gloved one in London's West End big theatrical hit Thriller. Britt's soprano lead voice is a wonder to behold and he has been compared, much to his chagrin, to Michael Jackson ever since he began singing when growing up in Detroit. Britt really is a unique talent and this roll suits him like, well, a glove. He will be taking a year sabbatical from M-Pact and original group member Greg Whipple has returned to take his place.

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One of the last bastions of male domination in the west may be about to disappear forever. The world-famous Vienna Boys Choir has admitted it can no longer get enough male recruits.

And so, after 400 years, the choir is finally set to open its doors to female singers.

The boys in the choir live at the imposing Palais Augarten boarding school and are all individually interviewed before being accepted for a place.

Many famous composers have worked with the choral group, including Mozart, Hofhaimer and Bruckner, and the choir perform nearly 300 concerts each year in front of a staggering 500,000 people.

But the pressure of not having enough regular recruits has finally told. It comes just months after the Austrian Times reported that Vienna’s Spanish Riding School has also lifted its 436-year-old men-only tradition.

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October 22, 2009

Raising lively voices for a dying singing style

China News:

Every Dong person knows the saying, "Rice is for the body; song is for the soul". They take great pride in their "grand songs (dongzu dage)", or "galao" in the local language - the only polyphonic chorus without accompaniment or conductors in China.

"Singing offers the chance to reveal our innermost feelings," says Yang Huanying, a local galao vocalist living in Tongdao Dong autonomous county in southern Hunan province. "You can't say you are a Dong person if you can't sing."

Yang has become a local celebrity. In 2006, she performed grand songs with her family for CCTV's China Stage (Shenzhou Dawutai). Their pure voices stunned the audience and won them first prize. Domestic tourists got to know about the beautiful folk art and began visiting Dong villages to see live shows.

Galao originated in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and UNESCO recently listed it as an Intangible Culture Heritage. But the outside world has known about the grand songs for a long time. Chinese musicologist Zheng Lucheng (1918-76) discovered the art form in the late 1950s. He was shocked to discover the Dong were singing polyphonic music, which had never been identified among the musical forms indigenous to China.

His discovery caught the attention of French musician Louis Dandelaire. In 1986, he invited a choir of nine Dong women to the Paris Autumn Festival. The harmonious sound was praised as "the chorus from heaven".

Dong choral groups are traditionally formed among a family. They create songs by mimicking the sounds of birds and streams, and add their emotions to the melodies. They express feelings openly, especially with love songs. "In the old days, young people sang to each other when they were courting," Yang says.

"If a young man can't sing in a Dong village, he can hardly find a girlfriend."

Grand songs typically have one of four meanings. The "narrative style" tells of everyday happenings and conversations. The "lyrical style" is reserved for love songs. The "moral style" deals with questions of right and wrong. And the "vocal style" focuses more on the beauty of the melodies than on meaning.

"We Dong will naturally burst into song while doing house chores and working in the fields," Yang says. "If someone starts to sing, people working nearby will soon join in."

Yang says the grand songs play an important role in passing down culture. Because the Dong don't have a written language, they use singing to preserve their oral history.

Consequently, those who are good vocalists are respected as the brightest and most sensible people.

"Singing together isn't just a form of entertainment, but also a means of educating and uniting the Dong," says Ou Ruifan, an official from the autonomous county's culture bureau. "It nurtures a sense of belonging and serves as a culture symbol for us." Read more.

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October 21, 2009

Review: Choral magic American style

Oregon Live (OR):

Here's what a Sunday afternoon in Portland can look like: Sun streaming in a church window. Pews filled with still, attentive listeners. A choir of teachers, students, doctors, nurses and office managers slapping their ears with joyful harmonies.

The 61-voice Oregon Repertory Singers gave a delightful concert at First United Methodist Church, Sunday, filling the high-ceilinged sanctuary with music that ranged from the electrifying to the reassuring, including a Joni Mitchell classic, "The Circle Game."

In his 34th year as the group's conductor, Gil Seeley is a master of choral programming, particularly American music. Sunday's program showed depth as well as breadth, challenging the choir in a number of ways. Samuel Barber's "Agnus Dei," an arrangement of his famous "Adagio for Strings," and Morten Lauridsen's "O Nata Lux" drew protracted phrases and subtle tonal shadings from the singers. Pungent harmonies created a tense feeling of anticipation in Frank La Rocca's "Expectavi Dominum."

We heard William Stafford's daughter, Barbara Stafford Wilson, read her father's poem, "Earth Dweller" with its final line "The world speaks everything to us. It is our only friend." The gently rising and falling scales of the music by Michael Johanson, a composition professor at Lewis & Clark College, evoked the poem's images of sun and barn, dreams and magic, beginning in a wordless swirl of overlapping pitches and ending on an open chord.

A little more snap would have helped Leonard Bernstein's satiric "The Best of All Possible Worlds" from "Candide." It sounded too careful.

Not so in Eric Whitacre's "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine." The country's current hot choral composer had the singers practically shouting. Ecstatic eruptions and the eerie whoosh of wind, accompanied by bells and tambourine, created high drama. Seeley's own arrangement of "Shenandoah" offered a magical moment: shimmering voices that suggested wind riffling the surface of the mighty Missouri River.

After such fine singing, I could have done without the obligatory spirituals that ended the program. They didn't add anything, but an encore by Ernest Bloch – the beautiful meditation from "The Sacred Service," ("May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart...") – ended the afternoon on the right note.

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October 17, 2009

Ladysmith Black Mambazo bus drama

Ely Standard:

World renowned choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo were almost forced to pull the plug on Thursday night's concert in Cambridge after a would-be thief attempted to drive off with the group's tour bus.

The incident happened in the early hours of Thursday morning (Oct 15) when a 25-year-old man climbed into the driver's seat of the group's tour bus parked outside of the Cambridge Corn Exchange and attempted to drive off. Fortunately, a number of the tour staff, who were on the bus sleeping ahead of a busy day setting up thousands of pounds worth of musical equipment, were able to stop the man before he was able to drive off with the bus.

Police, who watched the incident unfold on nearby CCTV cameras, arrived at the scene at around 3am and arrested the 25-year-old, from Royston, on suspicion of taking a vehicle without consent and for driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs. A spokesman confirmed that the man is currently being held at Parkside Police Station in Cambridge.

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October 16, 2009

Penn Masala performs at the White House

Penn Current:

The a cappella group Penn Masala performed at the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 14, to celebrate the signing of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The initiative is designed to improve the health, education and economic status of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, and the signing of coincided with the holiday of Diwali – the festival of lights – observed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists.

To honor the signing and celebrate the holiday, Penn Masala sang in the East Room, performing the national anthem along with one of their songs, “Aicha.” Click here to see video of Penn Masala’s performance. In his remarks, President Obama praised the “creative energies of musicians like the singers Penn Masala.”

The all-male group was formed in 1996 as the world’s first Hindi a cappella group. Its music has been influenced by the Eastern and Western cultures that represent the group’s membership. Read more.

I just happen to notice that in the painting in the background George Washington kinda looks like he's posing in a doo wop group's promo photo.

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October 14, 2009

NPR - 50 Great Voices: Send Us Your Nominations

In January 2010, NPR will launch a year-long exploration of 50 of the great voices in recorded history. With the series, we're hoping to discover and re-discover awe-inspiring vocalists from around the world and across time. Through archival material, interviews and music, NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered will spend the year delving into the lives and legacies of these voices. But we don't know yet whose voices they'll be.

Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 16, we're asking you — NPR listeners and readers — to tell us who in the whole world possesses the most beautiful, singular voice you have ever heard. Leave your picks, along with a sentence defending each choice and a link to an audio clip if possible, in the comments below, or email GreatVoices@npr.org.

We'll compile your nominations, along with those of our panel of experts, academics and public-radio critics. At that point, we'll name the nominees and ask you to help us winnow them down to the 50 great voices we'll profile in the coming year. We're relying on you to remind us of those voices we may have forgotten or never got the chance to hear; those voices that may sound strange to Western ears; vocalists silenced by politics or history; the singers who are only really embraced by critics and those who are heroes of the everyday listener. No voice is too outlandish, too old or too compromised. It's All Voices Considered here, and we can't wait to see and hear what you send us. Read more.

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October 12, 2009

Sweet Adelines Prepares to Set a Guinness World Record


Sweet Adelines International will soon give Nashville something to sing about as thousands of a cappella vocalists prepare to set the Guinness World Record for Largest Singing Lesson on Saturday, October 24 at 7 p.m. in the Sommet Center. Sweet Adelines members are women who excel in singing the unique musical art form of barbershop harmony.

In accordance with Guinness World Records guidelines, music professional and past International Quartet Champion Peggy Gram will lead the Largest Singing Lesson by demonstrating inspiring techniques for integrating the voice into the art form. The venue will be filled with immense sound as more than 7,000 singers are expected to practice the techniques and sing simultaneously for the duration of the lesson.

An on-site Guinness World Records official adjudicator, Danny Girton, will be present to witness the attempt and to validate the achievement, which will culminate in a certificate presentation if the endeavor is successful.

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October 10, 2009

A cappella movie lines

I just finished watching "Zulu", one of my favorite movies from my youth. It's still a great film. A young Michael Caine along with many fine British character actors based on a true story.

And there was a great vocal harmony movie line. Anybody know of any others?

The Zulus greatly outnumber the British soldiers and are chanting before their final charge.

Lieutenant John Chard: Do you think the Welsh can do better than that, Owen?

Pte. Owen: Well, they've got a very good bass section, mind, but no top tenors, that's for sure.

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October 8, 2009

The Singing Robot

Next time that group member is late once again for rehearsal you can now replace them with the HRP-4C singing robot. As a producer you artists better not be asking me for a too higher fee for the next concert I book you for... I see great potential here.

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The Manhattan Transfer -- 40 years and still singing


Forty years ago, Tim Hauser put together a sophisticated little singing group he hoped would make a few hits. The Manhattan Transfer went on to top music charts in Europe, dominate the U.S. jazz vocal scene for four decades, win Grammys in pop and jazz categories and even equal Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album for Grammy nominations.

Hauser is still stunned by the success he and fellow singers, Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne have achieved around the world. "I wanted to make a couple of hit records and work in the United States," Hauser told Reuters in a recent interview.

Asked whether he imagined his group would still be making music 40 years later, he said: "No, I never thought that way. "When you're young, you're thinking about what's right in front of you -- sex and drugs and rock 'n roll! You don't think of career and family." But that is how Bentyne describes the group, as family. "My daughter and Janis' son came on tour with us as babies," she recalled. "And right now she is in L.A. with Tim's family."

Like many families, each member of Manhattan Transfer has a voice -- and a vote -- in what songs they will sing and record, where they will tour, or who will handle lyrics or arrangements for each song. But like many musical acts, they often have differences of opinion.


"Creative differences? We thrive on creative differences," Hauser laughed. "We can't agree on anything. It takes us forever to agree. (But) There are certain guidelines that have to transcend personal feelings. "I think underneath all of (that) we all genuinely like each other. And we all understand that what we do collectively is greater than what we do individually."

Right now, Hauser operates as de-facto manager of the vocal quartet, which just released its first new album in five years -- "The Chick Corea Songbook." Read more.

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October 7, 2009

Tufts singers on NBC ... maybe

Boston Globe

The all-male a capella group at Tufts University hopes to be able to share its glee with the world on NBC this winter. Problem is, it needs permission. The Beelzebubs -- known for their instrument-free renditions of songs such as Eddie Murphy's "Party All The Time" and Beck's "Debra" -- were chosen to appear on the upcoming NBC reality competition "The Sing-Off," which is being produced by local moviemaker Sam Weisman.

But when the group asked Tufts academic dean James Glaser for permission to miss class to fly to LA for the show next month, he wasn't as supportive as they expected. According to 20-year-old 'Bubs leader Eli Seidman, Glaser didn't technically forbid the group from participating in the reality show, but he declined to give permission for members to miss class. "Maybe I'm a little naive when it comes to this, but I figured it would be an easy sell," Seidman said, adding that colleges often let athletes out of class for games. "This is prime-time television. I figured it would be good for Tufts pride."

Seidman, who says the 'Bubs were the only college ensemble chosen for the show, told us that NBC gave the group a deadline of tomorrow to get permission to participate. Glazer was not available for comment yesterday, but Tufts spokeswoman Kim Thurler said the 'Bubs have been encouraged to talk to their many professors to get permission to miss class during production. That's how it works, even for athletes, she said: students have to check with each professor before missing class.

Of course, how much class they miss will depend on how well the 'Bubs do. If they stay in the competition, they could miss the end of the semester and part of finals. Seidman said that so far, profs have been supportive and are giving time off, but the group is under the gun to get endorsements from all instructors for all members. It's been a lot of running around and last-minute negotiation. "It would just be a bummer if it didn't work out," Seidman said. "The guys have been working so hard." "Sing-Off" will air as four two-hour episodes starting Dec. 14.

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October 6, 2009

Awards honour for choral ensemble

BBC News:

Choral group Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have been named this year's Artist of the Year at the Classic FM Gramophone Awards in London. Hailed as "the world's leading choral ambassadors", the ensemble also won the Baroque Vocal Award for their recording of Handel's Coronation Anthems.

"This is quite simply the icing on the cake to what has been an incredible year," said founder Harry Christophers. "The Sixteen are a joy to conduct and, above all, they are also my friends."

The Sixteen were founded by Christophers as a group of 16 singers specializing in English music from the 16th Century. Now celebrating their 30th anniversary, the choral group have 75 titles on their own label and conduct an annual tour of the UK.

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October 4, 2009

Barbershop singing pizza

An ad now running for Tabasco hot sauce. Cute.

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October 3, 2009

For Whiffs, a nine-month long reunion

Yale Daily News

When Dennis Cross ’65 takes the stage in Woolsey Hall tonight to sing with fellow Whiffenpoof alumni for the Whiffs’ centennial, it will be for the second time this year.

Though this weekend’s festivities are billed as “The Whiffenpoof Centennial Reunion,” the Whiffs have been celebrating their centennial since January, when the Whiffenpoofs of 2009 gave a large concert in Woolsey Hall featuring comedian John Hodgman ’94 and former Whiffenpoof Jonathan Coulton ’93 as well as several groups of alumni.

The Whiffs decided to host two large centennial bashes, spread nine months apart, to allow for almost a full year of Whiffenpoof celebrations, said Cross, who is also the president of the Whiffenpoofs Alumni Association. Last year’s Whiffenpoofs were largely responsible for organizing the January concert, which — despite featuring several groups of older singers, including Cross — mainly showcased the talents of what was then the youngest generation of the country’s oldest a cappella group.

“The Whiffs of 2009 wanted to have a celebration that … was really their concert,” Cross said. “The coming together of all the ages — that’s what we’re doing here today.”

Because January is the actual month in which the a cappella group was founded over 100 years ago, this past January was the perfect time to kick off the centennial, said Barry McMurtrey ’88, who began planning the centennial celebrations about a year and a half ago. But most Whiffenpoof reunions, which occur every five years, are held in October, making this month a logical choice for the biggest Whiffenpoof reunion in recent memory, he said. Read more.

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October 2, 2009

Conan barbershop bit finally airs.

Here's the segment filmed during the Barbershop Convention when Conan made a surprise appearance. Lots of fun and my 7 year old daughter is excited as she can be seen for a short while in the background. You do need to watch a 30 second commercial but then you can watch just the clip.

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October 1, 2009

"Glee": An A Cappella Reality Check

Wall Street Journal:

I must preface this post by saying that I love “Glee” unabashedly. Along with the 6.6 million viewers who tuned in last week, I think it’s a fun, sometimes-witty, makes-you-want-sing-like-”Center Stage”-made-you-want-to-dance show.

But coming from a school where a cappella is arguably bigger than most sports teams combined (A personal shout-out to the Penny Loafers, Penn Masala and Penn Six!), I have to make a case against the songs we’re forced to endure on the show each week. Instead of the soaring we’ve come to expect from “High School Musical,” these musical numbers are riffs –- and bad ones –- on the Top 40 of today and 1972. (Though likely chosen by producers and music execs for appeal; it’s important not to forget a soundtrack will be released Nov. 3).

I was also excited about the notion of someone other than Lea Michele, who plays uberbrat Rachel, singing, especially when her soprano starts grating and you pray for Cory Monteith’s Finn to finish the rest of “Don’t Stop Believing.” But giving Jenna Ushkowitz’ Tina the song “Tonight” from “West Side Story” did absolutely nothing to show off her voice. And while this is controversial, I think Amber Riley’s Mercedes is the most talented one there, far outshining Rachel. Unfortunately, the song “Bust Your Windows” hardly showcases her incredible range. It’s “Dreamgirls” Part II, where no one is allowed to (overtly) outperform Beyoncé.

The show needs to ditch the lackluster lineup and take a cue from real a cappella groups. Below, some suggestions that would make Rockapella proud.Read more.

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