January 28, 2010
Cantus men's chorus focuses on the elements
Savannah Morning News (GA):
What began in the mid-'90s as an all-male student choral group at a college in Minnesota has, through the years, become one of America's finest professional male vocal ensembles. Cantus will make a tour stop in Savannah with a performance at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church on Saturday, as a part of the Concerts on Skidaway musical series.
The tour program theme for Cantus is "Elemental," which looks at music written specifically about the elements of earth, wind, fire and water, as well as what is metaphorically elemental to the human experience, such as love and light. "The theme allows us to bring together diverse styles of music," said Aaron Humble, artistic council tour manager for Cantus. "When the program comes together, it can be poignant how the diverse musical styles blend."
Highlights of their performance will include "Lux Aurumque (Walton Music)" by Eric Whitacre and "Muistse Mere Laulud (Songs of the Ancient Sea)" by Veljo Tormis. " 'Lux Aurumque' is a piece that's pretty popular in choral repertoire right now. (Whitacre's) music is very unique. It's all about light," Humble said. "One of the pieces not nearly as well known is "Songs of the Ancient Sea" by Tormis. His style and composition relies a lot on folk songs or Estonian runo-song."
Cantus also will perform traditional music by composers like Schubert, as well as spirituals and contemporary works. "We believe every piece should be approached and performed in its own way. Every piece is varied, and our approach is just as diverse," Humble said. "We have the ability to provide something for everyone." Read more.
January 25, 2010
Sonos: Glitchy A Cappella, Live At NPR
Weekend Edition (NPR):
It's been said that voice is the original instrument. The a cappella group Sonos takes this idea to a new level. Sonos isn't your typical glee club. Aside from its novel vocal techniques, and even some electronic manipulation, it has also cultivated a modern repertoire: unique renditions of music by Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, Bjork, Imogen Heap and more.
SonoSings is the name of the group's new album. The sextet traveled from its home base in Los Angeles to perform in NPR's Studio 4A. Between songs, Liane Hansen spoke with singers Jessica Freedman, Chris Harrison, Ben McLain, Rachel Bearer, Katharine Hoye and Paul Peglar.
According to chief arranger Chris Harrison, the band's repertoire emerged after everyone came up with playlists of possible tunes. But "White Winter Hymnal," by Fleet Foxes, was actually suggested to the group by its manager, Hugo Vereker. "He said, 'Hey, I'm thinking this, but, you know, like a hymnal, instead of a Beach Boys tune,' " Harrison said. The group performed its take on "White Winter Hymnal," the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," and even a beatbox-heavy version of the Weekend Edition theme. Listen here.
January 23, 2010
Los Angeles A Cappella Festival
M-Pact and Sonos headline the 2nd annual Los Angeles A Cappella Festival. This one day event will be held January 30th at UCLA with classes and workshops for a cappella singers conducted by luminaries such as Marco Cassone, Trist Curless, Amy Engelhardt, Dan Jordan, Moira Smiley, Mr Tim and others.
January 22, 2010
Band from 'Scrubs'
Sun-Times Media (IL):
If it's a choice between seeing The Blanks and seeing the movie "Avatar" again, Sam Lloyd and Phil McNiven would like to assure you that their band's show is just like "Avatar."
They'll perform with a cappella group The Blanks -- yes, that band from "Scrubs" -- at 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at Elgin Community College. Lloyd is a tenor, McNiven is a countertenor, and other members include baritone George Miserlis and bass Paul F. Perry.
They recently took time out for a conference call to talk about the upcoming show.
"We're in 3-D, and the show involves alien cultures like me because I grew up in Canada," said McNiven. "Also, we have a heavily muscled, scarred, buzz-cut Marine in the show. And (we have) an exotic language -- a cappella. The only difference is, at no point in our show does a hammerhead rhinosaurus burst onto our stage."
"And we're not blue," Lloyd added. "And we bleep out all our swears. Like most a cappella groups, we're trash mouths." Just kidding, he assures. "We're a very family-friendly show. At one point, I say 'Who the fudge are you?'"
Like in "A Christmas Story?"
"Yeah. Our show is kind of like 'A Christmas Story,' except instead of a BB gun ... help me out, Phil, I'm riffin' ... Except instead of a BB gun, we want a contract from a manager who will make us stars," Lloyd said. Read more.
January 21, 2010
Choirs are now cool
The Times (UK):
A Monday evening choir practice in London. The ladies smooth their skirts and look expectantly at their choir mistress. She waves a hand and the singing begins. “I’m a drunk! I’m a drunk! One rum, one vodka, one coke, one smoke . . .” The women, brightly coloured bacchanals in multicoloured capes, stamp their feet as they half-sing, half-shout. “Drink gin, get thin, I’m a drunk, I’m a drunk, I’m a drunk . . .”
It’s not exactly what one would traditionally expect from a ladies’ choir. But then, little about ladies’ choirs is what one would expect any more.
Once the preserve of middle-aged women with fawn footwear and frowsy hair, choirs are suddenly “in”. Across London, bright young things are as likely to be found Facebooking each other about singing practice as parties, while choirs such as Gaggle, the Funk Chorus and Harmony on Heels gain followers.
The edgiest of all is Gaggle, a choir that has been variously described as “pop-riot”, “sci-fi riot” and (perhaps most accurately) “beyond description”. Gaggle meets to practise every Monday at the George Tavern in Stepney, East London. In the pub’s artfully artless surroundings (candles, eclectic furniture), its young female members are a formidably fashionable lot.
Speaking to the choir’s members, one senses that no one is more surprised than they are to find themselves at choir practice. Caroline Green, 29, says: “I’ve always liked singing but I would never normally have considered joining a choir. You imagine that they’ll all be 50-year-old ladies in below-the-knee tweed skirts.”
This is a stereotype with which Gareth Malone, of the BBC Two series The Choir, is very familiar. “When I first got involved in choirs they felt terribly fusty,” he says. “Most felt as though they had been run in the same way since 1961 — which they probably had. Singing just wasn’t something that young people did; I was always the youngest person by about ten years.”
Gaggle’s members, in contrast, range in age from 21 to 39, with most in their mid to late twenties. Most are young professionals. As Deborah Coughlin, Gaggle’s leader, says: “They are an educated lot here — we have teachers, doctors and doctors of literature.” Then she adds, as if embarrassed to be portraying the group as bourgeois: “Not that that matters, of course.” Read more.
January 20, 2010
Folgers jingle contest
Folgers® is teaming up with one of the nation's most well-known judges of musical talent, multi-award winning songstress Kara DioGuardi , to invite Americans to create their own version of the iconic "The Best Part of Wakin' Up™" jingle for a chance to win $25,000 and a chance to appear in a future commercial.
"The Folgers 'The Best Part of Wakin' Up' jingle has been around for 25 years so for people to be able to make it their own, they really need to find something inspirational and truthful to pour into their music," said Kara DioGuardi. "I'm excited to be a judge and hear first-hand what America composes."
Video entries from individuals and groups of four or less are being accepted now through February 28, 2010, on www.bestpartofwakinup.com . Entries will be judged based on creativity/originality, musical performance, and adherence to creative assignment. Ten semi-finalists will be selected and their entries will be posted online for a public vote from March 28 through April 21, 2010. The top five entries will be named finalists and travel to New York City on or about May 28, 2010, to perform their version of the jingle live in front Kara DioGuardi and a panel of judges. For Official Rules and complete details visit www.bestpartofwakinup.com. Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and D.C., 18 years of age and older. Void where prohibited.
"Over its 25-year history, the Folgers jingle has been adapted by numerous nationally-renowned recording artists across various music genres including country, R&B, A cappella and gospel," said Maribeth Badertscher, Director, Corporate Communications, The J.M. Smucker Company. "Now America has the chance to add their own personal touch and tell us how the taste and aroma of Folgers helps them wake up in the morning."
January 19, 2010
Lee University gains reputation as a dream school for vocalists
Chattanooga Times Free Press:
On the way to Jackson, Miss., for a recent performance, the Voices of Lee vocal ensemble pulled into a Mississippi truck stop in the wee hours of the morning to gas up their bus. As the singers walked in, remembers the group's director Danny Murray, a startled cashier asked, "Have ya'll been on TV? Weren't you on that 'Sing-Off?' You were my mama's favorite!" That brush with fame was the direct result of eight hours of prime-time exposure on NBC's nationally televised singing competition in December.
Lee University, in Cleveland, Tenn., has become known for its singers who have won spots on national reality shows such as "American Idol" and "The Sing-Off" over the last three years. Actually, university sources say, those singers are just the latest in a growing roster of emerging professional musicians to have passed through Lee's music department during the last two decades.
According to information provided by the university, the school had 60 music majors among its 750 grads in 2009. The department, while small, is nonetheless compiling an impressive list of nationally known alumni.
The musical "Who's Who" begins with Jay DeMarcus of country music band Rascal Flatts, who came to Lee for three years in the early 1990s after hearing one of Danny Murray's vocal groups perform in Ohio.
The talent line-up continues with Jimi Westbrook of the country group Little Big Town; Jeremi Richardson, Melissa Green and Janna Potter Long of the contemporary Christian quartet Avalon; Scott Stapp of the rock band Creed and Nathan Chapman, producer of Taylor Swift's "Fearless" CD, who is nominated for a Grammy in Best Country Album at next month's awards ceremony. Read more.
January 18, 2010
Avenue X explores integration through doo-wop
What happens when an Italian-American trio loses a singer and picks an African-American replacement so it can compete in a singing competition? Such an incident would mean nothing today, but back in the ’60s, it packed the potential for violence and bloodshed. “Here’s a music that’s all about harmony, and the issues are all about harmony or the search for harmony,” says composer Ray Leslee.
Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth has long been a fan of the way “Avenue X” uses the human voice to depoliticize the conversation about race. But she held back from programming the piece because she was challenged by one particular story element. Her solution was to ask Leslee and Jiler if they would consider revisiting the script, and they both happily agreed.
Doing an a cappella musical is terra incognita for almost any director. “There is something pure and naked about making a cappella music,” Booth says. “You’re not allowing people to get swept away by spectacle. You are focusing attention on the players at hand, so there is something about a cappella singing that is as pure a form of storytelling as you could possibly imagine.”
From the beginning, Leslee said he had to resist suggestions to add percussion or other elements. “There’s something about the actors creating a musical all by themselves that just can’t be beat.”
Says Booth: “There’s no one but the singers to maintain the pitch, to maintain the tempo, to maintain the dynamics. There’s no conductor. There’s no band. There’s no metronome. There are eight singers.” That’s it.
What makes “Avenue X” large, the composer says, is the issues. “It’s a story about singers who want to succeed in their singing, and you want to pull for them to do that. It’s life and death for them.” Read more.
January 16, 2010
BBC America sets 'The Choir'
BBC America will premiere BAFTA-award-winning series "The Choir ," a nonscripted show reminiscent of Fox hit "Glee," in the spring. The series made choirmaster Gareth Malone an unlikely star in the U.K. in depicting his efforts to build choirs in blue-collar settings. The 13 episodes that BBC America will show are a compilation of short multi-seg bursts and specials that have aired across the Pond since the show launched on BBC Two in 2006.
"When I was at school, there was nothing like 'Glee' on the TV," Malone said today at the Television Critics Assn. gathering in Pasadena. "Choir was desperately unpopular. But I think there's been a shift in the past 10 years, There's 'Last Choir Standing'; there's our show. It just seems like everyone's singing in Britain now."
Review - Stile Antico at The London A Cappella Festival
The Independent (UK):
State-of-the-art Kings Place has as many echo-chambers as a medieval cathedral, and that’s just the foyer, so it was a pleasure to queue for one’s tickets while the five members of Il Suono delivered some spirited Gabrieli.
But the real kick-off for Kings Place’s Swingle-sponsored a cappella festival was the brilliant young Stile Antico ensemble. ‘Stile antico’ - as opposed to ‘stile moderno’ - originally denoted ‘old style’ church music written in the early seventeenth century, but this group are investing it with new and vibrant meaning. Their last Cd, which won a Grammy, was devoted to settings of the Old Testament’s ‘Song of Songs’. Their new one, released to coincide with this concert, is devoted to works by a Tudor contemporary of Thomas Tallis - and fellow-member of the Chapel Royal - named John Sheppard.
Not much is known about him, but it’s thought that his magnum opus - a massive antiphon entitled ‘Media vita’ - was written in response to the deadliest epidemic to hit London after the Black Death, which may also have caused his own. Its slow and monumental opening gave little hint of what would follow, as the polyphony unfolded and the harmonies began to take unexpectedly dissonant paths. The sound was muscular, balanced, and completely vibrato-free, the musicianship impeccable. And as the singers built their sonic cathedral in the air, one realised that sound - rather than ideas - was the purpose of the work. Some sections were male-voice, others called for a multiplicity of parts, but the whole thing floated serenely ahead, propelled by an inner drama a million miles from the mood-music of minimalism. Read more.
January 15, 2010
The London A Cappella Festival
London's diverse a cappella community come together under one roof to celebrate the unaccompanied human voice. Curated by the world-famous 5-time Grammy-winning vocal group the Swingle Singers, the inaugural London A Cappella Festival at London's Kings Place showcases some of the best of the UK's choral, jazz, contemporary, and gospel ensembles, including special guests, with music ranging from sacred Renaissance polyphony to crowd-pleasing pop and blistering beatbox.
In addition to the Swingle Singers, acts include internationally-acclaimed gospel stars London Adventist Chorale (Sainsbury Choir of the Year; BBC Gem Best Choir award), Grammy-nominated early music ensemble Stile Antico, and hot young pop/jazz group VOCES8, as well as many other groups from the huge local a cappella community.
Free foyer performances and afternoon workshops will also help to capture the imagination of people young and old, in various spaces within Kings Place. Education for the masses will be an integral part of the festival's commitments; whether the festival-goers are experienced singers or only have experience of singing in the shower, the opportunities for sharing and learning at the London A Cappella Festival will be limitless.
"Something very special happens when singers come together to share their ideas, talents, and love of the art form", says Kevin Fox, bass and vocal-percussionist of the Swingle Singers. "What's really exciting for us is that not only do we get to share the stage with a wonderful and diverse line-up of talent, but that Londoners young and old will get to experience what will undoubtedly be a truly electric atmosphere. The Swingle Singers are proud to be there at the inception, and look forward to the festival's long and prosperous future!"
Why are tenors so scarce?
Albany Times Union (blog) - David Griggs-Janower
The paucity of tenors is due, I think, to the ranges in most choral music! It’s the music that has created the scarcity.
Consider the standard alto part in choral music, mostly hanging between middle C and the C an octave above, and often staying forever at the lower half of that range. This doesn’t mean that altos can’t sing higher, but any lower and they cross into tenor territory, and any higher and they bump up the sopranos. So they get stuck in a kind of middle area. Mezzo sopranos often don’t know what to sing, because the tessitura (the area where most of the notes are) in choral music tends to hang too low in the alto part and too high in the soprano part to be consistently comfortable. In solo music there’s no difficulty, because the tune can extend both high and low, but in choral music you bump into another part.
The same is true of the men. Since most men are baritones and feel most comfortable in the range of middle C to an octave lower, their tessituras tend to remain in that octave for the most part. The low basses get some low notes (which the baritones find uncomfortable), and the tenor part gets pushed up to be constantly at middle C and above, which gets consistently too high for baritones. For some reason we’ve grouped baritones and basses into one group (probably because they now share a clef), where they should really be two.
In the old days when everyone had their own clef (yes, baritone clef, mezzo soprano clef, etc – violas play from “alto” clef) all this was more clear. But now, with only four parts in most choral music, mezzos have to chose, sometimes from piece to piece, whether they are altos or sopranos, and baritones mostly choose the bass part (except when their conductors ask them to sing tenor because there aren’t enough!).
January 14, 2010
January 11, 2010
Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra
The Times (UK):
Simon Shlomo Kahn was not even born when the first generation of New York hip-hop artists pioneered the “human beatbox” craze in the early 1980s. A classically trained percussionist from Buckinghamshire, the 25-year-old Kahn has not only revived this arcane skill but raised it to a whole new level of acrobatic virtuosity that has earned him invitations to work with Björk, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, the Mighty Boosh and others.
Kahn unveiled his latest collaboration last week at the Southbank Centre, where he is artist in residence. Billed as a “beatboxing adventure” combining music, dance and drama, Boxed was an almost wordless urban fairytale composed entirely from a capella sound effects generated live by Khan and his dozen-strong Vocal Orchestra. This young, multiracial crew deployed their voices in witty and complementary ways, not just to simulate drum beats but also strings, guitars, keyboards and even the sounds of a classical orchestra tuning up.
During one impressive scene, several cast members transformed themselves into a set of turntables, then a human drum kit. Between replicating the noises of passing cars, underground stations, bubbling test tubes and vibrating mobile phones, they mimicked the jerky movements and shuddering sounds of a DVD in pause and rewind mode. Clever stuff. Read more.
January 7, 2010
Harmony Sweepstakes wants you to sing!
One thing the Sing Off demonstrated is something the Harmony Sweepstakes audiences and performers have known for decades – a cappella singing competitions are lots of fun! Well here we go again for now our 26th year and times could hardly be better for a cappella with a rising tide of interest and main stream recognition. We have begun the new year by receiving a flurry of calls and emails from media, groups and various entertainment business types and many folks are excited that the Sweeps will once again be presenting a showcase and opportunity for vocal harmony groups.
As well as the exposure and experience the Harmony Sweeps has always been able to provide there is the added bonus that the Sweeps web site has become a clearing house for people looking to book an a cappella group. A regional Google search for a cappella groups brings up the relevant Harmony Sweeps page where we have scores of groups listed with photos, blurbs and links to their web sites. Groups have been reporting numerous contacts including media appearances and the always welcome corporate gigs.
There’s a lot of fun and opportunity to be had for those who like to sing so we encourage groups to submit an application. Do remember that groups only need a maximum of 10 minutes of music so if you currently don’t have a group there’s time to get a handful of singing buddies together and create a short fun set and then come to the show and sing for us all. Who knows what might happen..
Groups of up to 8 members of any style are welcome to apply. Entries are already coming in and we recommend submitting your material soon. Please submit an online application or contact the director of the Regional where you would like to perform.
Regional champions win airfare and hotel accommodations to compete in the National Finals held in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Pacific NW - March 13
New York - March 20
SF Bay Area - March 13
Boston – April 18
Chicago - March 27
Los Angeles - April 10
Mid-Atlantic - April 10
Denver - March 13
National Finals – May 15
Marin Center, San Rafael, California
For more info visit the Harmony Sweepstakes National A Cappella Festival web site:-
Tickets for most events are now on sale. Order now to ensure great seats!
January 6, 2010
Alone Again Naturally
Fairfield Weekly (CT):
Rod Eldridge, lead tenor for the a cappella group Naturally 7, doesn't mince words when discussing his group's aspirations. "We want to make [a cappella] something that legitimately stands alone for what it is," he says firmly.
Naturally 7 has been chipping away at this goal for the last decade. Eldridge thinks it's "up for debate" whether they have accomplished what they set out to, saying only the group has "come a long way."
One thing is for certain: The group is excited to be performing on their own bill at the Ridgefield Playhouse. "[This is a] little step in what we expect to be a big year for us," Eldridge says. They plan on releasing their first U.S. album this year. It will contain mostly original material, and while on a break from their gig supporting Michael Bublé on his world tour, they are headlining at venues stateside.
This is new territory for them. After winning the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival in 1999, they established a name for themselves throughout the aughts, touring and releasing albums in Europe. In 2007 they starting touring with Bublé, serving as his opening act and backup group.
They have been entertaining large crowds as a supporting act with their dynamic approach to a cappella, dubbed "vocal play," which involves group members impersonating every instrument in a given arrangement. The members all have distinct roles in the group; Eldridge, for example, makes scratching and trumpet noises. Read more.
January 4, 2010
Barbershopera 11 opens in West End
Following sell-out success, critical acclaim and awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2008 and 2009, Barbershopera return to London with their latest a cappella comedy musical – Barbershopera II. The talented foursome tell the story of a Catalan matador who inherits his dead father’s barbershop in Shavingham, Norfolk.
Will our young hero manage to enchant the locals with his continental flair? Will he uncover the murky mystery of his father’s death? Could he possibly succeed in taking on local hairdresser extraordinaire Trevor Sorbet in a dramatic cut-off? Can he even hope to win the heart of the beautiful town crier? And will he ever leave Norfolk again?
The co-writing team of Rob Castell and Tom Sadler and director Sarah Tipple have come together again to create another madcap but beautifully harmonious show. They perform with returning ‘barbershopper’ Lara Stubbs, whilst Pete Sorel-Cameron makes his London debut with the company. Barbershopera II delighted audiences at Edinburgh Fringe 2009 and won the award for Most Promising Lyrics at the Musical Theatre Matters Awards (their previous show won this accolade in 2008).
January 3, 2010
The blog returns
After ten relaxing days with my family I am reemerging to begin another year of a cappellaness. With two young children (7 & 4) Christmas is most certainly a special time and we made the most the season with plenty of warm fires, holiday movies and trips to the park to ride the new bicycles Santa brought them. I do feel so blessed.
I'm excited about the new year and am brimming with new ideas to help further spread further the popularity of the genre.