February 27, 2010

Sing Ahh!

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February 26, 2010

Boys just wanna have fun

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia):

When Irwin Keller of the Kinsey Sicks isn't singing in drag, he's teaching at the synagogue, writes Katrina Lobley. By day, he's a highly unconventional lay rabbi. By night, Irwin Keller breaks even more rules, dressing in nerdy drag to sing, rather than lip-sync, everything from sassy doo-wop to stinging satirical songs.

Keller - and the rest of his "dragapella quartet", the Kinsey Sicks - are visiting Australia for the first time to join this year's Mardi Gras line-up. The quartet has taken aim at everything from George Bush and Republican politics - "Obama was definitely bad for the comedy industry," Keller says - to inane television news broadcasters. Their latest show includes original songs and parodies of pop's biggest stars - think Britney Spears and Beyonce.

The quartet came together thanks to Ben Schatz, who plays Rachel in the Kinsey Sicks (a reference to the Kinsey sexuality scale, where six signifies ''exclusively homosexual''). "Ben used to organise these drag excursions - we were all busy young professionals and activists - and to cut loose, he would say: 'OK, Friday night we're all getting in drag and going to San Francisco airport,''' Keller says. ''It's not easy to stun people in drag in San Francisco but we tried really hard.''

It wasn't until they dressed as the Andrews Sisters for a 1993 Bette Midler concert - "We were surprised we were the only drag queens there other than Bette" - that the seed for the Kinsey Sicks was planted. A promoter asked if they'd consider a professional gig, which was when the friends realized they each had great pipes.

"We sat up all night coming up with ideas and harmonizing and we thought: 'Gosh, doing a cappella in drag would be hilarious,'" Keller says. "We spent the next six months putting together our first show and we performed on a street corner but we never starved. ''I was working as a lawyer with the AIDS Legal Referral Panel. Ben was running a national policy program advocating on behalf of lesbian and gay healthcare workers and he was also one of President Clinton's advisers on HIV policy." Read more.

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February 25, 2010

Swedish Radio Choir soars

Chicago Classical Review (IL):

The composer Ingvar Lidholm once defined the Scandinavian brand of choral singing as “an absolutely even, equalized sound, in which every singer consents to relinquish his or her own personality in favor of the choir’s.” While said roughly a decade ago, it’s difficult to imagine a more fitting description of the Swedish Radio Choir today, whose 32-voice instrument is truly a cohesive musical force.

In their terrific concert Tuesday night at the suitably grand Fourth Presbyterian Church downtown, the a cappella ensemble offered a wide-ranging program under guest conductor and San Francisco Symphony chorus director Ragnar Bohlin.

Although the SRC is adept at making music from all corners of the globe, these Swedes are at their finest when they dig into works from their Scandinavian compatriots. Hugo Alfven’s free-wheeling Aftonen commanded one’s attention with its slivers of melody rising over easy swaying accompaniments, like that of an American spiritual.

All evening the altos and sopranos were impeccable with their tonal precision. Sven-David Sandstrom’s Lobet den Herrn, based on a text from Bach’s motet of the same name, showed the choir’s affection for experimentation; here stagnated bursts of notes projected out into the cathedral like drops of rain hitting a windshield.

Easily the evening’s most mesmerizing work was a wordless panorama of sound from Stockholm-born Anders Hillborg. Mouyayoum, in fact, hardly registers as music sung by people. More like that of effects pedals, Hillborg’s timbral collage approximates a family of woodwinds than human voices, and the effect was wholly seductive.

Read more.

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February 22, 2010

Singing therapy helps stroke patients regain language


When mothers speak to children, it's often in a singsong tone. That's no coincidence, scientists say, given that music and language are so intricately linked in the brain.

Scientists are using this fundamental connection between song and speech to treat patients who have lost their ability to communicate. There's evidence that music can be used to help people with severe brain impairments learn how to speak again, scientists said over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, are treating stroke patients who have little or no spontaneous speech by associating melodies with words and phrases.

"Music, and music-making, is really a very special form of a tool or an intervention that can be used to treat neurological disorders, said Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel and Harvard University. "There's rarely any other activity that could really activate or engage this many regions of the brain that is experienced as being a joyous activity."

There are between 750,000 and 800,000 strokes per year in the United States, and about 200,000 of them result in a kind of language disorder called aphasia, he said. About one-third of those patients have aphasia so severe that they become non-fluent, meaning about 60,000 to 70,000 patients per year could benefit from the music therapy.

The left side of the brain plays a key role in speech and language ability. But the right side of the brain has the capability to become enhanced and change its structure to compensate for left-side deficits, researchers have found.

Schlaug's group's technique, Melodic Intonation Therapy, involves singing tones with the patient and having the patient repeat words and phrases to the sound of those tones. Melody and rhythm are incorporated in getting the patients, who would otherwise not be able to speak, to sing.

The observation that some patients with brain damage can sing but not speak has been around for at least a century, Schlaug said. However, it's only recently that the phenomenon, and how it works in the brain, has been scientifically studied.

Anyone can be trained to do this therapy, including nonprofessional caregivers and family members, he said. It is not widespread, perhaps because of people's natural inhibition about singing with patients, he said.

Read more.

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February 19, 2010

Craig Arnold steps down

Decorah Newspaper (IA):

Craig Arnold, Luther College professor of music, director of choral activities, and conductor of the internationally acclaimed Nordic Choir, has announced his intention to leave his position at Luther at the end of the academic year. Arnold, who joined the Luther faculty in 2005, plans to join his wife, Sarah, who is teaching at University Medical and Dental School of New Jersey and finishing a doctorate from Drew University. The Arnolds will reside in Summit, N.J.

Professor Arnold will resume leadership of Manhattan Concert Productions with plans to conduct the Manhattan Concert Chorale and Chamber Orchestra. The Arnolds' sons live in New York City and Washington, D.C. Arnold will continue his teaching and conducting duties at Luther through May.

"Dr. Arnold has taken Luther's vocal music program to a new level of excellence and has advanced the Nordic Choir's reputation as one of the nation's premier college music ensembles," said Luther President Richard Torgerson.

"We are deeply saddened that he will be ending his teaching and conducting career at Luther. He is an outstanding musician, connects exceedingly well with students, and is committed to the faith and learning mission of this college. Nevertheless, we support his decision to move on, and wish him the very best as he shares his many talents in new ways."

Arnold said his decision to leave Luther was a difficult one after five years of success in the transition of Nordic Choir to a new era. Arnold was named director of the Nordic Choir after the storied 57-year tenure of internationally known conductor Weston Noble who retired in 2005. Arnold said his time at Luther has been a rewarding experience.

"I have so enjoyed fine colleagues, students, teaching and performing opportunities," Arnold said. "I will remember these years fondly. Luther is well supported and poised for continuing growth and excellent music making."

Torgerson said the college will soon begin the search for Arnold's successor.

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February 16, 2010

Review: Manhattan Transfer


40th anniversaries are no longer a rarity in popular music, but they're usually accompanied by some degree of acrimony -- manifested in public sniping, separate buses and the like. But as they commemorate that milestone, the Manhattan Transfer haven't aired a shred of dirty laundry and -- as evidenced at the first night of their Gotham stand -- seem every bit as enthusiastic about their musical collaboration as they were decades ago.

Playing a venue that often brings out the more affected facets of most artists, the quartet acted as if they were treading the boards of an old-school jazz club. Each of the members played to their particular vocal strengths, but just as importantly, each showcased a singular personality -- from the deadpan stylings of founder Tim Hauser to the coltish giddiness of Cheryl Bentyne, who looked as thrilled when one of her bandmates seized upon a successful riff as when she did so herself.

There were plenty of winning notes in the 80-minute perf -- Janis Siegel's wide-eyed lead vocal on "A Tisket, A Tasket" and a slinky, low-slung take on "Route 66" among them -- but none more captivating than the interludes where they brought out their octogenarian mentor Joe Hendricks to harmonize, and take a few leads of his own. Hendricks has changed his vocal range a bit, naturally enough, but his phrasing and cadence are still razor-sharp, notably on a spry version of "Gimme That Wine," a tune he popularized as one-third of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

The Transfer touched on their recent Four Quarters release "The Chick Corea Songbook" in a three-song mini-set keyed by a wending "Spain" suite, and picked up considerable steam at set's end, with Bentyne delivering a knockout lead on Gilberto Gil-Tracy Mann's gorgeous "Hear the Voices." By the time they wrapped things up with their take on "Birdland," it was easy to believe one had actually been transported back to that hallowed hall.

Presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center. Musicians: Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, Yaron Gershovsky, Steve Hass, Gary Wicks, Adam Hawley. Special Guest: Jon Hendricks.

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February 15, 2010

History has never sounded so sweet

Pioneer Press (MN):

History shouldn't be boring. The best writers and teachers of the subject know that you make people care about history by bringing them to feel a kinship to those who experienced it, a sense of the spirit and mood that surrounded the major changes in a culture.

For 20 years, Minneapolis-based choral group Vocal Essence has been marking African-American History Month with its "Witness" concerts, bringing the music of African-American composers to the fore and honoring the lives of key historical figures. But never have they brought history to such vivid life as at St. Paul's sold-out Ordway Center Sunday afternoon. For that, they can thank their collaborators, Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The six-woman a cappella vocal group from Washington, D.C., has spent its 37 years surveying a varied compendium of musical styles while keeping social justice issues at the center of their repertoire, particularly the struggle for equality for African-Americans and women. Sunday's concert proved a marvelous showcase for their unique talents, with almost every song bringing exhilaration, chills or both.

The group used its voices to create propulsive rhythms and rich harmonies, combining them with purposeful lyrics and a colorful stage presentation (literally, in the case of their vividly hued outfits). And the songs they performed could doubtless revive the spirits of even the weariest of fighters for peace and justice.

Such struggles were the theme of the concert's second half, separated into songs about the movements for labor, civil rights and peace. The group would perform a few songs on each subject, then conductor Philip Brunelle and the VocalEssence Chorus would deliver one of their own.

The most memorable collection came when Sweet Honey in the Rock followed a medley of civil rights anthems with the moving "Ella's Song" by their founder, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and VocalEssence chimed in with Rosephanye Powell's "I Dream a World." While the musical styles were quite different, they complemented each other well, just as when VocalEssence wove placid harmonies on one gentle chorus of "This Little Light of Mine" before Sweet Honey turned it into the ebullient gospel roof-raiser most listeners have come to know. The crowd stood to clap and sing along, but it's likely that Sweet Honey would have inspired them to stand and cheer at concert's end, regardless.

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February 13, 2010

Fisk Jubilee Singers singing spirituals since 1871

News Tribune (WA):

When the Fisk Jubilee Singers first formed a group singing a cappella spirituals, they weren’t just introducing audiences to songs that had been heard before only by slaves. They were crossing boundaries: political, racial, social and spiritual. It had a huge effect. The group will perform in Tacoma this weekend.

“When the Fisk Singers came to my hometown in Arkansas in 1954, my father was on the symphony board, so one of them stayed in our home,” says Dr. Diana Marre, a Tacoman and longtime fan of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. “My mother hit the ceiling – it was obviously a color thing. It was unprecedented to do that. But the impact of their singing on the white members of the symphony was tremendous. People had tears in their eyes. And they’ll have the same effect here.”

Formed in 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers have been credited with introducing the Negro spiritual to the world and making it mainstream. In their first half-century, they broke racial norms as they toured Europe and performed for kings and queens. In 2008, the group received the National Medal for Arts, the nation’s highest artistic honor. This year, they were nominated for a Grammy. They’ve collaborated with performers from Jonny Lang to Neil Young and were the subject of a 1999 award-winning PBS documentary.

But their real effect, as Murre says, is on the audiences who hear them. Despite an ever-changing makeup (the 16 singers always are students at Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn.), the Fisk Singers still sing the same powerful spirituals as they did in 1871, just different arrangements. Read more.

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February 11, 2010

Rockapella offers free download

Rockapella is offering a free download of "Cupid" which features newest member Steve Dorian. In other news group member Scott Leonard suffered an accident just before Christmas resulting in broken ribs and cracked wrist. He is recovering nicely and is now back in the studio recording a new Rockapella CD.

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February 10, 2010

Sisterhood of Song

American Profile (US):

One collective breath after Michelle Hunget blows into a pitch pipe to set the key of B-flat, her Kansas-based quartet launches into "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," blending voices in rich a cappella harmony to perform the lively barbershop-style standard.

"Never could carry a tune, never knew where to start," sing members of the group Zing! on their way to being named the world's top quartet of Sweet Adelines International during the singing organization's 2009 competition last October in Nashville, Tenn. The tenor voice of Hunget, 44, of Olathe, Kan., resonates with the vocals of lead singer Susan Ives, 51, of Tecumseh, Kan.; baritone Mary Rhea, 52, of Norman, Okla.; and bass Melynnie Williams, 50, of Newton, Kan., resulting in a sound called "ringing the chords"—when voices blend to create overtones, almost as if a complete chorus is on the stage.

But it's just four women wearing matching smiles and lime-green outfits, from their retro paisley tops to bejeweled necklines and crystal earrings, combining their vocals and showmanship to earn the title of Queens of Harmony, with accompanying crowns.

The honor is the reward for taking turns rehearsing in each other's hometowns every other weekend for the last year, during which the women perfected their vocal harmonies while forging lifelong friendships. "You can't make harmony with people you don't like," Rhea says.

Using their voices as instruments, Sweet Adelines have showcased a distinctly American style of four-part a cappella singing for 65 years and serenaded audiences at venues ranging from retirement homes to Carnegie Hall—all while building a sisterhood of women who love to sing.

Those bonds have been nurtured since July 13, 1945, when Edna Mae Anderson of Tulsa, Okla., invited a few women to her home to sing together with the same "chord-ringing, fun-filled harmony" that their husbands enjoyed as members of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, known today as the Barbershop Harmony Society. That core group of women invited all "barbershop wives" in the area to assemble a few weeks later at the Hotel Tulsa, where the men had formed their organization six years earlier. There, a Sweet Adelines chapter of 85 women was born. Read more.

This magazine is inserted in newspapers across the country and has a print run in the millions. This is the cover story in this week's issue.

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Interview with a Blank


Q. How did the Blanks come together?

A. George, Paul, and I all went to Syracuse and were all involved in theater there. We would get together and make each other laugh and sing stupid songs. We were really just singing for fun. We talked Paul into arranging the John Williams “Superman’’ theme - because he wrote original words for it and we just thought it would be a hoot, and we sang it at the “Scrubs’’ Christmas party, and that’s how we got on the show.

Q. After seeing you on “Scrubs’’ over the last eight years, I was surprised that the Blanks only just recently started performing regularly.

A. We kind of thought there wouldn’t be much interest in it. So we didn’t really pursue it. We had our CD out, and then a manager got in touch with us through our website and he said he thought he could get us work and we said, “Well, good luck with that.’’ And he did!

Q. As an a cappella enthusiast did you watch the recent NBC competition show “The Sing-Off’’?

A. I caught the last couple of episodes. That show was a gas. I was happy with the group that won, Nota. They were unique and [had] great rhythms. The Blanks are somewhere between a barbershop quartet and what they are; we like to call ourselves a barbernot quartet.

Q. Have you been surprised at all that with that show and “Glee’’ that it seems like a certain style of group singing, both a cappella and accompanied, once considered kind of corny has become kind of cool?

A. Oh yeah, it was kind of shocking. We were put on “Scrubs’’ as a gag for just that reason, so that Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) could say, “This is ear rape!’’ So when it suddenly started getting hip it was pretty phenomenal. We were on the plane reading a newspaper and came across an article about the group that did “The Twelve Days of Christmas’’ [Straight No Chaser] and that they were popular and getting a record contract. It’s pretty incredible.

Q. So do you feel like the Blanks are poised for superstardom?

A. Oh yeah, I think we’re going to be Top 40 pretty soon. We’re huge right now, I can’t tell you, it’s sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll for us right now - a cappella roll. (Laughs)

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February 8, 2010

Finally on Facebook

With scores of daily phone calls, emails, IMs, Skype video calls, in person meetings and of course posting on this blog I at first resisted starting a Facebook page. I have, however, come to realize the value of maintaining a Facebook presence and finally started a Harmony Sweepstakes page. This should be a great way to follow this year's Sweeps as I will post the regional line ups as they become available, results, any new articles along with group updates and news.

Join us on Facebook here.

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The Kings hold court for 40-plus years


James "Pop" Dobson is a soft-spoken man who doesn't move very fast, either. But that's understandable since the Annapolis resident is 93 years old. All that changes, however, when he starts singing. As the lyrics of a song flow out of him with ever-increasing strength and passion, he becomes more and more energized, stomping his foot and his cane while slapping his hand against his thigh. It's like he's reborn with the music, seemingly shedding years with every word.

"That's why we call him our secret weapon," said Glen Burnie resident Warren Parker, 62, who performs with Pop in the a cappella gospel group, the Harmonizing Kings. "He sits back and really doesn't say much until he gets on stage."

The Kings have been together an astounding 40-plus years, although the membership has changed a bit over time. The current five-member lineup has blended their rich voices for 12 years, when Parker, who sings bass, joined the group. The other Kings are Pop's sons, Devon and Larry, 72 and 57, both of Annapolis, and Harry Joseph Moore of Upper Marlboro, 70, who serves as the manager of the group.

Their music is what has carried them through good times and bad, sickness and health, and is wrapped up in their faith. In fact, when they sing, several members look like they're praying. "I enjoy it. The Lord has blessed me, and that's the way it is. My family is right here," Pop said, referring to the other Kings. "I call them all my sons."

Read more.

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February 4, 2010

Embrace Life

A beautiful and moving safety message! Do watch this.

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Singing Valentines

Here's a cool site that will locate a quartet in your area who can perform a singing valentine for your sweetheart. Always a winner this is a great way to delight the one you love.

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February 3, 2010

Last call

We are about on the deadline for a cappella groups who would like to perform in this year's Harmony Sweepstakes. Interested groups should contact us right away.


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February 1, 2010

Next World Choir Games to be in the U.S.

Press Release

The World Choir Games, a prestigious competition of vocal groups representing an estimated 400 choirs from more than 90 countries, has selected Cincinnati USA — home to the oldest choral music festival in the Western hemisphere — as the site of its 2012 competition from July 4 to 14. The World Choir Games are a biennial competition and are referred to as the “The Olympics of Choral Music.” 2012 will be the first time in the event’s history it is held in the United States. The announcement was made at a festive celebration on Fountain Square attended by hundreds of individuals including leaders from the hospitality, political, business, arts, cultural and international communities and highlighted by musical performances by local choral groups.

The World Choir Games involves amateur choirs, both adult and youth, competing in 29 categories including gospel, jazz, contemporary, folk, religious, barbershop and popular choir music. Choral groups taking part in the 2008 Games in Graz, Austria, hailed from Russia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Croatia, South Africa, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, China, Indonesia, the United States and more than 80 other nations. Much like the Olympics, the event features elaborate opening and closing ceremonies and a parade of costumed participants that will make its way through the streets of downtown Cincinnati. The Olympic-style friendly competition will award gold, silver and bronze medals to top contenders in various competition categories. Hundreds of free performances open to the public will take place concurrently at sites across the region. More.

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