March 30, 2010
Cat's Pajamas opens in Branson
I know many of groups out there wish they could get more gigs. Well check out the show schedule of The Cat's Pajamas who just opened a nine month stint at the Dutton Family Theater in Branson, MO. This a cappella group has been busy from the get go and demonstrates that there's plenty of work out there for those that are serious about a career in the entertainment business.
March 27, 2010
An interview with Jerry Lawson
GateHouse News Service:
Jerry Lawson, an original member and lead singer of the Persuasions, as well as a performer and producer in his own right, talks about his upcoming performance at the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame of America, and about the history and future of a cappella. The Persuasions were inducted into the hall of fame in 2009. Lawson was unable to attend and will appear this year as a special guest performer.
Q. Please tell me about what you have planned for the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame induction ceremony and concert.
A. I’ve been asked to sing three songs. One is a classic Persuasions song that was requested by the Hall of Fame organizer [Harvey Robbins,]. “Chain Gang,” which was written by one of my idols, Sam Cooke.
Another song requested by Harvey is “Drip Drop,” recorded by The Drifters long before The Persuasions. By coincidence, it was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who are among the most influential American songwriters and music producers in post-World War II popular music and are also being inducted Sunday evening.
The third song is titled “ Mint Julep.” It is a rhythm and blues song written by Rudy Toombs that became a hit for The Clovers in March of 1952. Once we recorded it, there would always be someone in the audience shouting out for us to sing it, so it became a standard in our show. It’s up in the air, but I think I’ll be closing the show, and leading the entire cast in “Oh What A Night.” It was a big hit for The Dells. Read more.
March 25, 2010
Johnny Maestro dies at age 70 of cancer
New York Daily News:
Johnny Maestro, who started out singing on the New York subways and a few years later recorded one of the great teen love anthems, "Sixteen Candles," died late Wednesday night in Florida after a battle with cancer. He was 70.
A distinctive and highly respected vocalist both among his peers and fans of early rock ‘n' roll, Maestro spent his life in the music business, scoring hits as lead singer of the Crests in the 1950s and then the Brooklyn Bridge a decade later. He continued performing live shows with the Brooklyn Bridge until he was diagnosed several months ago with an invasive cancer.
The Crests were best known for "Sixteen Candles," which peaked at No. 2 on the national charts and later lent its name to a John Hughes movie in which Hughes used a later Stray Cats version of the title song. "Sixteen Candles" was originally written as "21 Candles," but the number was downsized on the theory that "16" would better reflect the rock 'n' roll demographic.
While Maestro had one of the strongest and most distinctive voices in early rock ‘n' roll, he was not a flamboyant personality and didn't seek the spotlight off-stage. In many ways, he was the quintessential New York kid singer of the ‘50s. He began singing for fun on the streets and in subway stations, which had the perfect echo for harmony vocals.
He was unusual in that he often performed with black singers at a time when interracial groups were a relative rarity. In 1956 at the Henry Street Settlement, he met a black group from the Alfred E. Smith projects in Chinatown and became their lead singer. Their members included second tenor Patricia Van Dross, who had a kid brother named Luther. Read more.
The Johnny Maestro & Brooklyn Bridge recording Acapella has been a steady seller for us over the years and is a classic of the genre.
March 24, 2010
Jimmy Fallon does it Rockapella
Here's Jimmy Fallon and four of his staffers having fun last night on the Late Night show singing an impersonation of Rockapella...
March 23, 2010
Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir - 'Lux Aurumque'
Singers from 12 countries form a virtual choir. Way cool! Read about the project here.
March 19, 2010
Improvising, McFerrin style
Boston Globe (MA):
The faces of the young singers say it all. Attention fixed on the dreadlocked muse bobbing and weaving in front of them, they appear both captivated and joyful, conscious of the fact that they are locked into a volatile experiment yet thoroughly at ease within the unmapped world of vocal textures their masterful conductor coaxes them to create. The result is warm magic, and viewers on both sides of the television cameras can feel it.
While that performance, featured on the recent finale of NBC’s popular competition “The Sing-Off,’’ was improvised and irreproducible, the effect is not. Bobby McFerrin just seems to do that to people.
“ ‘Sing-Off’ was fun!’’ says the virtuosic vocalist, whose impromptu jam session with the competition’s three finalist groups earned him a standing ovation from the studio audience and kowtows from celebrity judge Ben Folds. “There was some good call-and-response, and it was fun to hear all those great voices. But everything they did was very rehearsed, so I might have given them a bit of a fright. Every run-through, I did something completely different from the last time.’’
McFerrin brings his freewheeling creativity to Symphony Hall on Sunday, in a solo concert presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. The Kuumba Singers of Harvard College will appear as guests.
“I’m going to start out solo a cappella, just me and a chair on stage,’’ says the singer, who has earned an Olympian’s reputation for combining chest voice, falsetto, vocal percussion, and other sound effects into a one-man-band performance style. “It lets me set the mood and hear what’s on my mind, what’s on the musical menu that night. We might have some audience interaction and some singalong, and some surprises are usually part of the picture. They’re even surprises to me about 99 percent of the time.’’
Though “The Sing-Off’’ introduced McFerrin to a wide new audience, he is far from a newcomer to the world musical stage. In 1988, his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy’’ earned a No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, the first a cappella track to do so, and helped McFerrin claim multiple Grammy awards, including record of the year and song of the year. The album it appeared on, “Simple Pleasures,’’ went triple platinum.
Since then, McFerrin’s recordings have sold more than 20 million copies, and his list of musical collaborators include Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock. As an orchestral conductor, McFerrin has led the New York, London, and Vienna philharmonics, among others.
Given such an artistic track record, it’s not unreasonable to think of McFerrin as a Jimi Hendrix of the human voice — an artist so deeply fluent in music that he stretches public perception of his instrument’s potential, and the distance between performer and audience seems to be rendered nonexistent. For McFerrin, it all comes down to innovation.
“Since I improvise on every concert, it’s always new for me,’’ he says. “I work in different formats — choral concerts, solo gigs, orchestral conducting, jazz, world music, different collaborators. It’s something different every day.
“I have always played to mixed audiences on every level — age, type of music, on and on. There are always people who remember ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ and I’m happy they remember it, of course. But, like any artist over 20 years, I’ve moved on. Fortunately, I’ve moved on in a lot of new directions, which keep it all fresh and inventive.’’
This year, those diverse new directions include an improvised opera titled “Bobble,’’ a Chopin project with a big band, and a new-artist album, “VOCAbuLarieS,’’ due out in early April. Eight years in the making, “VOCAbuLarieS’’ draws inspiration from melodic motifs explored in McFerrin’s previous compositions and live improvisations, and manifests in what producer Roger Treece describes as “through-composed music that’s got groove.’’ Guest voices include Brazilian innovator Luciana Souza and the New York Voices, recorded and layered with McFerrin’s own singing to create a virtual choir of grand scale. And while computer editing played a significant role in the project, “VOCAbuLarieS’’ remains organic.
“The only thing the computer did was store all those vocal performances and let Roger mix them together after the writing, arranging, and singing was done,’’ says McFerrin. “The singing felt really intimate to me, even though there are 1,400 tracks of vocals from the choir. The reason that ‘VOCAbuLarieS’ is a big step in a different direction is because of the music we’re singing, how it was written and recorded, and the incredible quality of every singer on the project.’’
March 18, 2010
Singing fishermen land record deal
A group of sailors from a Cornish fishing village are to release an album of sea shanties after catching the ear of a holidaying music mogul. The Fisherman's Friends , from Port Isaac, netted a 1 million pound (US$1.6 million) deal with Universal Music after being spotted singing in a pub. The 10 men, who are or were fishermen, coastguards or lifeboat men, have sung together for more than 15 years.
As well as releasing an album next month, they are also due to perform at Glastonbury Festival in the summer. The Fisherman's Friends have already released two a cappella CDs themselves and their new album has been recorded in a 15th-century church in St Kew, Cornwall.
Jeremy Brown, a fisherman and founding member of the Fisherman's Friends, said: "In Cornish pubs there is a tradition of singing. "We just all got together with the intention of learning all the words instead of just knowing the first verse and the last verse and making up the bit in the middle."
Mr Brown, who sings baritone and who has two brothers in the group, said that most of the band had grown up together and the only person who had not lived there as a youngster had been in the village for about 25 years - so was regarded as almost one of them.
"We get together each Friday night on this area of concrete by the harbour which is a lovely setting - unless it is raining and blowing and then we just retire to the pub," he added.
March 13, 2010
Singers stretch their voices in a cappella contest
The Olympian (WA)
A cappella singing is an art as old as music itself. The first instrument anyone ever had was their voice,” said Jason Caffarella of Rezonate, which will perform Saturday in Olympia as part of the Northwest Harmony Sweepstakes, an a cappella singing competition. “Sometimes, people think a cappella singing is something fresh and different, but it’s not really fresh and different at all,” Caffarella said, pointing to a cappella’s start as music in the church.
But as the saying goes, everything old is new again. And there’s new excitement about a cappella singing this year thanks to NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” a reality show based on the sweepstakes. “We’ve all been talking about this,” said Gary Witley, artistic director of Masterworks Choral Ensemble, which hosts the event, part of a national series of competitions. “I don’t have a TV, but as I understand it, the show was a big success, so there is a lot more mainstream awareness of a cappella singing.”
Producers of “The Sing-Off” are looking to Harmony Sweepstakes to provide contestants, Witley said. Last year, the all-female group Max Factor, which won the sweepstakes, was a contestant. “I’ve seen a lot more buzz on the Internet,” Caffarella said. “People are discussing the art of a cappella music a lot more. Whether people were pro or con on the show, it has generated a lot of interest in a cappella, in contemporary stylings of mostly pop tunes.” Read more.
March 12, 2010
She opens her throat and The North comes out
Winnipeg Free Press (Canada):
Four years ago, Andrew Balfour, artistic director of the Camerata Nova vocal ensemble, needed a last-minute replacement for an Inuit throat singer. In a panic, he called the Aboriginal People's Television Network to ask whether staff there had any suggestions. That's how APTN host and accomplished singer-songwriter Madeleine Allakariallak found herself drafted for the première of Balfour's Northern Lights-themed oratorio, Wa Wa Tey Wak.
Allakariallak grew up in remote Resolute Bay and learned to sing from elders, particularly her grandmother, who had lived on the land until the 1950s. Although there are different styles of throat singing in different regions, she says, the style she learned doesn't use words. Often guttural-sounding, it mimics sounds from nature -- particularly animals and birds -- and is done by a pair of women in friendly competition. Each tries to outlast the other.
"Traditionally, women throat-sang as a way of entertaining each other while their men were out hunting. It was a game. One creates a sound and the other follows, and creates the exact same sound. The sounds overlap... Whoever starts laughing first, loses. "When you close your eyes as an audience member, you actually start to hear sounds: the mosquito, the water passing through rocks in the river."
A centuries-old, funny nonsense song handed down through the oral tradition ties in perfectly with Balfour's theme of first contact between Inuit and Europeans. Read more.
March 11, 2010
Harmony Sweepstakes season begins!
It's the first big weekend for the Harmony Sweepstakes with shows on Saturday night in San Francisco, Pacific Northwest (Olympia) and Rocky Mountain (Denver). Now in our 26th year there has been a certain amount of ebb and flow over the years but we are pleased to report that this year we had a record amount of group submissions including groups from Spain, Canada, Mexico and The Philippines. All regional line ups are now complete and many have the strongest line up they have had in years. A list of all the participants can be seen here.
We also received today from the manufacturer the Harmony Sweepstakes 25th Anniversary CD featuring a selection of the best tracks from the first 25 years on one CD and the 25th National Finals on a 2nd disc. We are very proud of the recordings and feel they demonstrate well the variety of talented groups we have been fortunate to have on our shows.
We are interested in having our regional shows reviewed and are seeking folks who would like to attend and write about the events. We can offer a free ticket or a selection of a cappella CDs as compensation. We are looking for a colorful, creative, informative documentation of the event rather than critiques but would welcome any and all comments and opinions. It's a way of letting folks who didn't make it that evening to get a feel of what it was like to be there. If you are interested please contact us by email.
Happy Birthday Bobby
Congratulations to Bobby McFerrin on his 60th birthday today. He is and always will be the true master of the art of a cappella singing.
March 10, 2010
Blake Lewis goes Hollywood
I just came across this photo of Blake Lewis, former a cappella singer (Kickshaw) and the American Idol runner up. Well this is not the Blake I remember singing at the A Cappella Summit - yes Blake has certainly gone Hollywood! And why of course he is guest blogger this week at Hollywood Life.
March 9, 2010
Ballads by Candlelight - The Idea of North
They just get better and better. Australia’s premier a-cappella vocal ensemble held a capacity audience completely wrapt in the neo-gothic splendour and superb acoustic of St Peter’s Cathedral for over an hour. This awesome foursome has earned well-deserved paeons of praise wherever they have performed around the world, and deserve a fuller following in their home country; surely one of our best artistic exports.
Their perfectly conceived opening with Bobby McFerrin’s gorgeous treatment of the 23rd Psalm set the atmosphere for this often contemplative, sometimes subdued, and almost always sublime concert by candlelight. A pot-pourri of ballads by such diverse composers as Sting, Peter Allen, George Gershwin, ABBA and Charlie Chaplin followed, each showing only some of this group’s range of talent, including Alto Naomi Crellin’s relaxed smoothness and admirable accuracy, Soprano Sally Cameron’s clarity crispness and range, Tenor Nick Begbie’s appealing penchant for passion as well as subtle humour, and Bass Andrew Piper’s rich tones and grounded, rock-solid rhythm.
Together, TION demonstrates exemplary ensemble. Sting’s “Fields of Gold” shone in this with its crunchy harmonies, and showed Sally’s versatility. The group’s own arrangement of “How Fragile We Are” showed seamless passes of tune from Nick to Naomi. Her arrangement of “I Still Call Australia Home” with some wonderful key changes should be taken notice of by Qantas. It brought the audience to its feet. Read more.
March 8, 2010
Rajaton showed extraordinary skill in ABBA concert
Chronicle Herald (Canada):
The excitement started when Symphony Nova Scotia, led by Bernard Gueller, played a full and symphonically righteous ABBA medley at the top of the Pops Series concert in the Cohn on Friday night.
The magic started when Rajaton, three 30-something women and three ditto men from Helsinki, Finland, strode across the front of the stage, spaced like the Beatles crossing Abbey Road.
The feeling of deep happiness that instantly came from who knows where — though the medley probably had something to do with it — stayed in the house for two hours while these six virtuosic singer-musicians and the symphony, enhanced by a baker’s dozen of extra players, gave their all for ABBA.
With Rajaton in the house, the sweetness of their voices, the honeyed quality of the women’s voices, the gentle warmth of the men’s and the extraordinary level of musical skill they have developed over the last decade as an a cappella group whose only peers are The Nylons and The King’s Singers. It extends to inventing shockingly realistic imitations of instruments, ranging from snare drums to bells to whining wah-wah trumpets and trombones, as in their extraordinary performance of Fernando.
They brought the house down with that one on Friday night. Even the symphony musicians were impressed. Rajaton’s own arrangements are astonishing in their inventiveness and their sheer musical genius. All the elements of first-rate musical craftsmanship are present in the layering of inner voices, the rhythmic interchanges and the seamless exchange of colours.
Bass Jussi Chydenius sounds like a double-bass or creates an entire drum corps, realistically snapping out a snare drum rhythm and rolling it off into silence. Cymbals splash from everywhere in the group as needed but all these effects, marvellously, reach a pared-down level of subtlety which is neither under- nor over-done. The tiniest vocal inflection is inserted precisely in place, not studied, but spontaneous.
And though all these singers are strikingly fine, an extra word needs to be said of Soila Sariola’s Streisand-esque soaring over the top of the tune in The Winner Takes All and of Hannu Lepola’s Jaggeresque skipping across the stage, doing lead-singer gyrations with a fine mixture of comic irony and metaphoric precision. Read more.
March 1, 2010
Sing Off back for second season!
TV Guide is confirming that NBC does plan to bring back The Sing Off for a second season. No dates, judges or other info has been decided. The industry word seems to be the show got solid ratings during a tough week and is the latest singing-related series to get some traction. Yeah!
How singing could save cash
Kent News (UK):
Ground-breaking research into the effects of singing on health could lead to significant savings for the National Health Service (NHS), according to experts. And a unique study, commissioned by Eastern and Coastal Kent NHS Trust, could also reveal whether crooning delays the onset of dementia and prevents depression in older people.
Professor Stephen Clift, who is leading the project at Canterbury Christ Church University’s Sidney De Haan Research Centre, said: “There is now more interest in how simple things can improve well-being. "Group activities such as singing stop elderly people feeling isolated and anxious, which improves their mood and can help deal with issues such as depression.
The 12-week project, which was made possible through £250,000 of funding from the National Institute for Health Research, is the first of its kind in the UK.
The project will see over-60s split into two groups, a singing group and a non-singing control group, enabling a comparison to be made. Health measures will be monitored, such as how many times they visit their GPs over the 12 weeks. Prof Clift said: “This will allow us to test the value of singing in relation to well-being and health. As people live longer, the NHS is keen to ensure a good quality of life for the elderly.
The study will also allow us to assess whether this could result in savings for the NHS and local authority services. “If we can prevent a small number of people being hospitalised, we can save a considerable amount.” The project will be undertaken with partners from Sing For Life, which operates more than 40 Silver Song Clubs in the South East. Read more.
Here's that "socialized medicine" for you. Funding studies to create a more rewarding and healthy life for its senior citizens. And actually saving health care costs as well! While here in the US costs soar, service suffers, less people are insured and still we have no Health Care bill. We just heard today that the mother of one of my daughter's classmates has been diagnosed with breast cancer and apparently does not have health insurance due to a preexisting condition. So on top of the emotional and physical distress of chemotherapy the family faces severe financial distress as well. I simply can not fathom why so many politicians can ignore the plight of such hardworking yet unfortunate citizens.