May 26, 2010
After the Storm sweetly sweeps Metro commuters' cares away
"Face it, Metro could use some good publicity with those fares going up," says Jamie Lewis, tenor.
He's standing on the platform of the Farragut North Station with Tyrone Cloud (baritone) and Henry Miller (second baritone) , fellow members of the a cappella group After the Storm. (Bass Reggie Washington isn't present.) A black plastic bucket is at their feet, coins and dollar bills dropped in it, a few homemade CDs neatly spread out. It's about 8 on a weeknight, that time of the evening when the subway is full of people who've toiled at the office longer than they thought they would and whose bodies slump from the weighty realization that the day's almost shot and they'll be back at work before they know it.
After the Storm is there to give them a lift.
"Some people say, 'Man, you made my day,' " says Jamie.
And some people say, "Beat it." Busking isn't allowed, after all. The guys are still smarting from being lined up against a wall at L'Enfant Plaza by a transit police officer not long ago, the handcuffs cinched tight when they were arrested.
"They call us panhandlers," Jamie says. "A panhandler is someone who comes up and asks you for money. We don't ask nobody for nothing."
"Good point," says Tyrone.
"We're just providing a service for anybody who wants to hear it," Jamie says.
After the Storm has been around for 10 years and been singing in the subway for about four. Tyrone explains that the name comes from the fact that having a band or vocal group isn't easy. "Some guys don't wanna rehearse," he says. "Some guys are late. We went though a lot of storms as a group. Now this is after the storm. After the storm, you got a rainbow, the birds are singing." Read more.
May 25, 2010
Barbershop groups get a rush of new blood
The Independent (UK):
With their slick suits, coiffed hair and tight vocal harmonies, Monkey Magic could be virtually any aspiring boy band. Only the four young men's pitch-perfect singing gives away that they are actually barbershop singers and among the growing number embracing the unfashionable genre.
Traditionally the preserve of middle-aged men in stripy waistcoats and straw boaters, the British Association of Barbershop Singers (Babs) has seen youth membership double in the past six months; a surge that some attribute to a wider rise in the popularity of singing among boys and young men. This week, 2,500 people will head to Harrogate to take part in the annual convention of British barbershop singers.
"One thing driving the increase in young people attending is the availability of barbershop videos on YouTube. We get lots of people who have seen clips and want to get involved," said Alan Goldsmith, 60, chairman of Babs. "A lot of people think that young people only like pop songs, but that is not true."
While the National Barbershop Youth Chorus sings barbershop versions of modern songs, when entering competitions members are restricted to performing a list of traditional songs.
The popularity of TV shows such as The Choir – in which choirmaster Gareth Malone taught choral singing to those who have never sung before – and the hit series Glee are also thought to have encouraged non-singers to take part. Total membership of Babs has risen by 20 per cent in the past 15 months to more than 2,200, while nationwide "Learn to Sing" barbershop courses were heavily oversubscribed, with some choruses having waiting lists of 100. Read more.
May 21, 2010
Some Sing Off scoop
It was a genuine pleasure to meet in person Michele McNulty, casting director of the Sing Off, who was kind enough to be a judge at the Sweeps National Finals. I have every confidence she will cast the best available groups and really does get a cappella.
She did confirm that the Sing Off will tape in the month of August for broadcast in November thru mid December. There will be 8 episodes with the same judges Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman and Nicole Scherzinger with Nick Lachey returning as host.
The auditions start this weekend. Details here.
Photos posted of Harmony Sweeps
Noted Bay Area photographer Chris Cochems is also a big a cappella fan and he was kind enough to come to the show early and take photos during the sound checks.
May 20, 2010
Peder Karlsson no longer to tour with Real Group
After 25 years with the legendary Real Group, bass Peder Karlsson has announced that he will be stepping down from performing with the group. He is to be replaced by Morten Vinther Sørensen of the Danish vocal ensembles Vox11 and Postyr.
Thankfully Peder will still be involved in a creative and leadership role and will continue to compose and arrange for the group. Read his bog post here.
May 19, 2010
Salute to the Standards
With my talk of rewarding originality in the Harmony Sweeps I also must add that I am also a huge, huge fan of the many wonderful standards of not only the Great American Songbook but the Great British one as well. My 7 year old daughter and I are working our way thru the movie musicals and the whole family delights in learning and singing together another gem. Many of these songs are timeless and I can see my daughter teaching her children these same songs years from now. “Oliver” is a recent favorite and Lionel Bart sure could write a great tune! Gotta love the old chestnuts!
I thought the Harmony Sweeps ended perfectly when after all the hullabalu of the competition the past year’s Champs MAXX Factor came out and sang classics such as “Love Story” and “All the Way”. They sang them with some of the sweetest and purest vocal harmony one could ever hope to hear and made me tingly all over..
So we love the new stuff, and we love the old stuff. If its a great song, arranged creatively, sung with conviction and performed entertainingly then you might well win the next Harmony Sweepstakes.
May 17, 2010
2010 Harmony Sweepstakes National Champions - Plumbers of Rome
A cappella fans were once again treated to a great night of vocal harmony singing at the 26th annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival National Finals held this past weekend in San Rafael, California. A packed auditorium was treated to top notch vocal harmony and skillful performances that made for a very entertaining and exciting evening.
It was so close this year with the judging that there was a tie for first place. The judges had to deliberate further to then decide that the innovative trio The Plumbers of Rome should be this year's National Champions. Realtime came second and audience favorites b vocal were third.
It has been many years since a trio has won the contest and perhaps this demonstrates that more is not always better. The Plumbers created a full sound with only three voices and the arrangements were quite complex yet is was their originality and creativity that undoubtedly won them the night.
As the presenters of the event the Harmony Sweepstakes does not involve itself with the artistic presentations of the performances and welcome any winner the judges select. The one thing, however, I vowed a long time back was that the event would not be about which almost exactly the same group sings almost exactly the same song the best. We always encourage originality and a willingness to try something different in an entertaining manner. This year's winners fit that bill perfectly.
May 13, 2010
Singers face off in harmony
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
In the late 1970s, a group of amateur singers began to gather weekly for sing-alongs at the Mayflower pub in San Rafael. The Mayflower Chorus, as it was called, soon developed an offshoot group devoted to a cappella. But that wasn't enough for the a cappella crowd. Ensemble member Lisa Collins decided to start a competition to develop an audience for vocal harmony singing, which took place annually at Dominican University.
One of the early attendees of the competition was theatrical producer John Neal, who was so enthralled by the singing and the competition that he approached Collins with an offer to turn the latter into a national event. Now in its 26th year, the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival has launched professional singing careers, popularized the genre and inspired an NBC reality show called "The Sing Off." The annual event at the Marin Veterans' Auditorium has become the holy grail of mixed-genre vocal harmony competitions.
This year's national finals take place at 8 p.m. Saturday. Expect matching outfits, lots of hair gel and a wide range of perfect-pitch, high-kitsch musical styles. Last year's national champions were Maxx Factor, a female group from Maryland who performed a four-part barbershop version of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life." This year's competitors include Boyz Night Out from San Francisco - a 15-year-old group that, yes, originated as a weekly wife escape for five musical guys - Plumbers of Rome from Boston, Home Free from Chicago, Confidential from Denver, Soundstage from Los Angeles and West Side Five and bVocal from New York.
Harmony Sweepstakes producer Neal is not overly surprised that the competition has lasted a generation. "There is a camaraderie of singing with friends and the satisfaction of creating something together," he said. "The very nature of a cappella is the blending and harmonizing of different voices into a greater whole."
May 11, 2010
A cappella opera
Seattle Times (WA):
It's not often that you get to hear "a concert-length a cappella opera that recounts the creation story of the ancient Zoroastrians" — while you watch the sun set over the Olympics.
"Haptadâmã: The Seven Creations of Ancient Persia" by Seattle composer Eric Banks was premiered in the pavilion at Olympic Sculpture Park Friday evening, and the magnificence of the setting was equaled by the grandeur of the piece. The concert repeats again tonight. While not every element sounded note-perfect, its ambitious scope and musical variety made it well worth catching.
Banks has led the Esoterics, the performers of the piece, since 1992. The vocal ensemble has recorded 10 CDs and won the Chorus America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming four times since 2001.
With "Haptadâmã," it's easy to see why.
Six years in the making, "Haptadâmã" is an intricate challenge for its singers yet an accessible, if otherworldly, experience for its listeners. It's divided into seven movements, the first and last being dominated by Banks' settings of the hymns of Zoroaster, among the oldest surviving pieces of music in human history. Simple yet haunting, they're arranged with imagination by Banks, who opens with a lone male soloist against a cloudlike backdrop of humming mixed-choir singers, gradually adding on layers of sound and harmony without violating the traditional feel of the ancient tunes. Read more.
May 7, 2010
Bobby McFerrin gets vocal
The Guardian (UK):
Last year, Bobby McFerrin was one of a panel of experts at the World Science festival in New York, discussing music and its relation to the brain. As assorted musicologists and psychologists discussed the brain's expectations of music, McFerrin leapt from his chair to illustrate some of the theories. He jumped up and down on the spot and sang a note, getting the audience to sing along. He then moved to his left and got the audience to sing a higher note. Before long he was skipping around half-a-dozen positions, orchestrating a roomful of people purely by gesture. It's an astonishing, hilarious performance, one that quickly became a viral hit on YouTube.
"I was just displaying how the pentatonic scale – that's basically the black notes on the piano – appears to be hardwired into every culture on earth," he says. "It's something I've been doing as part of my solo shows for years, and it seems to work everywhere I go. I've always wanted to break down the line between performer and audience. We're a roomful of strangers and music is the one thing that binds us together, makes us an instant community. I'd like to think that people leave my concerts realising that they know a lot more about music than they realised." Read more.
May 6, 2010
A cappella on Turner prize list
A Scottish artist who is best known for playing recordings of herself singing over public address systems has been nominated for this year's Turner Prize. Glasgow-born Susan Philipsz, 44, is one of four artists in the running for the contemporary arts prize.
Her most recent work saw recordings of the Scottish lament, Lowlands Away, played under bridges in Glasgow. The winner of the Turner Prize will be named on 6 December after an exhibition of works by short-listed artists.
Ms Philipsz, who lives in Berlin, studied in Dundee and Belfast after being rejected from Glasgow School of Art at the age of 23. Her work stems from an interest in how sound defines architectural space.
She was commissioned by the Glasgow International Festival, which ended on Monday, to produce a "site-specific outdoor sound work on the banks of the River Clyde".
The installation, "Lowlands", saw her recorded voice simultaneously singing three different a cappella versions of the 16th Century lament, "Lowlands Away", played under the Caledonian, George V and Glasgow Bridges over the Clyde.
Other works of her singing versions of pop and folk songs have been replayed in stairwells and supermarkets. In Filter (1998), she played her own renditions of songs by Radiohead, Marianne Faithfull, Nirvana and the Velvet Underground through the public address system of a busy bus station. Read more.
May 5, 2010
The weeks leading up to the Harmony Sweepstakes are always some of the busiest of the year for us and has become even more so as our customer service manager has suffered a sudden medical condition and will be out for at least 6 weeks. Another staff member is about to get married and had already planned some time off so it's been pretty darn busy time for me. I'm glad there's plenty of business to keep me so busy and fully expect to post more here soon.
May 4, 2010
SNC’s Early Christmas Present
Talk about getting your holiday to-do list finished early: A cappella powerhouses Straight No Chaser haven’t even kicked off their summer casino residency in New Jersey yet and they’ve already made plans for a Christmas tour.
SNC’s eight-week stay at Harrah’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino kicks off July 2 and will see them performing every Wednesday through Saturday night at 8 p.m. EDT – with the exception of July 4 – through August 28.
After a brief break, the guys will hit the road again beginning September 17 at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Fla., bringing holiday cheer to audiences from coast to coast right up until they’ve almost run out of Christmas shopping days on December 23.
Since tickets for Straight No Chaser tours tend to sell out really quickly – even in out of the way places like Pollstar’s hometown Fresno, Calif. – you’d better get moving on that if somebody in your family (say your mother-in-law) is a fan.
Speaking of mothers, apparently the guys know how tough it can be to find just the right gift sometimes. So they’ve arranged with CoolMomPics.com to give away the track “All Through The Night” absolutely free. Visit StraightNoChaser.com to find out how to download a free song for mom.