July 31, 2010
Lady Gaga's Record Label Signs A Group of Singing Nuns
Lady Gaga may have writhed around in a red leather nun's habit for her "Alejandro" video, but that didn't stop some French nuns from signing with the same label as the pop star.
An order of Benedictine nuns, cut off from the outside world, has signed a major record deal with the company behind the "Poker Face" singer.
According to London's Daily Telegraph, the enclosed order who live in a convent near Avignon, France, won a global search which took in more than 70 convents throughout the world. They have now inked a deal with Decca Records part of Universal Music which counts Lady Gaga, U2 and Amy Winehouse among its acts.
Since the nuns are secluded, the recording of all tracks and the shooting of the album cover will take place inside the convent . That means they haven't exactly laid their eyes on the salacious of Gaga's religion fueled "Alejandro" musical clip nor have they likely heard of their new label mate.
The ancient order, dating back to the 6th Century, follows a tradition of leading a hidden life behind closed doors. Once they have taken their vows, the sisters remain cut off from the outside world until their deaths.
The Reverend Mother Abbess said: "We never sought this, it came looking for us."
London-based Decca launched its search earlier this year. The sisters - who sing their chants eight times a day - will release the album "Voice: Chant From Avignon" in November.
The label is hoping to repeat the success of the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz whose 2008 album "Chant: Music For Paradise" sold more than one million copies.
Don't look for the order to join Gaga onstage for any upcoming tour dates.
July 30, 2010
Sweet Honey in the Rock release new video "Are We Nation?"
With “Are We A Nation?,” Sweet Honey In The Rock has utilized their favorite form of expression – music - to communicate their feelings on the complex issues of immigration and their outrage regarding Arizona’s Law SB-1070. They believe that this law encourages and creates opportunities for hatred, ignorance, and prejudice to prevail. Sweet Honey In The Rock have been using their music to express outrage and compassion, to nurture and empower audiences, to document the times, and to preserve and extend African American vocal traditions since 1973, and to this day their music continues to change people’s lives.
By drawing more attention to “Are We A Nation?” the group hopes to stimulate interest in and debate surrounding the Arizona law SB-1070 to foster an understanding of the broad implications of this law. The band will be donating a portion of the proceeds from the sales of ARE WE A NATION? to The Center for Community Change
July 29, 2010
Jon Boden's big singalong
The Guardian (UK):
A few weeks ago Jon Boden, the current BBC Folk Singer of the Year, went to a friend's home studio in Sheffield and recorded an unaccompanied version of the famous old folk song The Larks They Sang Melodious (alternatively known as Pleasant and Delightful). On Midsummer Day (24 June) he posted it on a new website he'd created and embarked on the first step of a strange and demanding odyssey, in which he vows to record and post a different folk song every day for a year.
A far cry from his more familiar role as extrovert frontman with the 11-piece folk big band Bellowhead, the Folk Song a Day concept has already attracted accusations that Boden has either lost his marbles or become a shameless self-publicist. Yet behind this novel initiative lies a serious intent, which poses profound questions about the changing role of song in society. Namely, have we lost the joy of singing for its own sake, and the social benefits of community, self-expression and identity that go with it? And, if so, can they be recovered?
Boden says he regards himself primarily as an unaccompanied singer, despite his membership of Bellowhead, but insists that A Folk Song a Day is a serious effort to raise the profile of social singing. He has also launched a monthly Saturday night folk club encompassing an informal singaround at his own local, the Royal Hotel in Dungworth, which is already embedded in folk music lore as one of the South Yorkshire pubs maintaining a unique local carol-singing tradition of songs exclusive to the area.
"The Dungworth carol singing is extraordinary, but it shouldn't be extraordinary," says Boden. "People who wouldn't do it in any other context go to the pub at Christmas and sing those songs properly – really, really loud. But then you get to the end of the carol season and you think, 'Why the hell don't we do this all year?'"
So he decided he would do it all year – and the Dungworth experiment seems to be working as villagers with no interest in the formal folk song movement descend on the bar to exercise their lungs on a round of populist chorus songs, such as The Larks They Sang Melodious and others that have made early appearances on Boden's site.
"I'd love to see more singing sessions in pubs – ideally unaccompanied – without the pub getting freaked out," Boden says. "The biggest challenge is to get a pub to turn the TV or jukebox off, but the chance is there to find a common cause because pubs are under so much threat. Some people feel uncomfortable – they think their space is being invaded, and if you suddenly enter a random pub and burst into song you're more likely to be thrown out than be bought a drink. I've certainly been told to shut up on occasions. You have to get people used to the idea. It's not the fault of the song, it's the fault of lack of song. People get paranoid about singing in public and I think it stems from parents telling their children they can't sing. It happens a lot. You wouldn't tell someone they have an awful talking voice or they have bad breath, but there seems to be no problem in telling someone they can't sing."
There's no shortage of scientific research to support his theory that social singing is good for body and soul. Professor Graham Welch, the chair of music education at the Institute of Education in London, declares that everyone has the ability to sing and, irrespective of quality, it enhances our mood and reduces stress. "The health benefits of singing are both physiological and psychological," he says. "Music is very good for every aspect of you as a human."
One unlikely convert to the power of social singing is Brian Eno, who hosts regular a cappella singing sessions at his London studio with friends, who have included Paul McCartney. "It's all about the immersion of the self into the community and that's one of the greatest feelings," he says. "I stop being 'me' for a little while and become 'us', and that way lies empathy, the great social virtue." Read more.
July 24, 2010
Norwich Evening News (UK):
They have taken it to Edinburgh where it went down a storm and they have even staged it in South Korea - but Friday will be the first time Barbershoper have performed The Barber of Shavingham in the county in which it is set. Rob Castell and Tom Sadler, co-writers and performers, met and started performing together while living in Norwich and studying at UEA.
Now London-based, the pair, together with director Sarah Tipple, are seeing huge success with their a cappella comedy musicals.
“This one is all set in Norfolk, in a town called Shavingham,” explained Rob. “I used to work in Sheringham and so spent some time up there. “I know the area well and wanted to set it somewhere that had good potential for the development of characters. The story is that a Spanish matador comes to Norfolk and has all sorts of encounters.”
Rob, now a freelance musician, teacher, writer and actor, lived in Norwich for six years. While in the city he studied English Literature and International Foreign Relations at UEA, and worked at a number of different places, including Broadland District Council.
“When we were at UEA we used to go round as a barber shop quartet, doing parodies of songs and other fun things. When they threatened to close the drama studio, for example, we sang a song about it that became something of a cult hit on campus,” he remembered. “Afterwards we thought there must be something else we could do with this and Tom, who was also at UEA, came up with the idea of Barbersopera. No-one else was really doing anything like it.”
The company formed in 2007, initially performing standalone songs at OneTaste West in Hammersmith. After director Sarah joined the team, they went on to make the full-length Barbershopera, which they took it to the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe. There it performed to sell-out audiences and won two Musical Theatre Matters Awards (Best New Musical and Best Lyrics). The show was also recorded by BBC Radio 4 and broadcast in the Afternoon Play slot in May.
“All the productions have a comic element to them,” said Rob, who stars in the productions alongside Tom and fellow performers Lara Stubbs and Pete Sorell-Cameron. “They are musical theatre in one sense but the a cappella element brings something a bit different.” While also working on a new show for Edinburgh, about the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the company has been touring with The Barber of Shavingham.
To date, the production, which won critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival last year and scooped the Most Promising Lyrics at the Musical Theatre Matters Award, has been seen across UK and abroad, but never in Norfolk. “It has been appreciated in places like Northern Ireland and Wales because you don't have to know Norfolk to get all the jokes,” said Rob. “Having said that, however, I think people in Norfolk will pick up on the references more and will enjoy them.
“There's a singing group featured, for example, called the Shavingham Shantymen - those sorts of jokes will go down differently.” He went on: “There's a bit of gentle mocking of Norfolk but hopefully people will realise it is good spirited. We genuinely love Norfolk and we think the audience will enjoy the fact we poke gentle fun.” And he added: “It's a shame we haven't been able to perform this in Sheringham as well but it is nice to be coming back to Norwich and to be performing it there. “We have been keen to do this for a long time. Norwich is our spiritual family home.”
As I am in Norwich visiting family I of course had to go to the show last night. It was a lot of fun and, as a Norfolk boy, I enjoyed the local references although I did have a little trouble hearing all the lyrics due to a muddy sound system.
July 23, 2010
Original story teams with barbershop quartet for 'Dastardly Deeds'
Las Vegas Review Journal:
Yo, Snidely. ...
(Sorry -- Mr. Whiplash. We don't mean to disrespect a villain of your stature.)
Can we borrow that furry protrusion over your evil upper lip? You know, with the curlicues on the sides for twirling whenever you tied poor Nell to the train tracks with a sinister "heh, heh, heh."
Black top hat, too, if you can spare it.
"I play the villain, Simon Scowell," says Peter Feeney. Yes, think "American Idol" judges panel. As our baddie admits: "Subtlety is not our thing." Really? When the heroine is rescued by a hero named Justin Tyme?
Subtlety won't be anywhere in the house when "Dastardly Deeds in the Desert" plays Saturday afternoon at the Winchester Cultural Center Theater.
Still thinking "Les Miserables"? Get a grip, theatergoers. "Dastardly Deeds" is an original play that's more of a framework to spotlight local singing talent, including the City of Lights Chorus and local vocal quartets: four male barbershop outfits (Broadcast, Good Times, Shaken Not Stirred and Rumble Seat Daze), one female (SINsational) and one doo-wop (The Chaperones).
A Western-themed romp circa 1890, the "Dastardly" plot (that's "plot" in the loosest sense) concerns "a collision of good and evil." After a hotel owner takes a dirt nap, his widow inherits the joint and finds herself the prize sought by Sheriff Justin Tyme and greedy Simon Scowell, who both want to wed her.
Placing bets on how it turns out?
As chorus members croon and play townsfolk, quartet singers will lend their harmonizing talents to such chestnuts as "Home on the Range," "I'll Be Seeing You," "Danny Boy," "Lida Rose" (from "The Music Man"), "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," "Along the Navajo Trail," "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You."
"We have 30 or 40 songs in our repertoire, and we tried to put those into some crazy ideas for a story line," says Greg Dreyer, the show's director and a chorus member. "We decided to do a melodrama with a good guy and a bad guy."
As members of the Barbershop Harmony Society in Nashville, the groups sometimes receive prepackaged shows with which to surround their sound. This time, Las Vegas writer Jacque Klaus spun the tongue-in-cheek "Dastardly" script (that's "script" in the loosest sense) that even includes the town's mayor, a parody of a certain Vegas official. Any guesses? Read more.
Glee Could Take Some Lessons From the BBC’s Delightful New Reality Show, The Choir
New York Magazine:
When Glee’s first season ended last month, we prepared ourselves for months of sad, song-free television. Then last night we watched the premiere of BBC America’s new reality series, The Choir, and it was as if a gray, tuneless cloud had lifted. We were inspired! We heard music, and none of it was “Don’t Stop Believing” (or any Journey, for that matter)! We laughed, we cried, we believed in unicorns again! Well, maybe not that last bit, but The Choir has, to say the least, wholly restored our faith in reality television, and it also set an example that Glee might want to take notes on.
Calling The Choir reality TV is a bit of a misnomer; it’s more like an especially animated 60 Minutes segment. The central subject is Gareth Malone, an adorably rumpled, earnest, 30-year old (who looks 18) graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, leader of the London Symphony Orchestra’s community choir, and vehement believer in the power of group singing. Malone is sent to Northolt High School in Middlesex — an area of “relative social deprivation,” according to its head of school — to start a choir that can compete in that year’s world choir Olympics. Trouble is, the school has no arts programs to speak of. But don’t call it a Glee clone; The Choir was filmed in 2006 and is only now reaching our shores. Also, Mr. Malone thankfully does not rap.
July 20, 2010
David Fanshawe - Obituary
Daily Telegraph (UK)
David Fanshawe, who died on July 5 aged 68, was the composer of African Sanctus, an inspirational work that blended the liturgy of the Latin Mass with sounds that he recorded on his travels throughout the continent; since it was first heard in 1972 this thrilling collision of musical cultures has proved to be extraordinarily popular with choral societies and audiences around the world.
African Sanctus had its genesis in a visit to St George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem in 1966. There, as the words of the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) rang out, Fanshawe also heard the muzzein's call to prayer from the neighbouring mosque, Allah Akhbar (God is great), and was immediately struck by the similarity. It was, he said, "a moving harmonising to God".
While other adventurers returned from distant lands with lion skins or elephant tusks, the trophies from Fanshawe's odysseys were recorded ones: cattle herders singing of their work; women chanting around the water well; the sounds of joy at a tribal wedding or of mourning at a funeral.
In the course of gathering raw material Fanshawe survived a plane crash in Kenya, was saved from a deadly snake by the quick thinking of an eight-year-old boy who speared the reptile and, in Uganda, faced down an angry hippopotamus over whose back he had inadvertently canoed. In Egypt he was arrested as an Israeli spy – only to be freed after his guard, a Coptic Christian, recognised the words of the Mass that Fanshawe was belting out in his cell. On another occasion he was beaten after an ill-advised attempt to record a male circumcision ritual.
Unsurprisingly, there were critics, both of his music and his methods. Cultural imperialism, they cried, drawing parallels with the controversy that surrounded Paul Simon's use of South African singers on the album Graceland. Fanshawe insisted that he always sought permission, donated a percentage of royalties to African causes and, in any case, was preserving for posterity a fast disappearing oral tradition. "It goes beyond money," he argued, pointing to the thousands of original tapes at his home near Marlborough, Wiltshire.
I had the truly great pleasure of knowing David as we had adjacent booths at an ACDA convention and became quite friendly over the course of the week. He was an amazing man with wonderful tales and I am sadden to hear of his relatively early demise.
July 19, 2010
Cabaret review: The Kinsey Sicks
San Francisco Chronicle
The Kinsey Sicks have been "America's Favorite Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet" for 16 astonishing years - astonishing because you can't help wondering, not to mention hoping, do these guys have day jobs?
But I kid. Really.
The truth is that America's appetite for bad taste knows no bounds, for which the Sicks must get down on their knees every day. And they're probably thankful, too!
The quartet opened its first gig at the Rrazz Room on Tuesday night, regaling the packed house with their new 12-song touring revue. The show's title could be written out without offending anyone, because the words are all totally clean, like "hit" and "each." The problem comes when you say the title aloud, so in a family-newspaper curtsey to good taste, we'll omit the show's full title.
Dressed in frocks that look as if they were run up from the upholstery at Tara after Carol Burnett snagged the drapes, the foursome includes Jeff Manabat as Trixie (a dead ringer for Connie Chung - shh, don't tell Maury), Ben Schatz as Rachel, Spencer Brown as the dim-bulb Trampolina and Irwin Keller as Winnie, a master of deadpan - or mistress, depending on how good your eyesight is.
I have been on a family vacation the past week and will be for awhile longer but I now have internet access so will be posting again soon. It has been a very busy year for me so I have been thoroughly enjoying spending time with the family and relaxing away from the computer.
July 7, 2010
The Swingles go Underground
Tobi Hug of the Swingle Singers just sent me a link to this new clip of them surprising the riders of the London Tube. Lots and fun and very clever promotion for their upcoming festival performance.
Chorale founder Brazeal Dennard enriched lives with music
Detroit Free Press
Brazeal Dennard brought the refined ear of a master musician and the knowledge of a musicologist when he conducted the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, the 50-voice choir that he founded in 1972. Few musicians knew more about the history of African-American spirituals and few could shape performances of these sorrow songs and shouts with more grace, feeling and expressive vocal blend.
Dennard, who died Monday at age 81 at his Detroit home after a long illness, was a man of many accomplishments. He had a significant career as a teacher and administrator in the Detroit Public Schools. He co-founded Classical Roots, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s annual celebration of African-American composers and musicians. He built a nationally recognized choir admired for its professionalism and wide repertoire, including works by contemporary black composers and masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and others. He also founded a youth chorale in 1985.
But his greatest calling was the preservation of spirituals, the religious folksongs of African-American slaves, which he championed through performances, recordings, workshops, guest conducting, published arrangements, articles, historical research and the dialogue he maintained for decades with choral directors and singers throughout the country.
“It was not only that he had that knowledge, but he also had the willingness to impart it to others with the hope that they would understand the importance of the music and how relevant it was not only to the past but to the present and to carry it into the future,” said Augustus Hill, who succeeded Dennard as artistic director of the chorale. Read more.
July 6, 2010
Giving Voice to the Young and the Reluctant
New York Times:
The ingredients add up to a certified hit: An earnest, young teacher intent on building the choir of his dreams. Ragtag high schoolers wrestling with adolescent angst. Feuding faculty members. Bullies who think singing is for losers. Success. Failure. And, oh, those showstopping tunes.
No, not that series.
Before “Glee” made Americans want to tap into their inner Broadway baby, there was “The Choir ,” a feel-good BBC reality series about the singer and conductor Gareth Malone and his quest to bring choral music to the unlikeliest of schools. A success in Britain since 2006, the show will make its debut in this country on BBC America on Wednesday night at 10.
“We beat ‘Glee’ to it by some years,” the boyish Mr. Malone, now 34, said during a break from filming his latest series, “Gareth Malone Goes to Glyndebourne,” in which he transforms teenagers into opera singers. “I’d like to think that somebody had watched our show and thought it was a good idea, but maybe I’m just flattering myself.”
“The Choir” steps off at Northolt High School, a school without a choral tradition in a working-class community northwest of London, where Mr. Malone tries to create a top-tier choir of 25 students from among 160 very reluctant auditioners. The mission: to prepare his ensemble for the World Choir Games in China in just nine months. The obstacle: in the first episode, his new choristers demonstrate that they can barely sing.
In a recent telephone interview with Kathryn Shattuck, Mr. Malone spoke about giving young people a voice. These are excerpts from the conversation. Read the interview.
July 5, 2010
New Barbershop Quartet Champs - Storm Front
Congratulations to the very entertaining Storm Front from Denver who took top quartet honors at this year's International Barbershop Convention held in Philadelphia. Old School won silver and Germany's Ringmasters won bronze. And those young fellows in the Westminster Chorus have now won their second Chorus gold medal besting the legendary Vocal Majority who won Silver. Is the VM dynasty final over?? Toronto Northern Lights was third with the Sound of Rockies and the Alexandria Harmonizers came fifth.
July 1, 2010
Another dose of the Swingle Singers
The Baltimore Sun's classical music writer gives a nice mention of the Swingle Singers in his column today along with a clip of an interview with Ward Swingle from Baltimore filmmaker Mike Lawrence's uplifting new documentary "Bach and Friends."
Top 10 competing barbershop quartets
Here, in order of appearance, are the final top ten barbershop quartets in the Barbershop Harmony Society's competition being held this year in Philadelphia. Men in Black, A Mighty Wind, Old School, TNS, Musical Island Boys, Masterpiece, Voce, Storm Front, Ringmasters, The Allies.