August 28, 2010
Welcome to the new King's Singer
The King’s Singers have announced that Jonathan Howard will become the new bass in the group when Stephen Connolly steps down in September 2010. Jonathan, who is 23 years old and a graduate of New College, Oxford, beat off stiff competition in the final round of auditions, held at the Royal Society of Musicians in London.
Jonathan, a founding member of the Oxford Clerks – an a capella group modeled on The King’s Singers – also plays violin, viola and piano, has taken to the stage in opera and drama, plays several sports and even won medals at university for ‘Intercollegiate Trampolining’! He was chosen as one of nine ‘clevers’ to appear in the BBC3 series ‘Clever v Stupid’ last Summer – not surprising as he did five and a half A Levels and speaks fluent German and French. His passion for classical music began at his school, Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, West Sussex, and he subsequently won a choral scholarship to New College where he read classics and participated in numerous tours and recordings with the renowned New College Choir.
On learning that he had won the coveted job Jonathan said:
"It is an absolute dream-come-true for me to have the opportunity to perform for a living with such wonderful colleagues and singers, particularly since almost every small-consort or close-harmony venture I have done in the past has been inspired by their work. I am thrilled to accept the post, and cannot wait to start as a full-time member in October. Even now, I'm still in shock that this is actually happening."
David said: “Jonathan impressed us all with the quality of his voice, his musicality and ability to blend into The King’s Singers' sound and style. His enthusiasm and his obvious enjoyment, along with his thorough preparation, made his audition an enjoyable experience for all of us. For me there is the added bonus of another Oxford graduate joining the line-up.”
Stephen, who leaves after 23 years to take on a new role as Head of Vocal Studies at the prestigious Cheltenham Ladies’ College, said:
“I am thrilled that we have managed to find such an energized and talented musician as Johnny. He will be a real asset to the group and bring with him a wonderful timbre of voice as well as a freshness that will help propel the KS well into the future. I can't wait to hear him in concert!”
Philip said: "Flexibility is the keynote with any potential King's Singer - the ability to change your individual voice in order to make the sound of the group work. Johnny has a special kind of awareness which made me think that he would slot in very quickly to the group's way of working.”
August 25, 2010
The Lion Sleeps Tonight writer dies
New York Times
George David Weiss, a songwriter who had a hand in some of the biggest hits of midcentury pop music, recorded by some of the biggest stars, died on Monday at his home in Oldwick, N.J. He was 89. The death was of natural causes, his wife, Claire, said.
Among his most famous numbers were “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” recorded by Elvis Presley; “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” recorded by the Tokens; and “What a Wonderful World,” recorded by Louis Armstrong.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (1961), based on a South African Zulu song first recorded in the 1930s, was given a reworked melody and new lyrics (“In the jungle, the mighty jungle/The lion sleeps tonight”) by Mr. Weiss, Mr. Peretti and Mr. Creatore.
Their adaptation, which kept the refrain — “Wimoweh, wimoweh” — popularized in a 1950s version by the Weavers, became a million-selling hit for the Tokens. Widely recorded since, the song has been used in many motion pictures, including “The Lion King” (1994). Read more.
August 24, 2010
Mormons on a Mission
New York Times:
At 3:30 in the morning on July 23, 1962, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir gathered at the airport here for a flight to a military base in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Preparations for a now nearly forgotten salvo of the cold war, called Operation Telstar, were under way.
It was time to sing.
The 360-member choir, the lyrical voice of Mormonism since pioneer days, was on a mission with multiple levels, historians and surviving singers say. They were to be the featured musical anchor later that day for the first international satellite television program — a blast of American culture and technological prowess aimed at Europe, using a wobbly, 170-pound satellite that had been launched into orbit that month.
Small stories and large ones were interwoven — in the off-camera dreams and fears of the singers and organizers and in the on-camera references to the Kremlin and the arms race. Read more.
August 23, 2010
The a cappella condom song is back!
BBC World Service Trust Revamps www.condomcondom.org to Showcase Its Work to Promote Safer Sex
In August 2008, when www.condomcondom.org was launched by the BBC World Service Trust in order to thwart the spread of HIV in India and as part of its Condom Normalization mass media campaign. It was primarily to showcase the campaign and enable people to download the ‘Condom a Cappella’ ringtone. Within the first six weeks, the website got over 3.5 million hits. The site needed a revamp to widen its scope and bring it up to date. And that’s where Ideaz Inc came in. They redesigned the site completely and it was relaunched with new content. Read more.
Great news. I love the condom song. Plus it gives me the opportunity to post the photo again.. Listen to it here.
August 22, 2010
DaleDiva scoop Don't Stop Believing title
DaleDiva, the Derbyshire a-cappella chorus, have stormed to victory in this year's Don't Stop Believing live final. The Derbyshire Dales-based group took top honours following two stunning performances in the Channel Five show.
They survived the elimination part with their high-energy version of the Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer hit No More Tears (Enough is Enough).
The public voted them into the top two meaning they then had to reprise their performance of Beyonce's Single Ladies.
The group's musical director and co-founder Ally Law said: "It's been one fantastic opportunity and we have just loved every minute.
"To stand on that stage - feeling sick really, waiting for the results - and when they called out our name... everything else really has been a blur from there." Read more.
August 20, 2010
Estonia hosts virtual song festival
Thousands of people across Estonia on Friday took part in a landmark virtual choir festival, gathering in front of big screens to sing the small Baltic state's cherished anthems. Organisers said crowds massed at over a hundred open-air locations in this nation of 1.3 million people to perform eight songs under the baton of conductors -- one per song -- beamed from a real concert venue in Poltsamaa, central Estonia.
Footage from the locations was also fed via the Internet, in a nod to Estonia's thriving hi-tech industry which has won it the nickname "E-Stonia".
"The festival was organised to combine the two things that have made a name for Estonia globally, IT innovation and a long tradition of song festivals," organiser Artur Talvik told AFP. The event was held to mark the 19th anniversary of Estonian independence after five decades of Soviet rule, as the communist bloc crumbled in 1991.
Estonia and its fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania are home to a vibrant choral tradition stretching back more than a century. Mass choral gatherings in the late 1980s formed the bedrock of the trio's freedom drive which became known as the "Singing Revolution".
Estonia's traditional song festivals attract huge audiences on the spot and on television. At the highest-profile festival, held every five years in the capital Tallinn, 24,000 singers perform in a single choir.
August 19, 2010
The Creole Choir of Cuba: the a cappella aid agency
The Guardian (UK):
On the afternoon of the show, the 10 members of the choir mill around the hall, chatting between rehearsals. In Cuba, they are known as Grupo Vocal Desandann, meaning Descendants, in reference to their Haitian roots. Much of their repertoire is drawn from the songs their grandparents used to sing them, and newer ones they've picked up on their regular visits to Haiti. To an outsider's ear it sometimes sounds distinctly African, at others Latin American; occasionally it has shades of gospel or European choral music. They've even been known to cover Nat King Cole's Unforgettable. On the strength of their performances at the Edinburgh festival last year, they got five-star reviews, a recording contract with Peter Gabriel's Real World label, a slot at Womad and a booking on Later … With Jools Holland. It is not hard to see why.
The choir began in 1994 as an offshoot of the 28-strong state choir of Camagüey, a large but sparsely populated low-lying province known, says Chavez, for its cheese. Thanks to the Cuban government's strategic investment in the arts, singing is their full-time job, and they rehearse for six hours a day. They regularly tour the island playing free concerts and festivals for locals as well as state functions for visiting dignitaries.
The choir tend to visit Haiti once or twice a year, and were there playing some shows just weeks before the quake. In the aftermath, they were quickly dispatched by the government as part of Cuba's official relief effort.
The singers slept in the streets with Cuban doctors because there were no spare buildings in which to house them. During the day, they visited refugee camps and held music workshops for children whose parents were dead or missing. "I felt that they were touched because there was someone there who understood their culture and was trying to help," says Chavez. "We sang positive songs – not love songs, but songs giving love: 'Life will continue and you will be OK.' Not songs of mourning."
Their one-hour performance at Wilton's, a cappella but for the occasional conga rhythm, is by turns romantic, comic, turbulent and celebratory. There's a slick, well-oiled quality to the performance as, after each song, they milk the audience for every drop of applause. Finally, they leave the stage via the crowd, still singing and shaking hands as they pass down the aisle. After the rubble of Port-au-Prince, a show like this must be as easy as breathing.
August 18, 2010
The Magnets prove to be a draw at The Fringe
Immensely likable and supremely slick, The Magnets apparently started off as buskers in Edinburgh way back in the day, the a capella group working their way up at the Fringe over the past five years, so this run of shows at the sizeable Udderbelly venue seem just reward for their efforts.
Though they are talented singers, the key lies in their demanding, precise arrangements, which takes numbers such as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Blur’s Parklife and richly renders them in a perky, doo-wop inspired fashion, the six-piece’s vocals all working away to provide a lush sound that far exceeds expectations of what can be achieved without any additional instruments or sound effects.
In fact, relying on their dextrous vocals affords them a scarcely believable element of control that they wittily utilise during one routine. All six members engaging in a bit of silly scat singing, the beatboxer of the group then acts as the operator of an invisible mixing desk, turning up and down the volume of each member’s contribution, isolating their sound, sending them off one by one and then somehow scratching between all the different parts by himself. It probably has to be heard to be believed…
Nifty and nimble, the band are such harmlessly good fun that you want to reduce them to miniature size - using that ray gun device Rick Moranis had in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids - and carry them around in your own pocket, The Magnets literally on hand and ready to perform a cheery rendition of one of your favourite hits whenever you start to feel a bit down. Read more.
A cappella is all over the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with 22 shows listed on the schedule plus several roaming groups as well. The Magnets were one of the first to do the Festival and have been very successful with numerous UK prime time TV appearances. They also have their very own iPhone app called MagnetsMix and is available from the App Store.
August 17, 2010
Authorities grab famous choral director on child-support warrant
The Oregonian (OR):
A renowned choral master who has performed all over the world was arrested as soon as he stepped off the plane at Newark International Airport this week, nabbed on an Oregon warrant for criminal nonpayment of child support. Paul Hillier had flown from his home in Denmark with his vocal ensemble to the United States for a scheduled performance Friday night at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival.
Instead of being whisked to a hotel to relax and prepare, however, Hillier was hauled off to Essex County Jail in New Jersey Wednesday. Accused of ducking his responsibility for more than four years, Hillier suddenly had the approximately $90,000 in back child support wired overnight to an account in the Multnomah County's Support Enforcement Division.
"He's been fairly cooperative," said Multnomah County deputy district attorney Jennifer James, "once we got his attention."
Hillier faced a nationwide arrest warrant, accusing him of four counts of the felony charge criminal nonsupport for not making court-ordered payments for his two daughters living in Oregon. "It's certainly one of the most stringent remedies we will exercise to seek enforcement of support orders," said Bette Yada, supervising attorney for the Multnomah County District Attorney's Support Enforcement Division.
Hillier could not be reached Friday. He did not respond to e-mail messages.
Hillier, whose devotion to choral music has made his choir a standard at world music festivals, had not been in the United States for four years. This created a dilemma for Oregon authorities, because Denmark does not recognize Oregon's child support enforcement orders, like other countries do.
So Multnomah County prosecutors kept tabs on Hillier's professional Web page where they learned of Friday's performance in New York, calling it a "rare United States visit for him" in a court affidavit. The 61-year-old conducts one of Scandinavia's leading vocal groups, Ars Nova Copenhagen,and they were set to take the stage in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
On August 5, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted Hillier on the felony charges, and a nationwide warrant was issued for his arrest. Prosecutors also faxed an affidavit to New Jersey authorities, pushing to increase Hillier's bail to $1 million once he was detained.
The affidavit said Hillier's past behavior showed a "disregard for court orders and the financial well-being of his family." "It was part of the leverage, to get him to pay," said District Attorney Michael Schrunk. "He was held until he paid up. It's a good piece of collection work." Hillier got to the pre-booking process at Essex County jail, but avoided being placed in lockup, jail authorities said. Read more.
If the man can get $90,000 cash wired overnight whilst in custody in another country then you would think he could have afforded to hire a lawyer and settled this matter a long time ago. Deadbeat is the word I believe. How embarrassing.
August 16, 2010
Pungent Harmonies Drawn From Ancient Traditions
New York Times:
When the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center was being revamped a decade or so ago, some thought that it should give its overworked hero a rest and do something else entirely. Instead the festival has deftly continued to serve Mozart, if a bit more judiciously, and done things that are completely different. Never more so than in the current minifestival Bach and Polyphonies, which juxtaposes examples of Renaissance and Baroque polyphony with works of modern vintage.
It was the male Ensemble Basiani from the Republic of Georgia, singing two sets of Georgian polyphony descended from an ancient tradition, that stole the main show at Tully against strong competition. Mr. Aimard said from the stage that he had first heard recorded examples of this tradition 30 years ago and had always wanted to hear it live.
The rest of us could only be grateful for his obsession. The ensemble, singing in close harmony, presented sacred and folk music displaying polyphonic devices ranging from simple drones to intricately interwoven melodies, which often crossed or combined to produce harmonies pungent to the Western ear.
There was full-throated singing of the kind heard from Russian choruses, but in what seemed the more characteristic style of vocal production, sounds were sparingly emitted from the throat rather than shaped in the mouth and then actively projected. The quaintest number, Chela, in which a farmer regales his uncomprehending oxen with his sorrows, involved a kind of yodeling.
This idiom seemed as far removed from Bach’s glorious motet “Jesu, Meine Freude” as it did from 1960s works of Ligeti and Xenakis, all magnificently performed by the mixed chorus Ars Nova Copenhagen, conducted by the choral wizard Paul Hillier.
For the Bach, Mr. Hillier used 16 voices, unobtrusively supported by a portative organ, and you had the distinct sense that every voice counted. As usual, Mr. Hillier achieved marvels of balance and textual clarity that most choruses would envy but that was here, it seemed, only a starting point. A scintillating display of individualities and shifting emphases enlivened the performance at every moment.
The performances of Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna” and Xenakis’s “Nuits” were no less accomplished. These are treacherous a cappella tours de force that you never want to hear an inferior chorus attempt.
The Ligeti work, used in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” develops something of a paradox, a sort of static polyphony. It consists mainly of long-held notes by single singers entering periodically, generally within close pitch clusters but sometimes floating aloft, as if emanating from another planet; either way, finding the pitches requires intense concentration from the singers and in this case, at least for one, occasional help from a tuning fork.
After the weaving of this fine “tissue,” in Mr. Aimard’s description, came the “explosion” of “Nuits,” in which Xenakis deploys isolated sounds of ancient languages (though no text per se) to evoke, abstractly, the dark nights of political prisoners. After a swooping, squalling opening, come wavery vibrato, toneless aspirations, croaks, cartoonish sound effects, even whistling: almost any sound mouths can deliver. Here it was tuning forks all around. Read more.
FRINGE REVIEW – Fabulous Female A Cappella, In the Pink
Edinburgh Spotlight (Scotland):
This show is exactly as billed – a vivacious group of lovely girls sing in close harmony to produce a most enjoyable entertainment.
All of the performers are current students at Oxford University, and have carried on a tradition now built up over the last six years of bringing a sparkling show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Dressed in black dresses with a simple pink ribbon to unify their costumes, the girls run through a wide variety of songs – from Michael Jackson to Paolo Nutini, with a smattering of Stealer’s Wheel and T-Rex for good measure. And just in case the boys were feeling left out, one unsuspecting audience member was recruited to be serenaded with Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking up is Hard to Do” – but as far as audience participation goes, we suspect that it was no hardship to be surrounded by these lovely girls.
The choreography was excellent and the girls looked like they were having really good fun and enjoying the thrill of performing, although admitting to ‘first night nerves’ a little when they talked briefly in-between numbers.
August 13, 2010
Todd Rundgren seeks singers for tour
I have just been contacted by rock musician Todd Rundgren who is seeking groups of 12 – 15 mixed voice singers to perform background vocals on his upcoming tour this fall in the following cities:-
Wednesday, September 8
Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, Muskegon, MI
Friday, September 10
Roberts-Orpheum Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Saturday, September 11
Clowes Memorial Hall, Indianapolis, IN
Tuesday, September 14
Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA
Wednesday, September 15
Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown, NJ
Todd’s musical director will fly in for a one-day rehearsal with the group during the first week in September and there will be a three hour rehearsal with Todd and the band during sound check day of show. Charts can be sent in advance.
There is a $1,000 honorarium per group and a meal will be provided after the sound check.
This really is a great opportunity for a choir or ensemble to work with one of the nation’s most highly regarded rock musicians and a chance to perform on a large stage in front of a new and different audience.
Anybody interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
August 12, 2010
Summer sojoun is finally over
Well its back to reality for me as the family and I returned last night from the UK after an extended summer vacation. We had a simply marvelous time visiting family, going to my old haunts in Norfolk and for the past week touring thru the West Country and Wales. It has therefore been a quiet time for blogging but once we unpack our suitcases full of jams, chutneys, relishes, mustards, chocolates and other yummy English delicacies then it will be back to regular postings again.