December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas everyone!

All is very well with the Neal family. I just finished chopping the kindling and am ready to light the fire. The kids are sprinkling the Christmas cookies they just baked and the house is full of mouth watering smells. The hubbub of the busy season is over and the calm of Christmas Eve is here. With my family, safe, warm and healthy I give thanks that we can be together once again at this joyous time of year and am blessed to have the most wonderful children in the whole wide world!

Peace on earth and may you all have a very merry Christmas.

John Neal

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December 23, 2010

Double the trees!

What joy! This year I feature not one but two singing Christmas trees!

The first production of the Singing Trees debuted in 1980 at First Baptist Orlando's downtown location, opening with "Do You Hear What I Hear," directed by Ragan Vandegriff. While the first five years featured a single tree, the church moved to its current campus on John Young Parkway in 1985 and they realized that it would be necessary to further expand the production to accommodate the larger stage. "One tree would have appeared "diminuendo," according to Vandegriff.

The task of writing music for two trees began. This often involved having "one tree call and the other one answer," according to Deric Johnson, the music arranger at the time. The two forty-five foot structures each hold about 150 choir members. The 15-tier trees are designed and structurally engineered by Walt Keller. "You can put a Mack truck on each tree and it would withstand the weight," Keller explained. And that's about what each tree holds. Considering the average American weight, both trees combined contain almost 50,000 pounds of these live, vocalized ornaments.


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Twisted Christmas Parodies

Certainly not for the easily offended here is a new Christmas video from America's favorite dragapella beauty quartet The Kinsey Sicks. Watch at your peril..

Posted by acapnews at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

NPR x 2

NPR interviewed two top harmony groups today and both also sang several songs. Manhattan Transfer were on Jazz24 and The King's Singer's perform here.

Posted by acapnews at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

Christmas a cappella ad

There's always plenty of Christmas commercials sung a cappella and here's a pretty good one. I believe it's The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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December 22, 2010

The Blenders - One Small Child/ We Three Kings

Here's a group who has had great success with the holidays and their Christmas recordings are some of my all-time favorites. They now only perform together at Christmas and have a series of concerts that have become a tradition in their home town of Fargo.

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Committed wins stirs religious discussion

Apparently there is some discussion in the Seventh Day Adventist community of concern that Committed's win will be a misrepresentation of their faith. Committed, as their name implies, are observant and have notified producers that they are unable to perform or rehearse on Saturdays.

With comments on the show such as "birth control music" from Ben Folds to Shawn Stockman who said, "I seen some movements that uh I see y'all church boys I see you," many Adventists are wondering whether the right message was relayed to a national audience. Says one "After this performance, will non-Christians now view Adventists as hypocrites or a farce? "

Oh boy. Both Naturally Seven and Take 6 have remained very firm in their faith and I don't see how Committed will be any different. Silly fundies.

Committed now has both a Facebook page and Twitter account.

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December 21, 2010

A Take 6 Christmas medley

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Choral singers cause mall evacuation

Sacramento Bee (CA):

Two months after the Westfield Galleria in Roseville closed from a devastating fire, shoppers were again forced to evacuate Monday. This time, choral singers are to blame. The Sacramento Choral Society and several area congregations had prearranged a "flash mob" singing of the "Hallelujah Chorus" in the mall's food court. But with thousands of people crowding the second-floor food court, the "random act of musical kindness" never got off the ground.

"It was so jammed with people that you could not even move," said Connie Santos, who hoped to enjoy the music, then shop. There were no reports of injuries as the mall was peacefully evacuated starting about 6:45 p.m. The mall was scheduled to close at 11 p.m.

"Somebody reported hearing two pops that sounded like the floor was giving way and another said the floor was shifting," said Tom Dodaro, a Roseville Fire Department spokesman.

Choral flash mobs have been sweeping the country. On Sunday, at least 450 people burst into the "Hallelujah Chorus" at a Kansas City shopping center. Others, often singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" as well, have broken out in cities worldwide, including last weekend in stores andmalls and airports in Dallas, Orlando and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Santos said she arrived at the food court early to listen to a friend from church sing. With so many people "wedged in there," she could tell something wasn't right. "The floor was bouncing a little too much. I heard a few people say it seemed like an earthquake," she said. Read more.

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December 20, 2010

Committed wins Sing Off

Congratulations to Committed who tonight were worthy winners of the Sing Off. Street Corner Symphony placed second and Backbeats came third. It was a fine show and well done to everybody in bringing the show in on time (which was not extended as I was told earlier) with everything running very smoothly. Live TV must be a very scary thing.

Committed are students at Andrews University, a Seventh Day Adventist college in Berrien Springs, Michigan. The group began as a quartet in 2003 at Forest Lake Academy, Orlando, Fla., and expanded to six members in 2005. Members include Dennis Baptiste, Alain Gervais, Geston Pierre, Robert Pressely, Maurice Staple and Theron Thomas. The sextet debuted at Oakwood University, Huntsville, Ala., for a freshman concert in October 2005 and continued singing at various church and school events in the state and across the country. Is this another Take 6 or Naturally 7 in the making? I think Sony will take this young talent and help make them a real success.

It seems almost certain the show will return and we hope for many more seasons to come. Well done all involved and thanks for helping bring this music we love so much to a larger audience.

Posted by acapnews at 11:08 PM | Comments (2)

Christmas Can Can

Straight No Chaser knows a little bit about what can happen with a Christmas clip on YouTube. Two years on and they are still packing them in and tours steadily which is no easy accomplishment with twelve members and expensive touring costs. Here they are with a can can:-

Posted by acapnews at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2010

Christmas Fantasy - Julie Andrews with King's Singers

This should make you smile. Julie Andrews sings a Christmas medley with the King's Singers.

There's also this clip presumably from the same TV show. I love you Julie Andrews.

Posted by acapnews at 3:51 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2010

Electronic, a cappella Radiohead? Sonos goes there

The Seattle Times (WA):

In the credits for "Sonosings," the debut CD by Los Angeles-based a cappella group Sonos, the following disclaimer is made: "No instruments were harmed, or even touched, in the making of this album."

Instruments, no — but electronics, yes.

In both their recordings and in concert, this gifted vocal sextet uses "fun gadgets" that include a loop station, delay pedal, phase shifter and other sound-bending devices.

Result: The group's albums are intricate headphone treats, filled with striking detail and sometimes spooky touches, while their concerts are —

Well, I can't tell you that, because I haven't heard them live. But when they come to Fremont Abbey Arts Center on Saturday, Seattle audiences will have a chance to hear how well their voices blend with their technological trickery in concert.

The six members of Sonos come from music-study backgrounds ranging from jazz to opera to musical theater, and their taste in songs is even more diverse than that suggests. As they say on their website (www.sonosings.com), they seek out "songs that [are] not obvious choices for all-vocal adaptations." Read more.

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Rajaton - Joululaulu

Today's Christmas clip is from Rajaton, certainly one of the most talented groups out there and whose name I can now pronounce correctly thanks to a coaching lesson from a group member. Roll that "r" folks.

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December 17, 2010

President and First Lady join a cappella group

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sing with the Tufts Beelzebubs in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House during a holiday reception, Dec. 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

Correction: I initially reported that the group was The Tigertones however I have been corrected and the group is in fact The Beezebubs.

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Let's get festive

Christmas has always been one of the busiest time of the year for me and often starts in August as I start receiving Christmas new release catalogs and plan my ads etc. So by the time the holidays came around I was usually pretty darn tired. But now I have young children the joy is back and I really enjoy Christmastime.

There's hardly a better way to feel festive than when listening to a carol sung a cappella so from now till Christmas I'll be featuring new and classic holiday video clips. Recommendations anybody? Let's start with Tonic Sol-fa.

I do have a bit of a fascination with Singing Christmas Trees and have posted some favorites over the past few of years. Anybody have a great photo of a singing tree?

We are also streaming our annual 24/7 a cappella Christmas music radio. Tune in here.

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December 16, 2010

The Magnets – review

The Guardian (UK):

Six-piece a cappella band the Magnets are complete pros, determined to entertain. After checking the audience's post-X Factor credibility ("Did anyone vote for One Direction?"), they explain their roots, from busking in Covent Garden to getting "kicked out of boy band academy for singing live".

After a few years of hard live graft, the Magnets are more a "man band", performing close-harmony arrangements with razored precision and swapping the leads between singers with nicely contrasting vocal sounds, from impassioned falsetto (arranger Steve Trowell) to soulful bass (Fraser Collins).

What they do may be clever, and highly musical, but it's informed by a deep love of pop, with covers of songs by Bowie, Buzzcocks, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. "We love messing with people's favourite songs," says Michael Welton, before launching into a gorgeous remodelling of Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer. But, while they mould Kraftwerk's The Model into a Swingles-style waltz, they wisely leave Michael Jackson's Workin' Day and Night as close to the source as is possible with just six voices: an unironic cover with funky groove supplied by beatboxer Andy Frost.

Frost is the Magnets' secret weapon, a sonic phenomenon you have to see and hear to believe; every drum sound came from his mouth. In a witty solo section, he mimicked the sounds of a 1980s drum machine in obsessive detail, miming its knobs, pads and faders, while producing every authentic, snap, crackle, whoosh and reverse sample swoop.

They dealt good-humouredly with the Pigalle's partying crowd, throwing in a movie music quiz and a Christmas medley, but the Magnets have bigger fish to fry, including a Roundhouse gig next spring. They're a band to watch in 2011.

Posted by acapnews at 9:50 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2010

Sing Off extended

With a 25% increase in viewers from the first season (even higher in the coveted 18-49 age group) NBC has a solid hit on its hand. They therefore decided to extend Monday's final show by half and hour and it will now run till 10.30pm.

On the Rocks were eliminated today and there was supposed to be second group sent home however the producers pulled a (kinda lame) stunt at the end and kept all four groups for the finals. Don't quite understand the need to put Jerry Lawson thru the disappointment of being eliminated to then say "never mind". Boy these type of shows can be rather cruel sometimes.

Now it's time for the public to vote for the winners. The final four groups are Committed, Street Corner Symphony, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town and The Backbeats. Vote here.

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December 14, 2010

Ratings increase

If the ratings of the first week of the Sing Off were impressive enough then we are even happier to learn that last night's show did even better with 9.4 million viewers according to Neilsen. It seems to be almost certain that we will be seeing a few more seasons in the future and hopefully extended over more than the current 5 shows. Yippee!

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December 13, 2010

Busy, busy

It's the busiest day of the year for us at Primarily A Cappella so not much time to blog. Sing-Off was great tonight as usual but sadly former Harmony Sweepstakes champs Groove For Thought were eliminated. I think they were one of the strongest group musically however I'm not sure their style works best in this short song format. I'm a fan of vocal jazz however I have been rather surprised over the years to not infrequently run into people who seem to have an adverse reaction to the style. Oh well - I love it.

Posted by acapnews at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

"Sound artist" Susan Philpsz wins Turner Prize

The National (UK):

She admits that her voice wouldn't win any prizes in the music industry. But something about the raw cadence of the vocals as Susan Philipsz sings her lamentations of love and loss strike a deep chord with audiences.

Her unaccompanied, unadorned recordings of traditional Scottish ballads have now won her Britain's most prestigious accolade in, not the world of classical music or folk, but the visual arts.

The piece itself, entitled Lowlands, consists of overlaid recordings of three versions of an old Celtic sailor's ballad mourning the ghost of a lover drowned at sea.

Critics have remarked on how even the flaws in her voice give it depth, endowing it with a haunting quality so that, while it may be imperfect musically, it takes on heightened meaning, occupying the awkward gap between the public and private spheres.

"She uses her own voice unaccompanied, a cappella. There's no cleaning up of the recording," says Little. "You feel it's someone singing for themselves, alone. There's a tension between the public and the private aspects, combining lyrics and vocals with very emotive effect."

Her "sculptures in sound" have become the first instance of a sound art exhibit winning the Tate gallery's annual Turner Prize, and are likely to reinvigorate interest in the field.

Philipsz's sound installations have been shown at the Guggenheim in New York, the São Paulo Bienniale, and the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. Her latest project, Surround Me, sets her Elizabethan madrigals ringing out in the yards and alleys of London's old financial district. Read more.

Aspen Daily News (CO):

When Aspen Skiing Co., representatives and directors at the Aspen Art Museum joined forces earlier this year to ask Scottish artist Susan Philipsz to install some of her work on Snowmass Ski Area, little did they know that Philipsz would be receiving one of the most prestigious awards the international art community has to offer just days before her work was to open in Snowmass.

Philipsz’ sound installation art work opened Friday on the Trestle Bridge, on a run that connects the Big Burn and Sheer Bliss lifts on Snowmass.

The piece features Philipsz singing the Fleet Foxes’ song “White Winter Hymnal” unaccompanied. The combination of morbid lyrics and Philipsz’ melodious voice transform the tune into an eerily fantastical meditation.

“I think it might work on different levels,” said Philipsz. “An unaccompanied voice has a lot of associations with it, and I thought the lyrics would really resonate in Snowmass. The song begins with the repetition of ‘I was following the pack,’ over and over again. I think the loops will resonate with the skier. For some it will only register for a moment in a subliminal way, while others might stop and contemplate it.” Read more.

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December 11, 2010

Bubs do Glee

Well I at first missed this interesting piece of news as it turns out the Tufts Beelzebubs provided the arrangements and backup vocals for Glee's newest music group, the Dalton Academy Warblers. The "Teenage Dream" number was a huge success and was follwed up with Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” in New Directions’ Sectionals showdown last week.

Beelzebubs President Eli Seidman, Business Manager Evan Powell, Music Director Penn Rosen, and Historian Kent McCann spoke with Entertainment Weekly about lending their voices to a hit television show.

Read the interview here.

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December 8, 2010

Ben Fold's blog

Another great show tonight but two more groups had to go and the judges sent The Whiffenpoofs and the high schoolers Eleventh Hour home. Ben Folds is so personable and is the kind of guy I would love to hang with. He is also a good writer and you can read his blog about the show here.

Posted by acapnews at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

December 7, 2010

‘The Sing Off’ Stands Out for NBC

New York Times

In one of the few true ratings surprises of the fall television season, a second edition of the NBC a cappella singing competition, “The Sing Off,” burst out as a conspicuous success Monday night, posting some of the best numbers of the year for any show on that network.

The two-hour edition of “The Sing Off,” which introduced 10 singing groups in a competition for one of the punier prizes in network reality competitions – $100,000 – averaged a little over 8.5 million viewers and performed strongly among the younger adult viewers that NBC always prefers.

In the 18- to 49-year-old audience segment, “The Sing Off” scored a 2.8 rating for its two-hour length, the second-best number on the night, topped only by CBS’s strong lineup of comedies.

The show was helped by some less-than-stellar competition on the other networks, as ABC’s effort to sell “Skating With the Stars,” as a spin-off of its big hit “Dancing With the Stars,” has flopped, with only 4.8 million viewers and just a 1 rating among that 18 to 49 group; and Fox failed to stir much interest with a new awards show, the American Country Awards, which only averaged about six million viewers and a 1.5 rating in that younger adult group.

But the competition on cable was – on paper anyway – hugely formidable because ESPN had its most anticipated “Monday Night Football” game in years, with the Patriots playing the Jets for first place. The game was a bust, however, with New England routing New York.

NBC itself had modest expectations for “The Sing Off,” hoping it might manage to reach a 2 rating in that 18 to 49 audience segment. The show averaged about a 2.3 last year in its first iteration, but did not attract much attention either in the media or in word of mouth.

This year, however, many reviewers were enthusiastic. And the continuing success of the music-based “Glee” on Fox may have increased interest in musical shows.

The downside for NBC is that the show only has five editions, (one more on Wednesday, two next week and then one the following Monday.) Under the current plan, it will wrap up on the Monday before Christmas, so it is unlikely the show could be expanded, as Fox often does with its singing competition, “American Idol.”

But given its strong start, “The Sing Off” is likely to accomplish the network’s chief goal, which was to keep Monday night’s ratings from plummeting during the holiday weeks.

Wow! 8.5 million viewers! A cappella is happenin' baby!

Posted by acapnews at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2010

Sing Off's season opener a delight!

Well I thoroughly enjoyed tonight's opening show of The Sing-Off and thought all the groups did very well. Every group delivered a solid performance with some remarkably strong leads, interesting arrangements and of course plenty of choreography. The judges' comments were, I feel, more appropriate and thoughtful than last year (Ben Folds is insightful as ever) but they did have to send the first two groups home namely Men of Note and Pitch Slapped. I had to smile when judge Shawn made gentle fun of the Whiffenpoofs and their claim of being "the a cappella group that started it all" although I must say their performance was particularly strong tonight.

A nice variety and although skewing quite young it was refreshing to see Jerry Lawson and his group perform. However Nicole, please do note that the rest of the original Persuasions might not appreciate the "godfathers of a cappella" comment about the Talk of the Town. Jerry was just one of the original Persuasions and still the only one to leave the group. The Persuasions meanwhile have just released a new recording.

For those who missed the show you can watch the entire episode for free at Hulu.com.

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Nota - All I Want For Christmas Is You

What a perfect way to get warmed up for both the Christmas season and the beginning of season 2 of the Sing Off. It seems the producers realize how special a cappella can be for Christmas music and have released the above video from last year's champs Nota. There is also a new CD release "Harmonies for the Holidays " featuring all of this year's contestants. Nota will be performing on Wednesday's show.

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December 5, 2010

Summoning Harmony on the Fly

New York Times:

Last year, in the debut season of “The Sing-Off” on NBC, Ben Folds proved himself to be one of the better reality-competition judges television has seen: knowledgeable, engaging, constructive rather than cruel. But as the show, which features a cappella groups competing for a top prize that includes a recording contract, prepares for its second season, there is one part of the judicial experience that Mr. Folds is not looking forward to reliving: those early elimination rounds, when groups get the boot after having had only a brief moment of national-TV exposure.

“I hate watching them walk off,” he said glumly. “I didn’t know about that part.”

Yet Mr. Folds, best known for his work in the alternative-rock group Ben Folds Five, will be back making those unkind cuts when Season 2 of “The Sing-Off” begins on Monday, as will the two other judges from Season 1, Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men and Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls. Their work may be that much harder this time around: an NBC spokeswoman said the open auditions that produced this year’s 10 finalists drew about 400 groups, twice as many as last year. Though the finalists last year weren’t exactly shabby, a bigger initial field could mean an even higher quality of competitors.

“If they’re all going to be twice as good, that’s going to be twice as tough to judge,” Mr. Folds said. “We have to hone our ear that much more.” Read lots more.

Posted by acapnews at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

December 4, 2010

Maccabeats goes viral

Here's the latest viral a cappella YouTube hit with over a million views in just the past few days. The Jewish a cappella group from Yeshiva University posted a remake of Taio Cruz's song "Dynamite." Their version, to reflect the holiday, is called "Candlelight," and references Hanukkah traditions like making latkes and spinning dreidels.

Posted by acapnews at 12:06 AM | Comments (1)

December 3, 2010

Groups don't need 'Glee' effects on 'Sing Off'

St. Louis Post Dispatch (MO):

Voices aren't really all that important in today's overproduced, Auto-Tuned popular music. Not so on "The Sing Off," NBC's competition for a cappella singing groups, which begins its second season Monday. Ten groups — as diverse as high schoolers from Kettering, Ohio; elderly soul singers from Oakland, Calif.; and Yale University's famed Whiffenpoofs — will perform over 10 hours and five weeks, culminating in a Dec. 20 finale.

As judge Shawn Stockman, who sang a cappella with Boyz II Men, puts it: "People don't really understand how hard it is to sing with no instrumentation, no band, no fireworks." But the best a cappella groups create fireworks of their own, using only their voices, as this show again proves.

Credit "Glee" for spawning "The Sing Off," which NBC dreamed up after seeing Fox's musical dramedy become a TV sensation. But while complaints about how heavily "Glee" relies on elaborate staging and post-production tricks have mounted in its second season, "The Sing Off" goes back to the source.

People have come together to sing since the ancient Greeks, raising their voices in church choirs and barbershop quartets, community choruses and school glee clubs. The Whiffenpoofs, founded in 1909 at Yale University, claim credit as the country's first a cappella collegiate singing group.

The most touching story in the premiere comes from Jerry Lawson, former lead singer of the Persuasions who says he's been singing for 61 years. "I walked away from a cappella after 40 years," then hit bottom, says Lawson, who's now "born again" with Oakland's Talk of the Town. "We didn't invent a cappella, but we sort of feel like the godfathers."

Touching stories aside, "The Sing Off" is about talent — "pure, raw, unadulterated talent," as Stockman puts it. In fact, the level of talent seems almost impossible in Season 2, after more groups discovered the show and clamored to compete. The talent "is clearly stepped up a notch from what Season 1 was," host Nick Lachey (98 Degrees) says. "And I was blown away by Season 1." Read more.

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December 2, 2010

A cappella Grammy nominations

As usual a cappella recordings managed to snag several Grammy nominations. Its always nice to get the recognition and congratulations to the nominees.

Best Classical Crossover Album:-

Vocabularies - Bobby McFerrin

Best Choral Performance:-

Baltic Runes - Paul Hillier, conductor (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir)

Best Traditional World Music Album:-

Grace - Soweto Gospel Choir

Pure Sounds - Gyuto Monks Of Tibet

Best Small Ensemble Performance:-

Ceremony And Devotion - Music For The Tudors
Harry Christophers, conductor; The Sixteen

Victoria: Lamentations Of Jeremiah
Peter Phillips, conductor; The Tallis Scholars

Whitacre, Eric: Choral Music
Noel Edison, conductor; Elora Festival Singers (Carol Bauman & Leslie De'Ath)

Best Engineered Album, Classical:-

Vocabularies - Steve Miller, Allen Sides & Roger Treece, engineers (Bobby McFerrin)

Posted by acapnews at 9:12 PM | Comments (0)

December 1, 2010

America's Got Talent auditions

The casting agent for America's Got Talent contacted me to say they would love to have a cappella groups audition for their next season. If anybody is interested we can set up an scheduled date. More info here.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)