March 30, 2011

Gangster a cappella

Chicago Sun-Times

Ask a tourist or a local to imitate the sound they most associate with mythologized underworld thug Al Capone, and you’re far more likely to hear the rat-a-tat-tat of a tommy gun than the lilting strains of “Madonna Mia.”

A love song that was transcribed, or written down, by the musically inclined Capone while he did time in Alcatraz for tax evasion, “Madonna Mia” came to the public’s attention a couple of years ago when New York-based historical documents dealer Kenneth W. Rendell put Capone’s inscribed, handwritten score up for sale.

Not long ago, Rich Larson of the locally rooted assembled musicians to record a version that features several instrumentalists and two vocalists. Now it’s been gussied up even more — sans instruments. In concerts Friday through April 10, as part of a program that traces the city’s history through music, Chicago A Cappella will perform a voice-only rendition in nine-part harmony.

“I’m trying to describe this music to people who’ve never heard it, and it sounds to me like early ’50s, late 1940s kind of pop,” says Matt Greenberg, who’ll sing the solo part accompanied by a vocal sinfonietta of sorts, complete with horns and violins. “Think of Perry Como, Vic Damone, Al Martino — kind of the B-level. Not quite Sinatra’s quality. But it’s this kind of croony, sentimental love song.”

A sample: “In a quaint Italian garden/While the stars were all aglow/Once I heard a lover singing/To the one that he loved so.”

Awww. Kind of makes you forget how allegedly handy Big Al was with a baseball bat.

But Chicago A Cappella music director Patrick Sinozich, who arranged the tune, was unfazed by Capone’s shady persona. That aspect, in fact, never occurred to him. The piece, he says, fits perfectly with the program’s other selections, such as a campaign song for Abraham Lincoln and a setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Prayers of Steel.”

“My initial opinion was this is very charming, slightly cheesy, but very sincere and very much of the time period.” Read more.

March 29, 2011

Magnets on Comic Relief

A most worthwhile and fun annual tradition in the UK is Red Nose Day, a fundraiser for charity. It has been held for what must be a couple of decades by now and has raised multiple millions. All kinds of people don a big red nose and go about their daily business wearing these bulbous protrusions with hilarity often ensuing. There is also a full night on BBC called Comic Relief and this year The Magnets appeared on the show while up to some mischief in the local Sainsbury store.

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March 26, 2011

These Guys are cool guys

Southern California group These Guys are competing in the upcoming Los Angeles Harmony Sweepstakes and have created this novel YouTube clip to promote the event. The clip is kinda cool and it's for sure going to be a great show - one of the best LA line-ups in years which is no small matter considering LA has produced more National Champions than any other region.

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March 24, 2011

TV opportunities for groups

I have just been contacted by producers of two shows who are both looking for a cappella groups. A new show called America Sings is soon to debut on the Gospel Channel and is to be hosted by Drew Lachey. It is a competition for singing groups with the top prize of $10,000. They will be both showing your video clip on the show plus sending out crews for background. A cappella groups of all styles are welcome to apply by sending them a short video clip of you performing. Contact Lisa Kane at 818-954-0473 or for more info.

Also the talent director of America's Got Talent is now a producer of Simon Cowell's new show The X Factor and she has alerted me to the upcoming audition cities. She strongly recommends that you audition as they are looking for singing groups just like yours! See the audition info here.

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March 23, 2011

Glee's Warblers to release CD

Introduced this season the Warblers, the arch rival of New Directions, have become quite the hit on Glee. Most of the vocals are actually sung by the Tufts University Beelzebubs and now The Warblers are to have their very own CD on Columbia Records to be released on April 9th. Once again featuring The Beelzebubs the recording will incude such hits as Destiny Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills", P!nk's "Raise Your Glass", Train's "Hey Soul Sister" and Wings' "Silly Love Songs".

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March 19, 2011

A Baltic Tradition’s Youthful Voice

New York Times:

Evidence of a lively choral music tradition flourishing among the Baltic nations has been with us for some time now: in splendid recordings the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has made for Harmonia Mundi and ECM, and in ravishing performances by the Latvian National Choir at Lincoln Center last year.

Add to their ranks Kamer , a celebrated youth chorus from Riga, Latvia, which made its New York debut on Thursday evening with a brief but thrilling concert in the Jerome Robbins Theater at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Founded in 1990 at Riga State High School No. 1 by the conductor Maris Sirmais, who led most of this concert, Kamer ... (Latvian for “while”) is made up of 70 vocalists from 16 to 30 years old. About half that many fresh-faced young men and women sang here. But their sound was substantial, as you would expect from an organization with a formidable tally of international competition awards to its credit.

The program, “The Madrigals of Love,” consisted chiefly of well-made, euphonious modern Latvian love songs, including selections by Rihards Dubra, Juris Vaivods, Margeris Zarins and Arturs Maskats. A clutch of minor but attractive Western European madrigals from the 16th through 19th centuries - led by Janis Liepins, a chorister and Kamer ...’s tousle-haired second conductor - showed the group’s estimable command of English, German and French.

But on hearing Kamer ...’s bright sound, clear diction and sumptuous blend, you understood immediately what prompted substantial contemporary composers like Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks and John Luther Adams to create new works for it. Read more.

This group was the runaway hit at the ACDA convention in Chicago and we sold every one of their CDs. There was a strong contingent from the Baltic region at the convention and I enjoyed meeting and working with many of them.

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Music Therapy Helps Gabrielle Giffords Find Her Voice

ABC Good Morning America:

It has been two months since the Tucson shooting spree that killed six people and injured 12, including Arizona Rep.Gabrielle Giffords. Now Giffords, who survived a gunshot wound to the left hemisphere of her brain, is finding her voice through song.

"Gabby responds to music because she knows a lot of songs," said Maegan Morrow, Giffords' music therapist and a certified brain injury specialist at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston.

Since Giffords was transferred to TIRR Jan. 21, reports of her singing "Happy Birthday" for husband Mark Kelly and Don McLean's "American Pie" have signaled what some have called a miraculous recovery.

"The brain can heal itself if you do the right protocol," Morrow said. "It just needs lots of repetition, lots of consistency."

Protocols like music speech stimulation and melodic intonation therapy can help patients with damage to the brain's communication center, like Giffords, learn to speak again.

"It's creating new pathways in the brain," Morrow said. "Language isn't going to work anymore, so we have to go to another area and start singing and create a new pathway for speech." Read more.

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March 17, 2011

Crystal Cathedral asks choir to sign anti-gay paper

San Francisco Chronicle (CA):

Several choir members at Orange County's Crystal Cathedral say they're upset over a document they've been asked to sign that takes a strong stand against homosexuality.

The "Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant" recently handed out to members states that they should commit to being Christians by following the Bible in every way, the Orange County Register reported Tuesday.

Former and current choir members say they are particularly offended by a statement in the document that refers to homosexuality. Longtime church members say this is the first time they have seen the cathedral take a firm stand against homosexuality.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of the founder and senior pastor of the megachurch, issued a statement saying the document is intended to "clarify expectations placed on them as ministry leaders." Don Neuen, the cathedral's longtime choir director, left the church last year because he disagreed with Gretchen Schuller Penner's view that choir members should be "vetted" to make sure they are good Christians, the Register reported.

Sigh.. I'm no theologian that's for sure but if the whole gay thing was so important why did Jesus not mention anything about it at all? Does the bible not say "We are all God's children." There are no qualifiers or exceptions so surely that must mean the gay folk as well. Making choirs members sign such a document is so very unChristian in my humble opinion. Imagine having to pass a" purity test" before you are allowed to sing in church. Sigh again..

Posted by acapnews at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2011

Harmony Sweeps shows this weekend

The 27th annual Harmony Sweepstakes has begun with Seattle's The Baudboys being the first regional winners at the Pacific Northwest this past Saturday. It has been close to a record year for group submissions and we are very pleased with the variety and talent of this year's groups.

There are three shows this coming Saturday March 19th in San Francisco, Denver and New York. Hope you can join us!

Posted by acapnews at 12:42 AM | Comments (1)

SNC Scores Summer Series

Harrah's Resort Atlantic City has once again booked Straight No Chaser for a 10 week summer engagement beginning June 21 thru Sept. 4. With such a busy touring schedule I'm sure the group members will be glad to settle in one place for awhile (along I imagine with a nice paycheck).

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March 15, 2011

Scandal over boys choir performing prison song

A YouTube video of boys from an award-winning chorus school performing a famous prison song has sparked controversy in Russia.

At the center of the scandal is the Boys Chorus Capella in the city of Perm, a prestigious singing school with almost 50 years of history. The kids are usually taught academic songs. However, a video uploaded to YouTube shows some 35 singers aged 10 to 12 performing with angelic voices a lowlier kind of song – the most famous Russian prison song Murka.

The boys, telling a story of a beauty who betrayed her criminal lover and his friends to the law and was killed in revenge, sparked fury on the internet. Some went as far as calling for those responsible to be promptly sent to the place where such music is more appreciated – a Siberian prison.

The origin of the controversial footage was easy to establish. It was produced by Ivan Kolpakov, editor-in-chief of a local news website, as a tongue-in-cheek present for the organizers of a “Russian chanson” festival held in early February.

Russian chanson has little to do with its French counterpart and is a euphemism for prison songs, although this music genre has incorporated much from non-criminal origins over the years. Kolpakov says he wanted to make a profoundly absurd response to the festival. Read more.

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March 14, 2011

A cappella madness

AOL is launching an online competition for collegiate a cappella groups called A Cappella Madness. The first round begins March 17th when groups can upload a video of themselves performing Katrina And The Waves' classic "Walking On Sunshine". Groups with the most online votes move to the next round and the winning group gets to record a music video in LA or NYC. More info.

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March 7, 2011

ACDA bound

I'm off today to the ACDA Convention in Chicago and not sure if I will have either the time or a computer connection to be able to blog this week. It's a very busy time indeed for me and look forward for the chance to see some of the performing groups such as Chanticleer, BYU Singers and Gold Company.

If any readers of this blog are also going to be there please stop by the booth and say hi.

Posted by acapnews at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 5, 2011

Knick Knack

I'm watching some Pixar short films with the kids on TV when this delightful one with an a cappella sound track came on. Luckily it's on YouTube so check it out. Pixar used to be literally right around the corner from the office and as I had a friend working there I did get to see some of these being made. This one is way cool.

Posted by acapnews at 6:43 PM | Comments (1)

March 4, 2011

Twenty Men, One Music Icon, A Few Beards


Take 20 men. Which isn't always easy, and sometimes involves some looking, and sometimes the men you want to take don't want to stop what they're doing. Like if they're working with a lathe, or reading a novel, or something.

Make sure those men can sing. And harder than just singing -- make sure they have stand-alone, a capella-nice voices. And confirm they like the memorable songs of one Leonard Cohen.

Then send them to the Echoplex, on Saturday, March 5, for a tune-filled night organized by brainy consortium 826LA. The 20-men group we're referring to here does actually have a name -- Conspiracy of Beards, which is catchy and old-timey and surely several other things ending in "y" -- and they hail from our friendly city up north, San Francisco.

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March 3, 2011

McFerrin says technology is making us impatient listeners

Huffington Post:

Bobby McFerrin was one of the speakers that took the stage at the 2011 TED conference in Long Beach, California. HuffPost Tech editor Bianca Bosker caught up with McFerrin after his performance. Here are a couple of quotes:-

“I think we’re losing our patience with listening. I know that when I’m listening on my iPod, I do a lot of searching–I’ll play twelve bars of a piece then say, ‘no, I don’t want to listen to that,’ then I go on to something else. When I was a kid growing up and we bought albums, we treated them with such reverence, we would listen to every single cut, first to last, whether we liked the pieces or not, we were patient enough to at least give the [pieces] a chance. I’m finding that in today’s technological world we’ve become more and more impatient, and that we don’t take time to let things soak or steep.”

He also talks about what inspires his music and not having any artist in the current music landscape that inspires him or that he finds “really genuine” as well as not using facebook or twitter. When asked what he thought of the aforementioned social media technologies, he had this to say:

“I always marvel that people are willing to share intimate secrets with people they barely even know. I keep my opinions to myself, they’re mine. I don’t feel like I need to share everything with other people. That’s one thing about technology–we almost feel like we’re obligated to talk about ourselves. Why? I don’t understand. [It's almost as though] if you’re not talking about yourself, you’re not being honest…I just don’t want to because I don’t think it’s important. People can be thinking about other things a lot more important than me.” Read the full interview here.

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March 2, 2011

At Fisk University, A Tradition Of Spirituals

NPR Weekend Edition:

The Fisk University Jubilee Quartet in 1909, from left: Alfred G. King (first bass), James A. Myers (second tenor), Noah W. Ryder (second bass) and John W. Work II (first tenor).

For nearly 150 years, a largely black private university in Nashville has prided itself on its liberal arts studies and its music. Vocal ensembles at Fisk University have been there about as long as the campus itself. But the songs performed there today could have sounded very different if it hadn't been for the efforts of one of the school's first music directors.

A new collection from Archeophone Records, an Illinois label that revives old recordings, not only preserves that effort but also reopens the debate on whether so-called Negro spirituals are simply cruel reminders of slavery. The collection is titled There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916.

Between 1909 and 1916, the Fisk Jubilee Quartet recorded more than 40 songs. John Work II was a scholar, musician and anthropologist who collected these songs from the days of slavery, had them published and recorded many of them with the quartet.

When Work came to Fisk University in 1891, the institution had already used music as a way to save the school from insolvency. The first Fisk Jubilee Singers toured the world, performing for Queen Victoria, among others. And what they were performing was just as significant: They switched from operatic arias to religious songs like "There Is a Balm in Gilead." But by the time Work came to Fisk, the choir had disbanded and was all but forgotten, in part because of those very songs. Listen here.

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March 1, 2011

Take 6 cancels

Detroit News (MI):

Take 6, the gospel sextet that was to perform Thursday at Orchestra Hall as part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Paradise Jazz Series, has canceled their appearance. The Nashville-based group was hired to replace jazz singer Bobby McFerrin, who bowed out last Thursday because of the musicians' strike, now entering its fifth month.

The DSO said in a release sent out Monday, Take 6 withdrew "due to pressure they and their families have been receiving from the union," citing phone calls, e-mails and Facebook wall posts.

When contacted, DSO spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt said she couldn't add anything beyond the official statement.

At mid-afternoon Monday, the Take 6 Facebook page had about a dozen postings imploring the a cappella group to back out of their Detroit appearance, and about an equal number — some from DSO musicians — praising them once they'd canceled.

In an official statement Take 6 members said they regretted their decision, and remain "hopeful that continued negotiations between the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the musicians' union will result in a positive outcome for everyone and that we will be invited back."

Take 6 manager Gene Dries declined to make the performers available for an interview, saying the group would have no further comment on the matter. "We just feel making no comment is clearly to the benefit of everyone involved," he said.

Well as a producer I have mixed feeling about unions (IATSA specifically) but certainly believe that folks have the right to stick together and a musician should not cross another musician's picket line.

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