February 29, 2012
The passing of a Monkee
Sad news about the passing of Davy Jones today. He was only 66. Here is a clip of the Monkees singing a cappella from the Monkees Christmas Special in 1967. They were childhood favorites and it was a thrill for me many years ago when Peter Tork, a then neighbor, was a judge at the Harmony Sweepstakes.
February 28, 2012
Murga - Choir Competitions In The Streets
Uruguay boasts that it has the longest Carnival celebration not just in Latin America, but the world. The 40-day celebration is dotted with makeshift stages all around the capital city of Montevideo for performances of choral music called murga. Murga is both entertainment and a sociopolitical commentary that survived the military dictatorship of the 1970s.
Murga songs like "Los Curtidores de Hongos," which tells the story of the oldest murga choir in Uruguay, feature a guttural, forceful tone of singing that has been with the style from the beginning. Eduardo Rabelino, director of the Museum of Carnaval in Montevideo, says murga began in the working class. Street salesmen would sing in the same tone that they'd shout out on the streets.
Some were born of labor unions, Rabelino says. Six or seven street musicians who'd get together to have a good time and sing about what was happening in society. The tradition came to Uruguay via Cadíz, Spain, more than 100 years ago, where there is a similar choral music called chirigota. Today, a murga choir is made up of 13 voices singing complex harmonies, accompanied by three percussionists plus a choral director.
The performers wear elaborate, circus-like costumes and makeup, and compete every Carnaval. Now some choirs even have sponsors and CDs. But they still parody the talk of the town that year — be it corrupt politicians, a spike in violence or that annoying recording you get when you call for a taxi. Listen or Read more.
February 27, 2012
Ladies rule in DC
In what I am pretty sure is a Harmony Sweeps first the Mid-Atlantic event this weekend was swept by all-female performers. First, second and third place along with audience favorite were all won by ladies only groups. Pictured above are the champs GQ who will be going on to San Francisco and the National Finals.
February 23, 2012
2012 Harmony Sweeps kicks off with a sell out
The first event of this season of the Harmony Sweepstakes begins this weekend with the Mid-Atlantic show at the venerable Birchmere music hall in Virginia. The show has already sold out so sorry no more tickets left. To keep up with the events do please Like the Sweeps Facebook page where we will be posting results. Tickets are available for the other shows but buying your tickets soon is advised.
February 22, 2012
Opportunity for a cappella groups
A Universal rep has contacted me to ask to get the word out on a competition they are having for a cappella groups. Selected groups will open for the Aussie vocal group Human Nature on their spring US tour. Human Nature has made a name for itself playing for the past two years at the Imperial in Las Vegas doing a mostly Motown tribute show. You can learn more on their web site but do read the small print where they say selected groups are responsible for their own travel expenses to the venue. There is no mention of any pay...
February 21, 2012
A Vocal Quartet Takes On Death
It's been about three decades since pre-Baroque music began to be revived in a big way. A whole constellation of big-name vocal superstars has evolved, with Anonymous 4, The Tallis Scholars and the late Montserrat Figueras among the firmament. But now a new generation of early music experts has come of age — and their numbers include the vocal quartet New York Polyphony, traveling with the tag line "Early music. Modern sensibility."
Marrying new technology to music is a particular passion for this group (countertenor Geoffrey Williams, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, bass Craig Phillips and, on this recording, tenor Geoffrey Silver, who has since left and been replaced with Steven Caldicott Wilson, pictured above). They've positioned themselves as a kind of a cappella Kronos Quartet eager to push the boundaries of the expected, from their performance of a Missa Charles Darwin by Gregory Brown at TedX Woods Hole to an animated video they created for music by the largely forgotten 15th-century composer Lionel Power.
There are dozens (and frankly probably hundreds) of excellent recordings in the catalogue that revolve around two staple subjects: romantic love and religious devotion. But for their latest album, New York Polyphony turned to matters that feel far more pressing in our own turbulent and too often violent era: death, loss and the sobering prospect of having to face one's own mortality.
To this end, the group assembled music mostly from Franco-Flemish composers from the first half of the 16th century. That sounds rather dry, until one takes into account what a hideously violent and uncertain era it was — one bedeviled by warfare, religious persecution, famine and plague. As the text of the affecting work attributed to Josquin Desprez included here, Abasalon Fili Mi, an exquisitely somber musical portrait of Biblical fathers mourning their dead sons, has it: "I shall live no longer/but descend weeping into hell." Read more.
February 18, 2012
What's the lifespan of a singer's voice?
Before Whitney Houston died last week, there was talk of the 48-year-old legendary vocalist staging a comeback. It wouldn't have been easy: Somewhere between the years of Houston mesmerizing fans with the resonating "you" in "I Will Always Love You" and the demise of Being Bobby Brown, Houston's voice had deteriorated.
What is the normal life span of a voice? Can training or techniques prevent aging of the vocal cords, and can surgery -- or a special gel -- correct it?
Think of a singer as an athlete, experts suggest. "Just like any other muscle, it's a physical thing," said Andrea Leap, a professional singer and voice instructor at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. "It depends on the use. If you stopped walking up the stairs every day, it would get harder. It's exactly the same thing for the voice. Muscles do lose strength and agility as they age, so more effort is required in continuing that."
Even with good health habits, however, vocal cords stiffen with age.
"As the vocal membranes are used more,they become fibrous and stiff with a diminished amplitude of vibration," said Dr. Steven Zeitels, Professor of Laryngeal Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
"Consequently you have to use more air pressure from the lungs to drive the vocal cords into vibration. This occurs from decades of voice use so that the vocal cords become worn out as an individual ages." Read more.
Heard Tony Bennett the other day and he still sounds great! Take care of that instrument folks - you can't go buy a new one.
February 15, 2012
Margaret sings Cheryl
Another long-time a cappella friend of mine Margaret Dorn is also in the news as she has stepped in to replace Cheryl Bentyne on the current Manhattan Transfer tour. Cheryl has been sidelined by a sudden illness but does plan on getting back on the road before long. I first met Margaret when she won the Harmony Sweepstakes singing with the Accidentals many years ago. I last had dinner with her when she was passing thru town as a backup singer for Bette Midler, a gig she has had for awhile. We hope Cheryl gets well soon but her spot is in great hands (voice) with the lovely and talented Margaret.
February 13, 2012
A cappella Grammy win
Congratulations to Eric Whitacre and his Grammy win last night for Light and Gold in the Best Choral Performance category. A cappella was featured in probably the best part of the show with Jennifer Hudson singing a moving a cappella intro to "I Will Always Love You" in a tribute to Whitney Houston. It was stunning! I'd like to see some of the big pop divas singing a cappella and not hide behind the sweetening that they all seem to employ. And how about just standing there and delivering a song rather than all this jumping all over the place. At one point last night a singer was wriggling around on the floor while singing. Jeez!
February 12, 2012
Joey in Africa
I've enjoyed knowing and working with Joey Blake over the many years and I see he is currently in Rwana on a field trip with Musicians Without Borders. He has been mentoring youth and older musicians and working with HIV patients. A veteran of Voicestra, SoVoSo and other top vocal groups he has been teaching at Berklee for several years now. Way to go Joey! Read about his trip here.
February 10, 2012
Adele sings a cappella
Adle is back and here she is singing a cappella from a clip from this Sunday's Sixty Minutes.
February 8, 2012
Whistling while you work a lost artistic form
Daily Illini (IL):
There is a musical skill accessible to almost anyone, and it crosses nearly all genres of American music — the simple art of whistling. From the soulful ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,’ the effortlessly cool ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ to Snow White and her woodland creatures’ sunny tune, ‘Whistle While You Work,’ — whistling is part of the musical experience.
“Whenever I’m walking around this campus, I’m always whistling,” said John Wagstaff, head of the Music and Performing Arts Library. “Maybe it’s because I’m a musician, but I’ve always got music going through my head. And sometimes, I’m just so excited about the pieces going through my head, that I have to go and externalize it by starting to whistle.”
Wagstaff said whistling is a great form of self-expression, and is a wonderful, cheerful activity that lifts one’s mood. Whistling’s benefits include the fact that it is great lung exercise, a mood elevator and a stress reducer, according to professional whistler Robert Stemmons in an NPR interview.
While whistling has made its way into mainstream music, such as Maroon 5’s ‘Moves Like Jagger’ or Britney Spears’ ‘I Wanna Go,’ whistling seems to not be held in as high esteem as it was during its golden age in early 20th Century Vaudeville. “I almost think there is a little bit of a revival of whistling in some music, but it may be viewed a little more casually than it used to be,” said John Sterr, senior in FAA.
According to the music periodical BRIO, whistling was a popular form of variety entertainment on the music hall and Vaudeville scenes of Europe and America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many professional whistlers would whistle songs as well as do birdcalls and other wildlife impressions.
“I think people liked hearing the whistling because they all felt like they could do it, and if they worked hard enough at their own whistling, maybe they could be just as good as that person on stage,” Wagstaff said. Read more.
February 6, 2012
Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!
Can dragapella save a presidential campaign that suddenly seems to be hitting the skids, entertainment-wise? The Kinsey Sicks hope so. The Sicks are four men in red-white-and-blue drag, a “beautyshop” quartet singing a cappella parodies. Their new show at Theater J, “Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!”, is a mock political rally pushing the red-meat buttons of the right as this frisky foursome tries to become the first corporation to win the White House.
“I’ll defend ya/ From Kenya /Through the millennia,” the Kinseys sing, with the backup harmonies goofily emphasizing that they are “Not from Kenya /Not from Kenya.” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General’s Song” from “The Pirates of Penzance” gets rendered as “I am the very model of a moderate Republican,” even though the Sicks gradually agree that “The ‘moderate’ in ‘moderate Republican’ is silent, like the ‘p’ in ‘psoriasis.’ ”
It’s a show in which Mitt Romney is gleefully referred to as Mitzi. So what’s not to like? Read more.
February 3, 2012
How Low Can You Go?
The hunt is on to find a singer with a seriously low range to record a new composition. Decca has launched an international talent quest in the hopes of discovering the lowest-voiced singer in the world.
The classical label was set to record a new album of works by Welsh choral composer Paul Mealor, whose radiantly beautiful motet Ubi caritas was commissioned by Prince William and Kate Middleton and premiered at the royal wedding last year.
But there's a minor hitch: he's written a choral work, De Profundis, that features the lowest note ever notated for the human voice. The offending E resides almost three octaves below Middle C in the nether regions of a standard piano keyboard, and sounds at 329 Hertz to be exact.
Basses wanting to give their vocal cords a workout in the competition may be daunted by the fact that the E is six notes below the lowest ever written for a choral piece (a pesky B-flat from Rachmanivov’s Vespers) and a whole tone lower than the Guinness World Record-holding F-sharp.
It is thought that this pitch has never been voiced in the history of Western music – Decca may have to import a Mongolian throat-singer if the recording is to go ahead without revisions to the piece. More info.
February 2, 2012
Children's choir to sing at Super Bowl
A group of children from Indianapolis get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing during the Super Bowl on Sunday. The Indianapolis Children’s Choir will provide 45 young singers to back up Kelly Clarkson during the National Anthem on Sunday. The choir’s founder, Henry Leck, says he was working with the Super Bowl Host Committee for two years in hopes of playing a role in the festivities. The kids found out that they would be singing nearly two weeks ago, but they have had to keep it quiet until now. Leck says they have created a special four part arrangement for Clarkson to sing.