October 30, 2012

Scotland Sings

Former Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus and singing group Musichoir sang in the streets a of Glasgow today to promote the upcoming "Scotland Sings". Part of Scotland’s Winter Festivals program, Scotland Sings is a new initiative designed to encourage people to sing in public in celebration of St Andrew’s Day. The program runs from the 30th November – 2nd December 2012. Learn more here.

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October 29, 2012

Choir of the Year winners

Congratulations the Glasgow's Les Sirenes who won the BBC's Choir of the Year competition this past weekend. Well done ladies!

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October 25, 2012

Ringing in New Works to Celebrate Longevity

New York Times

Now this is the way for an ensemble to celebrate an anniversary. The New York Virtuoso Singers, founded 25 years ago by the conductor Harold Rosenbaum, are an invaluable professional chamber choir that focuses on American contemporary music. For the group’s anniversary Mr. Rosenbaum commissioned 25 composers to write 25 works.

Understandably, the new pieces, most for a cappella choir, are relatively short. Still, this ambitious project shows an ensemble celebrating past accomplishments by furthering its artistic mission.

There was one problem with the program. The chosen composers, among them Fred Lerdahl, Bruce Adolphe, George Tsontakis, Jennifer Higdon, Steven Stucky, Shulamit Ran and John Harbison, write in various languages that explore modern harmony while maintaining loose ties to tonality. And there are only so many ways to compose for a cappella choir. Inevitably, many of these pieces had surface similarities. I almost longed for an example of steely 12-tone writing or undulant Minimalism. Read more.

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October 24, 2012

Winners of Lady Antebellum contest announced

Congratulations to Breath of Soul who won the Lady Antebellum a cappella contest and will open the Lady A show at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Not to take away from their win but I can't help noticing that the prize in the contest was to be flown to Nashville and provided with two nights accommodation. Breath of Soul in based in Nashville..

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October 23, 2012

Sing up! The rise of the choir

The Independent (UK):

A nationwide choral singing boom is giving fresh meaning to the sound of music, with new choirs popping up at the fastest rate in decades. Increasing numbers of people are starting their own vocal groups, inspired by the nation's new choirmaster-in-chief Gareth Malone, and shows such as The X Factor, or because they want to boost their wellbeing, mental or physical.

In the past 12 months, around 150 new groups have joined Making Music, which supports voluntary music groups, continuing its annual increase in newcomers. The growth in interest has overwhelmed the musical theatre industry, with casting directors forced to axe so-called "cattle calls" – open castings for West End shows – because they were being swamped by reality television rejects.

Robin Osterley, who heads Making Music, said people were more enthusiastic about singing than they had been for decades. He attributed the boom to "television shows, which have brought choirs to the forefront of people's attention," adding: "We all have an instinct to sing. The Zeitgeist is giving people impetus to go and sing with like-minded people." Read more.

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October 22, 2012

A cappella group perform at 49er halftime

Vallejo Times-Herald

Performing at half-time of the San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks game Thursday night may not have surpassed a Summer Olympics assignment, but it was right up there for Annabelle Marie. The director of the local children's a cappella group, VOENA, wrote a tribute song, "America," for the U.S. Olympians saluted at the game and her young singers pulled it off perfectly, she said Friday.

"It was definitely a 'Wow!' moment," Annabelle Marie said. "The kids were jumping like jackrabbits because they were so overly excited." About 65,000 fans heard the area youth sing after 58 Olympians were honored during the special ceremony.

"We stood behind them, waiting for the second quarter to finish," Annabelle Marie said. "Olympians past and present were talking with our kids and, of course, the kids were all wishing they had their cell phones to get pictures."

VOENA did a test run before the game, Annabelle said, and was fully prepared to sing it live when cued. "Faces all over the stadium lit up," she said. "Even the cheerleaders and the 49ers stopped in their tracks, explaining how they got goose bumps when they heard us." Read more.

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October 18, 2012

Swingle Singers host BBC's Choir of the Year show

As singing fever continues to spread across the nation, the UK’s most prestigious choral competition Choir of the Year, is preparing to bring London alive with music at its climactic Grand Final featuring some of the UK’s top singing talent.

Six of the UK’s leading vocal groups will battle it out to win the coveted title Choir of the Year 2012 at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank on Sunday 28 October 2012. Presented by Josie D’Arby and with special guest the Grammy Award winning The Swingle Singers, each choir will impress judges with their unique styles and challenging repertoire.

Over 5,000 singers from 138 singing groups entered the competition in auditions across the country. They have been whittled down to the final 6 choirs, with four choirs from each category – Youth, Adult, Children and Open – plus two ‘Wildcard’ winners left standing.

From a slick jazz a cappella ensemble from Oxford University, to an angelic primary school choir from Huddersfield the Grand Finalists will offer something for all musical tastes.

Singing is the UK’s most popular participatory group activity after sport. There are over 25,000 choirs, with 500,000 singers across the country reaching an audience of 3m. Regular group singing has proven health benefits, from improved breathing capacity and better posture to increased self-confidence and the feel good factor that comes from singing your heart out with a group of friends.

Choir of the Year is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Read more.

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October 17, 2012

Beloved Russian Sounds, A Cappella and Stirring

New York Times:

To anyone not in the know, the prospect might have seemed stern if not altogether forbidding: a full evening of a cappella singing by the Moscow Sretensky Monastery Choir. Clearly most of those in the large, and largely Russian-speaking, audience at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening knew better.

Only about a third of the program — not nearly enough for my taste — was devoted to music of the Russian Orthodox Church. The next third, straddling the intermission, offered Russian folk songs. And finally came a set of composed songs that have penetrated deep into the culture, to judge from the many listeners singing or clapping along, even when not encouraged to do so by the director, Nikon Zhila.

At least one major work based in Russian Orthodoxy, though written for concert purposes, has almost become part of the standard choral repertory in the West: Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, or All-Night Vigil. And the choir gave a lovely, restrained account of one number from that service, “Rejoice, O Virgin”: all subtlety and understatement of a sort the casual listener might not associate with Rachmaninoff.

There were also several works by Alexander Gretchaninov — more adventurous harmonically and delivered powerfully, almost aggressively at times — along with Pavel Chesnokov’s drone-generated “God Is With Us.”

The performances were everywhere wonderful, though with surprisingly little reveling in the subterranean bass notes that all Russian choirs cultivate. “The Horse,” by Igor Matvienko, came closest. Read more.

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October 11, 2012

Mice Can Sing!

CBS News:

The newest singing sensation in the animal kingdom? Mice. The creatures not only sing ultrasonic melodies high above sopranos, distinct from their regular squeaks, but they also learn new tunes from each other, researchers report today.

Song learning is known to exist in humans, dolphins, songbirds and parrots, but the new research overthrows a 50-year assumption that mouse vocalizing is inborn and instead shows that mice have a rudimentary vocal system to control their vocal cords and learn new tunes.

"The mouse brain and behavior for vocal communication is not as primitive and as innate as myself and many other scientists have considered it to be," senior author Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University, told LiveScience. "Mice have more similarities in their vocal communication with humans than other species like our closest relatives," Jarvis added, referring to chimpanzees.

Generally, vocalizing comes from a coordinated effort between the brain's motor cortex, which controls voluntary muscles, and the vocal cords in the larynx. Jarvis and colleagues found a rudimentary indirect connection in mice between the two, absent in chimpanzees and monkeys.

The findings may also impact human speech disorders such as those found in autism, commonly studied in mice genetically engineered to mimic the disorders. Jarvis, who studies how language works and evolves, set out to demonstrate and verify that mice didn't have brain connections to learn singing behavior.

In their study, the researchers destroyed the motor control region in mice and then tested their singing abilities. The altered mice could still sing, "but they weren't able to modulate or stay on pitch on their songs as they were before," Jarvis said.

The inborn ability to vocalize is built into the brain stem of mice, whereas pitch modulation and melody comes from the rudimentary motor control center, Jarvis hypothesized. Read more.

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October 10, 2012

Paschall Brothers sing at National Endowment for the Arts celebration

The Paschall Brothers, an a cappella gospel group, were honored in Washington, D.C., last week. The group, led by The Rev. Tarrence Paschall, was among nine winners of the 2012 Natonal Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowships, the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. The award comes with a $25,000 prize.

Fellowships were awarded Oct. 3 in a ceremony at the Library of Congress. The next night, the group and other artists performed in a concert held at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium.

"They've been inspired by the Golden Gate Quartet, among other popular groups," said Nick Spitzer, the emcee of the concert and host of public radio’s American Routes. "The Rev. Frank Paschall Sr. started singing gospel in the 1940s. His tradition is carried on by two generations of musical offspring." The Paschalls performed three songs, “Don’t Forget to Pray,” “You Better Run” and “Ease my Troubled Mind.” Read more.

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October 9, 2012

Vote in Lady Antebellum contest

Voting is now open to decide the winner of the Sing with Lady Antebellum contest. There are a half dozen finalists who all sound pretty good. Vote here.

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October 5, 2012

Beatles singing choir sets world record

To celebrate the 40 year anniversary of the release of the Beatles "Love Me Do" over 1,600 fans formed a choir today in Liverpool and sang the song a cappella setting a Guinness World Record.

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October 2, 2012

A cappella - Gangham Style

Released today. Pentatonix. Gangham style. In Korean! Wow!

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October 1, 2012

Q&A with Rockapella's Scott Leonard

The Breeze - Madison University:

Scott Leonard, principal songwriter for Rockapella, revealed what it’s like performing for a college audience, the challenges of working without instruments and some of the group’s most memorable gigs. Read the interview here.

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