April 30, 2013

'Battle Hymns' review: war transcended

San Francisco Chronicle:

The performers in composer David Lang's choral-dance work "Battle Hymns" don't make an entrance in the usual sense. They muster, and they fall in.

At several points during Saturday afternoon's performance at the Kezar Pavilion - one of four given over the weekend by Volti and the San Francisco Choral Society in collaboration with the Leah Stein Dance Company and the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir - doors opened all along the sides of the space, and masses of singers in military garb streamed in. As if in answer to a bugle call, they gathered in the large central area, then arrayed themselves in precise lines and began to sing.

In the big opening movement, Lang takes the letter written by Union Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife - a letter made famous by Ken Burns' PBS documentary - and cuts it into phrases. Then he sets them in alphabetical order, producing a sort of free-floating evocation of the fog of war.

The music, beautifully sung by the chorus, treads a similar line between specificity and vagueness. At first, Lang deploys only a single four-note motif (a cousin to the central material in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Little Match Girl Passion"), repeated in stark and unvaried iterations. But then the harmonies begin to spread, filling in the vocal spaces and also blurring in the reverberant acoustics of the Pavilion.

"Battle Hymns" has its share of magical moments, including a gorgeous and all-too-brief passage in which members of the children's chorus hum with their hands over their mouths to produce a Ligetiesque swirl of sound. And there are others in which Lang seems to be stretching meager material past the point of overuse.

Still, "Battle Hymns" concludes on a transcendent note, with a surrealist and practically wordless setting based on Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer." Suddenly, all the regimentation of the staging is jettisoned, as the performers mill about the space singing suspended harmonies at the edge of audibility. The effect is intoxicating and powerful. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 27, 2013

Michael Buble and N7 sing in the subway

New York Daily News:

This is one way to brighten up a morning commute. New York subway riders were pleasantly surprised Thursday when Michael Buble decided to put on an impromptu acappella show between subway stops.


The crooner belted out the ballad “Who's Lovin' You,” off his latest album “To Be Loved.” Buble looked very dapper dressed in a black suit and tie as he serenaded the subway crowd that took video and snapped photos of the 37-year-old singer.

Buble was joined by the band Naturally 7 as his backup singers at the W. 66th Street stop. Buble's new album was just released last week featuring a whole new list of dance-worthy tunes. See video.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 26, 2013

Rockwell’s Barbershop Quartet

Saturday Evening Post:

Norman Rockwell did such a remarkable job capturing the singers’ expressions as they hit the perfect note, we wish we could turn up the volume on this 1936 classic. Evoking the turn of the century era, perhaps the Gay ’90s, he is able to indulge his love of costumes and further authenticates the scene with meticulous attention to detail; the shaving brush and mug, straight razor, even a well-used comb that is missing a few teeth (click on images for larger view).

The cover models were all residents of New Rochelle, New York, where Rockwell lived and worked for the first 25 years of his career. The barber on the left was actually a barber by trade. The gentleman in the red vest, to his right, was a member of the town’s fire department. Rockwell’s assistant Carl Johnson made an appearance, too, wearing a bow tie and holding a comb. And on the far right we find customer Walter Beach Humphrey, a friend of Rockwell’s and an illustrator for the Post.

Rockwell slyly adds a touch of humor to the illustration with a rather naughty copy of The Police Gazette. From the mid-1800s through the 1920s in particular, the Gazette was a “gentleman’s” magazine focused on the lurid. It sensationalized murders and women outside the bounds of propriety, strippers and burlesque dancers, and like straight razors and lavender pomade, no old-time barbershop was without the latest issue. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 24, 2013

Agony, Ecstasy, Irony: The Fight For The Soul Of College A Cappella

NPR - Linda Holmes- Culture blog

Saturday night at Town Hall in New York, the Nor'easters of Northeastern University in Boston were crowned national champions at the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), the entirely real battle dramatized in last summer's surprise hit Pitch Perfect.

On the same night, the organizers announced from the stage that 19 Entertainment, which produces American Idol, was creating a reality series following the groups through the competition. And NBC has announced that it's bringing back The Sing-Off, its a cappella series that was previously believed to be dead. Thus, the Saturday night competition took place while this style of music is having a bit of a moment, from which its advocates didn't shy away — "This is the real Pitch Perfect," went the on-stage introduction.

You should know, though, that there is a big lie surrounding college a cappella.

The big lie, perpetrated by the movie — aside from the fact that nobody wears precisely matching sparkly costumes like that — is that college a cappella is dominated by mobs of twee goobers standing around singing cheesy '80s/'90s music with enormous grins on their faces. This is not the case. In fact, after hearing the first seven songs, I turned to the friend who attended the show with me and said, "So at this point, the most upbeat song has been 'Cry Me A River.'"

Read more.

An interesting read on this influential blog. Although I'm most pleased that collegiate a cappella is getting so much attention I do hope that media writers pay attention to the much wider (and varied) world on non-collegiate a cappella. There's much more to a cappella than covers of recent pop hits and large ensemble harmony.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 23, 2013

Pitch Perfect-Like Unscripted Series In the Works from Idol Producers

Huffington Post

Following the success (and recent sequel greenlight) of Universal's "Pitch Perfect," it looks like everyone wants to jump on the a cappella bandwagon.

According to Deadline, "American Idol" production company 19 Entertainment -- along with parent company CORE Media -- have signed a deal with a cappella organization Varsity Vocals, the creative minds behind the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, "to develop a show built around the competition and the college students who participate in it." The deal will reportedly allow CORE to record the ICCA contest for television.

The show -- which is seemingly not being developed for any specific network at this stage -- will reportedly follow the ICCA "through the whole tournament series ... It’d show the groups going through all the rounds of the tournament leading up to the finals, and also show a bit of the students’ backgrounds,” in much the same vein as "Pitch Perfect," Newman told TVLine. Read more.

A cappella bandwagon? Hey, we don't need no wagon for our band; we are the band!

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 22, 2013

Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals line up

It has been a great season for the Harmony Sweepstakes with full houses of enthusiastic a cappella fans and talented winners throughout. Once again the National Finals promise to be an evening of top notch vocal harmony with the added excitement of the competition to determine who will be our next National Champions.

29th ANNUAL HARMONY SWEEPSTAKES A CAPPELLA FESTIVAL NATIONAL FINALS
Saturday May 18, 8pm
Marin Veterans Auditorium
San Rafael, California

More info on our web site

Ticket sales are very strong so be sure to get your seats soon.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 16, 2013

A cappella wins at the MTV Awards

Congratulations to the ladies of Pitch Perfect who won "Best Musical Moment" at the MTV Movie awards and to Rebel Wilson who won the "Breakthrough Performance" for her role in the movie. Above are Kelly Jakle, from left, Hana Mae Lee, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean and Rebel Wilson accepting the award.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 12, 2013

A cappella at the MTV Movie Awards

There's going to be some cool a cappella at the MTV Movie Awards this Sunday evening. The show is being co-hosted by Pitch Perfect's Rebel Wilson and there is to be a live reunion of the Bellas and Treblemakers. The Bellas have also been nominated in the "Best Musical Moment" category for "No Diggity". And today this new video was released promoting "Cups" from Pitch Perfect. Exciting times indeed for a cappella.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 8, 2013

Stile Antico gives early music a modern freshness

Boston Globe:

The presenter (the Boston Early Music Festival) and the program (a tour d’horizon of Renaissance choral music) might have indicated antiquity, but Stile Antico’s Friday concert was, in a way, a reminder that all concerts are new music concerts. Of course, even the oldest piece was new at some point, and performance is always an act of renewal, reintroducing music into the present. But Stile Antico, a 12-member British vocal ensemble, also exemplifies the way that the early-music movement itself is an artifact of the modern world, and how that movement has evolved its own versions of tradition and novelty.

Like modern-music performance practice, early music idealizes a combination of rarified specialization and free-ranging versatility. Stile Antico’s program traversed most of Europe and from the early 1500s to the early 1600s — and beyond. As if to honor the modern provenance of such ancient explorations, the group included a 21st-century piece, John McCabe’s “Woefully arrayed,” premiered by Stile Antico in 2009. The music is a contemporary amalgam, episodic illustrations of a 16th-century meditation on the sufferings of Jesus: harsh dissonance to disjunct lyricism to shimmering tonality. But the work’s demands were those common to early music and the avant-garde: clarity, virtuosity, and precision.

Stile Antico has a surfeit of such qualities. Its sound is an uncanny blend: Vowels were unerringly matched, and more than one interval was tuned with such exactitude that the overtones echoed as loud as the voices. Their meticulous ease illustrates how standard early-music vocal style — the straight-tone focus, the intimate austerity, individual lines arranged into burnished arcs — has become as much a vehicle as an interpretive end. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 6, 2013

Singing Sacred Songs in Secular Spots

New York Times:

On a recent Sunday afternoon, 17 people with sheet music gathered in a semicircle in the Graybar Passage at Grand Central Terminal. People streamed by. After a brief warm-up, the group’s conductor, John Hetland, dressed in dark jeans and a green plaid shirt, lifted his hands and the chorus began its a cappella rendition of a polyphonic hymn, “Kyrie,” by the 15th-century German composer Heinrich Finck.

The hallway filled with sound, the baritones roiling like cumulonimbus clouds, the altos and sopranos shooting through like light, the melodies intertwining. The voices carried down the hall and were faintly audible in the Main Concourse. A crowd gathered to listen, but no one gave money, because there was nowhere to put it. When the song was over, Mr. Hetland turned around to face the small audience.

“We’re the Renaissance Street Singers,” he said, “singing the music that we love to sing and to share.”

Founded in 1973, the singers are one of approximately 350 groups with public performance permits granted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the Music Under New York program, but they are perhaps the only one that does not accept donations. “I’ve been known to run after someone to give them back their $5,” said Mr. Hetland, the group’s founder. “We want to make it clear that the performances are free. We love to sing this music, and we enjoy it even more if someone else is listening.”

And so, two or three Sundays a month, the group performs 15th- and 16th-century hymns, magnificats, psalms, motets and other sacred music in a variety of public spaces in New York. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 5, 2013

Sara Barielles leaving the Sing-Off

Entertainment Weekly:

Sara Bareilles is leaving NBC’s competition series The Sing-Off. The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter wants to “focus on her music,” says a source close to Bareilles. She replaced original Sing-Off judge Nicole Scherzinger for the show’s third season after Scherzinger departed to Fox’s X Factor.

The move creates at least one opening on the judges panel for the lively a cappella competition. The show is being overhauled for its upcoming fourth round by its new executive producer — The Voice and Survivor guru Mark Burnett. It’s not yet clear if there are more departures to come.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM

April 2, 2013

Finland’s Shouting Men’s Choir Will Make Your Ears Bleed

Shouting is what some men do best. And when a group of such men get together, you can hardly expect to hear something musical. But that’s what makes the Shouting Men’s Choir in Oulu, northern Finland, so special. The men shout, and it becomes music.

The choir consists of 30 men who generally dress in black suits for their performances. Most locals consider the choir to be a product of long nights in a town with little to do, the north-Finnish sense of humor that borders on the absurd, and of course, a steady supply of vodka. Mika Ronkainen, a local filmmaker, made a documentary film with the choir and its founder as the subject, called Mieskuoro Huutajat. That translates to Screaming Men. It was the first Finnish film to be accepted at the Sundance Festival, and also the first to get international distribution. I saw a short clip from the film on YouTube, in which Petri Sirvio, the founder and director of the Shouting Men’s choir says that the best part of the group’s performance is the element of surprise. “I trained them quite well,” he says rather unabashedly.

Their act is indeed surprising. When you look at all the ‘men in black’ standing in formation with somber expressions, you would expect them to break into something musical. But they open their mouths to release a quick shout, almost like a bark. It does cause a bit of a shock, no matter how prepared you think you are for it. Sirvio conducts the whole time, but somehow the experience isn’t very orchestra-like. The Shouting Men’s choir makes about 5 to 8 tours a year and want to someday get invited to perform at the White House. The group has been in existence for more than 20 years now. Some of the members are actually professional musicians, while others are just passionate about shouting. They perform a variety of pieces ranging from their own versions of national anthems to children’s nursery rhymes, and one of their singles called Our Northern Native Land was a top-10 hit. Each performance is a heady mix of both discipline and abandon.

Read more and watch a video.

Posted by acapnews at 12:00 AM