May 29, 2013
Tech Minstrels Seek a High Note
Wall Street Journal:
What does it take to grab the attention of a room full of tech investors and entrepreneurs sipping red wine and gin and tonics? A little Lady Gaga never hurts.
On a recent evening, New York City's self-proclaimed all-tech a cappella group silenced a crowd filled with venture-capital investors—a rare feat under any circumstances—at the annual DFJ Gotham Ventures dinner at the Standard Hotel just by singing on pitch without accompaniment.
They call themselves NYC#. Depending on the crowd, the superscripted # can stand for either sharp or hashtag. The singers range in age from 26 to 33 years old and hail from companies within the growing New York tech scene, such as Foursquare and the Startup Institute of New York. In their day jobs, they work in digital marketing, sales and UX design.
Their Silicon Alley experience has taught them the value of adapting to their audience. The group changed some of the lyrics to the singer Lady Gaga's ballad "You and I" to reflect the oft-fraught relationship between entrepreneurs and investors.
"It's been four years since our Demo Day/Passed on both our seed round and our Series A," they belted out in the garden room of the Standard Hotel at their recent gig. "Your 'keep in touch' drove a knife right through my heart/When we launched you tweeted me 'we should catch up.'" Read more.
May 21, 2013
Bobby McFerrin: Spirituals As Sung Prayers
Listen to Bobby McFerrin — onstage, warming up with his band — and it's like you're listening to an entire orchestra bubbling up through one man's body. He becomes a flute, a violin, a muted trumpet, a percussion instrument, a bird, you name it.
Spirityouall is an album McFerrin says he's wanted to make for many years, as he performs classic black spirituals with roots in enslaved communities, as well as songs he composed himself. Through the record, he says he hears the influence of his father, Robert McFerrin Sr., a renowned operatic baritone.
McFerrin says he remembers visits to the family's New York apartment from Hall Johnson, the great African-American musician, composer and choir director who devoted himself to preserving and elevating the spiritual as an art form.
"Hall Johnson, his grandmother was a slave," McFerrin tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And his grandmother would sing these pieces to him, so when she was teaching my father how to sing them, he knew exactly what he was talking about. He knew how to stretch a phrase, how to pronounce a word. You know, my father was very exact in his pronunciations. I grew up around two parents who insisted on correct grammar and correct pronunciations of the words that we spoke."
McFerrin says his father's voice is ever-present in his mind, especially when he conducts and works with a choir: "I insist on his round, warm tone when I'm working with a choir," he says. His father was very studious, making notes on scores with a pencil — something Bobby McFerrin now does himself.
"But when I was working on this record, it was very loose," McFerrin says. "I'm a quick study. I go for the understanding first. I might not get the notes right, but if I hear a piece once or twice and come to know what it's about –- to understand a piece -– then after that, everything just comes very easily for me, very quickly."
May 19, 2013
The new Harmony Sweepstakes national champs are..
It was a glorious evening of vocal harmony singing once again at the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival National Finals. Top notch a cappella performed by so many talented groups in a wonderful mix of styles. And it was a night for the ladies with both first and second place along with audience favorite going to all-girl groups. Thanks to all involved who helped make our 29th annual such a rousing success. And the results are:-
2013 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS - Honey Whiskey Trio
2nd place - Lustre Quartet
3rd Pace (tie) - The Rainbows / Fermata Town
Audience Favorites - The Honey Whiskey Trio
Best Original Arrangement - "I Feel Good" - The Rainbows
Best Original Song - "Starting Line" - Fermata Town
May 11, 2013
The Manhattan Transfer weave super-tight harmonies that even a bulldozer can’t bust through
Dallas Morning News:
Vinyl records are back in vogue, so New York’s the Manhattan Transfer took a discography approach to its two-hour concert Thursday night at Majestic Theatre. The jazz-pop vocal quartet brought with them an array of LP covers tracing the first half of its long recording career.
They were like placards, tools for show-and-tell that Transfer members used to take the audience to a certain period in its artistic history. Sometimes a quick embellishment to their stage clothes was in order. That was easily done with the help of a well-stocked wardrobe rack. Mostly it was about setting a storytelling mood and offering a song to go with it. A quick look at the 1975 self-titled album, not to mention the donning of tails, furs and ankle-length skirts, led them to “Blue Champagne,” a spectacular vocal piece that quickly showcased the Transfer’s harmonies.
When it comes to vocal power, the Manhattan Transfer set the bar. Soprano, alto, tenor and bass come together to create a smooth, thick and rich concoction that’s both refreshing and riveting. They can sing jazz, pop, R&B and world beat music. And once the harmonies kick in they are so tightly wound that even a bulldozer couldn’t bust through. Read more.
May 9, 2013
A cappella wins a Pulitzer Prize
New York Times
Caroline Shaw, the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, isn’t quite ready to own up to what she does. “I don’t really call myself a composer,” she said, laughing, in an interview in her sunny studio apartment in Chelsea. “That’s what’s awkward about this whole thing: that’s not really what I call myself.”
Ms. Shaw would prefer to be known simply as a musician. And it was largely as a musician, a busy freelancer in New York, that she was known before Monday’s announcement that she had, at 30, become the award’s youngest winner, for “Partita for Eight Voices,” her dazzling, emotionally generous take on a Baroque dance suite.
The award citation praised “Partita” as “a highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects.”
Jeremy Geffen, the director of artistic planning at Carnegie Hall and the chairman of this year’s Pulitzer jury, recalled: “We kept listening because we were required to. But also because none of us could see what was around the next corner.
“She changes gears so quickly and so easily, and every turn is so unexpected and so full of joy. And it’s in such a convincing and cohesive manner that you could never doubt the sense of architecture and the sense of premeditation.” Read more.
May 6, 2013
Eric Banks: Esoterics founder an explorer of new vocal worlds
Seattle Times (WA):
Listen to the opening notes of Seattle composer-conductor Eric Banks’ “The Seven Creations,” and you’ll sense instinctively that you’re hearing something both ancient and utterly new. Banks’ 73-minute “a cappella opera” is an astonishing work, and part of its wonder stems from its blending of some of the oldest known melodies in the world with a contemporary choral sensibility.
Much of its thematic material derives from the “Gathas,” Zoroastrian hymns first sung between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. The text, which describes the world’s creation, destruction and restoration, is in Avestan, a sacred dialect given a written form in the 6th or 7th century A.D. by Zoroastrian priests.
At this point, you may be asking: Avestan? Zoroastrianism? A cappella opera ... ? How much more esoteric can things get?
The question is apt, for the adventurous choral group that premieres and records Banks’ work is called The Esoterics. They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary this season and, in a city that’s teeming with sophisticated choral concert fare, The Esoterics have their own particular niche. Read more.
May 2, 2013
One heck-of-a festival will be going on in Toronto, Canada on May 9th thru 12th with a great line up of groups including The Real Group and The Swingle Singers at Sing Toronto!. There are workshops, classes and all kinds of great a cappella events.